How and Why to Use A/B Testing in your Email Campaigns

A/B Test Email Campaigns

Successful email campaigns are difficult to master, especially on the first try. That’s why the best email marketers rely on A/B testing. Follow this guide to test your email campaign elements and find what works best for your audience.

What is A/B Testing?

A/B testing is the practice of testing two different variations of a single element in an email campaign to determine which one is more effective. For instance, if you want to know which subject line gets the best results, you’d send an email with one subject line to half your list and an email with a different subject line to the other half.

The downside to A/B testing is that it can take a long time. However, it’s worth it, in the long run, to determine what makes your email campaigns effective.

By isolating each element of your email campaign and testing them one at a time, you can determine what your audience responds to, which makes your email marketing more effective and more profitable. The good news is you don’t have to test every element for every campaign.

Which Email Campaign Elements Can You Test?

A successful A/B test relies on an email management system with A/B testing capability. With the right tools, you can test any of the following elements of your email campaigns.

  • Subject lines – Subject lines are important. You can use A/B/ testing to determine the most effective subject line for your email campaign.
  • From variable – Who you send your email from can make a world of difference. Whether you use your personal or company name could mean higher or lower open rates, click-through rates, or conversion rates.
  • Send time – When you send your email can impact the responses you get.
  • Content – The body content of your email can also determine whether your marketing campaigns are successful, or not. You can exchange a single line of content, the entire body of content within your email, or test the content template.
  • Images – Sometimes, a single image within your email campaigns can determine whether your email marketing is successful.
  • Call to action – You can also test different calls to action with A/B testing.

Related: Should you use DALL-E2 AI image generator to create images for email marketing?

Follow These Steps to Run a Successful A/B Test

A/B testing works for email campaigns because it allows you to test one element at a time. If you want to know, for instance, which call to action leads to more sales, then you run a test on your call to action to see which one elicits the most responses.   

Follow these steps to a successful email campaign A/B test:

  1. Define what it means to be successful. If your typical open rate is 12 percent and you want to increase it to 15 percent, you can test your subject line to see which one, if any, increases your open rate.
  2. Pick an element to test. Based on the metric you wish to improve, pick an element of your email campaign to test.
  3. Prepare two versions of the test element.
  4. Create two emails. Create one using one version of the element you’re testing and create another one based on the second version of the element you’re testing. Every other element for that email campaign should be identical.
  5. Divide your list in half randomly. Send one version of your email campaign to half the list and the other version of your campaign to the other half of your list
  6. Analyze for results. Did you increase the metric you were testing? If not, try another AB test using different variations of the same element. Here are 5 key email engagement metrics to analyze and track.

It is important that you define what it means to be successful so that you know whether your A/B test is yielding the best results. It’s also important to ensure you test only one element at a time and that you test no more than two variations of that element. If you change other elements of your email campaign while running your A/B test, you will not be able to analyze the results of the test accurately. 

Use the ICE Formula to Determine Which Elements to Test

One problem with A/B testing is that it can go on forever if you don’t have a clear end goal in mind. That’s why it’s important to define success early in the process. Common metrics that A/B testers seek to improve on their email campaigns include:

  1. Open rate measures the percentage of list members who open your emails. Here are ways to improve your email open rate if it’s too low.
  2. Click-through rate measures the percentage of list members who click on at least one link in the email.
  3. Conversion rate measures the percentage of list members who click on a link in the email and complete a desired course of action. These may be purchasing a product, downloading a content asset, or signing up for an event.

Related: Email Engagement Metrics to Track

One risk in choosing the wrong element to test is that you can spend a lot of time preparing your A/B test with meager results. You’ll get more mileage from your test if you focus on activities with the potential for a high payoff. There is a formula to help you determine what those activities might be.

Email marketing pioneer Sean Ellis created a concept called ICE scoring. ICE is an acronym for Impact, Confidence, and Ease. Here’s how it works.

  • Determine the Impact your A/B test is likely to have on your email campaign. Will using the right subject line lead to a huge impact in your results? If so, then you should test that element in your email marketing.
  • How Confident are you that the right variation of the element you’re testing will lead to positive results?
  • How Easy will it be to implement?

Score each value (Impact, Confidence, Ease) on a scale from 1 to 10. If you believe that improving your call to action will have a huge impact on your email campaign, you might score it a 9. On the other hand, if you’re not confident that doing so will lead to more sales, you might score it a 4. After you score each value (Impact, Confidence, and Ease), multiple the numbers together (9 x 4 x 6) to arrive at the ICE final score. Go through this exercise for each element you’re considering for an A/B test. Perform your A/B test on the elements with the highest scores.

A/B Testing is Not a Single Event but a Process

A/B testing is not a one-time event that you perform and never revisit. Rather, you’ll want to test different elements of your email campaigns regularly. For best results, create a quarterly schedule where you test each element of your email campaigns once every three months. Keep the best variation of each element and don’t give up on email marketing.