Email marketing can be a shot in the dark, especially when you’re just starting out. Consumers are flooded with promotional emails, and standing out takes some experimentation.

To best engage your audience you need to have just the right subject line, content, design, and call to action, and send emails at the right time. A/B testing helps you determine what those “rights” are.

What is A/B testing?

A/B testing, or split testing, is a way of analyzing the performance of an email (or any other marketing material) by comparing two nearly identical versions against one another, with one variable changed. Each visitor or viewer is randomly assigned one version or the other, with the goal of determining which types of content are more likely to attract and engage customers with your marketing messages.

For the sake of simplicity, we are going to focus this piece on just email A/B testing. However, you can test essentially any type of marketing piece.

Effective A/B Testing Examples

While A/B tests are typically fairly simple to set up through your email service provider, if not done properly they won’t do you much good. Use these tips to ensure your split tests have a positive impact on your email marketing.

  • Determine what you’re testing, and why

If you don’t establish a strategy behind your tests, they won’t produce any useful results. Considering why you are testing is as important as what you’re testing. Start with your overarching email goals: what, in your mind, would make the campaign successful? If it’s more opens, test the subject line; if it’s more engagement within the email, test the copy or CTA. Plan the test prior to creating the email, and set a hypothesis for which variation will garner better results.

A/B testing should not be done willy-nilly, or as an afterthought. Just like with scientific research, having a thorough process will allow you to know what to measure against.

  • Be specific with what you’re testing

You know what you’re going to split test, but how exactly will you be testing it? As mentioned, you should only be testing one element of an email at a time. The differences need to be very specific; for instance, if you’re testing a subject line, rather than using two completely different sentences or phrases, test one as a question vs. non-question; use an exclamation point vs. no exclamation point; or use a number in one vs. not using a number in the other.

Here are some examples to illustrate:

      • “Open this email to find great deals” vs. “Open this email to find great deals!”
      • “Special offer inside” vs. “Special 50% offer inside”
      • “Do you like receiving exclusive discounts?” vs. “Sign up to receive exclusive discounts”

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As you can see, the subject lines are very similar, with clear differentiations. Change the copy too much and it will be difficult to analyze and pinpoint what factor influenced more engagement in one email over the other.

  • Use tests consistently

A/B testing is not a “one and done” concept. Audience interests and behavior shift over time, and you’ve got to be nimble enough to adapt and adjust. One test might provide helpful insight, but performing them regularly allows you to narrow down a set of best practices for email marketing moving forward. Using the scientist analogy, researchers do hundreds of tests-sometimes even doing the same exact test repeatedly-to make strong conclusions. This same approach can be applied to your emails; the more you can test, the more you can feel confident in what works to engage your audience and what doesn’t.

  • Don’t get disheartened

This is one of the most vital points to effective split testing. Go into your campaign tests knowing that patterns change and results may not end up the way you want or expect, or the way they’ve been trending previously. As long as you continue to learn about your email audience and what resonates, you are doing things right. Keep testing, and over time you’ll have the ability to create a data-driven strategy that reels in your audience and keeps them curious and excited about your brand.

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