The 5 Things You Need To Be Split Testing In Your Emails

The facts are in: if you want to build a successful business in today’s world then you need a powerful email list. An email list is the cornerstone of any viable marketing strategy and, when used properly, can explode the growth of your business.

But it’s not enough to simply have a large subscriber list or to send out the odd newsletter here and there. In order to really take advantage of your email marketing, you have to ensure that every single email you send out is guaranteed to convert leads, subscribers, and customers for you.

This is where split testing comes split testing diagram

Image via MailChimp

Split testing is when you send out two emails to your audience that are almost identical except for one specific detail. It could be a subject line, a graphic element, or even the placement of your CTA.

Whatever it is; you then take a look at your data and examine which version of the email received the most click-throughs and generated you the most conversions.

By constantly running split tests you’re able to figure out what type of content your audience responds to the most.

To implement these strategies I will be talking about, you will need to use an email service provider that supports split testing subject lines AND email content.  This includes ActiveCampaign, GetResponse, ONTRAPORT, and Mailchimp.

With that in mind here are the 5 things you need to be split testing with your email list right now.

Split Test #1: Snappy Subject Lines

Split testing email subject lines is always a great place to start, especially if you’re still trying to figure out what your audience is like.

While it’s generally not polite to judge a book by a cover, the fact is that 47% of email recipients judge whether or not to open an email based on the subject line alone. The subject line is the very thing people see when they see your email and, in the fraction of a second it takes them to read that bit of text, they’ve already decided whether or not this email is worth their time.

Which is exactly why you need to learn how to create subject lines that not only stand out in a crowded inbox but are also compelling enough for people to want to keep reading.

When it came to split-testing their own emails Wishpond tested three different variables when it came to their subject lines: personalization, using the word “you”, and the length of the subject line itself.

With the personalization test, they simply added the recipient’s name to the subject line.

Image via Wishpond

What they found was that using the recipient’s name actually generated lower open rates than when they didn’t. Data that goes against conventional wisdom which states that personalized subject lines can increase open rates by 50%.

Which only goes to show that everyone’s audience is different and how important it is to run split tests so you can find out what specifically your own audience responds to.

Another split test that Wishpond ran where they tested the inclusion of the word “you” they found that using a personal pronoun led to a better open rate than without.

Image via Wishpond

In their final split test, Wishpond tested the length of their subject lines. Considering that most people view email through a mobile device with limited screen space it’s generally best to keep your subject line short and to the point.

Lo and behold the following test found by Wishpond found that their audience is likelier to open an email with a shorter subject line than a lengthier one.

Image via Wishpond

Keep in mind that these are only three types of variations amongst hundreds that you can try with your own subject lines. You can try changing the tone of your writing, to even adding emoticons to your subject lines.

Make sure to check out OptIn Monster’s latest report on the best types of email subject lines for some inspiration.

Split Test #2: Long vs Short Emails

The next thing to start split-testing is the body copy of the email itself. Ask yourself: what does your audience see after they click on your subject line?

Will they receive a short snappy email or a lengthier email with huge paragraphs of text?

While the general rule of thumb is to keep your emails short and to the point, once again though it does depend on your audience. No email list is the same, and depending on who populates your audience you might find out that they’re more partial to newsletter-style formats as opposed to flashy images and videos.

For example, Crunchbase found that their email list responds positively to text-heavy emails.

However, as you can see, they also insert eye-catching graphics and use a different text format for their new stories at the end in order to push their audience to certain stories.

Likewise, Pro Bono Australia is another news site who serves a similar audience and employs long emails as well. The longer email allows them to create summaries for each story they’re promoting in order to pique the interest of their audience.

The benefit of having longer emails is that you have more opportunities to insert more links and appeal to a wider audience. It also gives you the ability to provide more context for whatever you’re promoting in your emails and even help guide them towards your CTAs.

However, the common downside to longer emails is that it can get confusing and overwhelming for an audience who prefer to scan their emails. It can lead to them missing out on important information or offers that you’re looking to promote.

On the other side of the spectrum, short emails have their own use as well.

For example, Foundr also uses a similar single column layout for their newsletters but they only create a short intro to invite curiosity and then provide direct links to their content.

Shorter emails allow you to be more strategic with the links within your email and are generally less intimidating for most people. You can draw more attention to specific graphics and CTAs and be more direct than you normally would with a longer email.

Something to keep in mind with short emails, however, is that it can be often difficult to build a sense of trust with your audience with only a sentence or two. Readers aren’t as likely to take the bait and click your links unless you’ve built up a relationship beforehand.

Split Test #3: Videos, Images, or Text?

Traditionally using text is the best way to send out your emails. With plain-text emails, you can be safe in knowing that your email won’t have any problems being viewed on any device, and are less likely to end up in the spam folder.

Plain text emails also have the advantage of creating a distraction-free environment and can encourage your readers to pay more attention to your emails and marketing messages in general.

For example, Social Media Examiner has an audience primarily made up of experienced industry professionals who are only interested in getting their information as quickly as possible. Therefore all their emails look like this:

Nothing fancy, no banners or graphics, just text and a few links. For Social Media Examiner they actually found out that their audience prefers plain text emails that get straight to the point.

On the other hand, visuals can make your emails much more appealing to readers who prefer to quickly scan their emails. Graphics immediately draw the reader’s eye and makes them likelier to click through on your links. Plus it’s been found that content that is paired with a relevant graphic receive up to 94% more views than content without.

Most businesses will rely upon a combination of graphics and text for their emails. For example, Shopify uses images in order to provide some context for their content, all the while drawing their reader’s attention to specific stories in their newsletters.

But in order to make your emails even more appealing then you should definitely take a look at using videos and gifs in your emails. The human eye is naturally attracted to movement making animated graphics the perfect way to attract your reader’s attention.

Furthermore, MailCharts has found that the percentage of emails containing GIFs rose from 5.4% in 2015 to 10.3% in 2016 showing an increasing trend amongst marketers employing these types of graphics. GetResponse and other popular clients are aware of this growing trend and even introduced a feature for their platform where marketers can simply drag and drop gifs into their emails.

An example of a great use of animated GIFs in emails is how Wonder uses a GIF in their welcome email in order to inject some humor into their message. Already you have a sense of the tone and personality of the brand and what you can expect from them in the future.

Video has also become increasingly popular in email marketing, although do be warned that embedding video into email is always risky. Most email clients don’t support animated video, but when done right it can be beautiful.

Just take a look at this email by the Litmus Team for their Email Design Conference in 2014.

Image via Vidyard

If, like many others, you don’t happen to have the design or coding experience of the Litmus Team you can incorporate video into your emails by simply linking to a YouTube or Vimeo link in your email although you will see less conversions with this tactic. Just make sure that you have a compelling video behind that link.

Video allows you to get your across your message more easily, and can be much more compelling than simply relying on images and text. People are more likely to watch a video, and video has a much higher chance of leaving a lasting impact in the memory of your audience.

Split Test #4: Secondary Links Should Never Be Secondary

Outside of testing the primary link that you’re driving people towards, you should also be testing the secondary links within your emails.

Not everyone is going to respond a hard sell and, generally speaking, the majority of people will ignore the primary link. However, with secondary links, your readers are given the option to stay on your site or store without having to purchase something right then and there.

This is a way to make sure that people are still being exposed to your content and your brand by showcasing them other types of content they might be interested in.

The most common examples of secondary links can be often found in the header, or banner, of an email.

Here’s an example from Whipping Post:

And another example from Eyes on Walls:

The next most common area to place your secondary links is usually right at the bottom of the email as part of your signature.

You can see how Product Hunt does this by including a section at the end of their email blasts where they cover the most popular hunts from the previous day or over the weekend.

While you can theoretically throw in some links to a certain offer or promotion at the end of your emails, you’ll actually be losing out on potentially thousands of new leads and conversions by not fully taking advantage of your secondary links.

You can test out the order and variety of your secondary links, and even tailor them to specific demographics within your list. Amazon is notorious for changing the order and variety of their secondary links in order to appeal to particular segments.

If you happen to be a male over the age of 30 these would be the secondary links you would see, a link for MP3s, deals of the week, and the option to see all departments.

Image via MarketingLand

However, if you were female and under the age of 20 then you would see a whole different set of links. The secondary links you would receive would more likely be about fashion, arts and crafts, and the latest trends.

By doing this Amazon can make certain of that all their emails convert as much as possible and that their readers are always being led back to their site and to an eventual sale.

Split Test #5: It’s All in The Design

One of the biggest oversights in email marketing, in my opinion anyway, is the lack of priority given to design. It is very easy to settle for the minimum when it comes to design, to type up a few paragraphs of text, slap in a few pictures and links, and call it a job well done.

Yes, I won’t deny that it gets the job done and you’ll land some leads. But the entire point of this article is about how you can improve your overall conversions, and design is a key factor of that.

Even something as basic as the layout of your email is important in how you communicate your messages and ideas to your readers.

Compare the differences between these two emails, one from Dropbox:Image via Mailchimp

And the other from Dunkin’ Donuts:

Image via Beautiful Email Newsletters

With the Dropbox email, it uses a simple single-column layout and it immediately draws your attention to the CTA. It’s a simple and efficient email with a very singular purpose.

Whereas with Dunkin’ Donut’s email it’s immediately more eye-catching with its images and consistent color schemes. Even though this email uses a multi-column approach and you have more options to choose from, you’re still compelled to scroll through the whole email.

While it’s true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it has been scientifically proven that every human, on a subconscious level, understands and appreciates good design. Everyone is naturally attracted to great design, and by investing the time and effort into making your emails attractive you dramatically increase the chances of people opening your emails and clicking your links.

When you’re first starting off doing split tests with your own design and layout; take advantage of the stock templates and layouts that already come with most email services like Mailchimp.

Image via MailChimp

Find the layout that works for you, and once you’ve done that don’t be afraid to start changing the details like the colors you use, or the placement of your links and CTAs.

By having great design across your brand, not only do you make your brand as a whole more recognizable, but you also make all your marketing messages stand out from the crowd.

Final Thoughts

As I’ve mentioned earlier in this article, there is no one right way to go about your email marketing. Everyone’s audience and email list are different and everyone responds to different things, what works for one business might not work for yours.

Which is why it’s so important that you’re constantly running regular split tests with your email marketing.

It’s very easy to write this off as something superficial and not worth the time and effort since the differences can be marginal. But good business is always about the details, and knowing how to get even 1% more opens and click-throughs than your competitors can be the deciding factor between having a thriving business or one that grows further than it’s current state.

With all that in mind, let us know in the comments below what you’ve been split-testing with your emails. What have we missed? What have you found works best for you? Join the conversation!