Getting an email out the door involves a multitude of steps, tools, and stakeholders. A streamlined process keeps projects moving quickly and ensures high-quality output. A broken or labored process, on the other hand, can be damaging to your program and your team.
But what slows down email workflows—and where do mistakes creep in? For our 2019 State of Email Workflows research, we asked 3,000+ email marketers how they get campaigns out the door and what challenges they face along the way. In this webinar, we shared how you can tackle these pain points head-on and provided actionable advice on how to improve your email workflow.
Didn’t have a chance to watch the webinar live? Don’t worry. You can access the full recording at any time and read the Q&A below.
A big thank you to everyone who chimed in during the webinar with a question! Here’s a recap of our answers to the most popular questions, along with our take on some of the questions we didn’t get to during the live webinar. Have any additional questions? Please leave them in the comments.
So many emails these days are image only emails. This is way less time consuming than coding. What is wrong with doing it this way if the deliverability is still perfect?
Whitney Rudeseal Peet: I’ve definitely been seeing a lot of image-only emails in my inbox, too. When we say that you should never send an email that’s entirely made out of images, what we’re really saying is that you should understand that images alone do not serve your entire audience. Images absolutely serve a purpose in email, but you might have subscribers that have images turned off by default, or people that temporarily can’t load your images because they’re looking through their email while commuting to work on the subway. So if all of your email’s value lies in those images, that value is lost to some of your subscribers.
I will say, too, that although using images for your email may make the coding step of your workflow take significantly less time, it likely inflates the design step more than you might think, so you might be coming out even anyway. Plus, if there’s an error that you find during reviews and approvals—or even in the middle of sending—getting that error fixed will take much longer with images than it would with a quick code fix.
Jason Rodriguez: I totally agree with Whitney. It really comes down to accessibility in its many forms. When people think about accessibility, a lot of times they think of disabilities people have. But there’s permanent, temporary, and situational disabilities. So people impacted by email accessibility can be people with low vision—or just people that are having connectivity issues on their phone. So any time you can use real live text and HTML, that will give things like screen readers more content to read out loud to subscribers, and will simply give others more content to read while they can’t see your images.
Is there a checklist available that we can follow to test for accessibility?
Jason: There are definitely some resources out there to help out. We released an Ultimate Guide to Email Accessibility earlier this year that works as a checklist and goes through all the things you need to worry about when building accessible emails—from copywriting, design, and coding. Within Litmus, we also have guided accessibility checks in Litmus Checklist. It’ll go through and identify any issues your email might have when it comes to things like ALT tags, hierarchy, language type, table roles, and so on. Plus, you can hear how your email sounds to a screen reader to ensure your subscribers using them can enjoy your email, too.
What tools do you recommend using for an email content calendar?
Whitney: Here at Litmus, we use Asana for our calendar solution and it’s definitely a hit with our team. It’s very customizable, and it’s a great way to see what’s coming up at a high level across campaigns.
Jason: Trello is another one that a lot of people are using. Litmus actually just launched a new email workflow template with Trello that you can start using today. But even if you don’t have budget or access to these third-party tools, almost everybody is using a calendar through tools like Outlook and GSuite. You can set up calendar events and put campaign details and link our to strategy docs and copy docs. Regardless of what tool you’re using, visibility is key. So make sure you can tag people and everyone knows exactly where to access that information so they can see it without having to bother any individuals.
What exactly are partials and snippets, and what would I use them for?
Jason: Think of snippets as pre-saved little code components. This can be anything from the header of your email to a CTA button that you use in multiple emails. But if you go into an email and change one of these snippets, it only affects that email campaign that you’re editing. Partials, on the other hand, are typically larger code blocks like logos or the footer section—things that don’t necessarily change often but that you use constantly. They are kept in their own files, so when you make an update to one of those partials, that update goes to all of the email campaigns it’s been used for without you having to manually go in and copy and paste those changes. Snippets and partials are built-in to Litmus Builder and really help with cutting down on the coding step of the workflow. Here’s a more detailed overview of partials and snippets and how you can use them to speed up your email development time.
What about transactional emails? Do I need to spend the time to test those?
Whitney: Automated and transactional emails have a reputation for being “set-it-and-forget-it.” But I’d say for the exact same reasons you want to test all of your marketing emails before you send, you want to regularly check in on your transactional emails too. They can be affected by email client updates in the same way that marketing emails can. I feel like we’ve all gotten an order confirmation or cart abandonment email that just didn’t render right or left us confused. Those emails are such revenue drivers that it’s incredibly important to keep those emails looking perfect, too, and testing them regularly is the way to ensure that. We typically recommend that no email should go without a solid review for more than three months—the risk of delivering a rough experience to your subscribers and negatively affecting your bottom line is just too high. It’s worth the time spent.
I’m having a hard time justifying email accessibility to the rest of my team. What’s some advice you can give that helps explain why it’s worth spending the extra time to make emails accessible?
Whitney: Making your emails accessible benefits everyone. Like Jason mentioned above, accessibility isn’t just for those with permanent disabilities. There are temporary disabilities, like breaking your arm, and situational disabilities, like walking out in bright sunlight or traveling in the subway and losing connectivity. When you think about accessibility in this way, it’s easy to see how suddenly everyone can be affected by something that’s inaccessible.
Ignoring accessibility not only creates frustrating user experiences, but excludes you from creating long-lasting and valuable relationships with the majority of your subscriber base and your future subscribers. There’s so much you can do to make your emails accessible, but maybe start with baby steps. Create a plan that starts with implementing some small changes—like adding language tags, or left-aligning your text—that you can grow over time, so it doesn’t seem like you’re adding a ton of time to your workflow all at once.
In the webinar, you mention focus your testing efforts on the email clients that your subscribers use—but how do you know that?
Whitney: It’s definitely possible that your ESP might not provide that kind of data. Using a tool like Litmus Email Analytics can help fill those gaps. What devices are your subscribers using? What version are they on? A third-party tool can help you see what your subscriber landscape looks like email to email.
Jason: If you don’t have access to a third-party tool, you can get a pretty good sense of what your subscribers are using by taking a look at your subscriber list. A lot of people might have signed up using their Gmail and Yahoo addresses, for example. You can also always find out by asking! Run an email survey and ask them for their preferences, and use that to tailor your designs and techniques to that audience.
When it comes to approvals for more urgent or time-sensitive campaigns, how do you streamline approvals between multiple stakeholders from various departments—and who have varying skills when it comes to using technology?
Whitney: If a campaign is urgent and you need feedback and approval quickly, it’s even more likely that comments get lost and errors sneak in. So if you’re working at a brand where spontaneous sends and fast turnaround times are a given, it’s even more important to keep all feedback in one, centralized place. A tool like Litmus Proof can keep feedback organized and can help keep projects moving quickly.
Any recommendations for streamlining the email workflow when you’re a one-woman email team?
Whitney: Whether you’re a team of one or many, start with looking at where you’re spending the most time in the production process. Is it copywriting? Is it coding and testing? Is it collecting feedback and approvals from stakeholders? Process changes at the step with the biggest time drain can have the biggest impact on your overall workflow.
Plus, always look at where you’re doing the most manual, repetitive work. As a team of one, it’s easy to just accept cumbersome tasks and get them out of the way—because taking the time to figure out how to improve your workflow means you’re stepping away from getting the next campaign out the door. But the truth is, with a team of one automating manual email tasks can make a huge difference for overall production time with every single email—even if you’re spending a few hours setting up automations.
Whitney Rudeseal Peet was a Digital Marketing Specialist at Litmus