September 20, 2011

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

SUMMARY: As organizations begin to test and optimize individual elements of their email campaigns, it is important to consider the behavior and motivations of their subscribers.

Last week’s chart showcased email campaign elements routinely tested, with specific attention to subject lines, messages and calls-to-action. This week, we complete our review of this chart by looking 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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Today’s ESPs provide a wide variety of email templates, making it easy to change layouts, images, fonts and colors. These are all ripe for testing. For example, experiment with the design of your clickable buttons. Increasing the button size, shape or color may improve your results.

Often, you will find yourself testing a feature added to the email message -- whether it is more images, buttons or links. Do not be afraid to test removals as well.

Sometimes, eliminating an element from an email can create a moment of clarity for the reader. As messages become less cluttered, there are fewer distractions to confuse the subscriber, and they will have an easier time taking action.

One of the more interesting and psychological trials is to experiment with color. Depending on your cultural ethnicity, colors can have distinct meanings. Subject to the viewer’s vantage point, blue can signify "blue chip" success or "blue sky" tranquility, while red can represent love or danger.

Also, consider ways to reduce the subscriber’s anxiety. Conduct a trial using a security icon or anti-hacker logo. The icon may increase conversions as it communicates to your readers that the message is safe.


Close to 50% of marketers routinely test the day of week and time of day. This is a positive sign, as there is no universal "best" sending time. Each organization has a unique set of customers with distinct personal communication and product preferences. Acknowledging this fact and accepting that subscribers’ preferences evolve over time will motivate you to continue testing send times.

When deliberating which days or times to run an experiment, consider the context of the purchase in relationship to the buyer. For example, if you own a gardening center, most of your customers make their purchases on the weekends when they have time for yard work.

The best time to send an email would be mid-week as they start to finalize their plans for the weekend. This way you can direct them to your store Friday evening or Saturday morning to pick up flowers, mulch and fertilizer. As with all experiments, an intimate understanding of your customers, and what drives their decisions, will guide your testing designs.

Other testing ideas are to experiment with stagger sends according to time zones or non-business hours and weekends (e.g., for B2B email marketers).

Lastly, you can segment your list based on brand loyalty. Identify your most highly motivated evangelists. This core customer base may be ripe for receiving more frequent messages.


When testing an automated series of emails, such as welcome messages and drip campaigns, it is best to test the whole series and not just a single email. Some testing ideas include measuring the impact of the total number of messages, and the effect of each additional communication.

Learning more about the time between messages sent can be essential. To what do your customers respond best? After an enrollment confirmation, do they prefer to receive an email the next day or three days later?

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.

Useful links related to this chart

Email Marketing: Dynamic images get 5 opens per reader on a single email

Behavior-based Email Send Times Lift Opens, CTRs and Referrals: Test and results

Overnight Send Time for Email Lifts Open Rate, CTR, Registrations

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