In fact, MarketingSherpa’s email survey found that subject lines are still the most commonly tested element in email marketing. Meaning that those few words that get your subscribers to open your emails and see your wonderful offers are what marketers focus on most in their attempts to optimize their email marketing.
While I’m sure this strategy can end up getting you the most tested, optimized subject line that will ever reach an inbox, the impact of these tests are minimal compared to all the other things an email marketer could be testing.
So … are you ready to run some big, exciting tests? In this blog post, we’ll highlight what you should be experimenting with and which tools can help you. But, first, we’ll explain the importance of A/B testing.
A/B testing is when you launch and test how engaging two designs are. When you send an A/B tested email, the software you’re using quickly identifies which is most engaging to the earliest recipients and sends that format to the rest of your subscriber list.
A/B testing is a great way to test two different newsletter formats that promote the same content or two newsletters with slightly different design elements, such as different images or types of CTAs.
Rather than testing one template repeatedly for a few weeks, followed by another email format test, this testing phase quickly allows you to test two styles and pick a winning template on a limited schedule.
As you consider A/B testing or other email experimentation, here are a few vital things you’ll want to test when building out your email marketing strategy.
Possibly the biggest lever you have in your email marketing is not the few words you use to describe your offer, but rather, the offer itself.
Whether you’re testing two ebooks against each other, or an ebook versus a webinar, this test is bound to get you better results overall. The reason this is particularly important is, while you may think your offer is the best thing since the iPod, you may also be wrong.
We started doing this sort of testing religiously back in the summer of 2010 and saw dramatic results. Instead of taking our email list and sending them all our latest ebook, we would take a smaller portion of the list, split it in half, send them each two different offers, and then send the better performing offer to the (larger) remainder of the list. This testing alone increased our monthly email leads 4-8x instantly.
Here are some more specific offer elements you can consider testing:
The goal of your email is not just to get someone to open or click through; it’s also to take some action. For example, to download your offer. So don’t think of your email in a vacuum. Think of it in the context of driving that particular action, which means optimizing where the action takes place: the landing page.
After all, if you create this great email that drives lots of clicks to your website but then you lose those potential leads at the last stage, it’s like you’ve run the first leg of a marathon but then decided to drop out of the race during the very last mile.
Here are some important landing page elements to test:
The success of your email is not just dependent on what you’re emailing or how you’re emailing it, but also *who* you’re emailing.
For HubSpot, an offer called, Agency Kit: How to Create Effective Ebooks for your Clients may get a great response from marketing agency owners, but it’d probably get a terrible response from the nonprofit marketers interested in our content.
The simple act of segmenting your email list to narrow your audience down to one that would find your content more relevant can have an amazing impact on your results.
Here are some audience segmentation tests you can run:
Changing up the format of your email can also have a surprising effect on your response rate. This could mean everything from the length of the email, to including a lot of images, to creating a simple, plain text email. Keep in mind that your results may differ depending on the type of offer.
For example, our new ebooks perform best when sent in a nicely formatted html email, while our free consultation offers perform better when sent as a simple, plain text email.
Here are some formatting elements you can test in your email marketing:
If you have a number of different email templates or design tweaks you want to test in a limited amount of time, you could consider A/B testing.
Timing is one of the most popular things marketers try to optimize. But it seems like there’s more talk about the best time to send in general, and not enough testing going on to determine the best time to send email to your own subscribers — or even a specific segment of your subscribers.
Even within HubSpot, we have segments of subscribers who respond more to emails on Mondays, Saturdays, mornings, afternoons — on top of that, all in their own timezones.
Instead of sending email at every marketer’s favorite time (Tuesdays at 10 a.m.), break away from the pack and see what works specifically for your audience in order to optimize for your particular business — and to have a better chance of breaking through the clutter of other businesses’ emails.
Consider conducting the following timing/frequency tests in your email marketing:
If you haven’t tested a different sender name or address yet, definitely add this to your list. While best practices still apply (in other words, using a name that recipients will recognize as well as a real email address that your prospects can respond to), you can always try out different names to see how it affects your open and clickthrough rates.
Here are some sender name tests to try out:
HubSpot’s free email tool allows you to create email campaigns that can be ent to email subscribers or contacts in your CRM.
Aside from providing an easy-to-use drag-and-drop software, HubSpot also allows you to test email designs through an A/B test feature. The software also provides tips related to length in the subject line and preview text area which can help you write captions and instantly verify that they won’t get cut off.
On top of all these features, HubSpot’s software will notify you if it can’t find a link in your email. It will also warn you when inboxes like Gmail will trim your message.
Ever wonder if your email will look aesthetically pleasing on different devices and in different email provider inboxes? With Litmus, you can sign up for free and send them the email you want to test. From there, Litmus will automatically review the email and send you screenshots showing what your message will look like to readers using different email providers.
Worried you’re using phrases or wording that could trigger spam filters to burry your email? With Mail-Tester, you can log in and get a special email address to send your test email to. After you send it, Mail-Tester will send you a report that notes any of the spammy trigger words that were in your message so you can correct your language before sending to your full list.
Sometimes, if your IP address is associated with sending many different email newsletters, email providers might move your email to spam. If you suspect that your IP address could be negatively impacting your email numbers, you can use SenderScore to find out if your IP address is considered “spammy.”
If you need help with writing subject lines, you can test a few before sending your email with SubjectLine.com. When you go to the website, you simply type in a subject line and click the submit button. Then, you’ll receive a grade out of 100 points as well as pointers for improvement.
The key with any of these tests is to test just one element at a time so you can isolate your variables and thus tie the difference in results is to that particular change. And if you crank through this list of BIG email tests, here are some great ideas for quick, smaller tests to; always be optimizing.
Editor’s note: This blog post was originally published in 2012 but was updated for comprehensiveness and freshness in March 2020.