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Don’t Hit That Send Button! 9 Questions To Ask Before Doing Email Marketing

By November 14, 2012November 5th, 2014Email Marketing
Don't Hit That Send Button! 9 Questions To Ask Before Doing Email Marketing

Raise your hand if you’re engaged in email marketing. If you’ve been doing it for a while, are you sort of on autopilot? Write, post, send.

And if you’re new to the whole thing, are you a little unsure about how to get from, “I want to do email marketing” to, “Now that was a successful campaign!”?

Whether it’s your 1st or 600th time sending out a marketing email there are things to think about before you do.

So before you hit send and cross “do the email marketing” off your list, take a moment to ask yourself these important questions.

1. Why Am I Sending This Email?

“Do email marketing” is not a goal. It is, in a way, result – a result of deciding what you want to say, why you want to say it and who should be listening.

As important as it is to be consistent with your email marketing – and that means sending on a regular schedule, not every now and again when you get around to it or think of something clever to say – it’s just as important to have a “why” for each and every email you send.

If you’ve decided to send out weekly campaigns and the only reason you can come up with before hitting send is, “Because I said I’d do it once a week,” then stop, step away from the send button and think!

You may want to sell a product. Or let people know about your next webinar. You may want to share holiday goodwill or a new blog post with some information your customers need to know.

Whatever your reason, think about it not only before you hit send, but before you compose the email. That will go a long way toward guiding you as you create or curate content. And it will keep your marketing focused on a goal so that you can ask yourself…

2. Am I Sending This To The Right Customers?

You may have “a list” but that doesn’t mean you need to send every email to everyone on it. In fact, if you’re doing some smart marketing then you probably won’t.

Sometimes it helps to filter your list by geography. Or interests. Or your relationship with the person (in marketing-ese, this can be referred to as someone’s “place in the funnel”).

When Hurricane Sandy hit, we sent out an email to our local customers to let them know we were available to help them cope with any storm-related emergencies. It wouldn’t have made any sense to send that email to our customers in China or Michigan.

Even if you have a small list, don’t be afraid to filter and group people. Why not send a marketing email to a single person if you have the thing that you just know that person is going to love? Sounds crazy, I know.

Many people think, “My list is too small. I can’t divide it.”

Sure you can. It all comes down to the first question, and that’s why you’re sending the email in the first place. Sometimes you may have offers, ideas or information that are relevant to only a few people. Better to send that email to the perfect few than the arbitrary many. You’ll also get fewer unsubscribes that way.

3. Am I Adding Value Or Just Sending On Schedule?

This is a close cousin to the first two questions. But go even further when you ask yourself why and who, to whether or not there is any real value in your email.

Are you simply repeating an offer or sending generic information “just because”? Or have you found a way to make the content relevant to your readers, something that gives them a benefit – not you?

Marketing is not you-centric. Sure, it’s about getting your message, product or service out there and generating business.

But when a marketing email hits your customer’s inbox, it has to be 100% about them and the value you’re providing.

I get a lot of emails from companies that repeat the same offer over and over. This week there’s a sale at Kohl’s. I know that, because I’ve gotten half a dozen emails reminding me that there’s a sale at Kohl’s. That’s not value. It’s just beating me over the head with a coupon in case I was too dumb to remember to shop the first time.

4. Will My Subject Line Get People To Open The Email?

It hardly matters how fantastic your email is if nobody bothers to read it. I don’t know about you but there are some days when I look at the number of unread emails in my inbox and just start checking off those I can delete without opening them. That includes newsletter, marketing emails and just about anything that starts with “Here are some pictures of…” (I’ll see those on Facebook anyway.)


Someone may want your email but still not read it if they’re busy, if their inbox is too full or if your subject line just doesn’t sound that interesting.

The good news is that if you’ve got a good “why” then writing a subject line should be pretty straightforward. “Get 10% off my book today.” “Sign up for a free webinar.” Whatever you want people to know, say it in your subject line so they have a reason to open the email.

Here are a bunch more tips on writing a compelling subject line. It doesn’t have to stress you out!

5. Have I Included A Call To Action?

Oh you may want people to sign up for your webinar but did you provide them with a link so they could do it? And a big, fat, “CLICK HERE!”?

I got a marketing email once inviting me to an event the company was holding. Lacking in the email was any link to any information about the venue, how to RSVP, what to do. I suppose I could have jumped in my car on the designated date, popped the location into my GPS and just… showed up.

But I’m pretty sure that’s not how most people would behave. If you want someone to do something, you’ve got to be very specific about telling them what that thing is and how to do it.

“Click here to RSVP by midnight tonight” would have been a good start for that company.

If you want someone to buy your book, don’t assume that someone will know how to do that. And no, I am not assuming your audience is stupid, I’m simply telling you about the nature of human beings. We’re busy. We make a lot of decisions in a day. We’re tired, distracted and overwhelmed.

There are days when Ralph will plunk a cup of tea next to me and I don’t drink it – not because I don’t want to (it would’ve been tasty and relaxing if I had) but because it never occurs to my hand to pick the thing up and move it to my mouth.

Now, if he had said, “Drink your tea,” I would’ve literally picked up the mug and done what he said.

I bet you find yourself responding similarly on autopilot.

So next time you want to sell your book, get someone to your webinar, invite someone to an event or otherwise get them to take action, make a clear and bold statement about what that action is. Click here for some more advice on creating a compelling call to action!

6. Is My Email Pretty?

“Pretty” is subjective, so let’s not get hung up on whether you’ve used the right shade of pink to highlight your sidebar.

What I’m talking about is whether your email is formatted well, in a way that’s clean, attractive and easy for people to read.

You can send out plain text emails and still make them pretty if you format them well using white space, dividing lines and even sometimes special symbols like asterisks to highlight important bits.

If you’re sending an HTML email with graphic headers and other images, it’s important that you pay attention to how you’re using these elements so they don’t usurp your reader’s attention to the detriment of your content.

It’s also important that your images are clean and crisp. Be sure to size and output graphics and photos properly so you can avoid messy, ugly, fuzzy stuff.

And don’t use imagery for the sake of using imagery.

We sometimes feel compelled to over-prettify things by adding more color, more “pop”, more things to look at.

But too much stuff can be the death of even the best email and distract your readers so they don’t quite know where to look.

They may even be so busy looking at all the pretty things that they miss the key content. Keep it simple and relevant so that your important content shines.

And if your important content is the imagery (maybe you’re an artist, photographer, designer or even a retailer showcasing products) then make that the focal point and avoid long, verbose introductions and explanations.

Here are some more ideas for putting together a good email template.

7. Did I Spell Check?

Email programs don’t always spellcheck for you. And even word processing programs miss non-obvious mistakes (“there” may be spelled correctly but it’s still wrong if you meant to say “they’re”).

If you can, then give your email to a second set of eyeballs (a friend, colleague or even – like I sometimes do – your mom) and let someone else give it a good read.

If you can’t, then try to compose your email ahead of time so you can sit on it for a day or more and go back to it to proofread again later. Sometimes mistakes pop out that you missed a dozen times before.

Finally, send yourself a test because seeing an email in context (in your inbox) can help you pick up mistakes or oddities that you otherwise may not have caught in your email program.

8. Are The Links Working?

Do you know what’s worse than not telling someone how to RSVP to your event?

Telling them how to RSVP by providing a link but the link doesn’t work.

It can be a pain, especially if your email has a lot of links, but you need to click on and test every single one. And if you’ve done any work on your template then you also need to test the ancillary links, like those to your Facebook page or Twitter account.

The best way to test your links is to send yourself a test and click on each link as if you were one of your subscribers.

Sure, you can send out one of those “oops” emails that seem so ubiquitous. But it would be better to pay attention and do it right the first time.

9. Have I Tested The Email In Different Email Clients?

Here’s one of the more annoying realities of email marketing: your awesome template may look awesome in Outlook but like complete and total crap in Hotmail.

Just as websites can look different in different browsers (and if they aren’t tested in multiple browsers they can be quite broken in some), emails can look entirely different in different email clients.

If you’re sending HTML emails then it’s important to test your emails in various clients to be sure that what you think your customers are seeing is what they are actually seeing.

The easiest way to do this is to send yourself a test – to as many email accounts as possible.

Before I hit the send button on any email, whether for my company or a client’s, I send a test to myself in Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo…

Sometimes things go well and I breathe a sigh of relief. Sometimes it takes me another hour to figure out why the heck Hotmail is turning all of my links green. (Yes, Hotmail does that. It’s a known issue and has to do with how they set up their stylesheet. So your links may very well be turning up bright green, too.)

The only way to know what’s happening is to test, so set yourself up with a bunch of accounts and get to it!

Are you ready to hit send yet? If you’ve asked and answered these important questions, then send with confidence. Then beware of zombie subscribers.

Got any other important things that you think are worth considering? Tell me!

Join the discussion 17 Comments

  • Annie Sisk says:

    Great post, Carol Lynn! I am definitely guilty of ignoring #1 on occasion – “because … I have to?” is sometimes my answer. (Which is clearly incorrect.) I also haven’t tested emails in different clients before – that’s a great suggestion, and I may start doing that one, though I have kept my email designs exceedingly simple and text-based without much (if any) HTML shenanigans to spice things up.

    • Text is definitely easier to “get right” than HTML. The green Hotmail links are the worst.

      I would test text emails anyway because sometimes you can end up with weird line breaks that make the whole thing look… weird. Sometimes things look awesome in Mailchimp but have about a hundred line breaks once it gets to my Gmail.

      • Annie Sisk says:

        YES – holy cow, the first time I saw the draft I was working on in a test send I was shocked – the text was SO much bigger than it looked in the compose window! And formatting the plain text version just sucks for me, even using a text-heavy design. Still working on a better system for that part of the process.

  • Adrienne says:

    One area I’m not doing Carol is creating a list for different products. I have one list on my blog so I gear all my emails toward that one list.

    Now some of those people may not be interested in what I’m sharing so I learned that just recently actually. Dah!!!

    Sometimes my headlines are eye catching but for the most part I have a pretty loyal readership base now and the majority of them are anxious to hear what I have to say. I put a lot of me in my emails that I don’t share on my posts so when they comment on my blog they may reference something I shared only with them. That’s so cool.

    I do sent them out definitely twice a week and sometimes more, depending on what extra information I might want to share with them. There is always room for improvement though, always.

    Great tips though as always. You really know how to hit home on so many topics my friend. Thank goodness for that right! I’m a learning fool!


    • Adrienne, sometimes I have to learn from myself! I write these things and think hm… I should do that too! Sometimes we forget and as for me, I know I can get lazy about it sometimes and do it on autopilot.

      You have a very personal list so you can probably break a whole lot of rules… or better yet, make up your own… and everyone will love you no matter what. For lots of companies, especially those with big lists, they don’t have that luxury!

  • This is great email marketing advice, Carol. I really like when you say “asking yourself the question why I’m sending this email”, and it makes sense that the answer shouldn’t be… because I do it every Wednesday. But I bet that a lot of us do just that. I admit I have 🙂

    It’s so true that we can’t assume people figure out what to do when it come to take an action in the email. We are the one sending them something, we are the one wanting them to take a certain action, we are the one who need to tell them exactly. Yes, a big fat CLICK HERE is perfect in my book! Or do this or do that… no guessing games.

    It’s so true that different email clients will show a very different kind of email. For example, one of the email that I do my tests, pictures won’t show up. Period. While all other email platforms will. I always think about what my email will look like when I send emails to my list. That important too.

    Lost of great reminders here, Carol 🙂

    • I think we all do that, Sylviane – it’s one thing we get in the habit of doing and then we just do it! But it’s helpful to ask ourselves why, not so we stop, but so we can make the email better and really focus on giving value and getting return.

      Trying to get emails to look the same in different programs can really drive a person nuts! I know that sometimes I send tests over and over and over… but at least I know that my list is going to get the best version.

      Thanks for your comments, Sylviane, I always appreciate your visits!

  • Sue Price says:

    Hi Carol
    This is a great checklist for email marketing. I must say I am not so good at headlines. I can spend so long on that one.
    I do emails for my husbands business and he is in the finance world. I seem to end up with boring headlines.
    In my business I have too many lists and they are not big ones but I am not regular enough with some of them.
    Timely post for me thanks.


    • Hi Sue,
      I have a link to some tips for writing headlines too, if you’re interested. A good place to start is by simply making the headline a value-proposition – let people know what they’re going to get in your email, almost like you’re writing a blog post – say, “5 tips to financial freedom in retirement” so it catches their interest. It may be worth consolidating your lists and then just separating people by group so you can market to them either together or separately as you want. It’s challenging to consider all those details but worth it in the end!

  • Yeremi Akpan says:

    Hey Carol,

    This is one of the most useful resource I have read on email marketing.

    One of the tips that have mentioned been very useful to me is that on making sure your email is pretty. The formatting of your email can be a big source of embarrassment if you do not make a habit of cross checking emails before hitting the send button.

    I have learned the hard way on that one, and now I send my mails first to myself, and then to my list.

    • Hi Yeremi,

      Thanks for that, I’m glad you fond this useful. Formatting is definitely tricky! Sometimes it takes quite a few tests to get it right but in the end you know that your list is going to get your email in top shape. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Hey Carol, I just started creating marketing emails this year and was at first sporadic in my messaging (big no no right?) but I’ve been getting better and being consistent (at least monthly) and offering value to them. I do think long and hard about my subjects and take extra time to spell check but one thing I haven’t done (but thanks to you I will start doing) is checking them in different email clients. Thanks for the tips!

    • Definitely check those emails! They can look really wonky in different email clients and you’ll never know until you look. Of course, you may drive yourself nuts trying to get it right but that’s another story 🙂

  • Carol Minarcik says:

    Good Morning Carol, I engage in lots of email marketing, you listed all the most important things. Great Job. Email marketing to some feel like it is a dead marketing, however I do very well with it. I usually acquire a hefty list of 1M or so and work 4-5 thousand at a time. Sometimes it takes as many as 6 emails sent to one interested person for them to respond, but it does eventually happen. Thanks for the post.

    • I hear the same thing once in a while – email is dead…. I think those people are just doing it wrong! Email is alive and kicking and it can definitely take time for people to respond but that’s the case with any marketing.

  • EMRJE says:

    About point 7 – spell check. I use to write my mail content in Word first. There I get red mark when misspelling and green mark at grammatical errors, works great.
    Thanks for your point 9, I learnt something new there!
    Regards Eva from Norway

    • Great idea! It helps to have a built-in spell checker. Just be careful not to overlook anything that slips by. A combination of automatic checking plus human proofreading is your best bet!