Practical Ecommerce

5 Tests to Improve your Email Marketing

For email marketers, there are several key tests that will improve a campaign, and an ongoing program. Here are five basic testing strategies to optimize your email marketing efforts.

Subject Line Testing

Many marketers believe that a subject line’s purpose is simply to get people to open an email. Although a good subject line will do this, a better subject line will prompt consumers to start the conversion process. When testing your subject lines, don’t look simply at the open rates. Look, instead, at the end conversion rates.

For example, a subject line such as “Big Holiday Savings” may receive a good open rate. But it is generic and doesn’t have a call to action. A better subject line would be “Order today for your free holiday gift.” It contains a call to action and will actually weed out recipients who aren’t ready to order. Subject lines that have some sort of call to action will typically experience higher conversion rates among those opening.

‘From’ Line Testing

While subject lines are important to entice people to open an email, the “From” line is equally so. With more people previewing emails on mobile devices, the From line is often displayed first, in a much larger font, than the actual subject line. Although the From line is typically a company name, it can be a variation or a person’s name. Testing between the two — a company name or an individual’s name — on different types of messages may show a considerable difference in response rates. For transactional type messaging, using a slightly different From name may help clarify from other types of emails. On the screenshot below, see the various types of From names.

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This iPhone email screenshot shows five separate messages.  The top, bold text is the "From" line.  Next is the subject line. Below the subject line is the first few words of the email.

This iPhone email screenshot shows five separate messages. The top, bold text is the "From" line. Next is the subject line. Below the subject line is the first few words of the email.

There is no need to put a .com after a From name. In addition, be careful with longer From names or using the actual reply email as a From name.

Also, pay close attention to the first line of text in your email, since that also renders directly below the subject line on a mobile preview. Most of the examples above are not using this text to its full advantage and are mainly housekeeping type messages such as an unsubscribe, “view online,” or “add to address book.” The first line of text should complement the subject line and continue to draw the reader into opening the email.

Offer Testing

You may think you know what types of offers perform best for your audience. However, unless you conduct an A/B test on various offers — say a percentage off versus a dollar amount off — you may be surprised to see the differences that a change in offer can make. Offers play an interesting role in consumer behavior. And although two different offers may actually equate to the same overall price, how they are presented to the recipients may have a large impact on their responses.

For example, try testing different offers for different segments — such as frequent customers and lapsed customers. You may find one segment values a free shipping offer while the other values an offer for $5 off the next order.

In the email screenshot below, Norwegian Cruise Line is promoting its offer that kids sail free. This is attractive to me, because I have children. Norwegian Cruise Line has segmented its file to isolate recipients with children, to receive this offer. Testing offers for certain segments may seem obvious. But it’s crucial to know exactly the right fit for each of your subscriber segments.

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Norwegian Cruise Line segments its email offers.  This offer is for recipients with children.

Norwegian Cruise Line segments its email offers. This offer is for recipients with children.

Landing Page Testing

Landing pages play a vital role in conversions. Sending recipients to a page that is irrelevant to an email offer can confuse them, causing them to abandon the page. Test the differences between landing your subscribers on a more general page versus a specific one, such as an actual product page. Depending on your site navigation, you may find visitors convert at much higher or lower rates based on where you land them. In this test, keep all elements the same in the email. Vary only the landing pages, and look at metrics such as time on site, number of pages viewed, and conversion rates to determine which pages make more sense for your program.

Testing for Deliverability

With all the various testing options, marketers often forget to concentrate on getting the email delivered in the first place. Testing for deliverability can be complicated and time consuming because it cannot be done as a simple A/B split test. Often it takes tweaking various elements of an email that may affect deliverability and monitoring those over different domains — e.g., Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! — during an extended period of time. Testing for deliverability can help improve the rate of email inboxing — versus junked or not delivered — and will naturally improve all other metrics of an email program.

Carolyn Nye

Carolyn Nye

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  1. Ed Hallen March 18, 2013 Reply

    Great article Carolyn. Related to your points around subject lines, I’ve seen that testing is particularly effective when the results are measured on purchases (rather than just guessing based on opens and clicks). The Obama campaign did a great job at this, which ultimately allowed them to churn out emails like "I will be outspent…" which generated >2 million in donations.

  2. Tim Watson March 19, 2013 Reply

    Good summary of some important areas.

    Totally agree subject lines aren’t about getting the open, in fact I wrote about the point you make in this post of 1st March

    This post includes split test results to illustrate how the subject line has deeper impact.

    Also consider with from addresses, the choice of brand or person is not either/or. A combination can also be used, such as ‘Tim at Zettasphere’.

  3. Carolyn Nye March 19, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for the great comments!

    @Tim- Great article! I couldn’t agree more with those points. I heard a recent presentation on email marketing where it emphasized that a subject line’s only purpose was to drive the open rate, and thought that was a little narrow-sighted. Your post really takes a nice in-depth look at the importance of a subject lines role in conversion.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Yuvin Ghotra June 3, 2013 Reply

    Really useful information Carolyn, Thanks for sharing.