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The Email Experience Audit: Why You Need One

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
13 October 2015

Email Experience AuditYou're the company's email expert. You know what you want your email program to achieve, and you've done everything you can to make your messages valuable for your subscribers and company alike. Even your boss gives you an "A" for effort.

Have you ever tried opting in for email from the website, though? What about subscribing through your company's mobile app? Clicking from your emails to the website and shopping? Interacting with email on your smartphone, and not just to see if the links work?

Email figures in all of these activities and can affect the customer experience in ways you and your marketing staff might not expect. When you want to see what's really going on with your customers and subscribers, do an email experience audit.

More than a Usability Audit

The email experience audit – learning how your customers interact with all aspects of your email program – is a good step to take as part of the process to map your customer's journey with your brand. It incorporates some aspects of a usability audit but is much broader in scope.

An email experience audit examines areas like cadence and frequency; whether content reflects the individual customer's identity, behavior and preferences; categories of emails (broadcast, triggered or segmented); and the connections between email and other customer-facing contact points, such as customer support and the in-store experience.

What to Study in an Email Experience Audit

An end-to-end audit could be an exhaustive process. But, don't give up on it if your time and budget resources don't allow you to hire an outside company or a team of test subjects to click buttons, fill out forms and do other tasks.

Instead, recruit friends, family members and even employees in other departments who don't know your email program as intimately as you do. For the price of a few box lunches or gift cards, people from shipping or payroll might spot problems you overlooked just because you're too close to the subject.

So, where do you start?

Focus on the areas where improvement could drive the greatest business benefit, whether that means retaining more subscribers, generating more conversions or higher sales from email, reducing churn in your email program or mobile app, or connecting email to key points in your customer journey.

The list below covers the basic elements of an email experience audit. Choose the ones that are most relevant to your situation, or do your audit in stages as time and personnel allow. You, your staff and your testers should answer the following questions:

1) The Email Program:

  • “From” name and subject lines: Do subscribers immediately recognize your emails in their inboxes? Do they stand out relative to your competitors?
  • Preheaders: Do subscribers see or engage with them?
  • Buttons: Do they pop? Are they finger-friendly on mobile screens? Does the copy tell subscribers what to do and why?
  • Links and navigation: Are they easy to find? Do they lead to the correct pages? Do you hide footer copy and links with low-contrast font colors, or bury them below your offer copy? Are any desired/expected navigation links missing?
  • Devices and email clients: How do your emails render, and how easily can users navigate on different types of devices, screen sizes and email client and mobile apps?
  • Cadence: Study inboxes of different subscriber and customer types to determine the actual cadence and number of emails. What other departments are emailing your subscribers? Categorize the emails by content and value, too. You might discover you sent 17 emails in 14 days, but did you send any that add value beyond an order confirmation or discount offer?
  • Read time: How long do subscribers interact with your emails?

 2. Email to Web/Web to Email: 

  • Devices and email clients: How well do your emails render, and how easily can users navigate on different types of devices, screen sizes and email client and mobile apps?
  • Email to Web: When users click through to your website, do they go where they expect? Is your site mobile-friendly or responsive?
  • Opt-in process: How easily can a nonsubscriber opt in from multiple sources, such as your website homepage or popover, account or order page, Facebook form, mobile app, in-store checkout or from print sources?
  • Opt-out process: Can users unsubscribe easily, or do they get frustrated? How do they react to any unsubscribe alternatives? Do they receive more emails after unsubscribing?
  • Preference center: What's your user's experience with simple tasks like changing an email address or modifying preferences or subscriptions?
  • Email to mobile app: Are subscribers taken via hot links directly into your app from their mobiles?
  • Types of emails: Study the different kinds of emails you send. Do they match steps on the customer journey? These include welcome/onboarding, transactional, remarketing, birthday, content-focused newsletters, one-off promotions, etc.

3. Offline and Multichannel Experiences:

  • Call center contacts: Do your email messages provide customer-support or call-center contact info? Can your call-center reps recognize customers who are email subscribers? Do they invite nonsubscribers to opt in?
  • In-store contacts: How easily can your cashiers redeem in-store email offers? Must customers print out the email, or can they show the offer on their phones? Is there a process in place for shoppers to subscribe to your email program, such as in-store signage inviting customers to text their address to a designated number to opt in?
  • Multichannel: How does your multichannel messaging align with or support your email program? Do you send push notifications or texts from a mobile app? Do you send paper catalogs? Do you advertise on Facebook, Twitter or TV? Are behaviors captured via other channels reflected in your emails?

Next step: Look for opportunities to reduce friction points and realign your email program – the kinds of messages you send, the cadence, how your emails mesh with those from other departments – to support your customers as they move from prospecting to purchasing to long-term value.

Related Resources:

1) Ebook: “15 Post-Purchase Emails That Build Loyalty and Drive Revenue

2) Blog: “Mapping the Customer Journey: A New Vision for Digital Marketing

3) Tip Sheet: “10 Tips for Driving Engagement Using Email + Social


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