Conversion Rate Optimization University

16% of your leads have email typos

Validation! Mailcheck script! Talk to CSRs!

Part 1: The Great Form Fracas of ’14

During my work with AC Media, after I whipped Adwords and CPL into shape, I went looking for new worlds to conquer. My contact advised me they weren’t seeing the results they expected from follow-up emails.

Breakfast of champions

I got access to the data and rolled up my sleeves and got ready to dig in — you know, the way you do when you’re expecting an hours-long deep dive into the abstract world of data? I had an ice-cold Rockstar Recovery Lemonade to hand, I had my headphones in and fired up Beethoven’s 7th symphony (Furtwängler, Berlin 1943), cracked my knuckles, settled into my chair, and —

19% hard bounce rate

Well there’s your problem right there!

So I did a little due diligence as a sanity check (I find these to be very useful although I admit I’m not sure how much it bolsters my case when I’m saying to a client, “Any number over X is unacceptable and the internet agrees with me!“) and found this little gem:

The benchmark for bounces is less than 2%. Anything above a 2% bounce rate for your email campaign is worthy of your attention. If you’re seeing bounce rates over 5%… this suggests a significant problem that you will want to resolve.


I looked at the raw form submits — and sure, some of them were obviously junk ( I started sifting through the apparently legit emails and found an absolutely shocking 16% of the emails had obvious typos in the domain names. I mean obvious typos:

  • icloud.cmo

You get it.

So I went to the landing page and checked the form and, sure enough, there was no validation on the email address field. Well, not quite no validation:

function validateForm() {
  var x = document.forms["thisForm"]["email"].value;
  if (x == "") {
    alert("Email needs be filled!");
    return false;

Almost no validation. Even though a simple space would’ve passed muster, almost everyone, even the obvious junk folks, took the time to enter actual data.

(And isn’t that just an absolute gem of an error message — somehow managing to sound both scolding and semi-literate in just four words?)

I found a fairly simple script called Mailcheck and sent it to the developer, along with an example of proper form validation, and after a few scathing follow-up emails finally got the changes into production.

Next day? 3.1% hard bounce rate (at a cost, of course — actual validation increased friction and cost us 4bp on conversion rate and a corresponding uptick in CPL).

I spent some time after that combing through the old data and correcting some obvious mistakes — changing “mray” to “mary” and “stveen” to “steven” and the like. (I didn’t know a better way to do this, and after the fracas over form validation (I may have said “criminally negligent”) the developer wasn’t speaking to me.)


  • Never assume your forms are properly validated — see if (x == “”) above — test them yourself. Try dumb stuff. You’d be amazed how many checkout forms accept “7” as a valid address and phone number.
  • Form typos are way more common than you think.
  • Some non-zero number of situations where “we aren’t seeing the results we expect” can be handily diagnosed by simply looking at the data.

Part 2: CSRtastrophe

Another gig, another client, this time ecommerce. I focused on CRO first, browbeating responsible parties into implementing UX best practices and then mapping out next-step stuff: improving content, reworking navigation, boosting site speed, identifying key experiments. Then I moved on to my top-secret CRO super-weapon.

BIG REVEAL — my ninja tactic for massive CRO success is — talking to everyone who interacts directly with customers. CSRs, staff in the warehouse, anyone who handles returns. Ideally, sitting with CSRs and listening in to live phone calls (or recordings, when available). Why?

  • THEY know what frustrates customers the most
  • THEY are usually delighted someone bothers to ask them how to make things better
  • THEY are also masters of the kludges and workarounds invariably evolved to take care of customers

Email delivery

#1 complaint? Email delivery — reps sending warranty information or return paperwork to customers who never received it. Customers who didn’t have email receipts for their transactions. This caused an unnecessary burden on CSRs, greatly increased average call time, and absolutely destroyed first-call resolution rates.

So I spoke to the marketing team who said email deliverability rates were top-notch. After a little poking around I discovered they weren’t even tracking bounces (probably not a deliberate oversight — one long-time staffer told me, “[manager from 12 years ago] said we didn’t need to worry about that, so we didn’t.”)

Aside: it’s super awkward to ask a client, “What things are you aware you’re not doing?” Or, “Are there specific steps you think you should be taking, but for whatever reason, you aren’t?” And yet these are often the most informative conversations.

Account access

#2 complaint? Customers couldn’t log in to their existing accounts when ordering. This retailer had a rewards program, pretty standard fare — every purchase earns a 1% credit toward future purchases. Nothing innovative or spectacular, however, customers loved it and the program was great for customer lifetime value. (Hell, the monthly rewards statement email had an 18% conversion rate!)

I poked around and found some actual technical issues (the password reset function updated the customer’s password in the database but didn’t email the customer the new password) we were able to solve quickly. Then I dug a little deeper, started looking at specific cases.

I found a pattern.

The majority of customers experiencing this issue had either:

  1. Created an account, and placed their initial order, via phone.
  2. Created an account while making their first purchase in person, at a retail location.

What’s the common throughline? In both cases, customers’ accounts were created and linked to their email by someone else.

When I figured this out, I felt like a genius. Everyone I told (and I couldn’t shut up about it) was like, “Well, sure, that makes sense.” Maybe this is a good sign — so many of my apparent genius insights are met by blank stares? Still, it felt like a let-down.

So here’s what we did:

  • Required CSRs to repeat back customer email addresses phonetically, letter by letter. (I encourage teams to use the NATO phonetic alphabet — I think it’s badass to hear reps saying, “Oscar kilo whiskey mike” instead of “Octopus kangaroo waterfall migraine” or whatever.)
  • Required retail store staff to show customers the information they collected and get a confirmation that everything was correct before creating a new account.
  • Required all teams to confirm current email address with customers on every order. (I proposed having dev team flag customer accounts with known bad email addresses, but the client wasn’t willing to make this happen.)
  • Manually reviewing email addresses and correcting obvious mistakes where possible (like domain typos, or customer’s name obviously misspelled
  • Started collecting hard bounce email addresses and putting together a call list (sorted from most recent transaction to oldest). “Hi, this is George from Company. Just wanted to remind you that you have some store credit you can spend, in person or on our website… Let me get your current email address and I’ll send a statement right over. We have some fantastic specials right now…”
  • I identified the top handful of staff who entered undeliverable email addresses at the highest rates and recommended coaching.

“Email address entered wrong” sounds like SUCH a minor issue, right? Especially considering there weren’t any immediate consequences. The sale still closed. However, the second-order effects were pretty far-reaching.


  • Reduced call volume overall
  • Higher first-call resolution rate
  • Very slight bumps in ecommerce conversion rate (I suspect this was from customers who were now able to get the reset password email and log in, instead of giving up in frustration and possibly ordering by phone?)
  • Huge drop in hard bounce emails overall

(Apologies for lack of numbers here — strictly following NDA requirements.)


  • Customers aren’t the only ones who enter email addresses incorrectly!
  • Incorrect email addresses cause far-reaching problems
  • It’s worth the time and energy to get it right
  • Always talk to the CSRs

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