Evolve your email marketing with A/B Split testing

It’s been a busy day, you and your team have been working hard on this week’s email newsletter. It’s looking good, the content is fresh and relevant, you’ve got something to say to your readers. In fact you’ve been focusing so hard on the content that you haven’t really had the time to take a step back and reflect on your overall email strategy. The weekly newsletters are doing well, lots of opens and a good click through rate. The conversions are always good, so you are confident that what you’re doing is right – it’s working well, after all.

But, could it be better? A small increase in conversions could mean a big uplift in revenue generated. A few more social shares and the reach of your brand is significantly increased.

In the always busy world of email marketing it can be difficult to make time to try out new approaches, talk to your audience in a different way. Aside from the resource hurdle there’s the risk factor too. Dare you put all your eggs in one basket with your weekly newsletter? What if the new tactic doesn’t improve results, or worse, performs less well than the tried and tested usual way?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Whilst the digital world enables us to be agile and disruptive, pushing boundaries, a safe way to evolve your email marketing strategy exists and it’s more than likely already at your fingertips – multi-variant split testing (or simple A/B Split testing).

To always be testing should be one of your (many) email mantras. Your programme arrived at its current stage by being tested on some level during its development. If you can speed up the evolution process then your strategy can only grow and improve at a faster rate. Which is, after all, what we are all looking for – better results, improved ROI, simplified processes.

Sounds fair enough, how do you put this A/B Split testing into practice?

There are many elements that make up your email message and each has it’s own effect on the performance. The mail from and subject line will have a key influence on whether your email is actually opened by the recipient. Once opened, timing of the send and the layout of the content will determine engagement with your message. Even the colour and shape of your CTA buttons will affect the performance of the email newsletter.

There’s a lot of elements to be tested, where on earth do I start?

If you aren’t testing any elements at the moment then its a good idea to start small, use A/B split tests on the obvious factors. Since performance ultimately rests on how many people read your message, testing the mail from and subject lines is a great place to start.

Using the A/B Split Test feature in your the email solution that you have (if your ESP doesn’t have this feature then it’s definitely time to take a look around at other providers on the market!) you should decide on a simple subject line test – running three different subject lines against each other.

Typically this involves selecting the number of splits and the ‘winning’ factor (in this case Opens). You then define the testing window, e.g. 3 hours. You then broadcast your newsletter as normal, except in this instance three different versions, each with a differing subject line, will be mailed. But to only a small proportion (e.g. 10%) of your database. Once your time-frame is over the ‘winning’ version will rolled out automatically, to the remainder of your database.

This simple and quick method gives you the opportunity to try different styles of email subject line. You can put the usual against a quirky line against an informative line. What you use depends on the content and aim of the email you are sending.

With this easy to implement test you can send 3 or more different versions of your newsletter every time you broadcast. Confident that the best performing version will always be seen by the vast majority of your audience. Each weekly iteration evolves your email programme.
Very soon you will have moved from the safe, but not necessarily ideal, variant and be confident that you are serving your customers messages that appeal to them.

As mentioned above, the subject line is just one factor to test. Once the benefit of testing has been shown you are now in the position to begin the journey towards testing nirvana. It can be seen that slight variations in design – from layout through themes to button shape and placement, etc.

Use A/B Split testing on these elements to find out which works best for your audience:

  • Subject line style – quirky or dry, % discount or amount saved, etc.
  • Mail from – does a person’s name or the business name speak to your audience better?
  • Time of Day / day of the week – even with the rise of always on mobile devices, timing can be crucial.
  • Image or copy heavy design
  • layout styles
  • button shapes / placement

Our Top 5 predictions for Email Marketing in 2014

As the year draws to a close we asked our crack team of email futurologists what they expect to happen in email marketing over the next 12 months:

The inbox finally becomes sentient.

The human-mailbox intersection has been widely touted as the next stage in the evolution of the marketing email channel. As 2013 draws to a close there are already reports of inboxes being cloned from the DNA of some AOL users.

Wearable tech blows up the email landscape.

Unsubstantiated sightings of young men wearing hand crafted email inboxes as bibs were reported as early as October 2013. The email scientific community tentatively suggests that March 2013 will see the Onesie replaced with the Inbox Bib as the go to ironic vestement for the young bohemian about town.

The Spam folder finally breaks away from the traditional mailbox.

It is expected that by Q2 2014 the spam folder will no longer be tied to a mailbox. Spam folders will roam free in the wild. It is unknown how they will feed or transport themselves, but according to an unnamed source “some sort of travelator” will be deployed by the herds of roaming spam folders.

Responsive email design finally breaks free from the shackles of mobile devices.

Responsive design begins to adapt to mood and other ambient factors. For example a work email opened by accident on a smartphone at the weekend will leap from the handset and apologise profusely for disturbing the recipient. We’ve seen a youtube clip of a Responsive-X14 designed email that actually stopped a slice of toast from falling buttered side down.

ISPs will take audience engagement metrics to the logical next level.

Inbox placement finally comes of age. True engagement will require the reader of the email to sit up straight and take notes. A triggered follow up email will be sent to the reader asking a series of tough questions about the content. Failure to respond accurately will mean all subsequent emails are directed to the spam folder and an electric shock administered each time an email is moved from the junk folder to the inbox.

We’re really looking forward to 2014 and hope to check off some of these developments as the year progresses.

Increasing engagement with Event Triggered emails

Type email marketing into your chosen search engine and you’re very likely to see references to triggered messaging within the first couple of pages. Don’t do it now, read on first!

Since the aim of email marketing is engagement it’s pretty clear why event triggered messaging is such a hot topic. Behavioural or event triggered emails are highly contextual and are therefore dripping with relevance.

This relevancy drives engagement, making the behavioural email a front runner in the race to increase conversions and win the hearts and minds of your customers. Triggered emails also have the benefit of efficiency. Once they are set up they run, automatically, as events dictate, increasing your email reach without the need for more resource. This combination of high returns and increased production efficiency should be enough to make any business want to jump in, feet first, to the behavioral email pool. Despite this, it is still an underused technique. But for any business that takes the time to consider adding automated emails into their marketing mix the rewards are high, and they will be gaining a competitive edge on those that don’t (yet) deploy contextual emails.

Okay, so what is an event triggered email?

As the (many) name(s) suggest the event (or behavioural) email is a message sent when a user performs an action or their profile changes. This can be a subscription, a page visit, an interaction with a broadcast email, or even a birthday. Essentially when a user interacts with your business it is very likely that you can send them a message that is relevant to their action.

The key to streamlined contextual messaging is to define business rules and deploy relevant content. The event triggers should compliment your existing broadcast emails. It is important to resist the temptation to trigger a message at every opportunity, otherwise you risk bombarding your engaged customers. Permission is key, as it is always, to these emails. For example don’t piggy back a marketing message on the back of a transactional email.

The business rules can be defined across the two broad types of triggered email:

  1. Event Based – abandoned cart, welcome, follow up, etc.
  2. User Profile based – re-order, birthdays, cross sell, etc.

Event based are more complex and have a higher level of effort, but they pay far higher dividends due to their reactive nature. Typically the user will have just performed an action on your website, so will be very responsive. Profile derived messaging bolsters the relationship with your customers, furthering the ‘email as a conversation’.

Okay, I’m sold on this idea, give me some examples:

  • The Welcome series
  • Abandoned basket emails
  • Replenishment reminders
  • Birthday / Anniversary
  • Order / shipping confirmation
  • Post-purchase cross-sells
  • Re-engagement emails for lapsed users

The technology is widely available and becoming easier to adopt. Event triggered emails are contextual and therefore have a very high relevancy factor. The customer is already engaged to a high degree in the offer being promoted, so response rates will be significantly improved. There may be a relatively high level of effort involved in defining and setting up the business rules for your event triggered messages, but once they are live they are very low maintenance and provide exceptional return on investment, reaping high rewards.

Additonal benefits lay in the increased engagement, due to the high relevancy factor. This increases brand awareness and advocacy, improving engagement across your other email strands.

Sender Reputation, the key to your place in the inbox

Why does email deliverability matter?

A simple question with a simple answer:

If your email lands in the junk folder, or gets lost in a black hole, then you won’t make any money from it. It goes deeper than this, of course. A sender that regularly ends up anywhere but the inbox will experience a snowball effect on their sender reputation – it will steadily and rapidly get worse.

In Email Marketing your sender reputation is paramount. It is this that determines where your email will end up; the inbox earning revenue and brand awareness, or the junk folder costing you dearly.

In the early days of email marketing it was assumed that the Email Service Provider was in full control of a client’s email deliverability. Whilst this was never really the case, it is even less so in current world of email.

There is no silver bullet. You must work to maintain good email deliverability rates, there are no shortcuts.

But don’t be put off, whilst there are many factors that contribute to your sender reputation, all of these are manageable. The technical factors should be managed and maintained by your ESP, but the strategic and tactical side of the equation is in the hands of the client, with the ESP supporting them at every turn.

Your ESP will ensure that the sending infrastructure is optimised and fully authenticated – SPF, Domain Keys and DKIM should all be in place before a single email is sent.

Once email authentication is configured and tested the ESP will work with the client to ensure that best practices are employed to maximise sender reputation.

So, what is Sender Reputation?

In short it is the analysis of your sending behaviour – frequency, volume, consistency, data quality, and audience engagement.

No one wants spam in their house, and ISPs are no different. To make sure that their users’ only get the messages that they wanted to receive the ISPs deploy an array of filters and analysis to make sure only good senders are allowed into the hallowed halls of the Inbox.

What steps can you take to make sure that you are on the inside looking out?

Sender Reputation is wrapped up in data quality. You must strive for a clean customer list, consisting of engaged recipients that gave you permission to send them emails. Your customers must want and expect to receive your emails.

  • Your data collection methods are a significant factor in the initial inbox placement. Don’t assume permission, ask for it, and better still learn how to earn it. You will be earning permission to send emails throughout your relationship with your customers.
  • Transparency is key, tell subscribers what they are signing up for, and be honest, they will experience the reality very soon.
  • Once you have been granted permission to send your first email to your new subscriber make sure that the content delivers on your earlier promise. An engaged audience will increase your sender reputation, driving up inbox placement rates.
  • Keep your hard bounce rates low. A high level of unknown users or bad mailboxes sends a message to the ISP that your list is not regularly cleaned. An unclean list sets the alarm bells off at the ISP.
  • Avoid Spam Trap addresses in your list. A spam trap can either be an old mailbox that is being used by the ISP to monitor senders’ data hygiene or a mailbox that has never been used to register anywhere online. Either way, a message received here implies poor database management policies of the sender – whether through lack of cleansing or poor data collection methods.
  • Maintain good levels of audience engagement. The ISP wants to see that its users are interacting with the emails that they receive. Messages that are opened, clicked, moved from junk folders into inboxes, etc. show the ISP that the sender is responsible for desired mail and therefore unlikely to be a spammer.
  • Don’t give your recipients an excuse to report you as spam or reject your messages. By serving compelling content you will ensure that your customers are engaged with your messages, but it is just as important to make it easier to unsubscribe than report as spam. Keep your content relevant and your unsubscribe process clear, clean and simple.
  • Be consistent and regular with your broadcast volumes. Sender Reputation needs to see regular and consistent volume of traffic, spikes and troughs make it difficult to gauge quality and engagement. The ISP will always err on the side of caution, so don’t give them any room to doubt your good name.

This may seem like a long list of rules to follow in order to reach the inbox, but in reality it boils down to a simple matter of:

Send your customers what they want, when they want it, and they’ll love you for it.

How to create a great welcome email

Okay, so you understand that you must welcome each of your new customers into your email programme, but how do you make sure that you are making the most of this opportunity?

Here are some pointers, each of which takes advantage of the increased engagement rates of welcome emails to increase your future inbox placement rates.

Always send the Welcome Email in real time.

Speak to your Email Service Provider about their API suite, or use forms to trigger automated emails. And remember, it’s all about brand awareness. Don’t send plain text auto-responders, instead bring the Welcome Email into the brand family. Exploit this first point of contact for future brand recognition.

  • Thank them for signing up for your newsletters and remind them why they received this message.
  • Show them how to add you to their safe list.
  • Make it easy for them to manage their subscriptions with a preference centre.
  • Showcase what your email programme has in store for them – use real examples of earlier newsletters. They’ll recognise the next one when it lands, boosting your chances of engaging them.
  • Give them the opportunity to share your email with friends/colleagues via your social bar, include a recommend a friend option too
  • Do you have a soft sell you can include in your welcome email? A first order discount or free shipping will go along way to building the relationship.

And finally, keep it short. You need to strike the balance between smoothing the path for the future and overwhelming your new members.

And now?

Well, leave them alone for bit, let the wonders of the new world sink in. But not too long, the new customers should now be at stage one of your welcome series.

A week after they’ve signed up, stage two will be triggered. Their interaction with this message will determine the next phase.

Once they have journeyed through the welcome series they will be pumped and primed, ready for the full offering.

That’s where the real fun starts…

Why you must roll out the welcome mat to your new customers.

Each and every customer that you convert is the result of a hard fought battle. But you shouldn’t rest on your laurels, it’s far from over.

They bought from you because they trust your business. During the purchasing process you’ve given them a great customer experience, of course they want to hear more about what you’ve got to offer, so where do they sign up for your newsletters?

Assuming the purchase lives up to expectations, then what happens next is a defining moment in your relationship with your customer. Manage this initial conversation and the opportunities open to your business will be hugely increased.

It’s no overstatement to say that the Welcome Email may be the single most important email that you send to your customers.

Recent reports reveal that Welcome Emails can generate 4 times the open rates of standard bulk promotions.

They are received whilst your customer still has you, and the great purchasing experience, fresh in their mind. Use this openness to set your stall out and keep the smooth user experience flowing.

Welcome Emails have very high open and engagement rates, providing the perfect opportunity to urge your customers to do some of your work for you. Show them how to add you to their safe-list, so they won’t miss out on any future special offers.

Of course they need to know what they’re letting themselves in for, so use the Welcome Email as a showcase for your coming attractions, tell them what to expect from you and how often to expect it. Show samples of your newsletters to reinforce brand identity and make them easy to spot when they do begin to land in their inboxes.

Counter intuitive as it may seem, now is the time to ask them if they really do want to receive your emails, allow them to set their email preferences.

The Welcome Email presents a wealth of opportunity to re-iterate your brand proposition to your new customer, take advantage of the higher engagement rates to include a soft cross sell, for example free shipping or a discount on their next order (time limited, of course!).

By adopting a few very simple techniques you can turn your Welcome Email from a bland, text based, recognition of your customer’s existence and into stage one of a small series of messages that brings them into the family, and eases them into the next phase of your highly targeted, personalised email programme.

Now, let the conversation begin…

Do we need another post on email subject lines?

My answer to that question is of course yes.

In the well documented crowded inbox only the strong will survive. It is essential to dedicate part of your email campaign planning process to crafting the best subject line that you can. The email subject line is a powerful thing, in conjunction with the Mail From it should be thought of as the headline for your content. The right headline will draw readers in to your article. In the same way the right subject line will drive recipients to open an email. The From Line reinforces who you are and goes some way towards explaining why your message has landed in your customer’s mailbox. The subject line shows them why they should pause and read on.

Is there a perfect subject line?

If we agree that content creation is an art-form, then it follows that there can’t be a one size fits all answer to this question. This doesn’t mean that you should give up searching and just plump for the safe bet. A few simple pointers can move your email subject lines from the mundane to the truly compelling, urging your readers to open their emails.

A compelling email subject line will reinforce your brand, engage your customers and improve your email deliverability.

Elements to play with

Subject line Length

Research on subject line success will always look at the length. And it will always show that there is no ideal length. The type of message and the audience, or expected response, will play a large role in what works, lengthwise. But the importance of the email clients that your emails are read in should not be overlooked. A number of email clients, and especially mobile devices, may truncate your lovingly crafted subject line. Consider front loading the headline, then if it does get truncated then you still get the thrust of your message across.


The subject line must make your recipients want to read on. But the content must deliver on that promise. Email marketing lives and dies on the relevance of the content. If the subject line promises one thing and the content delivers something else entirely then your customers will feel duped. This is not what you want.

Use teasers

Posing a question in the subject line is a good idea. If the topic is compelling, then there’s little in the way to stop the reader opening your email to find out how they can benefit from your offer.

The Spammers seem to have the right idea

No they don’t. If your subject line in any way, shape or form makes you think of spam then stop and immediately rethink. You’re allowed to go for a walk first, to get some fresh air. Then relax, start over.

Special characters

A not so new tactic is the use of special characters in subject lines. In the early stages of this discovery they were a great way to stand out from the crowd in the inbox. It wasn’t long before everyone was all over this new trick, and special characters soon saturated the inbox. Things have calmed down a bit now and it is certainly worth experimenting with them.

And that brings us to the golden theme of email marketing – test, test and test again.

You wouldn’t dream of just ploughing ahead with your content or data selections without first applying some testing and results analysis, nor should you jump in with a new strand of subject lines. There are many elements to play with when crafting your compelling subject line. Each of these will have many possibilities, so you should always engage a testing mentality.

If teasers appeal to you, try out different approaches. Should you personalise the subject line? There’s only one way to find out, run some split tests. Do special characters still hold their novelty appeal? Try your message with and without them, which will reveal how they work with your audience. Long, explanatory subject lines always out-perform short sharp ones, or so someone said. Test long versus short, dry against quirky, then you can start to develop your own ideas as to how your customers react to each type.

The Split-test feature in your email marketing platform should play a part in every email campaign that you deploy.

A new Email Service Provider on the block

Red Circle Digital Ltd – Smarter Email Marketing

The simplicity of email marketing belies its strength. A simple, robust email programme will generate a major ROI for your business. Budget restraints and moving goalposts often mean a lack of resource is available for email within the marketing team, leading to missed opportunities and only basic email programmes being implemented.

At Red Circle Digital our mantra is email simplified. 

With user friendly, powerful email broadcasting solutions and guidance available, everything that you need to run intricate, revenue maximising email programmes is at your disposal.

Extensive experience both in email service provision and client side means that Red Circle Digital knows where the pain points are and work to reduce, and ultimately eliminate these for you. Red Circle Digital knows what works for you and, just as importantly, what doesn’t.

We offer full, in depth, training on our platform. This will put you in the driving seat within a matter of hours. The extensive training goes hand in hand with dedicated technical, strategic and tactical support provided by our client services team.

Red Circle Digital will work alongside you from day one, establishing the goals and aims for your email marketing programme and implementing strategies to achieve these in an optimal manner.

Not ready for full autonomy? Red Circle Digital also provide full service email management, or something in the middle, if you want to retain control but need a helping hand over the first stages.

Our ultimate goal is to be an extension of your marketing team, never more than a phone call or email away.

  • Full training and dedicated account management
  • Integration with your current business tools, to complete the single customer view
  • Powerful Marketing Automation
  • Strong database segmentation tools
  • Strategic email programme guidance
  • Deliverability expertise to maximise inbox placement rates
  • Your email marketing, simplified.