How To Actually Avoid 99% of Email Sending Mistakes | The Ultimate Guide
This article is divided into three different sections.
Each of the checklist items you find in those sections are related to drafting emails, testing emails, and sending emails.
Using these checklists and looking out for these common errors helps us catch 99% of all email sending mistakes we’ve seen over the years.
Here are the three checklists. Click on the link to jump to that section:
Not every email needs every checklist point to be ticked since different emails will have different content and goals.
There is a very obvious reason why we have checklists for all sorts of tasks in every industry.
Checklists help you avoid making mistakes.
Checklists are born out of errors and this one is no different.
The first time, the tenth time or the hundredth time you send an email, something is going to go wrong.
To avoid these mistakes from happening a second time, we write all the little pieces down and check them off one at a time to ensure nothing gets overlooked.
This is why pilots have pre-flight checklists, surgeons have pre/post operation checklists and engineers have blueprints and quality control.
If you are involved with anyone doing any of these things and they are not using a checklist, RUN!
We use a pre-email send checklist for every client and every email that we’ve sent (we send millions every year).
And it grows each time we fuck up, err… something goes wrong.
Below is a full set of items to check and why or how those things can go wrong and how to avoid them.
The most common mistakes made while drafting emails are related to spelling, punctuation, grammar, dates, times, names and so on…
Each email platform and provider has their quirks that work well or don’t work well. One might not show spelling mistakes and another may copy bad text formatting from Word or Google Docs.
You’ll have to check and see where your platform excels or falls short.
Use the following as a guide, and if you need to check things like spelling outside of your email provider due to their lack of checking, then do so.
1) Spelling and punctuation check – the low-hanging fruit
Checking your emails for spelling and punctuation errors might seem obvious but too often it’s the most obvious things that slip past us.
“To, too, two”
“They’re, there, their”
You’ve seen all these mistakes before.
Things that would make our high school English teachers roll over in their graves (… sorry Mrs. Moseman…)
When you read an email that makes a basic mix-up like this there’s an audible cringe. It takes you out of the moment and makes the sender look less professional… less respected.
Typical spell-checks don’t catch everything.
For our spelling and punctuation check we use tools like Word, Google Doc and Grammarly.
In fact, after I’m done writing this, one of the first things I’m going to do is to put it into Grammarly and see where I screwed up with my caveman English.
2) Check the time and date
If you’re running a flash sale or have an event coming up, make sure the times and dates in the text of the email you’re sending are correct and clear.
Making sure they are correct is one thing, but making sure it is clear what you mean is another. For instance:
– Is it clear your campaign ends at Midnight July 9th (PST)?
– If you use the time like “at 7:00” is that AM or PM?
– If you say a campaign ends on a certain day, is it clear that it ends at midnight that day or midnight the next day? For example, is it more clear if you say it ends at 11:59 PM?
This is especially true if the emails you’re using have been copied from a previous campaign.
Also, it always pays to check – “Is the time of the event right?” “Is the date of the event right?” Nobody wants to send another email correcting the time/date of an upcoming event.
3) Should any content be bolded, underlined, italicized, or highlighted?
When copy/pasting the content of an email from a Word doc, most providers will strip out any text formatting. This will include things you bolded, italicized, highlighted, etc…
Make sure to give a line-by-line, side-by-side visual inspection of the original document and your email. It is easy to overlook a single word that was italicized. Did you spot the example in the image above?
4) Are the names of people, places and locations spelled correctly?
Michael or Mike? Lindsey or Lindsay?
There are tons of variations on how people spell their names.
Don’t be the guy who has someone on your podcast and then sends the email out with your guest’s name spelled wrong.
Embarrassing for you. Annoying for them.
The same goes for oddly spelled city and location names, especially in countries outside the one you live in.
5) Spell check your subject lines
A lot of subject lines are written directly in your CRM.
Unfortunately, most CRMs don’t have a spell check built in for their subject lines.
Make sure to spell check those subject lines. Don’t forget to check your alternate subject lines if you’re split testing multiple subject lines.
6) Are your merge fields correct? Did you update the placeholders?
A merge field is a placeholder that you can put into your emails which will input a piece of data in its place when the email is sent out.
These are extremely useful for personalization of your emails.
“Josh, take a look!” is a much more engaging and compelling subject line than “Valued Customer, take a look!”
But, it would take two months to send an email if we had to put in each person’s first name individually.
Instead, we use merge fields.
Unfortunately, all of the CRM systems haven’t gotten together and decided on a common format to use so each one has distinct differences.
For example, to pull someone’s first name from your list you would use:
*|FNAME|* in MailChimp – https://mailchimp.com
~Contact.FirstName~ in Infusionsoft – https://www.infusionsoft.com/
[First Name] in Ontraport – https://ontraport.com/
If you are copying your content from a Word Doc where you used [First Name] and you happen to be switching between CRM providers or re-using email campaigns that are from a different CRM – CHECK THOSE MERGE FIELDS.
Many times people will write a draft email in Word and simply write [first name], then copy and paste that into their provider forgetting to update that merge field before sending. Whoops.
Remember, you might not have a name for every contact in your CRM. So if you send an email with:
“[First Name], here is an offer just for you…”
and you don’t have a first name for a contact, the email will look like…
“, here is an offer just for you…”
Just a random comma sitting out by itself.
7) Is your subject line easy to read and to the point?
Your subject line is the first part of your email anyone on your list sees.
Don’t use confusing words and college level vocab.
You might think you’re being clever but if your audience doesn’t understand what you’re saying, they won’t open – keep your subject line engaging and direct.
8) Is your email easy to read?
Readability is a huge factor in how much of your email people decide to read.
If your audience has to try too hard to understand the message they are likely to quickly move on.
Keep your sentences short and easy to understand and digest.
Your audience is more likely to pay attention to your email if it’s simple and to the point vs. long winded.
Most people just scroll through emails, so short paragraphs and bullet points make things easier to read.
9) Read JUST the subject line – would you open your email?
Imagine a person on your email list – they are making a snap judgement when they read your subject line on if they should even bother to look at your email.
Even though you wrote the email and know you have good and engaging information, you need to look at your subject line with an impartial view to see if it engages you to open.
If you have low open rates, a good place to start looking for the problem is your subject line.
This is the critical point where you ensure everything is set up and functioning properly.
Overlooking a step here can lead to the dreaded follow up email explaining why the coupon code/link/download/checkout cart/product/etc… was wrong and needed to be corrected.
These types of mistakes are easily avoided by testing to make sure everything is as it should be.
10) Is your email mobile friendly?
I bolded, italicized, underlined, and highlighted this one because it is THAT important.
Once you have the email ready to test, the first thing you’ll want to do is see how it looks on mobile devices.
Smartphones and tablets represent over 50% of all email interactions and that is only going up. So it is more important than ever to make sure your emails look good on mobile devices.
The normal 12pt font you use might appear fine on your desktop, until you pull it up on your phone and see it’s way too small to read there. Perhaps you’ll increase the font size or update your images to make your email easier to see and read from small-screened devices.
Another common problem we see on mobile that is hidden on desktop email readers is the HTML formatting of your email. If you do a lot of copy and paste from programs like Microsoft into your email provider, you might be copying weird formatting code. This will usually show itself when looking at an email on a phone. (purple colored text, odd line spacing or fonts, etc…)
11) Did you click on every link? Do they work correctly?
Whenever this happens to me (far too often) I get really frustrated.
I’m reading an email and I’m extremely interested in what I’m reading.
Then I go to the “Click here to learn more” link and… it TAKES ME TO THE WRONG PAGE.
Or worse. It takes me nowhere!
The person writing the email got so far…
I read the subject line and opened it.
I read through the email and it engaged me.
I tried to keep reading… and then NOTHING, I can’t take any more action so I leave and forget about it.
Don’t let this happen to you. Most emails include links out to other webpages.
It could be a link to a relevant article you wrote on your site.
A link to Amazon for the book your recommended.
Or even a link to your webinar sign-up or sales page!
Before you send your email out – make sure all these links are working properly!
12) Are your landing pages live and functioning correctly?
If you’re about to drive your list to a landing page, you want to make sure the landing page is live and functioning correctly.
In the mad rush of a product launch, it can be easy to forget to switch your landing page from “inactive” to “active.”
Or some last minute change to your landing page broke a link that used to be live and working. Now you’re about to send an email to a large group of people who won’t be able to access that content. OOPS.
13) Does the cart or call to action work?
“But Josh,” I can hear you saying, “Isn’t this basically the same as the last two points?”
Yes it is. But, each of these is independently VERY important. So they each get their own point.
Before you send an email out that links to your cart, TEST IT!
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes – does the call to action make you want to click through to the sales page? Click it – does it work?
Put in your own credit card information into the cart, does the charge go through?!?!
This is absolutely the last place you want something to break or look out of place for your potential customer. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard people come to us and say they get lots of traffic to their page and through the funnel but no purchases. Many times it’s not the funnel, it’s the cart!
Place that test order and ensure everything works from start to finish. If you have a broken order process, it is very hard to recapture that momentum and revenue again.
14) Check formatting for errors on both desktop and mobile.
If you’re like most people, you don’t write emails directly in your email service provider.
You probably use Word docs or Google Docs to write your emails, then copy and paste them into your system.
Some mail providers do NOT handle this well.
It may take that formatting and add a bunch of weird shapes, colors, fonts, line heights, or widths to your emails.
An easy fix to this is to send yourself a test.
Does the email look right or is there something off?
15) Are the times and dates accurate? Timezone, daylight-saving time, or year?
If you’re throwing a webinar or hosting an event, you’ll want to make sure the dates and times you’re asking your list to show up are correct.
If you say “Come to the webinar next Tuesday” it seems obvious but people can take it out of context, especially if they’re reading your email a couple days after it has been sent.
Saying “Join us for the webinar on Tuesday, May 11th” is much more clear.
Remember if you’re in the United States, not everywhere in the world follows daylight-saving time so make sure to clarify when you send times in emails. (We’re look at you Hawaii/Arizona)
If it’s around the New Year or you’re copying the emails from an old campaign, make sure you have the correct year.
16) Are the images correct? Did you check their links? Did you include alt text?
Often, images are the last thing added to your email. Check to make sure the correct images are being added to the correct emails – and they make sense in context!
Do your images contain links? Make sure to check that the links work as well. If your images don’t link to anything, some providers like Gmail will want people to download your image. This can be confusing for the user whether or not it should be going somewhere.
We would recommend that you link all images within your email even if it is just to the homepage of your business. That will avoid the issue of people clicking and nothing happening or downloading the image by mistake.
Did you include alt text to the image? Typically, email providers will use the image’s name as the ALT text which isn’t ideal. It would be better to name it something relevant and useful.
Don’t forget that some email clients block images by default so making the images more relevant will help to ensure they get displayed.
17) Are you using the right tracking links, redirects and UTM codes?
Enabling tracking on your email marketing allows you to see which emails and campaigns are performing the best. Or how they performed in general.
Beyond your email provider’s built in tracking it is likely you are using other tracking links. Such as…
- UTM codes
- Affiliate links
- Redirect links (WordPress Redirection/PrettyLinks)
- And many more…
If you are copying emails from one campaign to another or setting up a brand new email campaign, it can be easy to overlook tracking links or forget to update them.
If you forget to update your UTM codes in your links, then you won’t know which email actually drove the sales or which campaign performed the best. Making sure these links and tracking are set up correctly is very important in determining the performance of your campaign.
If you currently are not using any sort of metric tracking, we’d encourage you to start with the basics and integrate UTM codes into your links. This will populate conversions and metrics automatically in your Google Analytics and similar reporting sites as it is the industry standard.
- Here you can find the basics to getting started: The Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics Campaign Tracking
- Here you can create your own UTM links using this free tool: Campaign URL Builder
Now that we’ve finished drafting and testing our email, we are SO CLOSE to sending it out.
The last step is to follow our email sending checklist to get your email finalized and ready to hit SEND.
18) Are the to/from/reply email addresses correct and do they match the brand?
Most businesses have more than one website or send emails from more than one email address.
Make sure you stay consistent with the email address you’re sending from.
Does your email newsletter ALWAYS come from firstname.lastname@example.org?
Keep it that way.
Are you sending a message to your membership site customers who are used to the content coming from email@example.com?
Okay, then don’t send it from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you own www.businessname.com and www.companyxy.com as well?
Don’t confuse your customers by sending them emails from a site they didn’t opt-in to or are unfamiliar with.
This is important because users will have a relationship with your email address in their preferred inbox. Sending from a different email address might get your email delivered to their promotional or spam folder.
John Smith – email@example.com (person) Vs Company – firstname.lastname@example.org (marketing account)
19) Is the subject line correct with proper merge fields?
Wait, didn’t we already cover this? Yes, we did. But I would bet that after following the previous steps on this checklist you’ve changed a significant amount on your email.
We know it’s easy for something to get changed and then never looked at again so we do a quick double-check on our subject lines and merge fields in subject lines.
20) Is the email scheduled for the correct send time and date?
Make sure to double-check when the email is scheduled to be sent.
There can be a huge difference in open rates between 12:30am and 12:30pm.
21) Does that send date conflict with any holidays or other big events?
In a lot of email campaigns we schedule emails to go out days in advance as part of a drip sequence or funnel. Make sure to look at the send date and the audience you’re sending the email to. Do they conflict with any major holidays?
If you’re in Australia sending an email on the 4th of July to a group of people in the United States – you’re in for a bad time. In the United States, the 4th of July is a huge holiday and virtually no one is checking their email. (unless that was intentional)
22) Do you have the correct group/audience selected? Did you forget to include or exclude any groups?
This is a big one.
Make sure your email is going to the correct group of people on your list.
If you’re sending out a promotional discount for your product, you want to make sure you exclude your current customers.
Otherwise you’re going to have some angry customers who don’t like that someone else is getting the same membership at a discount. Or they’ll be asking for the discount themselves!
You can always send the email to more people or other groups but once it is sent you can’t take it back.
23) Did you include the plain text version of the email?
Including the plain text portion of your email means you’re including the written text of your email into a field. That way, if someone has a bad Internet connection it can still deliver the email and they will get it – just without all the images and HTML.
Most email providers either have a checkbox or a place where you can you copy/paste the plain text version of your email. It will either automatically pull just the text of your email or you will have to manually paste it.
This should be one of the last things you do since any changes you make to the email copy most likely won’t automatically update the plain text version and you’ll have to re-copy/paste the text again.
Don’t cause more work for yourself and save this for the very end.