Test to Improve Your Email Marketing Results

Testing is the foundation of successful email marketing programs. It is also one of the easiest and most cost-efficient ways to improve your marketing results. A study conducted by Marketing Experiments clearly demonstrates the importance of testing. In the study, a group of experienced marketers were asked to predict the winners of tests run on:

  • Email subject lines (3 choices)
  • Headline copy (4 choices)
  • Offer pages (3 choices)

In all three tests, the marketers picked an unmistakable winner. However, they picked the lowest performing option in two of the three tests. The moral of the story? You don’t know until you test!

What to Test

Small changes in your email marketing campaign can yield dramatic positive results in open, click-through and conversion rates. Deciding what to test in your email program is the first step. Here are some suggestions:

  • Send times. When is the best time to send emails? Open rates to the same email can vary depending on the day of the week and the time of day it is sent. And the optimum day and time often vary from business to business.
  • Subject lines. What is the most effective subject line? Will brand-specific, action-oriented or benefit-driven subject lines produce the best open rates?
    • Incentives, product benefits, price, and promotion end-dates are examples of subject line variables to test for promotional emails
    • Article topics, titles, authors and e-newsletter benefits are examples of subject line variables to test for e-newsletters
  • Promotional emails. How can you most effectively optimize click-through rates in your email message? The email is important because it is the point at which you begin the relationship with your prospects and customers. Variables to test in emails include headlines, long versus short copy, graphic design and different promotional offers.
  • Landing pages. What can you do to the landing page to boost conversion rates by motivating your prospects and customers to take the desired action? Variables to test on landing pages include headlines, calls-to-action, background color and design and graphics.

How to Test

The A/B Split Test is the most common way to experiment with your email campaigns. If you are testing subject lines, for example, this test involves sending one subject line to a small sample of your list and the other subject
line to a different sample of the list. The subject line with the highest open rate after a pre-determined period of time then would be sent to the rest of your list. The following are tips for running an effective test:

  1. Begin with a control and hypothesis. In testing a landing page, for example, your current landing page would serve as the control. The hypothesis might be that a change in the location and graphics of the call-to-action box would
    increase sales. Then log the results as you make one change at a time.
  2. Determine your goals. Be sure you know what you’re looking for in the test. Is it more subscribers? Do you want to increase sales?
  3. Send the experimental emails at the same time. Unless time sent is what you’re testing, keep all other variables the same, including the time sent.
  4. Set a test period before declaring a winner. Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to email tests. The results one hour after an email is sent may not be accurate. Unless you get an overwhelming response to an email, waiting at least 24 hours before deciding which test email won is a good rule-of-thumb. For landing pages, it may take a week or more to get a good read on the winner.
  5. Ensure test groups are an adequate size. If you have a large list, for example, 1,000 per group is a reasonable size. However, if your list is small, you may want to test over a few sends.

Email Tests That Give the Best ROI

Which creative email tests give the best return-on-investment? That’s was one of the questions MarketingSherpa set out to find in a 2006 survey of email marketers. With 3,637 respondents they found the following:

  • Copy is critical. The three email tests with the best ROI were landing page copy, email offers, and subject line.
  • Email testing increases ROI. In all of the 6 most common email tests, more than 50% of marketers increased ROI thanks to testing.
  • Landing pages are vital parts of email campaigns. According to MarketingSherpa’s Anne Holland, these results indicate two important things:

    • Web analytics need to go beyond just opens and clicks to include Web data after the click
    • Email promotions need to drive Web site development. In other words, new landing pages may need to be created for specific email campaigns versus linking to already existing Web pages.

Source: MarketingSherpa’s Email Marketing Benchmark Guide 2007

Methodology: This fifth annual survey was opened to selected MarketingSherpa reader lists on Oct. 26 and closed on Nov. 1, 2006. 3,637 total responses were collected from email marketers (2,492) and employees at agencies/ESPs working with email (1,145).

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