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16 A/B Email Tests Every Marketer Should Try

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Ask any 14-year-old: tests are the worst. You have to study for hours, then sit in a classroom answering hundreds of questions about stuff that you’ll never need to know again!

I used to be one of those test-hating teenagers. But now, after years of studying business and working in marketing, I understand (and love!) the true value of tests. This is especially true with A/B email tests.

Marketers will continue to use and test various email marketing tactics, because email is not dead!

Unhappy teenage girl studying at the desk

Join the club and make this the year of A/B email tests. Many email marketing and marketing automation software solutions include this feature in their services, so use it as much as you can!

Some of these tests may seem pretty basic, but even if you’re an email marketing guru, the simplest of tests can still tell you a lot about your current and future email strategies.

But remember, NEVER test more than one variable at a time! You won’t be able to tell which variable actually played a part in the results of your test. Use the data from the following tests to create an overall picture of your email marketing strategy.

Open Me!

Your email is worthless unless the recipient actually opens it. This is where the following inbox A/B tests can help to improve your email open rates.

The subject line is your chance to let the recipient know what they should expect in your email, or at least make them want to know what’s in it. Try any of the tests below to optimize your next subject line:

  • Personalization: Does using their first name increase opens versus using no personalization? Would the company name be more effective than the first name? Personalized subject lines increase open-rates by 22.3%. Use the data you have to convince people that you’re emailing them personally, not as a part of a generic email blast.
  • CTA vs. Headline: What should your recipients learn about the email from its subject line? Do you want them to know exactly what your purpose is (CTA), or do you want to get creative with a question or statement (headline)?
  • Copy: There are a lot of variations to make in the content of the subject line. Try asking a question versus making a statement, or test the effects of different buzzwords, such as “Free” and “New” and “Limited.” Just like ad copy, your subject line should represent the purpose of the email through a limited number of words.

The “From” line is a less thought-of place for an A/B test, but it’s still crucial for improving open rates. Will recipients treat an email differently based on who the sender is? Find out!

  • Company vs. Employee Name: Will people be more open to receiving an email from a brand or from an actual person? It will depend on your company and what the purpose of the email is, but you should still test whether or not one type of “From” will work better than another.
  • Employee vs. Employee: Does one employee generate more opens than another? Does someone from Marketing encourage or discourage opens? Perhaps the CEO provides more trust than a random salesperson. Try different tests with the right messages to find the optimal “From.”

Often disregarded, the preview text is just as important as the other Inbox factors that attribute to open rate. The preview shows content from your email, and unfortunately for most it ends up being “Email not displaying correctly?” when it can actually give the recipient more information about the email’s content.

  • CTA vs. Summary of Message: Instead of “Email not displaying correctly?” what should your preview text say? Should it, like the subject line, clearly state what the recipient should do with the email, or would a simple summary of the email’s contents encourage more opens? A/B test the two types (or any other types you can think of!) to learn which kind of preview text improves open rates from your audience.

Finally, the day of the week and the time of day will affect whether or not an email gets opened. Are your recipients more likely to open emails in the morning or the afternoon? Do open rates increase on Thursdays versus Fridays? Try different combinations until you find the one that works best for your list. However, don’t test time of day and day of the week at the same time; focus on one variable first, then use the winner of those tests to determine the winner of the next ones.

Read Me!

Great, you’ve gotten your list to open your email. Now you need them to complete the purpose of your email, usually clicking on your call-to-action (measured by click-through rate, or CTR). Use the tests below to find the best email content and design for your campaign’s goal.

  • Personalization: Just like in the subject line, personalization adds a lot to the effectiveness of an email. Address them personally by their first name, instead of a generic “Dear friend”; mention their company name within the email, making it clear that what you’re offering can directly benefit their own brand goals. Again, use the data you have to create a personal email that will convey the idea that your offer is specifically for this person.

What are you trying to accomplish with this email? That’s where the call-to-action (CTA) comes in. The following tests will help you figure out how to use a CTA to accomplish your email’s goal:

  • Button vs. Text Link: What kind of CTA will get the most clicks? Is it a big button that screams “Click Me,” or is it a simple line of text, similar to what you would see in a blog post? Use an A/B test to learn more about how your recipients respond to either type of CTA.
  • CTA placement: Where in the email should the CTA be? At the top? Closer to the bottom? Test a few different placements to determine where in the email your recipients are more likely to click through to the CTA.
  • Multiple CTAs: While not a necessary test, if you find that you want to include multiple CTAs, test it first. Will having multiple CTAs affect the clicks on your main CTA? Should each one be in a different format (button vs a text link)? If you do decide to go with multiple CTAs, make sure they actually have a purpose towards the overall goal of your campaign and won’t detract from each other within the email.
  • Button colors: A simple test, but still quite informative. Do your recipients respond more to a red or blue button? What about orange? Or green? Perhaps your brand colors deliver the desired click results!
  • Button copy: Why should your recipients click the button? What are they getting from that click? Use the button copy to efficiently convey your CTA’s purpose, and use an A/B test to learn what kind of copy will work best. Test various word changes, such as “Click Here” versus “Click Now”; change up the copy entirely and test which message works best, such as “Learn More About X” versus “Share My Ideas.” Like any form of copy, the possibilities are endless! Test the versions that will work best for your campaign’s purpose, and change it up depending on the end goal.

Of course, there’s more to an email than the CTA. What kind of message will you write to encourage those clicks? What will the email actually look like? You can test many variations of your marketing message within the email, but here are some A/B tests to help optimize the design:

  • With an Image vs. Without an Image: Pictures are a powerful tool, worth a thousand words, some say! Leverage that power in your emails, but only if it’s an effective tool for those campaigns. Start with a basic image/no image test to see if it has the effects you desire. Then, start testing different kinds of images, from stock photos to infographics to photos from social media.

What A/B email tests have you done or are planning to do? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Looking for Email Marketing software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Email Marketing software solutions.

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About the Author

Caroline Malamut

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Caroline is the Vendor Marketing Manager at Capterra. Her love of marketing began while growing up in Philadelphia and has only grown since attending the University of Pittsburgh. In her free time she enjoys reading, spending time with friends and family, and cheering on her Philly and Pitt sports teams.

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