4 Steps to Successful A/B Email Testing

You’ve probably read article after article about email marketing best practices, and undoubtedly, they all end by touting the merits of testing and optimizing your email content. Unlike cold calling, you’re working with an audience that has opted into your communications (if you’re following best practices!), so it’s important to send emails that keep them engaged, interested, and most importantly, subscribed to your list. Keep in mind that it’s easier to retain existing customers than bring in new ones, and your emails play an important role in this retention effort.

So okay, you get it — you’re supposed to test your emails to make sure they’re as effective as possible. But test what? And how?

One of the best ways to test your emails is through A/B testing, which involves creating two separate versions of an email that differ in one way, whether it’s an altered subject line, layout, or another email element. These two emails are randomly distributed among a specified list to determine a winner. A/B testing can help marketers optimize the email content they’re sending by revealing which combinations of email elements perform most successfully.

To help answer some frequently asked questions about A/B testing, we’ve put together the following guide. Take a look at the guidelines below, and happy testing!

Step One. What’s your goal?

The elements in your email that you decide to test will depend on your goals. Are you hoping to increase your open rates? Your click-through rates? Each of these are impacted by different parts of your email, and therefore require a different approach. It’s possible that a majority of your emails are going unopened, so testing design elements like images or layout would be inappropriate. Similarly, if your open rates are phenomenal but your click-throughs are suffering, you may want to work on optimizing conversion points rather than your subject line.

Step Two. Decide what to test.

You know what you want to accomplish, now it’s time to decide how you’re going to make it happen. The following are all elements of your emails that can be tested using A/B testing:

  • Subject lines
  • Calls to action and offers (“download a white paper” vs. “free case study”)
  • Headlines
  • Images
  • Layout
  • Body text
  • Customer testimonials, and more!

When it comes to A/B testing, there’s a bit of a hierarchy for testing elements. Consider testing subject lines and calls to action first, as these will often have the most significant impact on your open rates or click-throughs (depending on which you’re more focused on), before moving on to items like images and customer testimonials.

Step Three. Implement.

Ready to start testing? Choose your email list and set up your A/B test in your testing interface, whether that’s an email marketing or marketing automation tool. For example, with Pardot, emails can be distributed among a test segment of your list, and a winner is chosen at the end of the test period. The remaining recipients on your list will be sent the winning email.

Your testing tool should be able to handle random distribution of your email among your specified list, but if not, you can always set this up using segmentation. Remember to send both versions of your email at the same time, so that time factors do not skew your results.

Step Four. Were you successful?

Well, that depends on your goals and the corresponding success metrics. If you were testing your subject lines, what improvement did you see in your open rates? 5%? 15%? Did conversion rates change based on alterations you made to the email content? Decide what quantitative improvements you’re shooting for, and if you don’t hit them, keep testing! Again, just remember to only to only test one element at a time so that you can easily determine causality.

What other A/B testing best practices would you recommend? Let us know in the comments!