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The ABC’s of A/B Testing: Email Marketing


Anne Bailey

Anne Bailey, Account Supervisor

Email marketing is an effective tactic to directly communicate and engage with existing and prospective customers. Although it is likely your email lists are highly targeted to the appropriate audience and/or contains individuals who have opted to receive information from your company or brand, it is imperative to continuously hone those lists and the content strategies that will yield the greatest results and conversions.

As marketing/advertising experts, we often believe we know our customers better than anyone and that the content we create is on strategy and will resonate with that audience we know so well. However, in a world of overexposed consumers and ad clutter at every intersection – especially in your inbox – it’s more important than ever to test what really works to better understand how your audience engages and behaves with the messages you are sending. This is where A/B testing comes in to play.

What is email marketing A/B split testing?

A/B testing, otherwise known as split testing, is an important step in any successful email marketing campaign. It allows you to verify or better understand which content will be most effective, ultimately generating better results.

How does A/B testing work?

Typically, your email marketing platform allows you to set up multiple campaigns over time based on optimizations you’ve made from you’re A/B test learnings.

There are several ways to approach A/B testing an email campaign.

  • Test subject lines– do subject lines with an incentive or a teaser yield the best open rate?
  • Test the “from” name– see whether email audience is more responsive to emails coming from a brand or company name
  • Test CTAs– see which CTA resulted in more clicks
  • Test imagery– depending on your audience, a lifestyle image may be more compelling than other design elements such as illustrations or GIFs
  • Test day and/or time of sending your email campaigns– there may be specific days or times of the day your email target audience is most likely to engage with your emails

How to set and measure A/B test results?

Start with defining the email campaign goal or objective and what success looks like. Pull previous results to set benchmarks that justify those success goals.

  • If your objective is to drive awareness only, a higher open rate could be an indicator of success so you may want to test what subject lines are most effective.
  • If your objective is to drive clicks or conversions, you may want to test CTAs or headlines that drive action.

Over time, you will begin to collect enough data to help guide email content decisions for future campaigns.

A/B test best practices

A/B testing isn’t black and white and there are several approaches you can take. However, there are a few best practices to keep in mind as a guide to get you closer to the results you want.

  • Test as large a sample as you can for more accurate result
  • If you’re just starting out, focus A/B test efforts on measurable elements like subject line, CTAs and imagery
  • Test various email campaigns, from general awareness emails to conversion and trigger emails
  • Let the data speak for itself even if it reveals information that negates your initial gut instinct
  • Test early and often. Consumer behaviors can change over time, your strategy should change with them.
  • Test one variable at a time for best results. If you want to test more than one, look into multivariate testing.

Here at KC we are firm believers in building strategies and recommendations around facts – follow the data, not just your gut instinct. Instead of pouring unnecessary time and resources in to a guess and check approach, we take the guess work out of it and base decisions on results.