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How to A/B Test Email Campaigns: Ideas & Best Practices

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How to A/B Test Email Campaigns: Ideas & Best Practices

In today’s fast-paced world of digital marketing, A/B testing has become a mainstay for brands looking to optimize their email campaigns. While many are using this technique, not all are harnessing its full potential. In this blog, we’ll dive into how A/B testing, once a niche approach, has now become a cornerstone of email marketing. We’ll uncover the common pitfalls that limit its effectiveness and offer insights into maximizing the overall benefits of A/B testing. 

It’s clear that A/B testing is the best way to continually refine email campaign strategies over time and improve performance through data-driven decision making, but how can we perfect this strategy as marketers? Let’s jump into the basics…

 

What’s A/B Testing in Email Marketing?

 

A/B testing is also called split testing or variable testing. When you conduct an A/B test, you compare two variables to see which one performs better. Email A/B testing uses this process to test variations of emails or email campaigns against each other to see which performs better for a specific metric, such as open, click-through or conversion rates.

Companies typically employ this technique by segmenting their email list into two groups, version A and version B, to test different variations of an email. Often, the split is even, or it can be done as a 10/10 split, with the remaining 80% of the list receiving the winning version. More advanced approaches include using holdout groups, where emails are tested on a subset (i.e: 10% or 20%) of the regular email list for that specific segment. 

After a designated time frame, typically 1 or 2 hours, sufficient data is collected to determine which version performs better. The winning version is then sent to the remaining members of that segment, helping email marketers refine their campaigns for maximum effectiveness.

 

You can test simple or complex variations. Here are a few examples of A/B email testing:

 

  • Sending variations of subject lines to see if subscribers respond better to certain words, phrases or formats

 

  • Testing variations of CTAs — such as the verbiage or where the CTA is located

 

  • Launching email campaigns on different days or at different times to find the best time for open rates

 

Benefits of A/B Testing Emails

 

A/B testing for email campaigns doesn’t have to be difficult, especially when you use the right software and other tools. These tests are highly effective especially considering more than 50% of marketers use A/B testing to boost conversions. But conversion isn’t the only benefit to A/B testing… 

 

A/B testing has other benefits, including:

 

  • Statistical proof for your email marketing decisions — you won’t have to rely on instinct or trust existing processes, which may not lead to the best possible outcomes

 

  • A competitive edge over others in the industry, especially if they aren’t also using A/B email testing to improve performance

 

  • A better understanding of your target audience and what messaging resonates with customers — data you can use to inform future email campaigns or other marketing strategies, including social media and web content

 

  • An increased ability to improve critical email marketing metrics like click-through and conversion rates as well as revenue driven by email

 

Of course, there are several things to consider when A/B testing. You can only test one variable or element at a time. Otherwise, you don’t know which element is responsible for any improved performance. It’s also important to keep in mind that new privacy regulations from Apple will likely spread to other providers making it difficult to track open rates consistently. This means you should focus on KPIs like clicks and conversions. 

 

Try A/B Testing These 8 Email Elements

 

If you want to put email A/B testing to work for your organization, we’ve got eight variables you may want to test. Remember, choose one at a time when you set up your tests — otherwise, you muddy your data and won’t get any actionable insight. 

 

1. Subject Lines

 

The subject line is one of the most important elements of any email because it’s a major factor in whether someone opens the email or not. This element typically shows up in bold right under the sender name or in another prominent location in the inbox.

Subject lines are a common variable of A/B testing because they’re so powerful and because they’re easy to test. You simply send the same email with different subject lines.

 

Here are some ideas to try when A/B testing email subject lines:

 

  • Change the length of the subject line. Up to around 30 characters show up on mobile devices and up to around 55 characters on desktop devices, so start by testing within those ranges. Find out whether your target audience prefers a shorter or longer subject line.

 

  • Rephrase your subject line. Test out different words and approaches, such as the difference between “Exclusive offer” and “Limited-time offer.”

 

  • Test personalization. Your audience is more likely to respond when their name is in the subject line.

 

You can also test the inclusion of emojis, symbols or punctuation as well as asking questions.

 

2. Preview Text

 

The preview text, also commonly referred to as pre-header text, is a snippet, summary or sneak peek into email contents. It’s also called the preheader line, and it shows up under the subject line on some devices. It’s not as powerful as the subject line itself, but you will only know if it matters to your audience if you test it.

 

During this phase consider testing:

 

  • Original preview text compared to just including the first line of the email. Sometimes the first line of your email copy is enough to pique someone’s interest – but a custom subject line could be more effective at instilling a sense of urgency or summarizing the contents of the email.

 

  • Various calls to action in the preheader. For example, test whether your audience responds better to a directive to open the email and find out more or a more subtle call to action.

 

  • Different summaries of what’s in the email. Preview text is short, so it can only include a little bit of information. If you can’t decide what the most important bit of your email is to tease, test it.

 

3. Sender Name

 

Sender name is what shows up in the “From:” field in an email. Emails sent by your brand might show up as “From: ABC Brand,” for example. Or you might create emails that come from specific people: “From: Sue at ABC Brand.”

What sender name will help build a personal connection with your audience best? You can’t know that until you conduct some A/B email testing.

 

Consider testing options such as:

 

  • Including a person’s name instead of the company name to add a human element to email marketing.

 

  • Testing full names versus first names only to determine how your audience wants to connect with your employees.

 

  • Sending from a different email address may resonate with the audience better because it’s more connected to a product or sounds more professional.

 

4. Send Time

 

Google the best time to send emails and you’re likely to run across multiple articles stating that Tuesday afternoons are the ticket. In reality, Tuesday afternoons work best for some businesses. That doesn’t mean it will work best for you.

The only way you can know what day and time is best for your audience is to split test by sending emails at different times and narrowing it down for yourself.

You also have to account for trigger emails, which can’t all be sent on Tuesday afternoons. For example, you may find that cart abandonment emails work best when sent 2 hours after the person puts an item in the cart and welcome emails work best 10 minutes after sign up. Note that these aren’t recommendations; they’re examples. Run the tests for yourself to find out what works for your audience.

When you’re running A/B testing on email send times, remember to segment by time zone if possible. That way, you can figure out what’s best for each subsection of your audience.

 

Ideas for A/B testing email send times include:

 

  • Testing the day of the week you send emails. Consider setting up a tournament of sorts. Have days of the week compete against each other and use email metrics to determine the champion — and find out if it is, indeed, Tuesday.

 

  • Testing times of day. Does morning or evening work better for your audience? Do you get more performance during lunch times or in the afternoon slump around 3:00? These are the questions you can answer when you A/B test email send times. 

 

  • Testing how long after a trigger you should send emails. Do you get more performance when cart abandonment emails are sent 1 hour later, or do people return and make purchases more often when emails show up a day later?

 

5. Call to Action

 

The CTA tells the email reader what to do next, so it’s pretty important. A/B testing helps you improve CTAs to improve click-through rates.

 

Consider testing:

 

  • The actual words used in the CTA

 

  • How often do you include CTAs in emails — does one above-the-fold work, or should you repeat it later in the email?

 

  • Does a button work better than text for your audience? If so, can you improve performance further by changing the color of the button?

 

  • Whether size, font choices or capitalization make a difference 

 

  • The location of the CTA in the email

 

6. Email Copy

 

Most marketers agree that short and sweet is best when it comes to email copy. In fact, it can be a good idea to ensure you concentrate on a single idea in an email marketing message. Your copy also needs to be engaging and grab the attention of the recipient.

Of course, “attention-grabbing” is a subjective description, and what captures the eye of one audience won’t engage another. A/B testing helps you determine what copy works best for your audience. 

Test factors such as the length of your copy, the words and style of writing you use, whether you include personalization and the tone. For example, does your audience respond better to formal or informal writing?

 

7. Email Design & Layout

 

It only takes a couple of seconds before someone decides whether to continue reading your email or not. Email readers definitely judge the book by the cover, so to speak, so your design and layout matter.

Test out design and layout variations such as whether you include plain text or HTML or send emails with simple designs or messages with many bells and whistles.

An email marketing design that resonates with your audience improves click-through and conversion rates. It can also increase brand awareness and create positive downstream effects on marketing efforts outside of email. 

 

8. Images

 

If you have a little experience with social media marketing, you know that images are powerful. Facebook and Instagram posts with images get much more engagement on average than text-only posts. The same can be true for email.

A/B testing can help you understand where the line on images is for your audience.

 

Some ideas for A/B testing images in email include:

 

  • Whether or not to include a header image

 

  • How many images you include

 

  • What type of images you include — for example, a person versus a product

 

 

  • What style of image you include — for example, black and white versus colored or realistic versus painted

 

How to Run Better A/B Tests for Email Campaigns

 

Now that you have plenty of ideas for A/B email testing, let’s look at a few tips for running the best split tests you can.

 

Determine Which Variable to Test

 

Start by thinking about the business goal you want to meet. For example, if you want to increase conversion rates, then you might want to work on optimizing your CTAs, as they directly relate to conversions. Subject lines impact open rates and images and email copy can improve engagement and positive brand affinity.

Once you start working on a specific variable, repeat the test across different emails. This lets you collect more data and normalize it. Otherwise, other factors could inadvertently impact your test. 

You should also test with the right type of email. If you’re trying to figure out when the best time for cart abandonment emails is, testing with your monthly subscriber newsletter is pretty useless.

 

Select a Random Sample of Users

 

Select users randomly for tests and avoid using the same people for every test. Most businesses can test with around 20% of their list. However, if you only have a few hundred subscribers, 20% of that number won’t lead to statistically significant conclusions. In these cases, test with about 80% of your list.

 

Run the Test

 

It may seem simple, but the final step is actually running the test. As previously mentioned, between 30 and 50% of organizations don’t get to this step.

Be patient as you wait for results. If you’re looking at a metric like open rates, you may have a pretty good idea of performance in just a few hours — and you definitely know which variation was a winner within a day. 

But other metrics, such as click-through and conversion rate, take longer to measure. That’s because someone may open your email and decide to come back to it later or think about your offer. For these types of metrics, you may need to let the test run for a few days to ensure you have a good sampling. 

 

Final Takeaway

 

By leveraging A/B testing, you can support email marketing campaigns that perform better. Looking to learn more about this process? Reach out to our Tinuiti Lifecycle Marketing experts today.

 

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Marketing Team Reorgs: Why So Many and How To Survive

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Marketing Team Reorgs: Why So Many and How To Survive

How long has it been since your marketing team got restructured? 

Wearing our magic mind-reading hat, we’d guess it was within the last two years. 

Impressed by the guess? Don’t be.  

Research from Marketing Week’s 2024 Career and Salary Survey finds that almost half of marketing teams restructured in the last 12 months. (And the other half probably did it the previous year.) 

Why do marketing teams restructure so often? Is this a new thing? Is it just something that comes with marketing? What does it all mean for now and the future? 

CMI chief strategy advisor Robert Rose offers his take in this video and the summary below. 

Marketing means frequent change 

Marketing Week’s 2024 Career and Salary Survey finds 46.5% of marketing teams restructured in the last year — a 5-percentage point increase over 2023 when 41.4% of teams changed their structure. 

But that’s markedly less than the 56.5% of marketing teams that restructured in 2022, which most likely reflected the impact of remote work, the fallout of the pandemic, and other digital marketing trends. 

Maybe the real story isn’t, “Holy smokes, 46% of businesses restructured their marketing last year.” The real story may be, “Holy smokes, only 46% of businesses restructured their marketing.” 

Put simply, marketing teams are now in the business of changing frequently. 

It raises two questions.  

First, why does marketing experience this change? You don’t see this happening in other parts of the business. Accounting teams rarely get restructured (usually only if something dramatic happens in the organization). The same goes for legal or operations. Does marketing change too frequently? Or do other functions in business not change enough? 

Second, you may ask, “Wait a minute, we haven’t reorganized our marketing teams in some time. Are we behind? Are we missing out? What are they organizing into? Or you may fall at the other end of the spectrum and ask, “Are we changing too fast? Do companies that don’t change so often do better? 

OK, that’s more than one question, but the second question boils down to this: Should you restructure your marketing organization? 

Reorganizing marketing 

Centralization emerged as the theme coming out of the pandemic. Gartner reports (registration required) a distinct move to a fully centralized model for marketing over the last few years: “(R)esponsibilities across the marketing organization have shifted. Marketing’s sole responsibilities for marketing operations, marketing strategy, and marketing-led innovation have increased.”  

According to a Gartner study, marketing assuming sole responsibility for marketing operations, marketing innovation, brand management, and digital rose by double-digit percentage points in 2022 compared to the previous year.  

What does all that mean for today in plainer language? 

Because teams are siloed, it’s increasingly tougher to create a collaborative environment. And marketing and content creation processes are complex (there are lots of people doing more small parts to creative, content, channel management, and measurement). So it’s a lot harder these days to get stuff done if you’re not working as one big, joined-up team. 

Honestly, it comes down to this question: How do you better communicate and coordinate your content? That’s innovation in modern marketing — an idea and content factory operating in a coordinated, consistent, and collaborative way. 

Let me give you an example. All 25 companies we worked with last year experienced restructuring fatigue. They were not eager creative, operations, analytics, media, and digital tech teams champing at the bit for more new roles, responsibilities, and operational changes. They were still trying to settle into the last restructuring.  

What worked was fine-tuning a mostly centralized model into a fully centralized operational model. It wasn’t a full restructuring, just a nudge to keep going. 

In most of those situations, the Gartner data rang true. Marketing has shifted to get a tighter and closer set of disparate teams working together to collaborate, produce, and measure more efficiently and effectively.  

As Gartner said in true Gartner-speak fashion: “Marginal losses of sole responsibility (in favor of shared and collaborative) were also reported across capabilities essential for digitally oriented growth, including digital media, digital commerce, and CX.” 

Companies gave up the idea of marketing owning one part of the customer experience, content type, or channel. Instead, they moved into more collaborative sharing of the customer experience, content type, or channel.  

Rethinking the marketing reorg 

This evolution can be productive. 

Almost 10 years ago, Carla Johnson and I wrote about this in our book Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing. We talked about the idea of building to change: 

“Tomorrow’s marketing and communications teams succeed by learning to adapt — and by deploying systems of engagement that facilitate adaptation. By constantly building to change, the marketing department builds to succeed.” 

We surmised the marketing team of the future wouldn’t be asking what it was changing into but why it was changing. Marketing today is at the tipping point of that. 

The fact that half of all marketing teams restructure and change every two years might not be a reaction to shifting markets. It may just be how you should think of marketingas something fluid that you build and change into whatever it needs to be tomorrow, not something you must tear down and restructure every few years.  

The strength in that view comes not in knowing you need to change or what you will change into. The strength comes from the ability and capacity to do whatever marketing should. 

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:  

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute 

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Boost Your Traffic in Google Discover

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Boost Your Traffic in Google Discover

2. Understand topical authority: Keywords vs. entities

Google has been talking about topical authority for a long time, and in Discover, it is completely relevant. Traditional SEO includes the use of keywords to position your web pages for a specific search, but the content strategy in Discover should be based on entities, i.e., concepts, characters, places, topics… everything that a Knowledge Panel can have. It is necessary to know in which topics Google considers we have more authority and relevance in order to talk about them.

3. Avoid clickbait in titles

“Use page titles that capture the essence of the content, but in a non-clickbait fashion.” This is the opening sentence that describes how headlines should be in Google’s documentation. I always say that it is not about using clickbait but a bit of creativity from the journalist. Generating a good H1 is also part of the job of content creation.

Google also adds:

“Avoid tactics to artificially inflate engagement by using misleading or exaggerated details in preview content (title, snippets, or images) to increase appeal, or by withholding crucial information required to understand what the content is about.”

“Avoid tactics that manipulate appeal by catering to morbid curiosity, titillation, or outrage.

Provide content that’s timely for current interests, tells a story well, or provides unique insights.”

Do you think this information fits with what you see every day on Google Discover? I would reckon there were many sites that did not comply with this and received a lot of traffic from Discover.

With the last core updates in 2023, Google was extremely hard on news sites and some niches with content focused on Discover, directly affecting E-E-A-T. The impact was so severe that many publishers shared drastic drops in Search Console with expert Lily Ray, who wrote an article with data from more than 150 publishers.

4. Images are important

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. If you look at your Discover feed, you’ll see most of the images catch your attention. They are detailed shots of delicious food, close-ups of a person’s face showing emotions, or even images where the character in question does not appear, such as “the new manicure that will be a trend in 2024,” persuading you to click.

Google’s documentation recommends adding “high-quality images in your content, especially large images that are more likely to generate visits from Discover” and notes important technical requirements such as images needing to be “at least 1200 px wide and enabled by the max-image-preview:large setting.” You may also have found that media outlets create their own collages in order to have images that stand out from competitors.

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Everything You Need to Know About Google Search Essentials (formerly Google Webmaster Guidelines)

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Everything You Need to Know About Google Search Essentials (formerly Google Webmaster Guidelines)

One of the most important parts of having a website is making sure your audience can find your site (and find what they’re looking for).

The good news is that Google Search Essentials, formerly called Google Webmaster Guidelines, simplifies the process of optimizing your site for search performance.

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