Email Marketing

Email Marketing Report Card: provides admissions consulting and application-essay-editing services that help people get into top business schools, medical schools and graduate schools. It produces a free monthly email newsletter called “Odds ‘N Ends” and the staff of has requested that Practical eCommerce review the newsletter for this report card.


I run an email marketing service that caters to small and medium sized businesses. Most companies I’ve observed handle email marketing as a totally separate process from the rest of its business. So in this ongoing report card, I’ll be checking how companies complete the “full circle” of email marketing — not just how cool the emails look. We’ll review the opt-in process, the email creative itself, the landing pages that the email campaigns point to and general list management practices.

The Opt-In Process: Setting Expectations

At, the newsletter subscribe link is easy to find, but it was, unfortunately, a multiple step process to enter my email address. The signup form requests only the email address and name. But this seems like an excellent opportunity to ask subscribers what type of school (graduate, business or medical) they’re interested in, or even what universities they’re applying to. You never want to ask too much, but this could be a rare occasion where people would be proud to tell you what big, smart schools they’re seeking admission to. By asking people to enter their interests, can send more targeted emails to sub-groups of its list (instead of bundling medical and law offers into every single email to cover all bases). Its signup page offers a privacy promise and a link to read archives of past newsletters, both of which are great additions.

The Creative: Overall Design And Function

The subject line for the first email I received was perfectly written: “ Admissions Tip: Checklist or Mosaic?” It contains the company name, which increases open-rates tremendously. It also tells me there are useful tips inside, and it ends with an intriguing question that makes me want to open the email to learn more. Subject lines just don’t get much better than this.

The overall design, in my opinion, needs work. It’s all text, and could use a logo, at the very least.

More importantly, the content of the introductory newsletter is extremely useful and well-written. There are nice bullet points with attention grabbing keywords, like “GPA” and “Test score.” Instead of peppering the content with links to buy stuff, the staff at created a little “footnotes” area with subtle links to find even more tips and research. It looked more like a school report than a promotional email. This was brilliant.

List Management: Keeping Its Lists Clean

General CAN-SPAM compliance is in place, with’s physical mailing address and unsubscribe links. It doesn’t seem to use the double opt-in process, which we’ve found is a good way to reduce false and malicious signups. With double opt-in, a subscriber submits his email, and you send a confirmation link. The subscriber’s email address is only added to your list if the confirmation link is clicked. This method prevents prank and erroneous email submissions. Perhaps the decision not to use double opt-in was a deliberate choice, given the short-term nature of its lists (after all, how long is someone going to be looking for acceptance help?). Still, though, I’ve seen so many false-alarm spam reports that get companies blacklisted for months. I always recommend using double opt-in.

Landing Pages: Making The Sale

Sadly, most email marketers spend so much time on their email campaigns that they totally neglect their landing pages (and landing pages are where you make the sale!). Instead of building a dedicated page where customers can make a quick purchase, they frequently just dump people to the home page, forcing them to scan for the product they saw in the email, or worse yet, keyword search for the product. makes the grade here, too. Its email contains very easy-to-find links that point to clear, dedicated landing pages that provide benefits and testimonials in the blink of an eye. A colleague of mine likes to refer to his “beer-in-handibility” testing. That is, to evaluate how well an interface is designed, he tests it with a glass of beer in one hand, while clicking the mouse with the other. If he can get his work done without putting down his beer, it’s a good design. As I’m writing this, it’s too early for a beer, but I’m happy to say I was able to place an e-book into my cart without having to put down my coffee mug.


Areas for “extra credit” might include using the double opt-in process (to reduce false signups, and to keep its list clean) and an overall redesign for a more professional look. Overall, gets very high marks for outright usefulness. “Odds ‘N Ends” has great content, helpful links, and a well-thought-out opt-in process. It’s rare to find so much content, plus a dedication to making the sale.

Email Marketing Report Card

Opt-In Process B+

Creative Design A-

List Management B

Landing Pages A+


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Ben Chestnut
Ben Chestnut
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