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The Basics of A/B Testing

An email marketer’s worst nightmare is crafting the perfect email campaign only to have it fall flat and not know what went wrong. Was it that wordy CTA? That informal subject line? The weird cat gif? It can be hard to tell exactly what dissatisfied your audience, but A/B testing offers a solution. A/B testing allows you to alter specific parts of your email to understand what resonates with your audience and pushes them towards converting. 


What is A/B testing?

An A/B test is an experiment that tests versions of a variable to determine which performs better in a given metric. In the context of email campaigns, you would change aspects of the email to determine which delivers the best open, click, and click-through rates. This is useful in getting to know the different segments of your audience, the best ways to get your campaigns in front of them, and what drives them to convert. 


How do I perform an A/B test?

When doing an A/B test, the best practice is to have a goal for each test and to test one variable at a time, so your results are conclusive. If your “A” email has a different subject line, image, and call to action, you won’t know which change led to an increase in performance. You could test multiple variables at once, however, if each variable changed is related to each other. For example, you may want to test different tones in an email. Because tone is impacted by many variables, such as the subject line, copy, and from name, changing multiple variables can be an effective way of testing the tone. If you’re not cautious when using multivariate testing, though, the results can be inconclusive. 


What variables should I test?

To test open rates, change the information a recipient uses to determine whether to open an email: from name, subject line, and preview text. 

Subject line

Subject lines are essential to making your email stand out in an inbox. Research by Super Office found that 33% of email recipients open an email based on the subject line. To A/B test your subject line, try altering the level of personalization or the sense of urgency or add an offer.

From name

SuperOffice also found that 45% of email subscribers decide whether to read an email based on who it’s from. Testing out different names can help you determine which produces a higher open rate. For example,


Preview text

Preview text is another part of an email that your audience can view in their inbox, making it as important as subject lines and from name. 

Preview text is typically pulled from the first few lines of your email copy; however, HubSpot’s email marketing tool allows you to customize preview text. Try out different preview text strategies to see which best resonates with your audience.

Here are a few recommended aspects of your emails to change when utilizing A/B testing to improve click and click-through rates:

  • Call to action 
  • HTML vs Plain text
  • Images (or absence of images)
  • Short vs. detailed copy 
  • Offer 

What tool(s) should I use?

Most email automation tools have some sort of built-in feature to allow for at least minimal A/B testing. Even if the system doesn’t have a tool, you can set this up manually. Some tools have more capabilities than others. Our preferred tool is HubSpot for myriad reasons.

  • HubSpot’s Marketing Hub contains a wealth of functionality including an email tool that allows for intuitive A/B testing.
  • HubSpot’s A/B testing can track open rates, click rates, and click-through rates.
  • The A/B testing tool displays the findings in a straightforward report that makes analysis simple and effective.

Within the test settings, you’ll set the metric to be measured and the duration of the test. You can also select the distribution by choosing what percentage of your segment to include in the test, and HubSpot will automatically send the winning email to recipients who are not included. You may also find it beneficial to test your whole segment and use the results for future campaigns.

While there are plenty of statistics on how to optimize email campaigns, every audience is different. It is best to learn what excites your specific audience and its various segments. A/B testing is the way to do this, and it’s critical to getting the best results from your email campaign. 

Want to implement A/B testing? Need help with your email marketing strategy? Contact us today!

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