Choosing your weapon
The problem with modern technology is that it seems like everything can be used for everything! There is so much customisability built into modern applications that very often, we find users struggling with applications for uses that in fact, they were never designed for.
It might be something of a cliché within IT circles but a classic example of this is Microsoft Excel; because it is so quick and easy to get something off the ground, what starts off as a simple spreadsheet to tally costs often turns into a “database” of sorts, with interdependent cells spanning multiple worksheets and even, multiple spreadsheets. Whilst it might all seem logical, right and proper at the time, the long-term manageability of the “solution” suffers dramatically when compared to an equivalent implementation using the right application, in this case, perhaps, Microsoft Access.
Leading onto the topic in question, we see that Microsoft Office is guilty of more than one “case of mistaken identity” when selecting the right tool for the job. Please don’t mistake this as a negative comment either – it’s more a testimony to the power and flexibility of the Office Suite that its hammers can be used as saws, and vice-versa!
A Relevant Culprit
Is there another Office-based faux pas that users make relating to application choice? Yes, there is. Microsoft Outlook. As its heart it’s just an email client but in reality, it’s grown to be potentially so much more. Users routinely create entire folder trees inside their “Inbox” and other folders too. We even had one extreme case where a user stored live information inside “Deleted Items”!!
It doesn’t end there though. People take “Tasks” to the nth degree and try to create entire workflows within an applet that was originally intended as a glorified to-do list. They create nested Distribution lists of contacts for the creation of bulk emails which is ALWAYS a bad idea (see item 3 in the list following the table for more information). They don’t Archive mail properly or at all, resulting in swollen live mailboxes that sap the performance of even the hardiest of machines.
We’ve distilled all this into a hopefully more helpful list, along with a potential recommendation as to what a better solution might be.
|Outlook Solution||Better||Why is this better?|
|Folders in Folders in Folders||Windows file explorer||More easily managed and backed up More logical collaboration|
|Tasks||Microsoft Project||More easily managed, especially when it comes to multiple workflows and more complex undertakings.|
|Nested Contacts Groups||Dedicated CRM System allied to a dedicated mailshotting service / application||More easily managed Greater flexibility for the control of mailshots etc.|
|No Archive||Properly configured Outlook Archive or better yet, enable Archive area in Exchange Online if you have an Office 365 email system||If it’s done right, Archiving can be totally transparent to the user and is done continuously to ensure that the live mailbox never grows to an unwieldy size|
Okay I’ll change! What else should I not do with email?
We have a number of other things that should be borne in mind, relating to email, that don’t specifically relate to use of the application itself beyond its original design parameters. In no particular order, you should never;
1) click on a link without knowing where it’s come from and if it’s safe
Malicious links are one of the most common ways for viruses to spread! The whole topic of cyber security is too large for this blog but suffice to say here, it’s a really bad idea to click on a link just out of curiosity
2) open an attachment without knowing where it’s come from and if it’s safe
In a similar vein to (1), viruses are often spread as email attachments with evocative names such as “remittance advice” or “final notice”. Resist the urge to open them, and instead, report them to your IT Support Provider or Network Admin for further investigation
3) use Outlook for your Corporate Mailshots
Outlook was not designed for this purpose. At all. It offers no controls for dealing with;
- Multiple emails sent from the same source (some ISP’s block this practice after a while)
- Handling of Black Lists (improper / heavy use of Outlook for mail campaigns can result in your sending identity being blacklisted as a point of origin for Spam
- Handling of “Unsubscribe” request. We should all know by now that in accordance with GDPR regulations, recipients are opted out by default, meaning that your new recipient list should contain ONLY those users who have elected to receive. However, GDPR also says that if a recipient wishes to Unsubscribe, you have to handle it properly
- Handling of bad recipient address / bounceback errors. A good system will monitor this and automatically remove failed transmissions from subsequent campaigns
4) use unnecessary plug-ins
It’s the same with web browsers. Adding “functionality” to Outlook is common from third-party applications in the form of “add-ins”. Unfortunately, they can accumulate quickly with each one bringing the potential to reduce the stability and performance of the software
5) use garish stationery, or any custom stationery at all
In the spirit of being all things to all people, Outlook allows for the customisation of mail backgrounds. In the interests of your mails being well received, avoid the temptation to use them! They’re distracting, unprofessional in the business world, and are best left in the past.
6) use a “fancy” signature
Don’t get us wrong, a well-laid out signature can add professionalism and authority to your emails. It’s also often required from a compliance point of view, in some industries, to add certain disclaimers. What is NEVER required are flashing fonts, garish colours and other instruments of distraction. Avoid avoid avoid!
7) ignore the job of backing up
It’s the last item, but it’s definitely not least. Backups are absolutely essential. It might be that your Network Admin handles all that, or if you’re on 365 it could be done at Microsoft’s end. Check this out though, and if you’re not happy with the answer, back up your mailbox(es) yourself.
There’s lots to think about here, we know. In short, though, try to use Outlook in its simplest form as this way, it will perform better for you in terms of both speed and reliability. Don’t force it to be something else.
Also, when thinking about how you work with email, give some consideration to the above points and how they might impact your way of working, productivity and also (in the case of stationery and signatures) how you are perceived by your recipients.
We know most of this is common sense and we apologise if we’re preaching to the converted but sometimes, it’s good to reaffirm the basics. If any of this is new to you and you’re not sure how to deal with any of the issues raised, or if you have other questions for anything “technical” at all, please feel free to contact us. We we will be very pleased to explain things, make any recommendations as required from right from Outlook organisation right through to the implementation of an all-singing, all-dancing full-scale email marketing engine.