Best Practices for Testing Your Email Marketing

Date posted: Wed, Apr 26, 17 | Author: Robert Hicks | Category: best practices, email marketing, news, sending email, tips

Email marketing can be nerve-racking. You pour your heart and soul into an email creative, the copywriting, the compelling imagery, and the perfect subject line, just to hit send and get ignored by thousands of subscribers.

The reality is not every email you send will be a game winning home run. Luckily, with a sound testing methodology and a list of A/B testing ideas, you can learn how to engage subscribers better, and send your email performance through the roof!

Email Elements to Test

Selecting which email elements to test can be a bit daunting. After all, there are plenty of ways to dice and slice your content; Here are 23 elements you can consider testing in your emails:

  1. Subject line
  2. From name
  3. Day of the week the email was sent
  4. Time of day sent
  5. Content flow and cadence
  6. Links vs. buttons
  7. Image-based call-to-action(button) vs. text links 
  8. HTML vs. text
  9. Subject line character length (It is recommended, NOT to exceed 50 characters!)
  10. Social sharing icons
  11. Preview text (Some email clients show text preview following the subject line)
  12. Personalization–first name, company name, etc.
  13. Header height (Remember this an email, not a web page.)
  14. One column vs. two columns vs. three columns
  15. Video in email
  16. Using lists bullets vs. numbers
  17. Use of familiar icons
  18. Call-to-Action placement
  19. Short copy vs. long copy
  20. Mobile optimization(Responsive Design)
  21. Special characters in subject line
  22. Declutter
  23. Resending to non-openers

This list may seem a bit overwhelming—definitely don't try it all at once! Break it down into bite size pieces.

Subject Line

The most common email marketing test is the subject line, let’s take a moment to talk about what makes for an excellent subject line versus an okay subject line:

  • Front-load important words. People want to know why your email is worth their time. Placing actionable words in the front of your subject line can increase open rates by 15 to 20%.  In other words, get to the point your recipient hasn't been waiting all day for just your email alone! 
  • Get personal.  Address your subscribers by their name(%%First%%) when possible or, at the very least, insert pronouns like “you” or “your” to give your subject lines a personalized touch.
  • Studies have shown if you can write a subject line that rolls off the tongue, you will get a higher open rate. It’s like music to the ears! The right subject line can beat your control by 30-40%! Don't be afraid to test new subject line.
  • Write clearly and keep it short. When it comes to emails, we all have short attention spans. Most readers don’t have time to sit there and read every word carefully, they want to know what’s important and that’s it. Be clear and concise when writing subject lines. The last thing you want is to write a subject line that requires a double take just to understand it. Don't be sneaky, clever, or tricky they may open your email but if they don't click-through or respond what good is it?

Remember that first impressions matter. The subject line is like a handshake—if you get it right, your subscribers will love you from the start.

5 Best Practices for Email Testing

A/B testing or "multi-variant testing" is a technique for testing effectiveness. The goal of A/B testing is to determine which combination of variations performs the best out of all of the possible combinations.

Done right, A/B testing increases engagement and can enhance campaign effectiveness. It can also give you a complete understanding of your audience's preferences. Some guidelines:

  1. Keep it simple(KISS). Test basic elements first: subject lines, “from” names, and email copy. It doesn’t take too much time or creative work to come up with a few simple tests.
  2. Standardize email send times. When running any A/B test, be sure to normalize your send times. Remember everyone sends Tuesday morning now so try other days and times. Do your best to send emails together at the optimal send time for your subscribers. It is important to include a copy of your Control Marketing Creative when measuring new versions.
  3. Choose your sample sizes wisely. If your sample size is too small, you may be calling a winner without actually having one. As a good rule of thumb, make sure that you have at least 1,000, more if you have a large list, observations for any test. For instance, if you’re running a subject line test, you need at least 1,000 opens per email to see statistical significance. 
  4. Test one element at a time. It’s tempting to test more than one variable at a time. You need to be able to measure specific results.  Assuming the more you test, the bigger the impact is bad practice, and you wouldn’t know the individual improvements or failures in each variable. Test one variable at a time, measure the results, and roll out the winners!
  5. Listen to your test results, do not hold them up side by side and guess. Remember, the recipient is not seeing them side by side and you are going to see testing results that make little or no sense. But email marketing isn’t a cupcake competition. The best, most engaging email might not be the prettiest or your favorite. This is not about taste or style—it is about getting the customer to engage. Trust the data!

Email Metrics to Track

Let's review these are the key elements to track in your email marketing:

  • Total number of emails sent
  • Total number of emails delivered
  • Deliverability rate: Delivered emails vs. sent emails
  • Unique number of emails opened
  • Open rate: Opened emails vs. delivered emails (monitor the percentage) Use this metric when you’re evaluating your subject line tests.
  • Unique number of email clicks
  • Click-to-open rate: Unique clicks vs. unique opens (monitor the percentage)
  • When you’re running an A/B test involving unique body elements within the email such as copy, call-to-action, or imagery, the clickthrough rate is the key metric to monitor. Your subject lines stay the same, again test one new element at a time.
  • Click through rate: Unique clicks vs. emails delivered (monitor the percentage)
  • A/B tests for subject lines can use the opens rate metric.  Look for subject lines that outperform the control or master creative.
  • Monitor unique number of unsubscribes. Unsubscribe rate: Unique unsubscribes vs. emails delivered. Did your subject line trigger a higher unsubscribe rate?

Hope this gives some insight on the best practices for testing your email marketing.


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