August 9, 2016

A 20-Point Checklist for the Perfect Email Newsletter

Following a checklist helps bullet-proof any project. Here’s a 20-point checklist to help you ensure your newsletter meets your own standards.

Airplane pilots use checklists to make sure nothing goes wrong during takeoff. You can use a preflight checklist of your own, too – an email marketer’s version. That way you’ll have no reason to stress during that spooky preflight moment we all dread. You know the one: when your finger lingers over the send button, just before you deploy your email newsletter to the thousands of prospects on your list, and you wonder if you’re about to make a gigantic mistake … or send out a terrific email.

1. You’ve shown the email to someone else.

Sometimes we can’t see our own mistakes. Especially after we’ve been poring over an email message for hours. So get a pair of fresh eyes on the job. It only takes a few minutes to send an email over to a coworker to have them look at the content, structure, and copy. And it’ll reduce your chances for major embarrassment – by a lot.

2. You sent a test message to yourself (and perhaps a small test group on different devices), and you’ve viewed the message both on your computer and on your phone.

Anybody – even the pros at Return Path – can make a mistake with an email message. The best way to avoid embarrassments (or at least to minimize them) is to send yourself and a few other people a test email before you deploy to your entire list.

The test email is pretty important. There’s a couple of things it will tell you, among them:

3. You’ll know your email will look all right if people have their images turned off.

A lot of people have their email clients set to not show images; other clients (such as Outlook) turn images off by default. So be ready for them – when you send that test email to yourself, turn the images off in your email client, then scrutinize what’s left of your email.

Is the call to action still visible and clickable? Does the email still work without that big header image you loved so much? Does the ALT text of the image look good? Does it convey useful information? (The ALT text is part of the code that creates images.) If you want to get fancy, it’s possible to format the alt-image text in emails.

4. You’ve proofed and edited the copy in your newsletter.

Email newsletters tend to have more copy than other types of email messages, but that’s no reason to make them any longer than they have to be. So if you’ve got the time, try to trim down the copy you use in your newsletter.  You don’t have to butcher it down to meaninglessness, but do condense it where you can.

If you have an in-house editor, great. If not, it’s really important to run your copy through an editing tool like Grammarly. It’ll catch many (but not all) typos or usage errors you might have otherwise missed. This is a good tool to use even if you do have an editor, just as an extra measure of caution. Particularly, if you’re marketing to highly literate people, you can’t overdo this step.

5. You’ve clicked every link in your newsletter.

What’s the #1 mistake for email newsletters? Aside from high-level strategy missteps, it’s got to be broken links. I see “Oops – sorry for the broken link” emails at least once a week. Sometimes, I think they’re actually a marketing ploy to get us to read an email twice.

The solution is simple. Take that test email you sent yourself, and click all the major links in the email. Have your last-minute email reviewers (or someone else) do it, too. Emails with broken links are annoying, but they’re also sad – all that work trying to get people to click, lost. To have the link be broken at that oh-so-critical moment just stings.

6. The total size of your message is less than 50kb.

Small enough that you won’t have any deliverability problems due to size, but big enough that the images in the email can be of good quality.

7. You’ve compressed any images you’re using.

Most of the time, oversized emails are caused by oversized images. So if you’ve got any big images, make sure they’re optimized for the web. You can do this in any image editing program, or with free online tools like CompressNow.

8. You’re sending your email newsletter to people who have asked for it.

We know you’d never overtly spam people, but there is some etiquette to mailing people that goes way beyond just blasting emails to strangers. Really, it comes down to permission – express permission to send your newsletters.

Here are a few examples of situations where you have a connection to someone, but it’s still not quite okay to send them your newsletter:

  • You met them at a conference and got their business card.
  • You’re connected to them on LinkedIn.
  • They signed up for a webinar you gave (but you didn’t expressly ask them if they wanted to get your newsletters, or let them know they would be added to that list).
  • They downloaded a whitepaper from your site (but you didn’t expressly tell them or ask them if they wanted to get your newsletters).

9. You’ve included your company’s name and address in the footer area, so you’ve got that part of CANSPAM requirements covered.

10. There’s an easy way to unsubscribe from the email.

You aren’t requiring people to log in anywhere to unsubscribe. You haven’t hidden the link in any way. And you aren’t going to make them wait a few days for the unsubscribe request to be processed. They can opt-out of your emails with just a click or two.

11. You’ve included information that’s genuinely useful for your readers.

Sure, you can send out company announcements now and then. But the more you talk about yourself, the less interested your subscribers will be. It’s tough to hear, but true.

People want to get emails that will help them. Help them be better, live better, do better. And we’ve all got very limited time, plus a thousand distractions. Your newsletter has some serious competition. So make it good. Strive to create a truly must-read newsletter for your audience.

12. The type size you’re using for the email is large enough.

Generally, that means it’s at least 14-point type, and many sources recommend at least 16-point type.

13. Your newsletter uses a simple, “mobile-friendly” layout.

Mobile friendly” means the email newsletter can adjust itself automatically to different screen sizes. If you want to kick things up a notch and use a fully “responsive” design, your email will have embedded layout instructions for any device – you’ll be able to specify cool tricks like including navigation only for desktop readers, and even being able to strip your email down to a text version for Apple Watch owners.

14. You’ve spent at least 20 minutes choosing the subject line.

You wrote out 10-15 variations on it, then ran them through one of the email subject line tools, like Touchstone or Here are a few other tips for testing your subject line.

15. You’ve included pre-header text.

Think of this as the subheader for your email newsletter. Depending on which email client your newsletter is viewed on, a reader will see more or less of the pre-header, or may not see it at all. You’ve carefully written it with the most important part in front, then added on a short sentence or a phrase at the end.

The screenshots below show the same two emails as they displayed in Gmail (top) and in Outlook.

16. You’ve included a call to action.

Email newsletters are meant to educate and entertain readers – not to do the hard sell. But that doesn’t mean they can’t ask people to take an additional step. Maybe all you want people to do is to click through and read the rest of an article. That’s fine – but do create a nice button for people to click through and do that.

Of course, you’ll also need to follow call-to-action best practices:

  • That button needs to be CSS-based, not an image. If people have images turned off in their email client, you don’t want a broken button.
  • The button needs to be large enough for mobile users to click easily. The minimum recommended size for buttons is usually 44 x 44 pixels. But be nice to your readers – make yours at least 50 x 50.
  • Show the button in a color that contrasts with the rest of the email. You want the button to stand out.
  • Start your call to action copy with a verb. You want the reader to do something, right? So tell them want to do. Start it with a verb, like “Get my coupon”.

17. You’ve added social media follow buttons and sharing buttons.

These serve two different purposes.

  • The first kind of social media buttons let people follow you on your social media accounts. Someone just clicks the follow button in your email, and they’re brought to your account on that social platform.
  • The other kind of button lets people share your newsletter. This happens more than you’d think – especially if people really like your newsletters.

Place your follow buttons at the top and bottom of your newsletters, then add the sharing button near the content you want people to share.

18. You’ve included a forward button.

These are just like social sharing buttons, but the “platform” you’re sharing to is email. Quite a few emails get shared this way, so don’t discount this. Many companies even include a line of copy and a link so people who have received forwarded emails can easily sign up.

19. Send from a reputable email service provider.

Don’t send newsletters from your personal (or even business) email account. There’s two reasons for this. First, you’ll get awful delivery rates. Second, it looks unprofessional.

There’s a third reason, actually: Getting an account with an email service provider really isn’t that expensive. Even if you’ve got zero budget, there are several paid providers who can give you all the basics … though you will have to overlook their little branding message and link in the footer of your emails.

20. You’re using a consistent sender name.

This is the “From” field on your email message. On Apple mobile devices, the sender name will be more prominent than the subject line.

Whether you use your name or your company’s name is up to you; just make sure it’s consistent. Otherwise, your email newsletter subscribers will have a harder time recognizing you.

Deliverability is frequently at odds with even the best marketers’ content marketing strategy. With the right priorities and best practices in mind, however, content and deliverability can work together to generate amazing results. Download Act-On’s free eBook, Deliverability 101: Your Guide to Developing a Content Strategy to Maximize Email Deliverability to learn how.