The Ultimate Email Marketing Holiday Checklist
Is your eCommerce store ready for the holiday season? According to Deloitte’s annual holiday retail forecast, eCommerce sales will grow by 14–18% compared to the last year, an expected $144–149 billion spend from November to January.
This checklist will help you keep track of everything you need to have in place so that you’re prepared to maximize your holiday email marketing sales during the upcoming months. If you haven’t completed some of these steps, cheer up – you still have time to set everything right!
Email Channel Auditing
The first thing we should tackle is to make sure all of the housekeeping items are in order. The baseline for email channel performance can be summed up as sending the right content to the correct audiences at the right times without anything breaking. Thus, our audits should focus on identifying any red flags along these dimensions and fixing them. This general approach will bleed into the pre-holiday planning and during holiday execution as well.
We’ll want to clear up any troubleshooting and messes in October (or code-freeze date, whichever comes first).
Identify Cross-Channel Needs for Email – Marketing campaigns don’t happen in isolation. We want to identify which cross-channel campaigns are planned, and resource for email’s role in leading or supporting these efforts.
Audit the Data Sync – Data is critical for our flows and segmentation to function correctly. This is why we need to audit the current integrations with the ESP to make sure every piece of important data is flowing in correctly. We know for a fact that sometimes site updates may delete scripts such as Viewed Product or Add to Cart, and that has a very tangible negative effect on being able to trigger flows. Moreover, core Shopping Cart integrations sometimes stop syncing or break, so we want to check all these data points to ensure everything is flowing smoothly in.
Audit the Email Flows – Since email flows will play a big part in driving sales, we need to fully audit each existing flow to make sure we are a) uncovering and fixing any flows that are not running and/or contain delay or content mistakes, and b) identifying any missing critical flows or flow touch-points that we need to get live before the holidays start.
- Browse Abandonment
- Add to Cart
- Checkout Abandonment
- Welcome – static code mirrored on site, promo-specific flows
- Exit Intent
- Order Confirmation
- Shipping Confirmation
Use the Trigger Preview (if available/necessary) to help diagnose any logic conflicts or unintended breakages in the flows.
Audit the Signup Funnels & Forms – Email lead captures are very important in driving list growth, especially during the holidays, where sites see an increase in traffic. As such, we should audit the current signup funnels, as well as supplementary forms, to make sure everything is in place:
- Site Footer
- Facebook Lead Ads
- Off-Site Captures
- Manage Preferences Forms
- Unsubscribe Forms
- Signup Redirects
Audit the Segmentation – We usually have a core set of lists & segments that we regularly send campaigns to. Prior to the holidays, we want to revisit and audit the lists to make sure the logic and functioning are up-to-date with our latest strategy and avoid legacy, non-optimal configurations.
Several elements to check for:
- Do the core lists and segments contain the right volume of people? For example, if we have an engaged segment, is it covering new subscribers who haven’t had much of a chance to engage yet?
- Are we implementing engagement frequency segmentation? If so, how would this change account for the increased holiday volumes and frequencies?
- Are there other segments we should be preparing ahead of the holidays?
- Are lists set to single opt-in or double opt-in as intended?
Audit List Health & Deliverability – We need to make list health and deliverability for our email program as squeaky clean as possible. Given the super competitive inbox during the holiday season, we need to stack the deck in our favor as much as possible when it comes to deliverability:
- Check for infrastructural setup
- Trends in engagement
- Trends in list attrition
- Spam traps
- Sender IP reputation
- Domain IP reputation
Running an engagement report and isolating by each email domain can surface up any suspected inboxing problems with specific inbox providers.
Using analytics graphs of unsubscribe/hard bounce/spam complaint rates can give us a gauge of list attrition trends.
Third-party tools like SenderScore.org or Google Postmaster Tools can reveal any big infrastructural issues with sender reputation.
Audit the Email Template – We should do a run-through of the core custom templates we use to make sure there aren’t any systematic errors that would propagate into campaigns. We want to conduct a full QA process on the core template(s), including:
- Checking header and footer links
- Checking titles
- Checking dynamic variables
- Checking rendering on major email clients
- Checking mobile version has the right blocks
- Checking spelling
- Checking grammar
Conclude A/B Tests – We may have sets of A/B tests on the campaign or flow level running. If this is the case, we should strive to conclude all of these tests prior to holidays and roll the winning variants into what we do as default for clients during the holiday period. If new tests are identified to be useful to run during holidays, then we can certainly put it into the plan, but be more rigorous in this planning because the results of A/B tests during the holiday season may not translate exactly into normal seasons due to the increased traffic and potentially skewed composition of that traffic.
Audit Last Year’s Holiday Campaigns – We need to look at the metrics from the previous year’s campaign emails in order to identify the most effective emails/promotions. This should form the baseline of our campaign calendar for this year, using tried-and-true high performers and then supplementing with new ideas in place of those emails that sub-performed.
All problems surfaced up by this set of housekeeping audits should be fixed rapidly, with the appropriate project management timelines and tools pulled in to ensure visibility of progress and timely completion.
Identify the Holiday Promotional Plan – This pre-holiday period is the perfect time to nail down the promotional plan, so we can formulate the supporting email campaigns.
Identify List of Initiatives to Complete Pre-Holidays – We may have some time to wrap up some core initiatives prior to the bulk of the holidays. If so, we need to identify the highest-priority items and focus on bringing those to conclusion ahead of the season.
Create Email Campaign Calendar – Types of promos that worked the best based on data (aggregate and client historic). The email campaign calendar should be as detailed as possible and locked in as far in advance as possible, ideally at least 1 month prior to the scheduled dates for the emails. This is a super critical part of the pre-holiday planning process, and the better we do here, the less stress and more success we’ll see during the season.
As for details on each campaign, it may include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Campaign Name
- Subject Lines
- Scheduled Date and Time
- Promotional Type
- Promo code or link
- Promo conditions (exclusions + duration)
- Featured secondary content – all product or lifestyle image links & landing page links
- Landing page links. Indicate if a new one is needed or not.
- Countdown timers
- A/B testing (most likely fewer than normal)
- Target Lists & Segments
- Exclusion Lists & Segments
- Special Considerations, Notes, and Contingencies
- Design assets – GIFs or animation
The idea is to get as much detail as possible into our calendar, so we can get started with creating the content right away, as well as not be tripped up during scheduling with questions that could easily have been answered during the planning phase.
Create Scheduled On-Site Campaigns – Once the campaign calendar is locked in, we can develop the on-site email capture and conversion campaigns ahead of time. We can also pre-schedule these campaigns to start and stop running on certain dates in order to coincide with our email and other channel promotional campaigns. This will lighten the load during each promotional launch.
Mirroring the email promotional message on-site has been proven to increase continuity, user experience, and conversion rates. We want to implement such on-site messaging (with holiday-themed creative) whenever possible to support promotional pushes.
Create Saved Promo Blocks in Email Templates – We should pre-create Saved Blocks to be able to quickly pull them into email campaigns during holidays. This way we can speed up the development of emails where possible. These can be blocks that speak to a promotion, a set of shipping deadlines, holiday gift guides, promo exclusions, and more.
Run Re-Engagement Campaigns – We want our list to be in the greatest shape it can be going into the holidays. As such, if we haven’t run a Re-Engagement Campaign in a while, we should consider running this as soon as we can in order to clean up the list a bit.
Keep in mind that based on our current research, dormant customers tend to wake up during big promos, while dormant non-customers tend to be dead-weight on the list. So when you identify the target list for re-engagement, we highly suggest going with dormant non-customers as the group to target.
Also – if we have automated Re-Engagement Flows running, chances are we may not have manually unsubscribed those who haven’t engaged. If this is the case, we should run a segment to identify those folks and get them suppressed.
An Important Note: Running Re-Engagement Campaigns during the actual holiday season push is not recommended. Instead, dormant non-customers should be primarily excluded from sends. This is because the inbox becomes quite competitive during the holiday season, and intentionally sending to disengaged contacts is very counterproductive to deliverability, since we know engagement rates are a huge factor in determining deliverability.
Conclude Any ESP Migrations or IP Warm-Ups – If we have any ESP migrations or IP warm-ups going on now, we need to conclude those as soon as possible. Any moves to different ESPs or IPs during holidays are going to be disastrous, i.e. Black Friday emails may be all placed into spam, resulting in no revenue!
Please plan accordingly, knowing that IP warm-ups typically take a few weeks, and ESP migrations similarly so. Basically, if the target date for completion is not by the end of October, we should not be attempting it.
Conclude Any Major Design Overhauls – If a client has any major design overhauls going on, such as a new website, new branding, seasonal image replacement, or heavily requested email design updates, we need to conclude those prior to holidays. During the holiday season, we should be focused on executing based on a standardized design aesthetic, not on instituting major design overhauls during that period.
During Holiday Execution
With the proper planning, we should be going into the actual holiday season in great shape. That said, during the holidays, we need to focus on precise execution. We should be focusing on several tenets:
Optimize Each Campaign’s Content – Let’s make sure our campaigns are optimized for click-throughs and conversions.
- Subject Lines/Preheaders – Use the knowledge gained from past subject line A/B testing, as well as past holiday campaigns that performed well, to inform building out of SLs and PHs for your holiday campaigns.
- Dedicated holiday landing pages (clearance, gift guide) – These pages tend to work a lot better than general home pages. As a rule of thumb, driving to more focused landing pages on the site will help increase conversions.
- CTA buttons – We know for a fact that call-to-action buttons inside emails help drive more clicks. These buttons, whether HTML-based or image-based, guide the user on exactly what to click. It’s key to always have them where possible.
- Timers in emails – Dynamic countdown timers are very good at driving urgency and click-throughs. We should include them in key promo campaign emails.
- Dynamic elements (AMP-enabled, GIFs) – Animation is shown to increase engagement. When possible, include GIFs, hover-over effects, and other animated effects to drive more subscriber engagement and clicks.
Metrics Monitoring – We need to keep a sharp eye towards email performance during holidays. No matter how carefully we plan or execute, some things are bound to go off-course or break. Our best defense against this is to regularly monitor the metrics of the emails that went out. This helps identify trouble points quickly rather than missing or being delayed with finding out. This responsibility can and should be held by anyone who is inside the ESP, the more eyes and peripheral awareness, the better.
Utilize QA Holiday Checklists for All Emails – Checklists are our friends during holidays, and a robust, consistently executed quality assurance (QA) checklist will ensure the emails we send are error-free and put forth the brand in the best light. QA checklists at the very least should involve the following:
- Checking for spelling errors
- Checking for grammatical errors
- Making sure all links direct to the correct landing pages
- Testing coupon codes to ensure they are working
- Comparing desktop and mobile versions to see each renders as intended. Optionally, run through an email engine such as Litmus or Email on Acid
- Checking that frequency caps/smart sending is enabled or disabled appropriately
- Checking target inclusion and exclusion lists & segments
- Checking schedule time and date details
- Checking subject lines, preheaders, and ”from” addresses are correct