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How to Conduct an A/B Test to Improve your Email Marketing's Open and Click Rates

Email marketing is one of the most popular ways for companies to nurture leads and stay top of mind with their audiences. In fact, Content Marketing Institute's latest research found that 87 percent of B2B marketers use email marketing to nurture leads. While this tactic is popular, there is also fierce competition in today's inbox. The average office worker receives 121 emails per day, and it's estimated that there are 235.6 billion business emails sent and received each day. In 2019 and beyond, that number is only expected to grow.

So how do you rise above today's cluttered inbox and send messages that your audience will pay attention to? The answer is easier said than done: You've got to send great emails that people actually want to read. While this is no cake walk, the beauty of email marketing is that you get constant feedback from your audience because you can see the open rate, click rate, etc. for nearly every email that you send.

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With all this data at hand, it's silly to rely on intuition alone to improve your email marketing. Put this information to work for you, and use A/B testing to constantly improve your performance and increase the ROI of your email marketing efforts.

A/B Testing in a Nutshell

A/B testing doesn’t mean throwing a bunch of different strategies at the wall and seeing what sticks. On the contrary, A/B tests usually involve subtle changes to key components of similar messages. The idea is to create controlled tests and use them to collect empirical data, then to use that information to design more effective communications in the future.

Like a scientist, you should stick to single variables during A/B testing. Knowing that one email with tons of flashing ads performs better than a one-line plaintext email doesn’t provide much in the way of useful, replicable insight.

Many email marketing platforms will automate A/B testing for you, but if yours doesn't include A/B testing, it's fairly simple to set up a test on your own. First, create the email list of prospects who will receive the communication. Next, design two emails with a single major difference. Then, split the email list into two random and equal groups — this must be random so you don’t accidentally bias your results by splitting groups by demographic factors. Finally, send the emails and collect data on which one performs the best.

Continue to test and refine with every subsequent campaign. Moods and tastes shift rapidly in the age of the internet, and tactics that work one month might become less effective a few weeks later.

How to Run a Successful A/B Test

Follow these simple steps to design and execute A/B tests that provide reliable, relevant data:

1. Identify the problem to solve.

Do your emails get low open rates? Low clickthrough rates? High churn? Establish the metric that you want to improve before you do anything else. That way, you know how to evaluate the success of your tests.

2. Consider potential variables.

Different problems merit different approaches. If you want to improve your open rates, consider some email subject line tricks, the time of delivery, or the name of the person sending the email. We’ve experimented with several different “From” fields in our own A/B tests. To influence click-through rates, change things within the emails, like the layout or the call to action. Put yourself in your audience members’ shoes and consider the factors that influence their decisions.

Here are some examples of variables that you can consider testing:

  • Subject line content and format
  • Delivery time
  • Delivery date
  • Name of the person sending the email
  • Button design
  • Button text
  • Newsletter layout
  • Personalization
  • Headline text
  • Body text
  • Image size/placement/content

3. Prioritize your testing.

If you experience problems with both open rates and click-through rates, start with the one that could make the biggest immediate impact. Even a 100 percent click-through rate doesn’t mean much if only one person opens your emails. Pick the variable with the greatest potential, then design your test around that one.

4. Define success.

“Better open rates” are great, but “better” isn’t scientific. Establish benchmarks and create projections about what would make this test successful. If you don’t have internal benchmarks, MailChimp provides a comprehensive list of email statistics to get the ball rolling.

5. Test, measure, refine, repeat.

No single test can tell you which strategy to follow for the rest of your company’s life. Run your A/B test for a set amount of time, evaluate and act on the results, then run another test to keep pushing your KPIs.

Rapid-Fire Tips to Create Effective A/B Tests

Still not sure whether you know how to run a good A/B test? Use these quick tips to make the process go smoothly:

  • Keep your email list clean. Scrub at regular intervals to avoid sending graymail and improve test accuracy.
  • Only test one variable at a time, and remember that time counts as a factor. If you are testing the color of a button, for example, don’t accidentally send A emails in the morning and B emails in the afternoon because then you won't know whether the results were due to the time that you sent the email or the color of the button.
  • Test as large a sample size as possible for accurate results.
  • Listen to what the data says, not what you wish the data said.
  • Test early, test often.

Your amazing content deserves a distribution strategy to match. Don’t let stale email marketing put a ceiling on your growth. Master the art of A/B testing to set the foundation for continuous, sustainable improvement.

Take our content marketing assessment and learn how email marketing plays a part in helping you achieve your goals from content marketing.

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About Taylor Oster

Taylor Oster is the marketing director at Influence & Co. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn, and see other articles that she's written here.

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