Things You Should Be Testing in Email Marketing by Carmia Lureman @GraphicMail

Things You Should Be Testing in Email Marketing

Things You Should Be Testing in Email Marketing

I believe in one very simple principle in email marketing:  Testing = executing.

The only way to run a successful campaign is to test and evolve continuously.  It’s the only way to get a concrete answer on what works best for your subscribers and get optimum results from your campaigns.

A surprising number of email marketers neglect testing their email campaigns. Testing takes time and effort. Very often businesses just don’t consider it important enough to allocate the necessary time and resources to test their campaigns.  Usually people just don’t realize to what extent their campaigns will benefit from testing.  One of the biggest reasons marketers cite for not testing is not knowing what to test.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Subject lines

For most recipients, subject lines and “from” names are the determining factors when it comes to opening a newsletter.  Decide on certain qualities you’d like to test: Shorter vs. longer, mentioning your brand name in the subject line or calling out just the main article vs. listing the various posts in your newsletter (e.g. “New summer stock now in store” vs.  “New stock + designer trend forecast + coupons”).  You can even just test a catchy phrase against something that gets straight to the point.

  • Layouts

You might love the layout of your newsletter, but do your subscribers love it?  Different designs can influence the way in which your subscribers interact with your newsletter.   Test variations to see whether they prefer more images, more text, shorter call-outs, bolder buttons, or a cleaner block layout.

  • Your call-to-action (CTA)

Every email campaign has certain objectives: desired actions you want your subscribers to take.  Whether it’s clicking through to make a booking, a purchase, or to forward your email, you need to make clear to them what it is you want them to do. Test various ways of making your CTA stand out through the design of your layout or wording, or design different CTA buttons.  Use the one that achieves the highest click-through rates in your sends.  On that note . . .

  • Landing pages

Make sure you’re directing your subscribers to quality landing pages that relate to your CTA.  Perhaps your email campaign is doing well, but the process ends once you have the subscriber on your site.  Test to see which landing pages have the best results in getting users to perform your desired actions. Then make the best-performing pages the landing pages for your email campaign.  It’s also worth testing the pages themselves to see if you can improve on your conversions even further, using your email marketing to boost the traffic to those pages that have been optimized for conversion.

  • Rendering

One of the most important – and basic – things to test is how your newsletter renders in different email clients and mobile browsers.  An email that doesn’t render properly is an email that will be deleted.

  • Send time

Try sending your newsletters at different times of day or on different days of the week to see which achieve the highest open rates.  Changing the time you hit “send” can dramatically improve your open rates.  Do more people read your email when you send it first thing in the morning, or do your subscribers prefer reading during their lunch break? Find out what works best for your list.  (Also keep an eye on how many subscribers view the mobile version of your newsletter and whether your mobile open rates are affected by send times. As mobile becomes more widely used, you might want this information already logged.)

  • Segmentation

Segmenting your lists according to specified common denominators is widely considered to be a very good way to target your sends, sending more relevant emails to your different segments.  To see whether your segmentation is effective, test the responses you get from your different list segments.  If there’s no real difference between your segmented sends and the sends you blast out to your entire list, it might be time to rethink how you’ve segmented your lists and try different categories of segmentation to see if doing so impacts your list’s performance.

  • A final point: The test send

Conducting a test send is a basic but crucial part of testing. Before you send out your campaign, send a test to yourself.  Even if you’ve checked your email ten times over, it’s important to give it a “once-over” in your inbox to ensure that all your links and anchor links work and that all alt text is in place.

How do I test? Conducting a split test

Any email marketing service will provide you with testing tools.  The most commonly used testing method is split testing, whereby you get to test variables on a split segment and compare the results each version of your email obtained.  If you’re using a split test to test on a smaller portion of your list first, try the 80/20 rule.  Test your variables on 20% of your target audience – what works for that 20% is most likely to work for the remaining 80%.


Subscribers evolve continuously, so test every newsletter you send and look for ways to continuously improve on your emails.  Don’t settle for “okay” on your campaigns.  “Okay” results never go up, they only go down.  If your send statistics aren’t what you want them to be, keep testing to find possible improvements.  Your subscribers will value your dedication to providing them with top quality emails.

Meet the author:



Carmia is a rapidly evolving online geek. After earning her stripes at a global ESP, she joined the ranks of Quirk eMarketing as their Email Champion. A writer from a print media background who stumbled into the online industry by chance, she's embarrassingly enthusiastic about email marketing, integrated digital marketing and branding, social media marketing and online reputation management.

Connect with: carmia

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  • Josh
    March 9, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Seems to me like these testing tips make sense, yet most of them are neglected due to lack of time, resources, IT involvement, etc…insert excuse here. I would go one step further. What about tying an actual revenue amount to the treatment groups of each split-test? Knowing which call-to-action, subject line, HTML template converts more visitors is great. No doubt about it, BUT, if the experiment is not connected to an actual dollar amount (i.e. how much revenue uplift did this experiment contribute to my top and bottom line), then marketers don’t really know the final outcome of their efforts. It’s possible to dramatically improve conversions while killing margins, so I thought I would contribute to this thread by ensuring marketers have a way to see how many additional $$$ their email split-test produces.

    • Chief eMail Officer
      March 16, 2011 at 9:05 am

      I do understand the cost of testing, but I would argue some testing like subject lines or calls to action don’t really need to cost a lot more money.

      As well, a simple test can produce remarkable lift that would have otherwise been realized.

      Test it, measure it and act upon it!!!


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