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A/B testing your email marketing

As we’ve discussed over the past few months, there are a lot of factors that contribute to the success (or failure) of your email marketing efforts, from visual design to how tightly your email and website work together to mobile-friendliness, among other issues.

One of the concepts we discussed but didn’t dive too deeply into is A/B testing. It bears more discussion.

There are a number of elements of your email marketing campaign that you can and should be testing. As important as the testing itself is your approach: the testing will be far more productive if you view it as an on-going process rather than a one-time undertaking that gives you all the information you’ll ever need.

The on-going approach will help you react to changes in your audience, your industry, and your own marketing needs. Depending on the size and nature of your email marketing program, you could be testing various factors all the time, with the parameters of your testing adjusted to move you away from underperforming approaches.

When do you send?

Some of the easiest testing to do is time of day and day of the week. There are all sorts of studies showing that certain days and times perform better, but those are generally very broad studies and may not apply to your audience. When in doubt, later in the week and later in the day seem to perform better in our experience, but you’ll only know for sure if you test:

How often do you send?

Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly. This can be a tougher test because you wind up playing with your audience’s expectations. For that reason, I would recommend this not be a parameter you test constantly.

How much do you send?

Long-form vs. bite-size chunks. You may find that one produces more engagement and better results for you, and you may find that one is simply dismissed more frequently. Test – with the same article title, subject line, etc. – to see whether your audience really wants to dig in or if they’re more oriented toward factoids and quick hits.

All in or linked back?

The length question will also impact your approach to how your email and website relate. You can either publish entire articles in an email (typically just one per mailing) or include teaser text for a handful of longer articles that link back to the full text on your website.

Who loves you most?

Finally, test your content against audience segments, whether those segments are broken down by industry, prospect role, or even the service they’ve expressed an interest in. You may find that certain kinds of content perform well with one segment and poorly with another. That’s a valuable marketing insight you wouldn’t get without A/B testing.

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Andrew Schulkind

Since 1996, Andrew Schulkind has asked clients one simple question: what does digital marketing success look like, and how can marketing progress be measured? A veteran content marketer, web developer, and digital strategist, Andrew founded Andigo New Media to help firms find a more strategic and productive mix of tools that genuinely support online brand goals over time. With a passion for true collaboration and meaningful consensus, his work touches social media, search-engine optimization, and email marketing, among other components. He views is primary goal as encouraging engagement. Getting an audience involved in your story requires solid information architecture, a great user experience, and compelling content. A dash of common sense doesn’t hurt, either. Andrew has presented at Social Media Week NY and WordCampNYC, among other events, on content marketing and web-development topics. His technology writing appears on the Andigo blog, in a monthly column on Biznology.com, and for print and online publications like The New York Enterprise Report, Social Media Today, and GSG Worldwide’s publications LinkedIn & Business, Facebook & Business, and Tweeting & Business. Andrew graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from Bucknell University. He engages in a range of community volunteer work and is an avid fly fisherman and cyclist. He also loves collecting meaningless trivia. (Did you know the Lone Ranger made his mask from the cloth of his brother's vest after his brother was killed by "the bad guys?")

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