Email Engagement

Mastering Email A/B Testing: Strategies, Tools, and Tips

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Picture this: you’re an email marketer and you’re firing on all cylinders. Your visuals are on point and your content is engaging. You’ve made a list (of subscribers) and you’ve checked it twice. You even took our email marketing IQ quiz and it confirmed that you are, indeed, a hot sender. What more could you possibly need, right?

We don’t know who needs to hear this but…

 If you’re in the business of marketing, you’re likely also in the business of measuring success. And you can only really do that by leveraging one of the most powerful tools for enhancing your email marketing efforts there is––email A/B testing. 

Trust us, regardless of how good you are at crafting engaging email campaigns, A/B testing will take your efforts to a whole new level. Below, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of email A/B testing best practices.

What is A/B testing in email marketing?

An email A/B test, also known as a split test, is a method where you create two versions of an email (let’s call them Version A and Version B) and send them to different segments of your audience. The goal is to determine which version performs better and yields higher engagement, whether in the form of click-through rates, conversions, or any other metrics that matter to you.

By A/B testing your emails, you can gain valuable insights into your audience’s preferences, behaviors, and what resonates with them the most. 

Elements of an email to A/B test

The beauty of A/B testing lies in its ability to provide tangible data. You can objectively measure the impact of each variable on your email performance and make informed decisions based on concrete evidence rather than assumptions. This makes email optimization a breeze, not to mention, it drives better results over time.

There are several key elements you can focus on to optimize your results. Let’s dive into each of them:

  1. Subject lines: Test different subject lines to gauge their impact on open rates. Experiment with variations in length, tone, personalization, and emoji usage. That said, ensuring your email subject lines give your recipients a clear and honest look at what the email contains is key when it comes to avoiding spam filters.
  2. Body copy: Try different approaches to your email content. Test variations in tone, length, storytelling techniques, or the inclusion of testimonials and social proof.
  3. Calls to action: Test different wording, placement, colors, and styles for your CTA buttons. See which versions drive higher click-through rates and conversions.
  4. Images: Experiment with different visuals, graphics, and product images. Test the use of human faces, lifestyle imagery, or using GIFs in emails to see what resonates best with your audience.
  5. Personalization: Explore the impact of personalizing your emails. Test the use of dynamic content (beyond the simple [First Name]), personalized recommendations, or personalized subject lines to improve engagement.
  6. Segmentation: Test different audience segments to identify which groups respond best to specific messaging or offers. Tailor your content and email workflows to specific segments for higher conversions.
  7. Sending frequency: Test different sending frequencies to determine the optimal balance. Find out if sending emails more or less frequently improves engagement without overwhelming or neglecting your audience.
  8. From name: Experiment with the sender’s name or email alias to see if using a person’s name, brand name, or a combination of both yields higher open rates and engagement.
  9. HTML vs. plain text: Compare the performance of HTML-designed emails versus plain text emails. Perhaps a more conversational approach (as opposed to a marketing-laden email) resonates better with your subscribers.

Pro tip: when conducting A/B tests, focus on testing one element at a time while keeping other variables constant. This will help you accurately measure the impact of each test and make data-driven decisions to optimize your email marketing campaigns. 

Tools for email AB testing

It can be challenging to create email campaigns that strike the perfect balance between being valuable for your reader and driving ROI. This is why it’s critical for marketers to use testing tools that validate everything from the layout of email templates to the likelihood that messages will be delivered to the inbox. 

Let’s explore more tools in each category you can use to ensure you’re testing your email campaigns from every angle and at every stage.

  1. Email Service Providers (ESPs): Many ESPs offer built-in A/B testing features that allow you to split your email list and test different variations of your campaigns. Popular ESPs like Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, and Sendinblue offer A/B testing functionality as part of their platform, making it easy to set up and analyze your tests directly within your email marketing tool.
  2. A/B testing tools: In addition to ESPs, dedicated A/B testing tools can integrate with your existing email marketing setup. Tools like Optimizely and Google Optimize offer robust A/B testing capabilities, allowing you to test various elements of your emails and analyze the results in detail. These tools often provide advanced features like multivariate testing and statistical significance calculations.
  3. CRM tools: Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools can also be valuable for A/B testing, especially when it comes to testing and personalizing emails based on customer data. CRM platforms like HubSpot, Salesforce, and Zoho offer A/B testing functionality within their email marketing modules. These tools enable you to segment your audience, create personalized email variations, and track the performance of each test based on customer behavior and engagement. There are also tools to help make managing your CRM (and by extension your data) a breeze. For example, Validity  DemandTools is a secure data quality platform that enables organizations to clean and manage Salesforce data in less time
  4. Data cleansing tools: Sure, practicing poor data hygiene can be detrimental to your overall sales efforts but when it comes to A/B testing email marketing campaigns, you can’t trust the results if they include things like duplicates, invalid or out-of-date addresses. Tools like Validity BriteVerify prevent bad data from entering your database and keep it actionable. It also protects your sender reputation by reducing your bounce rate so you can connect with more people and focus on real opportunities.

By leveraging the tools mentioned above, you can easily set up and manage A/B tests, track key metrics, and gather valuable insights to improve your email marketing effectiveness. Whether you prefer using built-in features of ESPs, standalone A/B testing tools, or CRM integrations, these tools provide the necessary infrastructure to conduct successful A/B tests and optimize your email campaigns.

How to set up an email A/B test 

Setting up an email A/B test involves a systematic approach to ensure accurate results. That said, there are a variety of tools available to streamline the process of testing your emails and provide valuable insights. For example, Validity Everest allows marketers to preview their emails across all major devices and optimize their content to improve engagement.

Let’s break down the key elements of an email your should be testing into five steps:

  1. Choose an objective: Clearly define your goal for the A/B test. Whether it’s improving open rates, click-through rates, conversions, or any other metric, having a specific objective helps guide your test and measure its success.
  2. Pick a variable: Select the element you want to test. It could be the subject line, body copy, call-to-action button, images, personalization, segmentation, sending frequency, from name, or HTML vs. plain text. Focus on one variable at a time to isolate its impact and obtain clear insights.
  3. Set up the parameters: Determine the parameters for your test. Split your audience into two or more groups, ensuring they are representative and comparable. Decide on the sample size, test duration, and the percentage of your audience that will receive each variation.
  4. Run the test: Create your email variations based on the chosen variable. Set up your email software or A/B testing tool to send the different versions to the selected audience segments. Make sure to randomize the delivery and avoid biases.
  5. Analyze the results: Once the test is complete, analyze the performance of each variation based on your objective. Look at key metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, conversions, or any other relevant data. Determine statistical significance using appropriate statistical methods to ensure the results are reliable.

Based on the analysis, draw conclusions about which variation performed better and achieved your objective. Use these insights to optimize future email campaigns and iterate on your testing strategy.

Remember, A/B testing is an iterative process. It’s important to test one variable at a time to isolate its impact and accurately assess its influence on your audience. Gradually, you can refine your email marketing strategies, refine your targeting, and deliver highly personalized content that speaks directly to your subscribers’ needs and preferences.

Common A/B email testing mistakes to avoid

While conducting A/B testing for email campaigns, it’s important to be aware of common mistakes that can undermine the accuracy and effectiveness of your tests. 

We already mentioned the biggest one (low-quality data) but let’s explore a few other common pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Not testing enough variables: To truly optimize your email campaigns, it’s crucial to test multiple variables independently. Testing only one element at a time allows you to isolate its impact and accurately measure its effect on your desired metrics. Avoid the mistake of changing multiple elements simultaneously, as this can lead to unclear results and confounding factors.
  2. Using irrelevant metrics: Ensure that the metrics you choose to measure align with your objective. For instance, if your goal is to improve click-through rates, focusing solely on open rates may not provide the most meaningful insights. Be intentional in selecting metrics that directly reflect the specific aspect of your campaign you are trying to optimize.
  3. Failing to segment your audience: Neglecting audience segmentation can lead to skewed results and missed opportunities. Each segment of your audience may respond differently to various elements or messaging. By segmenting your audience and tailoring your tests accordingly, you can uncover insights that are more relevant and actionable. Consider demographics, behavior, past interactions, or other relevant criteria to create meaningful segments.

Pro tip: Avoid these pitfalls by regularly stress testing your email program. ​​Stress testing involves promoting different scenarios and analyzing the results. By doing this, you can optimize your email program for maximum performance and ensure it can handle the demands of a high volume of outbound emails. Plus, stress testing helps you identify and fix any potential issues before they can affect your company’s bottom line. 

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can enhance the accuracy and effectiveness of your A/B testing efforts. Test multiple variables independently, choose metrics that align with your objectives, and segment your audience strategically. This way, you’ll gather valuable insights that lead to data-driven optimizations and improved email campaign performance. 

Unleash your full marketing potential with email A/B testing

In a constantly evolving digital landscape, where engagement is king and your sender reputation is on the line, A/B testing allows you to continually refine and improve your email marketing strategies. By testing different elements, you can gain a deeper understanding of your audience’s preferences, behaviors, and what resonates best with them. 

Defining specific goals––whether it’s improving open rates, click-through rates, conversions, or other metrics––helps you stay focused and measure the success of your tests effectively.

Running tests by systematically selecting a variable, setting parameters, running a test, and then analyzing the results, helps uncover valuable insights that can ultimately be used to optimize your campaigns, improve engagement, and drive better conversions. 

By embracing this methodology, you can unlock the full potential of your email marketing efforts and create meaningful connections with your audience. So, don’t be afraid to dive headfirst into A/B testing, learn from each test, and continuously improve our email campaigns to drive success in the dynamic world of email marketing.

That said, the buck doesn’t stop at A/B testing and engagement likely isn’t the only metric your team is tracking. Poor data hygiene could skew the results if your database contains duplicate or invalid information. It also increases your chances of email bounces which can be detrimental to both your sender reputation and bottom line.

Unfortunately, it’s too easy for bounce rates to creep up without you even knowing. To get your bounce rate back into a healthy range (and keep it that way!), check out the above resources or download our cheat sheet, 15 Ways to Lower Your Email Bounce Rates.