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October 25, 2016

The ABCs on A/B Testing in Email Campaigns


Your email database is a powerful resource for capturing leads, nurturing customer loyalty, and of course, driving sales and conversions. A smart marketer does everything they can to make the most of this resource. Using the wealth of data at your disposal in your email marketing automation platform, you can (and should) be constantly seeking to improve your email campaigns.

There are a dozen different elements that influence an email’s performance: The subject line, preview text, headline, body copy, call-to-action (CTA) links, buttons, images, just to name a few…each of these variables have an impact on the open rate, click-through rate and conversion rate of every email you send.

Your goal as an email marketer is to identify the most effective variation of each email element and combine them into one compulsively clickable email with a 100% conversion rate. That perfect email may be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it! That’s where A/B testing comes in.

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A/B testing is a method of scientifically testing different versions of a single element in your email to determine the most effective variation. If you’re not a data guru, the words “testing” and “scientific” might spook you into thinking A/B testing is challenging or complicated. It’s not! Most email marketing automation services today provide a dynamic platform for incorporating A/B testing into your email campaigns at the click of a button. With these tools, setting up an A/B test requires barely any more effort than setting up a regular email campaign.

An A/B test splits your list into two segments—group A (the control) and group B (the variant). Each group receives a different version of your email. By tracking the performance metric of interest (open rate, click-through, or conversions), you determine which version performed better. A/B testing is a continuous process, and your goal is always to “beat” (i.e. outperform) the control. If and when you do, the winning variant becomes your new control.

Just about every element of an email you can think of is fair game for A/B testing, and each one can have an independent impact on the results of your campaign so they are all worth exploring. That said, certain elements play a more prominent role in your email and are therefore most exhaustively tested.

Email Elements You Should Definitely Be A/B Testing
  • Subject lines
  • Preview text
  • Offer
  • Headline
  • Personalization
  • Call-to-action text
  • Call-to-action format
  • Body text
  • Layout
  • Images

You might be surprised at how small changes in wording, image placement or CTA formats can have a significant impact on your campaign results. But you won’t know for sure until…wait for it…you run an A/B test to find out!

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A/B testing is relatively straightforward, but there are a few rules you should be sure to follow in order to make sure your results are scientific, accurate, and insightful.

The 5 Golden Rules of A/B Email Testing

1. Never test more than one variable at a time

Testing more than one variable will compromise your analysis. If there’s more than one variable of difference between the two versions, how will you know which one is responsible for the results?

2. Design A/B tests with marketing goals in mind

A/B testing: effective way to improve your email marketing performance. A/B testing just for the sake of it: useless. If you’re trying to improve open rates, test variable subject lines and preview text. If your goal is increasing conversions, play with different CTA messaging and formats. Whatever you do, make sure there’s strategy behind it.

3. Look as far down the funnel as possible

Your open and click-through rates are important metrics that have a real impact on your bottom line, but what’s the ultimate goal of your email efforts? Sales and conversions. It’s possible for an email with fewer clicks to actually drive more conversions. When you’re digging into the data and evaluating the results of your A/B tests, try to draw the shortest line from email to sales numbers as possible.

4. Think out of the box

Like we said, there are countless elements of a single email that you could test. Don’t feel like you’re locked into the list we provided above. Once you have a pretty solid formula for your emails, start to brainstorm ways that you can manipulate less prominent variables to further improve campaign results, such as adding a personalized greeting field or even changing the font. You never know what might make a difference!

5. Don’t be afraid to go big

Many of the testing elements we’ve discussed have focused on small differences between your control and the variant. However, sometimes you can make larger leaps in performance by “going big,” especially if you’re just launching a new campaign or promotion. It’s okay to test two completely different formats altogether. Maybe one is minimalist and image based, whereas another hinges on a testimonial. After you’ve identified which basic format garners more engagement, then you can start tweaking the finer details.



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