Email best practices

Email marketing audits: Everything you need to know

How do you conduct an email marketing audit? Get guidance and get started so you can gain an understanding of how to improve your email strategy.

Hermes delivering mail in front of two screens

What mysteries lie among your brand’s email marketing statistics? What truths could you uncover if you explore the performance, deliverability, and design of each campaign? You’ll only know if you conduct an email marketing audit.

Okay, so an email audit isn’t quite that magical. If this is a project you need to complete, and you’re feeling a bit reluctant or overwhelmed, we totally understand. However, changing your perspective on email auditing is going to help. Once you get into it, you’ll start revealing both problems that represent opportunities for improvement as well as successes that you can use elsewhere in your email strategy.

Mailjet’s exclusive report, Inbox Insights 2022, found even the most-successful email marketers face challenges such as increasing engagement, improving accessibility, and fixing deliverability issues. An email audit is an effective way to understand and overcome those types of challenges.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about email marketing audits.

What is an email audit?

First things first – how do you define an email marketing audit?

While it could entail a variety of different aspects based on your goals, an email audit is an in-depth evaluation of an email program along with the strategy and resources that support it. The purpose of auditing your email marketing efforts is often to uncover things that need to be updated or fixed.

During the email auditing process, you’ll discover what’s working and what’s not. Plus, you can assess how well you are following email marketing best practices that support factors such as better engagement, higher deliverability rates, consistent branding, compliance, security, and much more.

When you complete your email audit, you should have a much clearer picture of how well your strategy is (or isn’t) performing and an action plan for making improvements.

Why are email marketing audits important?

To many outsiders, sending email seems so simple. But email marketers like you understand that there are many complexities involved in effectively delivering messages to subscribers’ inboxes. If we may be perfectly blunt… there is a lot that can go wrong in email marketing.

"Email is a marketing and communication channel with a huge return on investment, so an email audit is definitely worth your time and effort."

Twitter

Email is constantly evolving. There are always emerging email trends or technology, new compliance guidelines and security concerns, or even shifting support from email clients. You can’t just “set it and forget it” with email marketing. But that’s not the only reason to conduct an email marketing audit. Your brand is constantly changing and so are subscriber behaviors and preferences.

Changes include updates to the website, fresh content for your emails, revised brand style guides, as well as new go-to-market strategies and product roadmaps. An email marketing audit can help you keep your strategy in alignment with all these things.

How often should you conduct an email audit?

Most email experts suggest conducting a comprehensive email audit at least once a year. Of course, you should be keeping a close eye on email analytics and performance at all times. But, taking a holistic look at your entire program on a regular basis is different.

The end/beginning of the year (December or January) is usually a good time to conduct an email audit. Hopefully, by this time, you’ll have an idea of the overall marketing strategy as well as the budget and expectations for the email team in the year ahead.

For larger organizations that send a high volume of emails, bi-annual email marketing audits allow for a mid-year check-in.

New job. New email marketing audit.

Another important time to conduct an email audit is when you start working for a new employer or get promoted to a more strategic, decision-making role.

In that situation, you’re inheriting someone else’s email strategy, and you may know next to nothing about which campaigns are active or how they’re performing. Auditing the existing email program helps you get a good grasp of all the details.

As you go through the process, you’ll develop a clear plan for making your mark and find ways to implement your own ideas to improve the email strategy.

When Email Marketing Manager Julia Ritter started at Mailjet by Sinch, she conducted an audit and identified the welcome emails as an automated series that needed updating.

After Sr. Email Developer Megan Boshuyzen took on a new role at Email on Acid by Sinch, she audited every template. Megan noticed that there were changes she could make to optimize code and address dark mode email challenges.

These two examples show that what gets audited may depend on the person doing the auditing and what they want to find out. Every email audit is going to be a bit different.

7 types of email audits

There are so many moving pieces connected to the ways an organization uses email, and that makes it difficult to include everything in one all-encompassing audit. Trying to cover it all will also add to that overwhelming feeling.

Different kinds of email audits focus on specific areas. You can choose one or more to include in your evaluation, depending on your needs and goals.

Here are seven possibilities:

  1. Email marketing performance audit: This is the most common type. It typically examines the most-used key performance indicators (KPIs) to reveal the overall health of the program. In this article, we’ll be focusing on the steps required for an email performance audit.

  2. Email deliverability audit: This audit evaluates delivery rates and looks for email deliverability problems and improvements with infrastructure, email address verification, email authentication protocols, and more.

  3. Email design audit: This involves a review of the design and development processes to determine the effectiveness and consistency of branding. Just as importantly, it’s a chance to preview how design elements render in different email clients. It could also include updates to your email design system.

  4. Email automation audit: This includes an assessment of your triggered email campaigns such as transactional emails and nurture tracks. You may discover opportunities to automate even more. It may also involve an audit of existing email templates that those automated emails are built with.

  5. Email compliance audit: This ensures marketers are following rules and best practices that protect the privacy and security of subscribers. It could include evaluating adherence to regulations, such as Europe’s GDPR and CCPA in the United States.

  6. Email code audit: This would entail a code clean-up based on current best practices for email development as well as previewing and testing how email campaigns render on different clients like Gmail, Outlook, and Apple Mail.

  7. Email accessibility audit: This type of audit requires a review of code and design elements to ensure that your messages are accessible to people with disabilities such as low vision and subscribers who use screen readers to access email.

It’s perfectly fine to combine types of email audits to meet your needs. Call it a Franken-audit, if you will. For example, you may want to review deliverability in an email performance audit. And an evaluation of accessibility fits well with either an email design or code audit.

You could also split the project in other ways. Perhaps you’ll want to audit your transactional emails separately from marketing campaigns and email newsletters. The choice is up to you. Just be sure to define those parameters before you start.

Who is involved in email auditing?

We’re going to go out on a limb here and assume that, since you made it this far in the article, you are the one in charge of leading the email marketing audit. But no email marketer is an island.

Senior Email Marketers tend to have strong general knowledge on many industry topics but may not be experts in everything. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from colleagues, agency partners, or consultants.

Here are some places to go for help during the audit:

  • The IT department can help you with DNS records required for email authentication.

  • Designers and graphic artists can double-check visual branding against their style guide.

  • Content marketers can suggest better articles for customer education.

  • Marketing analysts can provide information about what happens when email subscribers visit the website.

  • Sales can tell you if the email strategy is helping to nurture leads.

You’ll get better results if you enlist others in the organization to help out. And because those colleagues are assisting you in the email audit, they’ll be more likely to understand exactly why certain changes need to be made.

Tools for email marketing audits

Before you begin an email audit, identify the tools that will help everything go smoothly. You’ll certainly have plenty of options – maybe even too many. Marketing technology and data sprawl can produce inconsistent stats. So, be sure to choose a “source of truth” for email metrics and stick with it.

These are some of the types of tools and software often used in an email audit:

  • Email service providers (ESPs)

  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software

  • Customer Data Platforms (CPDs)

  • Marketing Automation Platforms (MAPs)

  • Email testing tools

  • Accessibility testing tools

  • Sender reputation testing and monitoring

  • Website analytics tools

  • Ecommerce reporting tools

Your email service provider (ESP) is a good place to start. If you’re working with an ESP like Mailjet by Sinch, you can use email tracking tools to gather statistics on both individual emails and the program as a whole. As you brainstorm ways to update email campaigns, you can also use collaboration tools to work asynchronously as a team.

Email tracking dashboard from Mailjet 

Your ESP may also be a place to review the results of A/B tests on emails, which could be applied to other campaigns. Or, you can review your list segmentation strategy. Speaking of email lists, the auditing process is a good time to conduct some list hygiene.

Many other email platforms provide useful analytics for the auditing process. That includes reporting and email statistics from Mailjet, as well as Mailgun by Sinch, and Email on Acid by Sinch.

A customer relationship management (CRM) solution or marketing automation platform (MAP) can show you how well email marketing is moving prospects through the sales funnel.

If you’re evaluating email accessibility, there are a variety of accessibility testing tools that can help. Running your templates through an email pre-deployment platform helps you catch a variety of issues including accessibility as well as URL validation to automatically find broken links (404 errors) and email previews to see how messages render on different clients and devices.

You may also want to access website metrics and ecommerce stats from a source like Google Analytics. Going beyond what happens inside the inbox helps you understand email’s full impact on the business.

How to conduct an email audit

Breaking the email auditing process down into distinct steps is going to make this project more manageable and much less daunting. As mentioned, we’re going to base our examples on a detailed email performance audit. However, the steps will be very similar for all sorts of email audits.

1. Define the goals of your audit

There’s a lot of data out there and plenty of factors to consider. It’s easy to get distracted and head down a path that detracts from the purpose of your email audit.

First, choose the type of audit you want to conduct. Then, determine what you want to learn from the process. When you finish the email marketing audit, what will you know that you didn’t before?

Many times, an email audit is necessary because there are specific problems that need to be solved or questions that need answering. More questions and ideas may emerge as you dig into the data. But try to stay focused on the reasons you chose to do an audit – those are your primary goals. Write them down to keep you on track.

2. Select the right email metrics to evaluate

Once you’ve defined what you want to learn and accomplish, it’s time to select the KPIs that will measure email performance and other factors. Be sure to include email marketing metrics that are underperforming so you can explore potential causes.

10 email metrics to consider for your audit:

  1. Total number of emails sent/delivered

  2. List growth/total number of subscribers

  3. Unsubscribe rate

  4. Open rate and click-to-open rate (CTOR)*

  5. Click-through rate (CTR)

  6. Conversion rate

  7. Mobile vs. desktop

  8. Client and device breakdowns

  9. Engagement metrics (Read, Skim, Glance/Delete rates)

  10. Spam complaints

* Be aware that Apple Mail Privacy Protection could make metrics connected to opens less reliable for subscribers who use that client.

Besides the metrics, you’ll also need to assemble a spreadsheet that lists the name of every email you are evaluating. It can also include the launch date and the subject line.

3. Collect and compile data and observations

Get friendly with that spreadsheet. The two of you are going to be working together for a while. The simplest way to create the sheet is to list email campaigns in rows and layout your metrics for each one in columns across the top.

Email audit spreadsheet layout example 

First, create a sheet for metrics that measures the program’s overall metrics (all emails combined). After you have big-picture results, you can start drilling down. Consider separate spreadsheets for the following types of communications:

A “Notes” section for each row of your spreadsheet is another good idea. As you compile the data, you’ll start making observations and generating insights about what’s going on with individual emails.

What you’re doing here is looking for outliers. Find the campaigns that fall outside of the norm because certain email metrics are significantly higher or lower than average. You’ll want to take a closer look at these emails.

4. Evaluate individual emails

The next step of your email marketing audit is where the real investigation begins. All those metrics you gathered are your clues. The campaigns that stood out, for whatever reason, from others are your suspects. Now it’s time to get curious and solve some mysteries.

Look at the numbers and ask yourself “Why?” In our sample spreadsheet above, you may wonder why the product announcement got lower-than-average engagement. Could it be because the subject line “It’s finally arrived” was too vague? Or was there a deliverability issue? Maybe send-time optimization would have helped.

How to audit email campaigns

As you evaluate campaign performance during the audit, there are some key questions to ask while you consider different aspects of the email itself.

Inbox display questions:

  • Is the subject line clear and compelling?

  • Are you taking advantage of preheader text?

  • Should you be using a different “from” name?

Even though you may have seen these emails over and over, try to put yourself in the shoes of a subscriber opening them for the first time. Click around and closely consider the email experience. Ask some colleagues to review the email experience of important campaigns too. And, if you have the time and resources, conducting user testing will give you some real-world insights.

Email content questions:

  • How does the design look?

  • Are you using the right language and tone of voice?

  • Do you have a good text-to-image ratio?

  • Are the calls-to-action getting clicked?

  • Does the email follow brand guidelines?

  • Are you using color contrast and headings for accessibility?

  • Is the content featured in the email still relevant?

  • Are you linking to the best landing page?

If you have a user experience (UX) expert in-house, get some feedback on problematic emails. You can also bring in designers and writers to help with the content evaluation. Heatmaps of emails provide another useful way to evaluate how subscribers experience your campaigns.

Email development questions:

  • Are you using clean and concise code?

  • How does the template render on different email clients and devices?

  • Are you implementing fallbacks when necessary?

  • How does the email render in dark mode?

  • Do you use semantic HTML for accessible emails?

If you’re unfamiliar with coding emails, ask an email developer to help answer these questions.

Email marketing results:

  • Did the email achieve its intended goal?

    • Send traffic to the website

    • Boost sales or increase signups

    • Improve brand/product awareness

    • Build brand loyalty

    • Inform/educate customers

    • Reduce churn

You’ll likely have your own set of questions based on the goals of your audit and the email you’re reviewing. It may be helpful to use an email audit checklist you can follow, both for gathering information and email evaluation.

5. Create a report on your findings

Congratulations! You’re almost finished with your email marketing audit. By now, you should have some high-level insights as well as smaller tactical changes you can make to improve your brand’s email strategy.

After all that hard work, it would be a shame not to share it. Don’t let all your insights languish in spreadsheets. Put together some slides or a PDF that you can present and distribute throughout the company. That includes your email team, the rest of the marketing department, and other stakeholders who should see the results.

Keep it simple and straightforward. The report doesn’t need to include every single detail – just the biggest takeaways. Try presenting your findings like this:

What’s Not Working? > Metrics > The Reason > How to Fix It

What’s Working Well? > Metrics >  The Reason > How to Replicate It

Ultimately, the report on your email marketing audit will serve as a plan of attack with the next steps and action items you’ll be pursuing in the months to come.

6. Take action on your conclusions

Finally, the number crunching and evaluation is over, and it’s time to make some improvements.

Just as you don’t have to conduct an email audit alone, you shouldn’t have to fix everything yourself either. Be sure to delegate the right tasks to the right people. If there’s a lot of work to do, you could even use project management software to set up a board with assignments, instructions, and deadlines.

If you need a little more inspiration and direction before implementing the findings of your email audit, download our free report, Inbox Insights 2022. You can explore survey results from best-in-class email marketers, discover emerging email trends, and find out how to measure the success of your newly improved strategy.

Feeling excited about what’s to come? Great! But be careful about changing too much too quickly.

Test your changes

Whether it’s design, strategy, segmentation, or any other factor, making sweeping changes could be a mistake. That’s why you’ve got to make incremental changes and test them out before you jump to conclusions. You don’t want to do more harm than good.

Split test your new subject lines and design updates against the old versions of the emails. Try out new ideas on a small percentage of subscribers so you can see how they respond. Test and optimize for accessibility and deliverability. And, be sure to preview how updated templates and new campaigns render on all major email clients.

There’s no reason to wait until the next audit. Testing and tracking help you make continuous improvements to your email strategy all year long.

Improve your chances for email marketing success

Conducting an email marketing audit is certainly a time commitment, and we’re not saying it’ll be easy. But it’s worth the effort, and it will be practically painless the next time because you’ve established a process for getting the job done.

Another thing that improves email marketing success is access to the right tools and technology. Our family of email marketing solutions is designed to give you an edge, and they can all be used as resources during an email audit.

Mailgun offers cutting-edge email deliverability solutions and a powerful API that integrates with your applications. Email on Acid simplifies the process of launching campaigns with an automated pre-send checklist for testing, previews, and optimization. Here at Mailjet, we provide an intuitive email builder that brings your ideas to life along with tools to track and split test your campaigns.

Inbox Insights

Enhance Your 2022 Strategy

Find out what separates a super-successful email program from the rest. Get your free copy of Inbox Insights 2022 to uncover the methods and advice of best-in-class email marketers.

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