Why You Should A/B Test Your Next Email Marketing Campaign

Ryan Schaefer

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Every client’s goals are different, but there’s a standard practice that’s almost guaranteed to deliver meaningful results: A/B testing.

It’s a simple concept: send out slightly different versions of an email to see which one performs the best. Platforms like MailChimp and Campaign Monitor offer extensive A/B testing options—you can change a hero image, blocks of copy, the headline, the color scheme, delivery times, or pretty much anything you want. It’s immensely useful in nailing down the most effective email format, particularly during the beginning stages of a campaign.

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Both MailChimp and Campaign Monitor will walk you through how to set up an A/B campaign and let you choose your criteria. These platforms are designed for ease-of-use and allow you to segment your audience based or previous activity (another variable you can A/B test).

After delivery, you can compare useful metrics like clickthrough rates, open rates, unsubscribes, and more from reports the platforms provide. You’ll also see exactly where users clicked in your email. For example, if you’re testing a linked above-the-fold image, and Version A receives a four percent higher click rate than Version B, you’re probably best served to mimic a photo like that in the future. It’s a general best practice to test only one variable per email blast.

You’d be surprised how a tiny thing, like the typeface inside a button, will change a clickthrough rate. And I've seen campaigns where slightly altering the subject line from a teaser into a question more than tripled the open rate.

It’s a very basic model which means it’s relatively easy to understand the results. But that doesn’t diminish their value. The fact that they’re so accessible means even a beginner can come up with a strategy, design and send an email, and see real-time results spelled out in black and white.

The larger your audience, the more credible your insights will be. And one of the best ways to grow your audience is to A/B test email after email to deliver something that is tightly worded, aesthetically pleasing, touches all the relevant keywords, and appeals directly to your campaign goals, whether that’s sales, donations, sign-ups, or something else. Bottom line: regularly tested campaign emails will lead to higher conversion rates. And that’s the goal.

A couple best practices as you set up you first campaign, or continue to hone your process:

Shorter is better.

You get only a subject line to capture someone's attention. If you do and someone opens your email, you have about six seconds to convince them to keep reading. Not a lot of time. Keep your message concise, to the point, and value-driven. Don't tell a story. Say what you're writing about and why it's important. That's it.

Don't send too many.

I'm sure you get as many unwanted advertising emails from services you probably didn't even sign up for as I do. My thought process when I see one of those is (1) who is this? (2) how did they get my email address? (3) and how do I unsubscribe? It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. We're all trying to declutter our inboxes—don't crowd it for your subscribers with half a dozen emails per week.

Don't "sell."

What I really mean by this is to not sell too hard. A big driver behind your email campaigns may be to promote your products to drive sales. That's totally acceptable and email is a practical platform for that. But the average consumer is likely to see straight through your messaging if you're constantly throwing phrases at them like "You won't want to miss out!" and "You've NEVER seen anything like this before!" Write like you would talk, and briefly sum up the value of your product.

Even though there are a lot of businesses competing for people's inbox space, a well-written email backed by a solid A/B campaign strategy will put you in a great position to succed.

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Senior PM in tech // Formerly front-end developer // Based in Denver // ✍️ : Digital stuff (product, creative, data, business, productivity)

Denver, CO
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