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

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…