Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3…

Greetings, Marketers!

First, let me welcome all of you new readers to the column, as I know some subscribers to the newly established Email Marketing Track here on ClickZ may be receiving this column for the first time. Lynne and I hope you will find our real-life, day-to-day lessons and diatribes helpful as you make your way through your email marketing campaigns and projects.

Testing has been on our minds lately here at the office. We are talking to more and more people who are reaching a major milestone in their email efforts. Now that they’ve gotten up and running with their email newsletters and marketing, they are ready to start focusing on increasing revenues and decreasing costs. That means its time to start testing.

Although many of you will already know this, testing is a science, and, as with the physical sciences, marketing and response science requires control of as many elements as possible when testing. For instance:

  • Test segment quantities should be even.

  • You should always test against your control.

  • You should try to test only a single variable at a time.

  • You should send as simultaneously as you can. (You wouldn’t drop direct mail tests days apart, and, with email, a few hours can be as significant as days in the direct mail world.)

You should proceed with caution whenever you test; take your time and make sure you are starting with something that is going to yield an actionable result. Don’t waste resources by testing things that don’t need to be changed. For instance, recipients may be trained to look for things such as your consistent subject line, or they may have your “from” name or your email address on an “accepted” mail list, so that your messages are delivered to them rather than blocked or trashed. If you are sending a newsletter that has a strong open rate, you probably shouldn’t start with testing subject lines or “from” addresses. However, if you’re looking to increase a poor open rate, these areas are fair game.

Testing should serve the purpose of increasing your response or conversion rates or helping you reduce costs. But also important are continuing to learn about your audience members and trying to figure out if they are really opening and responding to your messages. Below are some things to think about when testing.

Consider these ideas for increasing response or conversion rates:

  • Test subject lines. When testing subject lines you are trying to increase your open rates:

    • Test personalization. Some have success with it; however, others do not, as it may look too promotional.

    • Test the value proposition you are presenting against the premium you are offering. For instance, “Free Trial” versus “Information delivered to your Palm Pilot.”

  • Test “from” line with a friendly name. Again, the purpose is to help increase your open rates:

    • You can test sending from a person’s name, the company’s name, the newsletter name, or your Web site’s name.

    • You may want to eventually segment your list so that people who come in from different sources (direct marketing versus phone versus your Web site) receive mail from a name that’s associated with that relationship.

  • Resend to recipients who did not open the email. If your tools allow, you can reselect those who did not open your message. (You’d only want to pull HTML recipients, as you would not know open rates for your text recipients.) Then you should change the subject line and resend. Or you could even just resend if you think your mail may have been ignored due to a heavy news day or bad timing.

Now that you’ve figured out how to get recipients to open the mail, what do you test to increase the click-through rate (CTR)? Here are some ideas:

  • Headlines are the easiest to test.

    • This is pretty straightforward, but consider whether your headlines are benefit-oriented.

    • Are they presenting the true value of what your message is delivering?

    • Color or graphical changes could make a significant difference.

    • Are your fonts legible?

  • Test HTML against text.

    Everyone knows that HTML pulls better, right? Or wrong? Your audience may be having trouble with your HTML, or people might be reading mail on mobile devices. For various reasons, text may still be the appropriate format.

  • Test time of day or day of the week. You might find that half your list likes to receive the mail on Tuesdays and the other half wants it Fridays to read over the weekend. Some readers only check mail once a day. My personal AOL account is something I check only about once a day (unless I am testing my campaign messages), but my business account is always on and (depending on what I am doing) I usually check the mail as soon as it comes in.

  • Test premiums.

    • Do you have to give away a free trial?

    • Are you only using “percentage off” savings? Sometimes dollar signs work better.

    • Does the free booklet you are offering contain content that your readers really want, or can you offer something that better fulfills their needs?

If you are looking to reduce costs, here are a few ideas:

  • Frequency of the mail you are sending. According to Jupiter Media Metrix’s email marketing report of October 2001, 34 percent of consumers want promotional email from their selected interests weekly, while 31 percent only want it monthly. How many messages (and dollars) are you wasting by sending to the portion of your list that is not only not responding, but is starting to get annoyed and possibly thinking about unsubscribing?

  • Premium testing. Sometimes you don’t need to give so much away to get the same response.

  • HTML versus text, again. If you are paying for creative services or HTML coding and your audience is just as responsive to text, why spend the money?

  • Segmentation that is not paying off. Make sure that the extra resources you are applying to segment your list and provide targeted content is paying off. One publisher I know found that it did not need to keep sending all three of its financial freebie letters. It only needed one and could actually combine some content. Although the audience groaned a bit in the beginning, overall the reduction in cost was worth it.

Well, that’s it for me this week. Hopefully you can apply some of this to your campaigns and improve your bottom line. After all, that is what this whole thing is ultimately about!

Let us know how your tests are going; we are always looking for real-life stories that illustrate email marketing principles.

Have a great week!

–Jackie G.

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