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Blog post By Paula Chiocchi on 2018-08-22

I’ve seen many marketers struggle with testing. Typically, it’s not the type of task that most of us signed up for when we launched our marketing careers and it can be tedious – the devil is in the details. But the science of A/B testing doesn’t have to be rocket science. In fact, when it comes to email campaigns, focusing your initial testing efforts around a few key elements will allow you to achieve immediate and material improvements.


To begin, create two different email versions (version A and version B), only changing one simple aspect as suggested below, and sending each version to a small, different portion of your database to determine the version that generated the best response rates. Then send this “winning” version to the rest of your list. Simple enough?


Here are four easy aspects of your email campaigns to A/B test:


  1. Subject lines: I’ve written extensively about the importance of subject lines – they can determine whether your recipients will even open your message at all. The first element to consider testing is the content and its relevance for your target audience. If you’re trying to reach busy professionals, focus on consultative value. For teens, you may need to pique interest with a shorter subject line that may even include slang (i.e. LOL). Length of subject lines could be another element to test – short and clever vs. longer and more descriptive. Finally, two tones can be tested: fun and light vs. more serious and formal.


  1. Content: You’ll need a compelling message in order to intrigue or convince your prospect to act. But here too, there are a few directions to take as well as elements to test. You might try two different headlines or even two varying approaches to the overall content to grab reader attention. Bright colors and attractive layouts might also stimulate your audience – or come across as too “sales-y” when an informal, plain white background might be more welcomed. Finally, your audience may respond differently to images, animated GIFs or videos. While you may be initially inclined to convey as much visually as possible, remember that spam filtering and load times can be limiting factors – providing you with an additional benefit of testing. My best advice is to keep graphics to a minimum.


  1. Calls-to-action: Depending on what you want your prospects to do, some CTAs resonate with your audience better than others. Some email recipients may prefer simple “how-to” videos while others may value more detailed analyst reports or white papers. Still others who are closer to the end of the sales cycle may react to case studies, testimonials or limited-time financial incentives. Also important: consider your messaging on the CTA button. While some people may respond well to a “Free How-To Guide,” others may be turned off by the promise of something free. (Side note: the word “free” can also be a red flag to spam filters, consider the word “complimentary” instead.)


  1. Timing: Try varying the time of day or day of the week to determine the best time to reach your audience. Studies show that over a quarter (26.63%) of emails are opened within an hour after an email is sent, so getting the timing right with your audience could show significant results. While other studies indicate mid-week is the best time to reach business customers, your message might be best received closer to the end of the week, when people are thinking ahead to their weekend plans and may make more time available for email.


With A/B testing, my rule of thumb is to keep it simple. It doesn’t take much to ensure that you are taking the best approach to reaching your prospects and generating stronger results with your campaigns. How have your email initiatives benefited from A/B testing?


Outward Media’s accurate, targeted email data can help you achieve better email marketing ROI by targeting your best prospects – including millennials and other generations -- and, ultimately, converting more prospects into customers. Take a look at our case studies to find out more.

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