Increased open rates, click-throughs, and sales: If you want these results, running an email marketing audit can help you get there. That’s why I've teamed up with six email marketing experts to help you create an audit of your own.
Together, we cover:
What is an email marketing audit?
An email marketing audit means checking in with your email strategy, campaigns, and overall account health. Like a general marketing audit, the main goal is to see what‘s working and what isn’t.
But you can also find any untapped opportunities for improvement.
That said, only some audits will cover every element that‘s involved with email marketing in its entirety. You might run an audit to check technical issues like deliverability, workflow automation, and accessibility, for example.
You may also audit a specific campaign’s performance to see whether it's meeting its goals.
The Benefits of Email Marketing Audits
I interviewed six email marketing experts to find out how an audit has helped them and their lists. Here's what they had to say about why email marketing audits matter.
Better Open Rates, Click-Through Rates, and Sales
"I was tasked to improve the open rates (OPR) and click-thru rates (CTR) of the emails my client was sending to their target audience," says Gabriel Gan, head of editorial for In Real Life Malaysia.
The email list Fan worked with had around 250,000 active users.
“Using email audit best practices, my team and I were able to pinpoint areas of improvement and increase our client's OPR and CTR from 10-15% to 27-35%,” Gan continues.
Aside from OPR and CTR, sales improved, too. Gan recalls “an increase of 7% in sales during Black Friday, compared to the previous year (100% to 107%).”
Finding What Resonates With Your Audience
"An email audit is like a health check. It's an opportunity to see what's working and what isn't," says Senior Content Strategist Lia Parisyan. One area an audit can help you understand more clearly is what resonates with your audience.
"At one company, we wanted to test if questions in the subject line converted better than statements," explains Parisyan. "We tested out this observation and found some segments preferred numbers and questions in subject lines while others were swayed less by numbers and more by 'how to' statements in subject lines."
Gan cites a similar experience regarding audience resonance: "When I first started doing email marketing, the emails they [the company] were sending out had a distinctly 'direct sell' approach in the copy."
Gan explains that traditionally, this approach is the best way to get prospects. But "it wasn't great at scaling to an international, cross-generational audience (20s to 40s) with a wide range of tastes and needs," Gan says.
An audit helped Gan and the team discover this and create more resonance.
Improved Engagement and Deliverability
"Email audits have been invaluable for our logistic company's email marketing," says Onur Kutlubay, CEO at YouParcel. Kutlubay explains how audits looking at "email lists, content quality, segmentation, and delivery practices" have helped YouParcel evaluate its email marketing campaigns.
Kutlubay cites "a 20% increase in open rates and a 15% rise in click-through rates" after refining email targeting and content based on the audit findings.
Parisyan also highlights that "an email audit can help you identify and resolve deliverability issues." Long story short?
Fixing these issues makes sure your messages get to the right inboxes, which can improve deliverability and engagement overall.
Seeing the Big Picture and Refocusing Goals
"It's so easy to lose track of [what's working and what's not] when you're focused on the small details of everyday work — and let's be honest, email marketing requires a lot of attention to detail," says Anna Czechowska, email marketing specialist at Uscreen.
According to Czechowska, an email audit shows you the flaws of your campaigns and areas where you can improve while highlighting the wins.
"You may be surprised looking at what worked and what didn't," says Czechowska. Still, having the data from your audit will help you to "see the big picture and refocus on the right goals."
Improving Email List Health
"Email audits are key to understanding the health of our client's accounts," says Yair Barojas, marketing strategist at Mindgruve.
Barojas explains that email audits help them to "determine the structures, methodology, and implementation that are currently in place."
From there, they can find any areas of opportunity to improve the overall account and list health.
Barojas mentions "segmentation, list development, data mapping improvements, tracking implementations, and automation, to connectivity between systems" as areas they check to find these opportunities.
Prioritizing and Nurturing Relationships
"Email audits have been a huge help for Travel-Lingual," says James Smith, founder of Travel-Lingual. "They're like a check-up on your email list, ensuring you're sending out your top-notch content to those who care about it."
Smith also emphasizes the importance of focusing on quality rather than quantity and that removing inactive members helps them do this. "Email audits have helped us cut down on all the junk and focus on the people who enjoy our travel content," closes Smith.
The Anatomy of an Email Marketing Audit
The specific parts of your email marketing audit all depend on your end goal. That said, you may find yourself addressing all or some of the following areas:
For any audit, it makes sense to get a summary of where you‘re at right now. That gives you a benchmark to see whether your follow-up actions based on the audit do or don’t work.
Reporting on email performance metrics like open rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, and ROI will give you a basic comparison. You can then compare how your email campaigns perform before and after the audit.
List Health Analysis
You evaluate the quality and cleanliness of your email subscriber list. Reports usually include list size, quality, segmentation, and any issues related to bounce rates and unsubscribes.
Content and Design Review
You analyze the email copy and design for quality, relevance, engagement, and consistency with the brand. You'll also want to double-check that emails are mobile-friendly, accessible, and responsive.
If you lack design experience or technical chops, HubSpot's Drag and Drop Email Builder can help you create visually appealing emails.
Deliverability and Compliance Assessment
You‘ll typically review email deliverability issues/challenges, spam complaints, and sender reputation as a minimum. You’ll also want to audit compliance with email marketing laws and regulations.
Automation and Workflow Evaluation
You‘ll want to analyze any automated email workflows in line with your segmentation strategy. If automation isn’t in place, you can report on actions to take to improve efficiency with automation.
You can also find opportunities to streamline the existing workflow.
Whether you audit one or all of these areas, you‘ll need to create recommendations and an action plan. You can then optimize what’s working in your email marketing strategy and fix what isn't.
[Video: How to Master Email Marketing (2023)]
How to Conduct an Email Marketing Audit
I asked experts Parisyan, Barojas, Czechowska, and Gan how they run email marketing audits. Together, we crafted this nine-step process for running an email marketing audit.
You can apply these steps to an entire email audit or a specific element you focus on.
I've also factored in tips about running audits in-house or as an external resource.
1. Define your scope and set goals.
"The most important thing is defining scope. What is the purpose of the email audit? Is it compliance? Security? Improving conversions?' Parisyan says.
"It can be more than one thing, but the more precise you are with your scope, the less likely you will lose focus or draw the audit out," says Parisyan.
At this stage, Parisyan recommends choosing the most impactful email area to audit. "You can do smaller audits. Choose one variable. Improve, test, and tackle the next variable instead of boiling the ocean," Parisyan explains.
From my experience with content audits, I suggest making sure that your email marketing goals and objectives complement the broader business strategy.
That way, you're focusing your activity on areas that help to achieve the more general company goals.
I suggest requesting everything you need to get the job done sooner rather than later, too. If you get things like permissions and documentation early, you can avoid delays caused by chasing these down.
That stands if you‘re in-house, but it’s vital if you‘re an external resource because you’ll have fewer contact points with decision-makers.
"If we can not access the client's email system, we interview key stakeholders to understand how it works and where they need improvement and help," says Barojas.
Barojas, who works agency-side, also recommends getting examples of "emails and any workflow paperwork" at this stage.
2. Build your audit team.
"Next, who's going to be on your audit team? If you're solving for security, Do you need to involve legal? Cybersecurity?" says Parisyan.
After you've finalized your team, Parisyan recommends assigning roles and responsibilities and using project management tools.
PM tools can help you plan the email marketing audit timeline, assign tasks, and oversee progress from start to finish. Either way, project management tools are a great way to avoid having multiple spreadsheets everywhere.
And as anyone in marketing knows, spreadsheets can get messy fast.
3. Choose your audit tools.
"There are lots of [tool] options. You may already be using one," says Parisyan. "However, I wouldn‘t recommend switching tools during an audit if you haven’t vetted them. I would consider that a separate activity."
Parisyan also explains that third-party solutions are often neglected during audits. So, document these, as they may affect security and compliance.
To stay aligned with your core objective, Parisyan also recommends identifying "the tools you're using, how, and to what purpose."
If you still need to get a tool in place, consider looking for one with an email marketing audit template or checklist built in.
You could also look for a tool that helps you track your audit process, although you can use a project management tool for that, too.
For context, I don't think everything in content marketing needs a template. Content templates are how writing gets stale and predictable, for example. However, templates are necessary when it comes to processes.
Having an in-house framework or agency SOP to follow will save you time and help you improve with each audit iteration. It also gives you a visual guide to follow as you work through the nitty-gritty of your email marketing audit.
4. Data collection and legal review.
"You'll want to make sure everything you're gathering complies with privacy regulations such as GDPR and HIPAA (in healthcare)," warns Parisyan.
While it‘s easy to overlook this step, it’s critical to make sure you're in line with email marketing laws in specific locations and industries.
Aside from GDPR (Europe), CAN-SPAM (United States) is another law you may need to comply with, depending on your list. If you‘re within the U.S., you should also comply with state-by-state policies.
Virginia’s Consumer Data Protection Act (VCDPA) is an example of one of these.
5. List the areas you want to audit.
At this stage, you want to list the areas most relevant to your goal and then audit those. If you're doing a full audit, Barojas recommends covering the following areas:
- Account structure.
- Campaigns and content.
- System connectivity.
- Testing and optimizations.
You could also focus on a smaller area, like increasing your conversion rate for a specific email campaign. The conversion action could be clicking the call to action button. The relevant audit areas could be content and design.
In that case, you'd want to audit the subject lines, design elements, copy, and calls to action at a minimum.
Gan mentions auditing email content as it relates to the broader customer journey, which is: "Open email inbox > open email > scroll down to the bottom of the page > click the CTA button," says Gan.
Gan maps out the more specific customer journey and touchpoints like this: "(begin customer journey) Email subject line > preview text > email header image > headline > introductory text > product image > product description > cta button (end customer journey)."
Gan explains that at each stage of this journey, the customer could click away, get distracted, or lose interest. So, to increase conversions, you should aim to "retain attention all the way till they click the CTA button."
6. Assess impact using email marketing metrics.
Now you know your goals and which areas you'd like to audit, you need to assess them using relevant email performance metrics. This will give you a benchmark so you a) know how to move forward and b) have pre and post-audit comparison data.
Some common email metrics include click-through rate, open rate, bounce rate, and list growth rate. But let‘s stick with our example goal of having more list members click the call to action button on an email campaign.
The metric in that instance is conversion rate. Here’s how you can measure it.
"To calculate the conversion rate, I divide the number of people who completed the desired action by the number of emails delivered and multiply the answer by 100," says staff writer for HubSpot's marketing blog Erica Santiago.
So the formula would look like this:
"To measure the conversion rate of your emails, you'll need to integrate your email platform and web analytics," says Santiago. "You can do this by creating unique tracking URLs for your email links that identify the source of the click as coming from a specific email campaign."
7. A/B testing and optimization.
"When doing your audit, the first step is identifying the areas which you must look into. The second step is to test," Gan says. Gan recommends following two main rules for your A/B testing:
- Set email A as the incumbent. Set email B as the contender.
- Only change one variable at a time.
"For example, in email B, when testing open rates, only tweak the subject line and not the preview," says Gan.
That's because "If you have more than one variable that has been changed from the old email, it's almost impossible to determine which new addition you made has contributed to the improvement in OPR/CTR."
Aside from A/B testing campaigns, you can dive into the email campaigns yourself.
"I test emails on different devices and in different email clients. I try to really get into subscribers' shoes, e.g., by joining our email sequence," says Czechowska.
She explains that this helps to get a first-hand perspective of the "actual experience for our email audience."
8. Create an action plan and get approval.
Now, you need to put all of your email marketing audit findings into a clear and logical action plan. In my experience of running audits, I recommend outlining an action plan in sprints.
If you don't do this, the data can be visually overwhelming, which makes it hard to know where to start.
I'd also say to frontload the actions that will have the most impact on your goals. That will increase stakeholder and team buy-in.
Once you have a clear plan of action, you may need to present it to stakeholders, decision-makers, and/or senior team members to get approval.
"To get stakeholders to take action on your recommendations, format your analysis for your audience," says Parisyan.
For example, executives are busy.
So, "A short slide deck with critical stats and findings may work best. Or you can call a meeting to discuss your findings and recommendations if that's what stakeholders prefer."
In short, Parisyan recommends knowing your audience so that your recommendations get implemented. That's because doing the audit is not enough. Convincing stakeholders to take action "demands equal focus and championing."
9. Implement an action plan and analyze the results.
When decision-makers have approved your action plan, it's time to implement the findings from your email marketing audit. You can then analyze the results of your audit recommendations.
You should consider revisiting Gan’s A/B testing advice and rules here — only changing one variable at once and continuing to test and improve in iterations.
But implementation and analysis don't mean the work is over. You also want to create a system for ongoing monitoring and reporting to track progress and make adjustments.
"Once changes are signed off, march forward, monitor what's happening, and keep documenting," says Parisyan. "Having a record will enable you to conduct more vigorous audits in the future and avoid testing the same hypothesis again."
Tips for Conducting an Email Marketing Audit
Want to run a successful email marketing audit? Here's what the email marketing experts I interviewed suggest.
Break it down into manageable chunks.
"The number of things to review may be overwhelming at first, but breaking it down into smaller steps will help," says Czechowska.
Czechowska suggests first defining your goals to help you break things down. "You may want to focus on some areas more than others — e.g., deliverability or list segmentation strategy," she explains.
Within that, there could be "a specific problem that requires your attention, such as high bounce rate or low engagement."
Remember, it’s not a solo job.
"Even if you're at a small company, involve others. Beyond building collaboration and tapping into other people's skills, involving others helps you catch things you might miss," says Parisyan.
"If you have photos in your emails or graphics, maybe consult your designer. See if they have any recommendations," Parisyan continues.
You can also connect your sales and customer service teams to "see how the language tone and length of your content compares with their messaging."
Marketing Strategist Yair Barojas agrees.
"Lean on additional team members who may have experience with other areas you need to encounter during the audit, such as developers or analytics," says Barojas.
Try an expectation test for your messaging.
"This is not as common, but you can try an expectation test," says Parisyan. The test involves showing someone an email headline and asking them what they think the email will be about.
To eliminate confirmation bias, Parisyan suggests that you don't show participants the email copy. You can then learn how people really feel about the headline without them knowing what the email copy is about.
Parisyan also recommends interviewing customers "in 'the green'" and to "think about integrating them into a beta testing campaign" as another way to test and tailor your messaging.
Account for differences in strategies and campaigns.
"Each company handles documentation and email strategy differently, so don't shy away from reaching out to the client with questions," says Barojas. He also explains that every audit is unique, too.
So, "being flexible is as important as being timely."
Czechowska also references campaign differences.
"Don't measure every email against the same standards," says Czechowska. "Think about what you consider a success for each of your campaigns — it'll be different for your weekly newsletter, and e.g., an abandoned cart sequence."
Use quantitative data and qualitative feedback.
"For an effective email audit, my tip is to consider quantitative data (open and click-through rates) and qualitative feedback (customer responses)," says CEO Onur Kutlubay.
Through this "holistic approach," Kutlubay’s company has been able to tailor emails "for better engagement, leading to increased ROI and more satisfied customers."
Kutlubay reports an increase in open rates and click-through rates, specifically. But that's not all.
"This combination of qualitative and quantitative improvements generated a 25% growth in email-driven revenue, demonstrating that investing in email audits can lead to substantial gains," says Kutlubay.
Remove inactive subscribers.
Founder James Smith recommends taking a data-driven approach to your strategy, including looking for "any inactive members" of your email list.
"First, get rid of the inactive people on your list. Then, tailor your content to what your audience likes," says Smith.
Doing that will help you focus on delivering quality content to the people who are the most engaged so you can nurture those relationships.
Kutlubay also focuses on list health during email audits. In terms of the impact, Kutlubay’s bounce rate was reduced by 10% after a "careful list cleanup."
A/B test often.
"There's a perception that once you set up your email list and create a template for your emails, you can 'set it and forget it,'" says Head of Editorial Gabriel Gan.
"But now, with the power of A/B testing, with just a few rounds of testing your headlines, visuals, copy, offer, call to action, etc., you can find out what your audience loves, do more of it, and improve your conversion rates twofold or threefold,” Gan says.
Gan recommends testing often, noting down your findings, and improving on each email iteration until you find out what works and what doesn't.
Find outside-of-the-box solutions.
"The conventional method is to send your email at the busiest times of the day (when people are most likely to check their emails)," says Gan. "But if that's what everybody else is doing, your email will likely get lost in the shuffle, so you have to think in terms of your customer's mindsets as well."
Gan explains that for retail products, "evening time just before dinner or just before bedtime is likely the right time." But for productivity hacks or daily news, "updates are likely better early in the day before work."
You can apply this non-conventional thinking in your audit recommendations.
Email Marketing Audit: Do More of What Works
Running an email marketing audit can provide invaluable insights into your campaigns and email accounts in general.
You'll have everything necessary to create a clear action plan aligning your email marketing activity with broader business goals.
Whether analyzing a specific area like list health or running a full audit, following a tested framework cuts out the guesswork. Start doing more of what‘s working and less of what isn’t with our expert-led email marketing audit process.