Crafting An Email Campaign: A Best Practice Checklist For Marketers

Maximize email marketing ROI with a comprehensive email campaign planning checklist. A technical list including email marketing best practice and an email deliverability checklist.

Anita T is an award-winning marketing consultant with 15+ years of experience.

Marketers know email marketing is a powerful tool that can help us connect one-one-one with an individual and drive revenue for the brand's we work for. However, generating a return leans not just on the quality of your email copy, but some technical knowledge and attention to detail. That's why I've created a comprehensive email marketing checklist to help marketers like you and I double-check every consideration before clicking 'send'.

email marketing campaign planning checklist

Use each question to check your email marketing is in top-top shape before sending.

Check Your Goals & Parameters

Goals for email campaigns are not limited to Open Rates - creating benchmarks and setting up tracking parameters will also help monitor changes in your sender reputation score.

  1. Have you set clear, measurable goals for your email marketing?
    Your goals should be specific, measurable, and relevant to your business objectives. For example, your goal might be to increase visits to a particular website page, move readers further along your sales funnel or increase sales of a particular product or service.

    Tip: Too many goals can weaken a campaign, keep it straight forward.
  2. Have you defined your UTM tracking parameters?
    UTM parameters are short text codes that you can add to the end of your links to track clicks and traffic from specific sources, such as email campaigns. See which emails you are sending that are driving the most traffic to your website, which pages visitors are viewing, and how long they are staying on your site. This information can help you improve your email campaigns as well as your ROI (Return On Investment).
  3. Do you have tracking properly set-up in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?
    You'll need to create a new event in Google's new tracking set-up. In the GA4 interface, add a 'new event' and call it something relevant such as 'Email Campaign clicks'. Set up a trigger that matches the UTM parameter used previously.
  4. Pro: Get a reputation check of your IP addresses and domain names such as Google Postmaster Tools or Sender Score. Your sender reputation check is similar to a credit score that describes how mailbox providers currently rate you as a sender. It has a huge impact on whether or not you'll end up in your email list's inbox. Use this as a performance benchmark so you can maintain OR take active steps to repair your sender reputation.

A note about using Open Rates as a key performance measure:

Make sure 'open rate' isn't your only measure of success

Apple devices can inflate open rates, so make sure open rate isn't your only measure of success. This is due to this thing called MPP that came into affect in 2021. Long story short, it hides IP addresses so senders aka you, can't view email activity. However, the caching process still requires server requests which triggers the open tracking pixel - which makes the Email Service Provider (ESP) think the email has been opened, when it may not have.

Here's some examples of email KPIs you can use for your campaign:

  • Click Through Rate (CTR)
  • Unsubscribe rates
  • Email bounce rates
  • Deliverability
  • Conversion Rate
  • Revenue per email
  • Revenue per subscriber
  • Acquisition Cost

Now that you've defined your goals for your email marketing campaign and established a benchmark for monitoring your sender reputation score, we'll move on to the next email marketing checklist, segmenting your audience.

Segmenting Your Audience

Consider Relevance

Segmenting your audience into particular geographic locations, interests or behaviours will help ensure we're providing content that's relevant. It's critical to support email campaign performance and help maintain a clean sender reputation score.

  1. Choose the right list: The 'right list' is the one that will find your content engaging. Choose quality over size, and never buy an email list.
  2. Do you need to exclude a few people? For example, those that may have already received emails from you this week? Somebody that purchased from your ecommerce website yesterday? Consider who to exclude to ensure your content is relevant to where they are at on their customer journey.
  3. How will you be delivering content relevant to your subscribers? Will you be using dynamic content? Is your content what they originally signed up for? Does this content fulfil expectations?
  4. Will your Calls-To-Action (CTAs) need to be personalised? For example, do some users need the link to the UK website, others to the AU website? You'll need to make sure your email links send your audience to the appropriate links to their geographic location, or they'll be likely to face redirects on click-through, which will hinder campaign performance.
  5. What fallback content can you have if your dynamic content doesn't load properly? Eg. First Name replacement text.

Using segmentation in your email marketing allows you to deliver more personalised content. This improves email campaign performance.

email deliverability checklist: Getting In The Inbox

The Big hurdle

It's never been the sexiest of email marketing topics, but it is one of the biggest hurdles in email marketing, and one of the most neglected: how to actually get your EDM into an inbox. Use this email deliverability checklist to help make sure you get there.

  1. Firstly, are you sending via a reputable Email Service Provider (ESP) with high deliverability rates? 

    According to a recent study by EmailToolTester, top ESPs for deliverability in 2021 include ActiveCampaign (99.02% deliverability) and Campaign Monitor (97.97% deliverability). It's worth checking what your ESP's score is.

    It's important to note that other businesses using the same ESP can impact deliverability for all users either in a good or bad way. This is because deliverability is tied to both the reputation of the ESP and its IP addresses. If one or more businesses on the same ESP are sending out a large number of spam emails, this can negatively impact the deliverability for all users of the platform.

    Tip: If your brand is relatively new or unknown, it may have no real reputation score and can therefore capitalise off other brand's established reps' on the same platform. This is particularly good for new kids on the block, like a start-up business owner who often isn't aware of the requirements and risks associated with managing their own sender reputation. As brands grow, they often make moves to become what we call a 'verified sender'. This basically means they are managing their own reputation - usually with the help of email marketing experts.

    If you want to learn more about this, a very useful course I'd recommend is the free Klaviyo Deliverability Certification.

    While most ESPs do have safeguards in place, one could still theorize that the ESPs that offer a free trial may be more likely to have newbies on it, that are more likely to be spamming their database.

    Why risk damaging your deliverability? Pay for a quality ESP.
  1. CRITICAL: Do your recipients actually want to receive your email?

    Ensure you've established content expectations and have obtained permission from recipients before sending emails.

    Do this using clear opt-in forms, no sneaky tactics. Double opt-in is even better and confirmation emails. While you may not see the same list growth, it will be a far, far, more valuable list. If you're a marketer that's inherited a list and you're not sure how recipients originally opted in, jump to point 3.

    Oh, and no matter how tempting don't even think about purchasing email lists or sending unsolicited emails. Aside from being sly, it can also ruin your deliverability and reputation score.
  2. CRITICIAL: Is your list clean?

    Check your list engagement behaviour.
    Regularly remove inactive subscribers and invalid email addresses to support a good sender reputation and decrease bounce rates.

    Why? Well for one, you want an engaged audience, but here's some technical reasons you need to consider too: when you send emails to invalid or inactive email addresses, your bounce rate will increase. A high bounce rate will harm your sender's reputation and make all emails you send ongoing more likely to end up in spam. It's hard to dig your brand out of that black hole.

    Inactive email addresses can also be what we call 'spam traps'. These types of email addresses are monitored by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). If you send emails to spam traps, even if it's just one dodgy email, your emails may be blocked all together.

    So, check your list is clean. :)
  3. Have you verified the email address used to send marketing emails?

    If you haven't verified your email, recipients may see the email tagged as 'unverified' in their inboxes. This can be fixed using what we call a Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM). It's basically a text record you'll add to your domain name hosting service (DNS). Usually, your ESP provides instructions if you dig around for 'DKIM' instructions.
  1. Do you have a verified sender's logo?

    The Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI) allows you to display your brand's logo alongside your message in compatible inboxes like Gmail and Apple Mail. BIMI was created to help prevent fraudulent emails and as such, helps improve deliverability.

    NB: You may have already set this up without even realising it if you've used tools to prevent impersonation like DMARC authentication protocols.
  2. Avoid using spam trigger words and phrases in the subject line and email content. Examples include "buy now," "cash," "free," and "you are a winner." These words can trigger spam filters and decrease deliverability. Many ESPs offer spam testing as a worth-while add-on.
  3. Does your email make sense if images don't load? Your plain-text email needs to make sense if your imagery doesn't load not only for accessibility reasons, but to help ISPs contextualize your images.

    Spammers often hide their messaging in images, so if your email is image dominant, you'll be more likely to be flagged as spam. It is absolutely amazing how many ecommerce stores, even large ones, still risk their sender reputation score by sending their emails as almost 100% images. Don't do this.

    Include ALT-text on all image content and don't use images as buttons (you'd be surprised how many people do this). Certain inboxes, including Outlook and Apple Mail, will not display images until a recipient opts in to see them.
  4. Is your email code under 100KB? Use a simple HTML design.

    Design elements like columns can increase file size. Your email service provider may allow you to check the size of your email before send or you can download a test email and check its size properties.

    Service providers will often 'clip' your message if it exceeds a certain size which also impacts your open rate data. The tracking pixel, which is used to calculate open rates, gets clipped in the process, resulting in inaccurate tracking data. You can use tools like Litmus or Email On Acid for testing.
  5. Consider your font stack. Are you using web safe fonts?

    Here's a nice list of web safe fonts. You don't have to use these fonts, but, the alternative, web fonts, such as Google fonts that are pulled from a server, only work in some email clients and increase load times, which, in turn, can impact deliverability.

    NB: web fonts are often only licensed for website and mobile, so check your license. Google fonts are a favourite designer choice for email marketing as they are all already licensed for email.
  6. Does your email include a clear and prominent unsubscribe link? Does it work? Check the landing page. This not only keeps your email list clean, but it's also required by law in most countries.

The two most commonly overlooked factors for improving email deliverability are to have a clean email list and tidy email file size. By following these email marketing best practices, you can increase your email deliverability rates and avoid being marked as spam.

email open rate checklist

Increase open Rates

As list size goes up, open rates tend to go down. The average is between 20-40%, but there will be specific data available on your industry you can review and use as a benchmark.

Here's a checklist to help improve your email open rate:

  1. Is your subject line concise? A clear and concise subject line that accurately reflects the content of the email is more likely to get opened.

    According to a study by Convince & Convert, 35% of email recipients open emails based on your subject line alone. If you're going to use an emoji, use an emoji to replace a word, rather than add one.
  2. Does your sender's name include the business/brand originally subscribed too? People are more likely to open emails from people or organizations they recognize and trust.

    According to a study by Campaign Monitor, emails with a recognizable sender name have a 68.6% higher open rate than those with an unfamiliar sender name. Avoid using generic email addresses such as info@ or sales@.
  3. What time are you sending your email? The timing of the email also plays a role in whether it gets opened. According to a study by GetResponse, the best time to send an email is between 8 am and 10 am and between 3 pm and 4 pm. However, this can vary depending on the audience and the industry.
  4. Does your email include personalization? Personalized emails are more likely to be opened and read. According to a study by Experian, personalized emails have a 29% higher open rate than non-personalized ones. Personalization can include using the recipient's name, segmenting the email list based on demographics, or sending targeted messages based on past purchases or behavior.
  5. Is your email optimized for mobile, including your subject line length? Keep it under 50 characters to avoid being cut off on mobile devices.

    More than 50% of emails are opened on mobile devices, so it's essential to optimize emails for mobile devices. According to a study by Litmus, emails that are mobile-optimized have a 15% higher click-through rate than those that aren't.
  6. Does your email start with useful HTML text content? Avoid using an image as the very first item in your email.
  7. Do your links use descriptive link text? Avoid "Click Here" or "Buy Now" and be more specific. Do not use images as buttons.

Reminder: As mentioned above, Open Rates can be overinflated for Apple Devices so make sure you have other measures of success, too.

crafting Your email Content

Characteristics of an Engaging Email Campaign

Successful email campaigns resonate with the audience and drive action. Here's a checklist to help you create a compelling email campaign.

  1. Who's the email coming from? Research has found a friendly Sender Name has the greatest impact on whether a recipient decides to open an email. It's more important than the subject line, offer, content or time of sending. Example Mike @ Mike's Bikes
  2. How many messages does your email have? Emails seem to perform better when they have one simple message.
  3. Is your email too long? Recipients won't be bothered to read a long email. Studies have found response rates will be inversely related to the length of the email.
  4. Consider the length of your text. A common recommendation is to stay within 45-75 characters per line.
  5. Is your email attractive? More attractive emails will include optimised imagery that underpin campaign messages. 600px max width limit and under 1MB is generally regarded as best practice. Note, this is the maximum recommended size, so if you can keep your images smaller whilst still having an attractive email, your campaign is more likely to perform better. There's more on email imagery if you scroll down.
  6. Are your links connected to the right links? Broken links lead to broken hearts, remember that. I've recently seen emails with offers that need me to the EU website, where I am unable to complete a purchase and then unable to find the product on the AU site. Fail.
  7. Does my email use CAPS, emojis or excessive exclamation marks? Don't do this. All of these things can trigger the ol' red flag on ISPs.
  8. Have you used urgency? Recipients usually have a full inbox. Give them a reason to open your email.
  9. Has your email been proofread? It's easy to miss something. Send a test email to another human. Double check your subject line.

Ok, so that's your email checklist for content, but let's dig into images a little:

Email Image Management

Despite the increasing tech demands for faster-loading content, marketers continue to add more and more imagery to their email marketing campaigns. Check you're managing them correctly and ask yourself "do I really need that many images?' Your designer might despise you, but your client or boss will thank you end of year when you show them your email marketing results.

Image Heavy Emails

Not everyone has 5G yet. In-fact, 3G is still the dominant network around the world and sometimes people are sharing a network, like Maccas WIFI, which can choke your load times. Designing your campaigns based on a slow network will also improve experience on a fast one.

Ask yourself these questions to make sure your image-heavy emails perform.

  1. Is your email just an image? Don't do that.

    You'd hope that something this obvious would go without saying, but I need to add it because I've seen it done so many times by those new to the world of email marketing... do not send an email that is just an image. This blunder is so Sender Score destroying it pains me to elaborate. If you have done this to maintain brand consistency, because it's faster, because it looks 'prettier', guess what, you're killing your email marketing campaign. And, the souls of email marketing experts.

    Stop it.
  2. Are your images under 1mb? 1mb is the MAX, go lower.

    Ask yourself: is there another way to display them that uses a smaller file size? 

    Use Photoshop: In Photoshop, you can 'save for web'. Compress even further using a tool like RIOT, saving around 30% whilst maintaining a crisp looking image.

    Images are the largest external resource downloaded, so optimising them leads to some serious performance gains.
  1. Do you really need THAT many images?

    The more images you have, even if optimised, the higher the load time due to additional latency associated with each server download request.

    Images need to load from somewhere, and where these images are hosted will impact your load times. Imagine if you send your email to thousands or subscribers, all who begin to open your email at the same time, and your server is struggling to pull your 10+ images all at once.

    Your load times could suck. So will your results.
  1. Is your email loading under 3-seconds?

    Check your email is loading quickly. If you're wondering what web tools you can you use to check email load times, pros like web tools like Litmus and Email On Acid.
  2. Pro: are you using a Content Delivery Network (CDN?) A CDN allows you to host your visual assets on a network of servers located in different geographic locations around the world. By having your content download from a server closer to the recipient, you'll reduce email load times.

    There are several CDN providers that offer image hosting specifically for email marketing, including Cloudinary and Amazon Cloudfront. ESPs like Klaviyo already use Amazon CloudFront. You can reach out to your ESP to ask them about their CDN capabilities.

    Of interest: Large images don't impact an email's risk of clipping, because emails are loaded from an external source such as your ESP's brand library or your website.

Checked every component? Check your links again. Now you can click 'send'.

Email is a powerful tool in the marketing arsenal for reaching and engaging with audiences. With so many moving parts involved in crafting an effective email campaign, it can be easy to overlook important details that can make or break your campaign. Use this email marketing checklist to guide and double-check your email creation process. You'll ensure all of your bases are covered and that your email campaigns are error free and set for maximum impact.

Think I've missed something? Drop me a line and I'll add it to the list.

Need help with your email marketing? You may be interested in email marketing services.


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