Test Your Emails Consistently for Continued Improvement

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Analytics and Reporting
Email Marketing

In life, there’s always room for improvement. Whether it’s your mom’s meatloaf, your husband’s driving, your daughter’s grades, or your marketing department’s email marketing campaigns, things can always be… well, just a little bit better. And, in some cases, that extra effort, that attention to detail, can make a world of difference.

In marketing, identifying areas for improvement can impact everything from inbox placement to lead generation to the amount of ROI you bring in at the end of the year. The key to making improvements that generate results is to focus on which elements resonate with our customers, and that is where email testing comes into play. Thankfully, we now have access to useful marketing insights to guide us on how to best enhance our efforts.

Even experienced email marketers might not have the best grasp on how to test our marketing initiatives, but with the right tools, you can make this process as simple and productive as possible. Today, we’re going to discuss why and how you should test your emails to improve personalization and performance.

What Is A/B Testing?

Often referred to as “split testing” A/B testing is a common practice used to improve performance and efficiency in nearly all digital marketing strategies and tactics, but it’s especially helpful with email marketing.

In simplest terms, A/B testing involves creating and sending two versions of your email using only one distinguishable variable (or, “variant”). By keeping all things equal, other than this lone variant, you can determine which version is more effective. In short, A/B testing helps you move from operating on assumptions and intuition to delivering high-quality messaging based on objective data.

For instance, let’s say you’ve written the perfect email. It’s short but informative. Direct but clever. And purposeful while also being personable. Most importantly, you think it will do what it needs to do: get opened, drive traffic to its intended objective, and turn a nurtured lead into a satisfied client or customer.

Unfortunately, you’re still struggling to decide between two seemingly equally effective subject lines or calls-to-action (CTA). With A/B testing, you would randomly split your audience in two and then send your recipients one of the two versions. Whichever version performed better according to a few key metrics (open rate, click-to-open rate, and bounce rate, among others) is your objective winner.

But your work doesn’t stop there. A/B testing is an iterative process that should be performed at regular intervals throughout the life of the campaign because, as we stated above, there is always room for improvement.

Email Testing Improves Performance

Most marketers understand the importance of A/B testing their emails, but that doesn’t mean they always follow through with this digital marketing best practice. Every day, we speak with marketers from a wide range of industries who know they should be testing their outbound communications to improve performance, but they either don’t have the capability to do so with their current email service provider (ESP) or they’re not exactly sure which elements to test or how to test them. Worse yet, in some cases, marketers simply don’t appreciate the value of A/B testing to optimize their campaigns and don’t bother following the proven tricks of the trade.

Regardless of why these poor souls are unable (or unwilling) to conduct their due diligence, the fact remains that email testing improves performance. By determining the proper variables to split test and pitting your messages against one another in mortal combat, you can determine which parts of your email (e.g., subject line, body copy, etc.) are the most effective — and then capitalize on those specific messaging components to deliver strong, relevant messaging to engaged prospects. From there, you can continue testing your emails against one another with updated messaging elements, at different times of the day and week, and to distinct targeted audiences — which you can easily segment with Act-On.

In addition to strengthening your messaging, testing your efforts is extremely important to your email deliverability — which is the overall health of a sender’s email and the likelihood that their messages will be delivered to the proper inbox at the expected time — as well as your ongoing success. An email that gets delivered, seen, and opened (and one that motivates your contacts to complete an action) can contribute significantly to your ROI. Consistent and accurate testing and tracking is the secret sauce behind determining a recipe that works.

Check out our additional related content:

Deliverability 101: Your Guide to Inbox Placement

Email Features You Should Be Testing

Like most digital marketing tactics, email split testing should involve several different elements, which means you should be doing a lot of micro-testing of these variants among your segmented audiences. You can learn more about which marketing email components to A/B test in our “Deliverability 101” eBook series, but here’s a brief overview of the most common elements Act-On’s marketing team reviews in our own email marketing campaigns.

Email Subject Lines

Before leads convert to customers. Before a prospect downloads a content asset or signs up for a webinar. Before recipients click on the call-to-action (CTA) in the body of your email. Before any of this can happen, your audience needs to actually open your email. And the best way to get them to do that is to craft meaningful and engaging email subject lines and then test those subject lines against one another to uncover the perfect messaging.

Subject Line Testing Best Practices:

  • Compare title and sentence case capitalization
  • Try shorter (35 characters) and longer (70) subject lines
  • Use a friendly, direct tone
  • Compare informative and clever copy
  • Try asking questions and making declarative statements  
  • Leverage list-related content
  • Incorporate relevant and powerful statistics

Email Preview Text

At Act-On, we usually think of the preview text almost as a sub-header that not only relates to, but is dependent upon, the subject line copy. So the copy of the preview text should always be either part of the text from the body copy of the email or a catchy phrase that is both clever and directly relates to the content of the email.

Email preview text can have a significant impact on open rates, but it can be difficult to decide what copy to include, especially since different email hosting platforms have different character restrictions. That means taking a proactive approach to including the copy you want to include, rather than being surprised when the email host automatically pulls unwanted text into your preview.

One way to accomplish this is to create white space after the preview text. At the end of your sentence, create a chain of zero-width non-joiners and non-breaking spaces, which will automatically fill the remaining space. Combined, your subject and preview character usage should remain below 100. And if you incorporate white space at the end of your preview, you should be in great shape.

Email Preview Text Best Practices:

  • Customize your preview text
  • Keep preview text brief (within reason)
  • Create white space at the end of every preview
  • Imply a sense of urgency

Email CTA

For the vast majority of your emails, the CTA is going to be the single most important element of the message. Of course, the recipient will never get the chance to take that action if your subject line and preview text aren’t up to snuff, but those components are really just window dressing compared to the merchandise inside.

The specific action you want your subscribers to take (download an eBook, register for a webinar, earn a promo code, etc.) is going to vary based on the intent of the email, but the CTA copy and the content that you want to share should be tested with every email. For instance, you might want to share a case study or success story in your third or fourth email (as the prospect moves through the sales cycle), but you’re not sure which will have a more meaningful effect on your target audience. Create two emails, each with different CTA language and assets, and may the best message prevail!  

Email CTA Best Practices:

  • Every email should have a CTA
  • Try not to use more than one CTA (even using two is pushing it)
  • Use copy that inspires action and denotes the benefit of that action
  • Copy should refer back to what the action will trigger
  • Inbound links are fine, but large, clear, and engaging buttons and banners will produce better results
  • In most instances, you’ll want your CTA to be prominently placed above the fold

Email From Address

Your “From” address alone can have a huge impact on deliverability and engagement. In fact, according to our in-house deliverability experts, upwards of 40% of recipients decide whether or not to report something as Spam based on the “From” address alone. Therefore, you need to be testing which “From” address is most effective and continue to optimize based on the following best practices.

Email From Address Best Practices:

    • Avoid using Noreply@Display
    • Don’t use generic addresses (Admin@…)
    • Make sure the email and display name are similar or related
    • Don’t use a personal email until you’ve formed a relationship
    • NEVER use emojis in a display name

Act-On Makes Testing Your Emails a Breeze

Act-On’s powerful, easy-to-use marketing automation platform makes it simple to test your emails and then optimize your messaging accordingly. Our A/B testing functionality allows you to analyze the performance of all the variables listed above (and more), and you can even view the performance in real-time for more agile optimization.

But we don’t just offer an amazing platform that helps marketers like you achieve great results, we also provide Act-On Accelerate — an end-to-end marketing automation solution designed to increase your marketing velocity — as well as helpful resources like our Deliverability eBook series to help you become the best marketer you can be.

Download our chapter on email A/B testing below to begin improving your email marketing today!