Email Marketing Testing
Email marketing testing is arguably the most important component of a campaign, in that testing paves the way for continuous content improvement, leading to healthier open rates, clickthrough rates and conversions, as well as fewer unsubscribes, more social shares, and a faster-growing, higher-quality mailing lists. Here is a review of important items to test in the email campaign, and best practices for the testing process.
Important Email Marketing Testing Variables
An email has three components that must be tested: the subject line, the email content and the dedicated landing page. The subject line affects the open rate, the email content affects the clickthrough rate, and the landing page affects the conversion rate. The primary purpose of testing is to improve performance for these three metrics. Specific items to test include the following.
- Subject Line. Among the many variables to test: questions versus statements, personalization versus non-personalization, short versus long, descriptive versus provocative, and low urgency versus high urgency
- From Name. Typical options include one or more of the following: company name, branded email name, personal name.
- Graphic versus Text. Sometimes recipients are put off by highly stylized, graphical emails, interpreting them as spam or blatant sales solicitations. But sometimes, this is not the case — thus the importance of testing!
- Short Form versus Long Form. Newsletters, complex products and services, and new products and services are often best served with long form copy; however, brevity is also compelling.
- Call to Action: The Offer. Obviously, different offers are likely to garner different levels of interest. Testing variables of offers are extensive, and include changing the offer itself, the duration, the qualifications to participate, and the text of the call-to-action button.
- Call to Action: Placement. Where the offer appears in the email has a bearing on clickthroughs. Higher placement is usually considered stronger, but sometimes, a premature offer is overlooked because the recipient has not absorbed enough information to be ready to click.
- Call to Action: Design. Clickthrough rates vary depending on font style, font size, color selections, button size, button shape and other design variables. Small though these variables may be, they can have enormous impact on clickthrough rates.
- Call to Action: Number. Often, giving recipients the choice between a primary and secondary offer improves clickthroughs — but not always. At the other extreme, presenting too many offers tends to confuse recipients, leading them to make no decision at all — but not always. Again, we can see the importance of testing.
- Content Style. A formal versus informal tone in the email and landing page can have a great impact on clickthroughs and conversions respectively. Other content-related variables include conservative versus edgy, straight versus humorous, and educational versus entertaining.
- Landing Page Design. Best practices for user experience (UX) and conversion rate optimization (CRO) must be woven into every landing page. But even when best practices are followed to the letter, a multitude of variables should be tested, as no single best way to create a "perfect" landing page exists. Variables include call-to-action issues (see earlier bullets), font style, font size, headline and subhead text, imagery, credibility statements, form fields and overall layout.
- Timing. A final testing component involves mailing on different days of the week and at different times of the day to determine if timing has any bearing on the open rate.
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A/B Testing of Email Marketing: Best Practices
The most common methodology for email testing is A/B split testing, where one variable is tested, such as a green call-to-action button versus a red one. The winning color becomes the new standard; at some future time, another color is tested against it, determining a new winner — and so on. A/B split testing can backfire, however, if it is not done correctly. Important things to consider include the following.
- Only test one variable at a time. Because there are so many potential variables to test, companies sometimes become impatient and test multiple items at the same time, such as button color and button text. This is self-defeating: How can the company determine whether the color or text led to an improved conversion rate?
- Have a large enough test group. A huge drawback of running email campaigns to small lists is the lack of meaningful test data. For instance, a mailing list of 1,000 may generate only three conversions versus two on a given split test. Is this really enough data to reach a sound conclusion? Probably not.
- Concentrate on high-impact variables first. Usually, the subject line, offer and landing page layout have the biggest impact on opens, clickthroughs and conversions. Thus, these variables should be tested early and often. From a common sense point of view, understanding the value in this is easy: Why dabble with tweaks to button color if the offer itself is woefully lacking?
- Collect all the data. A common loophole in data collection occurs when a company overlooks the tracking of phone conversions. If phone conversions are not considered, testing results of landing pages could be, and probably will be, fatally flawed.
- Keep detailed testing records. Test results should be carefully categorized and recorded, to prevent duplication and ensure all potential variables are tested at some point over the life of the campaign. Having solid records pays off all the more when internal personnel changes occur, or a new agency takes over an existing campaign.
Email marketing testing is crucial to success, and to make it work, companies must be patient. Becoming discouraged after three or four months of a minimally productive campaign is unwise, because very few campaigns are smash hits straight out of the box. Campaigns become great over time, mainly by methodically testing subject lines, email content and landing pages. The important thing to look for in the early stages of a campaign — the first 6-12 months — is progress. No matter where the campaign starts in terms of open rates, clickthrough rates and conversion rates, if those rates are improving, then the campaign is on the right track.
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