Email audit

What Is an Email Marketing Audit?


Diving into a new job brings on many challenges. It’s an exciting time, but it’s also a time where you’re “drinking from the firehose,” as they say. There’s a lot of information to digest, new systems and processes to learn, names to match with faces, and learning where the bathroom is.

Dog with fire hose
Day 1 at the new job.

Get a step-by-step guide on how to conduct an email audit with expert tips from Nout Boctor-Smith

A new email marketing role brings on its own set of unique challenges. In many cases, you’ll be inheriting an existing email marketing program. The program could be robust and built out or in its early stages. Either way, an email marketing audit is a great place to start.

What is an email audit? It’s an assessment of an existing email marketing strategy. It means looking at existing workflows, subscribers, copy, design, and most importantly, performance. In the end, the audit should show you the state of your organization’s email marketing efforts and how you should proceed in your new role.

Here at Email on Acid, we recently brought on a new senior email marketing manager: Paul Kirby. Welcome, Paul!

Paul didn’t waste any time jumping into an email marketing audit when he started. And we didn’t waste any time tapping him for more information. So, as part of our hazing welcome to a new employee, we thought we’d chat a bit with him about what the email audit process entails.

Welcome, Paul. Thanks for stepping away from email for a little bit (we know how hard it is to tear you away). First, how would you define an email audit?

A big part of email audits is looking at what exists already and seeing what’s working and what isn’t. Look back at the emails that have been sent over the last few months or the last year and try to analyze the stats with questions like:

  • What was the overall open rate?
  • What was the open rate for individual emails?
  • What did the click-through-rates (CTRs) look like?
  • Were the emails being sent to a large list or targeted segments?

I’d ask the same questions of any email, whether it’s a one-off message or an automated series. If it’s a series, look at the overall performance as well as the individual emails within the series.

That makes sense. So, when you jump into a new role or company (like Email on Acid) how do you tackle an email audit?

The first things I look at are open rates and CTRs, but deciding what numbers are “good” or “bad” depends on the nature of the email.

If the email is targeted at a specific audience, for example, I want to see an open rate above 30%. If it’s a message sent to a broader audience, anything over 20-25% is solid.

Email on Acid analytics
Visualizing email engagement in the Email on Acid analytics platform.

CTRs are usually a little harder to define and depend on the type of email. A product update probably won’t have a high CTR, but a newsletter should have decent clicks. I like to see CTRs around 10% or higher, but that’s going to depend on how good the targeting is for the email.

Do you look beyond those two stats?

Of course! The email audit should also involve looking at the goals of the email marketing channel. What are you trying to achieve with email?

If you’re a retail business, you’re probably looking at revenue from emails. In other cases, you may be looking at how emails drive subscriptions or sign-ups for a free trial. The bottom line: Is your email marketing strategy meeting these goals, or are they missing the mark?

It’s also crucial to look at your subscriber database and ask questions like:

  • Who are the subscribers?
  • Which customer lifecycle stage are they in?
  • Do they engage with the emails they receive?

Even more than understanding CTRs and open rates, knowing who your customers are is the most important piece of data. But it doesn’t end once the audit is complete – understanding your customers is an ongoing analysis.

If customer knowledge is so important, what other subscriber-related data points should we be looking at during the audit?

Again, this will vary depending on the goals for the company and the email channel. But the idea is to learn as much about your customers as possible. Try to find information that will help you send more targeted, personalized emails.

For example, you could dive into how the subscriber got on to your email list in the first place. Did they sign up through your blog? Did they register for a guide or a white paper? Try to use this data to extract an area of interest and create emails geared toward that interest. If you’re a retail company, explore what your subscribers have purchased, added to their wish lists, or left in their carts. Start to develop a more targeted email strategy based on this information.

Once the audit is complete, is there a specific area a new email marketer should dive into first?

Your company’s priorities will dictate the areas you should focus on first. For example, when I joined Email on Acid, I knew that I needed to first look at our automated emails. As a subscription service, automation is crucial to both building customers and retaining subscribers.

If you have an idea of a change that could improve performance and help you reach your channel goals, develop a hypothesis and then start to run A/B tests to see whether your strategy will work.

How can an email marketer achieve quick wins in a new role?

After finishing up the audit, look and see what the biggest area is for improvement and start to chip away piece by piece. For example, if the email open rates are low, try something simple like a new subject line. If the CTRs are low, there can be several factors at play, but first look at the calls-to-action (CTAs). Sometimes, the CTA isn’t compelling or there are too many CTAs in one email.

If something seems off, you can also take a peek at your deliverability and assess whether your email content could be landing in subscribers’ spam folders.

What words of caution do you have for an email marketer in a new role?

Don’t try to make a sweeping change on everything right away – unless you’ve joined a company where the email marketing program is completely flat or needs a major shake-up. If you change too much too soon (design, frequency) you could shock the customer. You may also lose sight of what is working. I don’t like to make a huge change without running an A/B test first.

Any other nuggets of wisdom to share?

Try to do a monthly analysis of what emails you sent out and what worked. I’m obsessive about tracking that kind of information, and I’m constantly looking at email performance to see what’s driving growth, or what changes need to be made if there’s a drop-off.

The in-depth email marketing audit you do at the start of a new role isn’t something you need to repeat often, but it’s important always to be looking at how customers are engaging with your emails and make gradual changes to optimize.

Simpsons excellent
This was the GIF Paul chose for our team page. What email scheme could he be plotting next?

Thanks for sharing your insight Paul, and welcome again to the team! If you have a question for Paul or want to share some insight into email audits you’ve done, leave a note in the comments section below! Or, hit us up on Facebook or Twitter.


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Author: Melanie Graham

Born and raised in New England, Melanie has a background as a writer, editor and journalist. After roaming the U.S. as an expert vagabond, she’s landed in Denver as Email on Acid’s content manager. She’s a music nerd at heart who loves spending time at the piano.

Author: Melanie Graham

Born and raised in New England, Melanie has a background as a writer, editor and journalist. After roaming the U.S. as an expert vagabond, she’s landed in Denver as Email on Acid’s content manager. She’s a music nerd at heart who loves spending time at the piano.