June 26, 2012
How To

Improve Your Email Programs: 5 test ideas

SUMMARY: Late last year, we made a major change here at MarketingSherpa in our newsletter article access. Previously, new case studies and how-to articles were available with free, open access for only 10 days.

Now, our entire library of case studies and how-to articles is available to you. This marketing resource contains 2,986 MarketingSherpa articles, dating back to 1999.

We pulled this article from the MarketingSherpa library to show that a how-to on testing email programs from two years ago is still relevant today. Read on for five ideas to include in your email testing and optimization program.
It’s still early enough in the year to plan a series of tests that can improve the effectiveness of your email marketing programs. To get you started, we’ve compiled five test ideas to consider, which were shared by a presenter at MarketingSherpa's Email Summit 2010 in Miami.

Some tests focus on simple changes, such as personalizing "from" lines and subject lines. Others require a little more work, such as email template changes and frequency tests. But, each test described below delivered meaningful improvements in a marketer’s key metrics, such as opt-in rates, open rates, clickthroughs and revenue.

Here are five tests to consider:

Test idea #1. Opt-in incentives

Although your email newsletters, alerts and other programs should provide enough value to attract subscribers, you can also offer an immediate reward for new opt-in registrations.

Consider providing a tangible incentive for new opt-ins, such as a coupon or free gift. Adrian Olvera, Sr. Marketing Consultant, Dell, and his team tested the impact of a coupon incentive for new opt-ins during the holiday shopping season.

Dell offered 20% off select products for new opt-ins. The incentive resulted in a lift 14 times greater than the average opt-in rate during the holiday season.

Test idea #2. Personalization

Multiple speakers at the Summit reminded attendees about the value of personalizing email communications. The closer marketers can get to creating a sense of one-to-one communication with their email messages, the better the response is likely to be.

To know for sure, test personalizing your messages for both the sender and the recipient.

John Mast, VP Marketing, Expedia CruiseShipCenters, shared the results of his team’s personalization tests:

First, the team began sending emails from a real consultant in its travel agent network -- i.e., from "Cathy Cruiser" rather than the from the generic Expedia CruiseShipCenters email address.

  • 0.5% higher open rate

  • 23% higher clickthrough rate

  • Less likely to be unsubscribed or flagged by subscribers as spam

Next, the team personalized the subject line with the recipient’s first name -- "Dave, Your 7 Day Alaskan Cruise Awaits."

  • 10% lift in open rates

Test idea #3. Call-to-action placement and button size

Email design and layout tests are another prime area to find improvements. Moves as simple as increasing the size, shape or color of buttons, and the placement of those calls-to-action, can often deliver a meaningful boost in key metrics.

Shinn Chen, Marketing Manager, Salesforce.com, shared the results of his team’s template redesign. As part of a broader redesign, the team made two changes to highlight the calls-to-action:
  1. The call-to-action was moved from a small box on right side of messages to just below the message’s headline and subhead, in line with the rest of the body copy.

  2. Clickable buttons were made much larger.

  • CTR increased 26-27%

Test idea #4. Video links

Video content is an important element to test in your email campaigns. Watching online video is one of the most popular activities on the Internet: In 2008, there were more videos watched online than there were searches on Google, according to MarketingSherpa’s "Marketing with Video Report."

Technical issues and deliverability hurdles make embedding video directly into email a significant challenge for marketers. However, you can still promote video content in your messages two ways:
  1. Displaying a screenshot of the video

  2. Embedding a link for video playback

Rick Chin, Solutions Marketing Manager, Interactive Intelligence, described how his team has been including video screenshots and playback links in their email newsletters. The new content has proved exceptionally popular with subscribers:
  • Video links receive double or triple the number of clicks as text links

Test idea #5. Email frequency

Many marketers establish their email frequency based on assumptions and industry best practices, such as monthly newsletters or weekly product offers. But, best practices are a starting point for further tests -- not necessarily the best approach for your programs.

Testing can determine the optimal frequency for a specific email program: The point at which you maximize revenue from those messages without increasing the rate of unsubscribes.

Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS, described a test his team performed with an e-commerce partner selling special occasion gifts:
  • They identified a highly motivated and loyal segment of the partner’s email list for the test.

  • Over the course of 60 days, they tested various message frequencies to that segment, ranging from one message every other day to one message every three weeks.

  • They monitored monthly revenue from email along with unsubscribe rates.

  • Sending an email once every other day increased revenue 3x compared to sending email once a week

  • Unsubscribe rates on a per-message basis did not rise significantly

Note: This article was originally published on Feb 11, 2010.

Creative Samples

  1. Dell’s opt-in incentive

  2. Personalized email from Expedia CruiseShipCenters

  3. Salesforce.com’s before and after email design



Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Interactive Intelligence



Related Resources

Email Marketing: 17.36% higher average clickthrough rate in 7 personalized subject line tests

Email Design How-to: 5 insights to improve open and clickthrough rates

Email Optimization: Improve response with 5 insights from 10,000 tests

Email List Reactivation Incentives: Gift cards vs. whitepaper vs. nothing

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