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How to Test and Optimize Marketing Emails for Your Small Business


Growing your list of subscribers is only the first step in building an effective email marketing campaign for your small business. It doesn’t matter how many people are on your list if they aren’t opening your email, reading the messages and taking the intended action. In this post, we’ll outline how to use A/B testing to create more effective marketing emails.

What is an A/B test?

In its most basic form, A/B testing is the process of testing two different variations of an element within an email. The goal is to understand which version performs better with your target audience and optimize the element to improve overall email performance.

There are many components of the email you can test, but remember to only test one item at a time. We’ve outlined some of the most common variables below.

Subject line

The subject line is an important factor for determining an email's open rate. It's what draws your readers in and makes them decide whether to open your email and continue reading. You can test the length of the subject, the tone of voice, and the use of emojis, questions and personalization.

Sender name

Many businesses don't give much thought to the sender’s name used, but it can have a significant impact on your open rates. Using a person’s name instead of a company name often increases open rates – but you want to see if that holds true with your audience. To find the preferred sender name, you can run an A/B test to see which sender name performs best with your recipients.

Time of day

The time of day when you send an email is another major factor in an email campaign's success. Most email opens come within the first 24 hours. After that critical window, the chance of a subscriber opening it drops below 1%.

To find your optimal send time, test your campaign at different times throughout the day. For instance, you could send the email to one group in the morning and to another group in the early afternoon. This will help you understand whether your audience is most responsive in the morning, afternoon or evenings.

Day of the week

The days with the best open rates can vary greatly by industry and individual business.

To understand what works best for your business, test campaigns to see whether your open rates are higher on weekends or weekdays. From there, you can test specific days against one another to narrow down the optimal day of the week.  

Call to action (CTA)

Your CTA is arguably the most important factor because it helps you determine what  motivates your audience to click through or convert. It’s important to see what types of CTA drive the most engagement. There are many different elements you can test --  a CTA button versus hyperlinked text, font or button color, and the copy used in the link are just a few.

You should also test the placement of your CTA within the email to see if users are more likely to click on links at the beginning, middle or end of an email.

Set up your A/B test.

Once you’ve determined which variable to test, create two versions of the same email with all other variables held constant. For instance, let's say you want to see which subject line improves your open rates. You'll come up with two different subject lines but keep the body of the email the same.

Choose your testing groups.

The size of your testing groups depends on the number of subscribers in your email list. If your email list has more than 1,000 subscribers, you should test 20% of your audience. This means that 10% of your audience will receive version A and 10% will receive version B. However, if you have fewer than 1,000 subscribers in your list, it’s typically best to test your entire list. This means that you would send half of your list version A and the other half version B.

Analyze and implement your results.

Your email service provider should provide analytics to show which subject line performed the best in terms of open rates and clicks. From there, you can optimize future emails accordingly to include the best performing elements.

Testing is a continual process – once you get the results from your first test, pick another variable to test and repeat the process for your next campaign. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you should only test one variable at a time to isolate its impact on the overall performance of the email.

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