E-mail Testing: A Real-World Approach


I recently read “The Practical Guide to E-mail Marketing” by Jordan Ayan, CEO of SubscriberMail and frequent speaker at ClickZ’s e-mail forums.It’s a great CliffsNotes introduction to e-mail marketing (only 55 pages total) that can help online marketing newbies quickly get up to speed.

While the whole guide is very helpful, the section on e-mail testing stands out. It covers the real-world thought process of anyone who’s thinking about testing her e-mail program’s effectiveness while providing a simple road map to follow.

I’ve excerpted the section because I think it outlines testing scenarios in the way people really think (or should be thinking) about testing.

Hand out this checklist next time you go into a meeting to discuss how to improve your e-mail marketing performance. It will help you guide the discussions more productively — and probably hit upon the most profitable areas to test.

    Step 1: Ask a QuestionStart the testing process by asking a question. What are you hoping for? Determine a specific goal to accomplish rather than attempt multiple goals with one blanket approach. A series of small steps can be easy to test and analyze:

    • I’d like to have more people open my messages.
    • I’d like to have more people click through to my Web site.
    • I’d like to reengage with historically inactive people.
    • I’d like to have people click on a specific area, topic, or action.

    Step 2: Form a Theory

    Use your marketing experience and best practice knowledge to determine what aspects may make a difference in achieving the goal you’ve defined.

    • I think people may be bored with my current subject lines.
    • I think that the placement of the specific content may drive more people to action.
    • I think that people may not understand this is from my organization and therefore will not interact.
    • I think my calls to action need to be stronger.

    Step 3: Create the Test

    Set up your test, following best practices. Remember, you don’t need to prove the obvious.

    To optimize opens, I am going to test (one per test):

    • From name
    • Best day to send
    • Subject line
    • Best time to send

    To optimize click-throughs, I’m going to test (one per test):

    • Creative/layout
    • Subject lines
    • Copy
    • From name
    • Calls to action

    To optimize conversions, I’m going to test (one per test):

    • Landing pages
    • Calls to action
    • Creative/layout
    • Subject lines
    • Copy
    • From name

    Step 4: Segment the List

    Choose the best list or segment to test, and split it (for that specific test):

    • I’m confident this list is the most appropriate to prove or disprove my theory.
    • My list is only large enough to do an A/B split.
    • My list is large enough that I can break it into a larger control and other smaller test segments.
    • My list is large enough that I can sample a percentage of my list to test.

    Step 5: Measure and Analyze Results

    Measure and analyze results to gain insight and prove or disprove theory. Accurately compile stats (to conversions). What does it all mean? Look beyond the numbers. Even small percentage differences can mean large gains in response rates:

    • My opens increased ___%.
    • My click-throughs changed __%.
    • My conversions changed __%.
    • Traffic to my Web site increased __%.
    • My click-throughs were more focused on specific area, topic, or action.
    • My click-throughs were spread out across areas, topics, or actions.
    • Sales calls increased __%.

    Step 6: Make Changes

    Commit to making at least one change in each campaign.

    • I need to change my from name.
    • I need to change my subject line.
    • I need to specific words.
    • I need to subject line format.
    • I need to add content.
    • I need to decrease content and simplify.
    • I need to increase clickable areas or clicks.
    • I need to highlight actionable items more.
    • I need to change copy.
    • I need to modify layout.

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