September 13, 2011

Marketing Research Chart: Top email campaign elements routinely tested to optimize performance - Part 1 of 2

SUMMARY: Carefully testing and optimizing each component of an email campaign is important for communicating value to the reader and reducing any apprehensive feelings. This week’s chart takes a deeper look at email campaign elements marketers routinely test to optimize performance, with specific attention to subject lines, messages and calls-to-action. Next week, we’ll look at layouts, images, send times and autoresponders.
by Jeff Rice, Senior Research Analyst

Marketing Research Chart: Email campaign elements routinely tested to optimize performance

Q. Which of the following email campaign elements do you routinely test to optimize performance?

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Subject line experimentation is the most popular element to test. Its number one ranking is because of its impact on open rates and the ease at which marketers can substitute subject lines.

As you experiment, treat a subject line as if it was a mini-billboard. Subscribers are scanning through their inboxes as fast as they speed by billboards on the highways. Help them sort their inboxes by clearly describing your email’s purpose and explain why it is worth their time to read.

A number of slight modifications can be made to your subject lines. Try inviting the subscriber to take action, or front load the sentences with your brand name or buzzwords. Experiment with the subject line length, personalization or current event.

Best practices to bear in mind include accuracy, brevity and branding. The goals remain to earn an open and to set up the headline found inside the message.


The first words a subscriber reads after opening an email message should reaffirm the subject line value proposition. The connection from subject line to email should be immediately recognizable, especially for those subscribers viewing in the preview pane. Readers will skim headlines and sub-headlines to confirm the content matches their expectations.

Reliable testing practices center on a brand’s voice, personalization and long copy vs. short. Consider altering the message format to make it easy for the reader to follow a thought sequence. Use blogging strategies like "top ten tactics" or "five easy steps to success" to focus the reader in educational messages. Write in the active voice to push the reader along with lively language.

For most attention-deprived readers, the copy only transports them from point A to point B. As long as you do not interrupt a thought sequence with roadblocks or detours between the headline and the call-to-action, the user's trip will be successful.


Your call-to-action is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. This final element will determine if your communication initiates a positive action by the recipient.

There are two general ways to test your call-to-action. The first is the offer itself. You can test which offers are most successful with different segments of your readership.

The second is the wording of the offer. Will a $50 off a purchase offer do better than a 15% off your total purchase? You may hypothesize that the $50 off coupon is more tangible and, as a result, have a higher redemption rate. The only way to find the truth is to test your specific audience.

Finally, the offer placement is a prime area to look for improvements. Try moving the call-to-action button up further in the email message. Discover if it increases clickthroughs because of its location or if it will disrupt the reader’s thought sequence and discourage action.

For additional research data and insights about email marketing, download and read the free Executive Summary from MarketingSherpa’s 2011 Email Marketing Advanced Practices Handbook - LEAPS: A proven methodology to accelerate your email performance.

And for the latest MarketingSherpa research, subscribe to the complimentary Marketing Research Chart of the Week newsletter.

Useful links related to this chart

Email Test: Shorter copy brings 100% more total clickthroughs

Email Subject Lines: Words, Order as Critical as Length

2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Report

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