The science of A/B testing might be considered intimidating or a “nice to have” option for many small and medium sized business (SMB) marketers, but the truth is, it doesn’t have to be rocket science. Marketers can get started – and see immediate improvements – if they merely choose one element of their next email campaign to test, and use the results to maximize outcomes.
To keep things simple, I would suggest creating two different versions (version A and version B) with the email aspects below. Send two messages to a small portion of your database; say, 10% each. Determine the version with the highest open or click-through rates, and send this “winning” version to the remainder of your list.
To get started, here are three email elements that warrant A/B testing to improve your campaign effectiveness.
- Subject lines: I’ve offered my top tips for creating effective subject lines before, but I want to emphasize the importance of testing them here. After all, subject lines are the most important element of any email. It isn’t just what people see first (not counting the sending email address), but for the majority of your audience it will inevitably be all they see. With this much at stake, it makes sense for your A/B testing to start here.
- Length: While there are myriad studies that attempt to determine the perfect, subject line length, in reality, the answer is to determine this for yourself and your target market. Trying to reach teens? Shorter will no doubt be better. Targeting scientists or lawyers? A longer one may do the trick.
- Content: Again, think of your target audience. For younger adults, a casual subject containing shorthand or slang as if your message is coming from a friend, might be OK. For educated professionals, something a bit more formal, descriptive or meaningful may be better accepted by them. But you’ll still need to pique interest, such as with an intriguing question.
- Tone: Is your message fun or formal? Obviously, your tone is determined by your market. But, in any case, feel free to try something different and mix it up a bit. Not all scientists or lawyers respond to dry or boring – that’s the beauty of testing to find out what they will respond to.
- Content: With a proven subject line, you’ve won the reader’s attention. Now you must maintain it with a compelling message. Test these elements to see what works best for your market.
- Background: Colorful templates might be an eye catcher, but a plain white background may be the better choice, as it’s an easier read, seems less formal (or “sales-y”), and renders better on mobile devices.
- Visuals: Images, animated GIFs or even videos can entice the reader and/or enable her to get your message much more quickly. However, there are potential technology drawbacks, such as slow load times or a higher probability of being blocked. If you do opt for an image, consider testing a couple, such as one featuring your product/offering by itself versus one showing it being used.
- Call to Action (CTA): Your prospect has read your message, now it’s time for the critical next step: action. Test these elements to find what works best for you:
- Single or multiple: Best practice might indicate using a single button to click on, but perhaps including this on multiple locations (top, side and bottom?) may make sure the reader doesn’t miss it or is unclear on what the next step is. In addition, while one CTA may be a “click to learn more,” perhaps an additional one is to simply post or share the information you’ve sent to myriad social media channels.
- Read more vs. specific promise: If your email is meant to drive traffic to a blog post or article, you might include a preview of the content along with a “read more” link, or a more specific CTA such as “learn the top three ways to improve your marketing.” Even someone who didn’t read all the email content might be interested in a CTA highlighting the specific information you have to offer.
- “Free” as a driver: While marketers strive to give something in order to get something (such as a click), “free” can be an attractive word to some targets. To others, however, “free” can be a turnoff and cheapen your message, especially to a sophisticated audience if you’re, say, a yacht builder. In addition, this word can be a red flag to spam filters, so consider using “complimentary” or “gift” instead.
There are other areas you can also test; email timing (time of day, day of the week, etc.) and frequency also come to mind. In any case, the takeaway should be to get started now, and conduct A/B testing on every email campaign you send. By doing so, every email you send is more likely to be a winner – which means your overall marketing initiatives will improve as well.
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