Everything you need to know about auditing your email marketing

The word ‘audit’ sounds scary, but an email audit is nothing to be afraid of. It’s actually a very good, very useful thing.

Think of an audit as like a health check for your email marketing. It will tell you what’s going well, what could be improved, and how you can optimize your campaigns for future success.

Email auditing is a service my marketing agency, Let’sTalk Strategy, often performs for companies. Here’s how we do it:

Situational analysis

Auditing involves a lot of comparison. So, before we even get into the client’s campaigns, we need to know what we’re comparing them to.

We review industry benchmarks, competitor performance, year-on-year trends, and so on. We also use a SWOT and PESTLE to understand the factors affecting campaign performance which is typically analysis provided during a deep dive call with the email marketing team within the company.

For example, when comparing 2020 campaigns to 2019 campaigns, we need to understand and factor in the impact of the global pandemic. If huge situational factors like that get missed out, your audit won’t come up with a fair (or accurate!) assessment. This is a challenge for many companies, and one that we are regularly facing. YoY (Year-on-Year) comparisons are very useful but it’s important to be mindful that what would have been typical peaks and troughs pre-covid probably don’t resemble the same trends during the pandemic. I recommend auditing YoY and YTD (Year to Date) to analyse the differences, trends, and potential forecasts. 

YoY analysis

Comparing certain metrics YoY is a great way to see where you’re improving vs where you’re falling behind.

It’s important to focus on engagement metrics such as:

  • Clicks
  • CTOR
  • Unsubscribes

When comparing these with YoY send volume and campaign revenue. This gives me important context.

For example, if a drop in send volumes coincides with a drop in the unsubscribe rate and a rise in the CTOR, it’s a fair bet that people like the reduced send volume.

However, before any hasty decisions are made it is important to factor in at all times the wider context. If this comparison also shows a drop in revenue, the brand would have to think hard about how they can raise revenue without losing the engagement advantages of the lower send volume.

Once we’ve conducted a YoY analysis for all these metrics, we calculate the variance. Now, it’s possible to see at a glance what’s going in the right direction and what needs some work.


I’d like to dig into CTOR and CTR a bit here, because there’s an important point to make: CTOR is not always reliable.

A YoY analysis of your CTOR rate will give you a general idea of how and when people are engaging with your content. BUT the CTOR alone can be deceptive. This is why it’s important to compare it with other metrics - especially the CTR.

The CTOR can be fooled by ‘false opens’ - which usually happen due to image-loading presets on iOS devices.

A false open ‘recipient’ will appear to have opened your email and discarded it without clicking through. This makes it look like your email content isn’t engaging - when in fact the recipient never even saw it. This is particularly important when comparing YoY and pre-iOS changes as the comparisons will be unfair. As always with an audit, the context is important to always keep in mind.

The CTR solves this problem by removing the ‘open’ part of the equation. Everyone involved in the CTR will have seen your email’s content.

So, if you have a falling CTOR accompanied by a rising CTR, you probably don’t need to overhaul your email content that much - you just need to be aware of the false opens issue.

Email list health

A clean and healthy list is important for engagement and deliverability. So, we always give my clients’ lists a full health check when auditing their email marketing.

To do this, we check that all addresses are:

  • Verified
  • Active
  • Engaged

We also investigate the client’s procedure for less engaged addresses. For example, do they have re-engagement campaigns? Do they segment their lists by engagement level? What are the options for unsubscribing?

Even a quick list health check can reveal many opportunities to build engagement and boost deliverability, so it’s well worth doing!

Sender reputation

Using a tool to check sender reputation quickly tells us about inbox placement, complaint rates, and any red flags that need attention.

I also check the complaint rates against industry averages, as some industries may incur more complaints than others. If the complaint rate seems high but is below the industry average, it’s important to take that into account.

Automation performance

Here a review of a company’s automations is conducted to analyse how effective they are.

Automated tasks and tactics can include (but aren’t limited to!)

  • Automated campaigns (cart recovery, for example)
  • Smart/dynamic content
  • Lead building
  • Lead nurturing
  • Journey mapping
  • Data gathering
  • Personalization

I check the impact of each automation on KPIs (revenue, for example, or conversion rate), and suggest tweaks which could boost the client’s automations. This is always linked back to the objective, what is the main goal of each automation.

Design analysis

Heatmap analysis shows which design elements get the most engagement. A heatmap quickly and easily shows which links are getting clicked, which emails are getting opened, and so on.

Heatmaps are particularly useful when it comes to design analysis, because they make some things immediately obvious. For example, if links in the middle of an email are getting a lot of engagement across the board, while links at the bottom are missing out, comparing heatmaps will make this very clear.

If heatmap analysis doesn’t tell you why some design elements are performing better than others, I’d recommend running some A/B tests. These will help you drill down into what’s going on.

Competitive analysis

Back at the start, during the situational analysis, we will have gathered some information on key competitors. Now, it’s time to put that information to work.

To get an idea of what the company is up against, we will sign up for their major competitors’ email marketing and go through a typical customer journey with them. This could include making a purchase with those competitor brands, going through a 30-day buying cycle for example. Particular attention is paid to:

  • The email sign-up experience
  • The buying experience - while not email specific it’s important to have this insight as there may be some obvious blockers to email marketing being successful.

During the exercise, a number of elements are measured which include some of the following:

  • The number of transactional messages received from each brand
  • The number of marketing emails overall from each brand
  • The number of reorder messages included in the marketing
  • Anything else that seems significant (for example, the frequency and number of discount emails), and SMS if that is received too.

Each brand’s email marketing is then put through qualitative analysis. Things like subject lines, design, CTAs, and so on. From this, there can be inspiration and elements that can be used to improve the company’s own email offerings in ways which will give them a competitive advantage.

Key takeaways

Email audits never fail to throw up some very interesting insights. No matter how skilled the company may be, an audit will always identify additional ways to further improve email marketing further.

I recommend that you conduct an email audit at least once a year. If you don’t have the time to do it yourself, hire a specialist. Apart from anything else, it can be useful to get a fresh pair of eyes, act as inspiration and provide external insight for future business cases!

Best of luck, and happy auditing!

greyson joralemon 9IBqihqhuHc unsplash 600Photo by Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash