5 Areas to Experiment with Email Marketing

Is your email marketing working?

Most brands engage customers over e-mail, but there are many ways to measure how effective your campaigns are. From consistent open and click-through rates to the quality and quantity of content inside, finding the perfect blend depends heavily on how (and what) you measure.

Improvements in email marketing are often incremental. Make some small enhancements to each email you send and, over time, watch the open rates and conversions begin to rise. Testing changes is a crucial part of this process. The hard part is knowing what to experiment with and when to do so.

Today we'll look at several ideas to help get your e-mail experiments underway.


5 Areas for Email Experiments

Depending on where you feel your email marketing could use some improvement, consider the following five areas to start experimenting.

1. Subject Lines

This is the first port of call for most marketing e-mail experiments. It's easy to change and the results - or lack thereof - can be observed with minimal analysis.

The first hurdle to overcome with any email is to attract attention in a crowded inbox. Your subject line is the most viable way to make this happen. Think about what drives your customer's interests; list out words that you could change and different tones you could use.

Some areas for subject line experimentation include:
  • Statements vs. Questions
  • General vs. Specific
  • Short vs. Long
  • Tone: Formal vs. Informal
  • Mysterious (Hook) vs. Detailed
  • Playful vs. Serious
  • Broad audience vs. Personalized

Some of these suggestions won't fit your brand's style but don't write off any ideas before considering them. No brand should be afraid to push its boundaries a little to see what happens. 

To test the results of your chosen style, employ A/B testing. Try a standard subject line on one-half of your subscribers, while trying out a new subject idea on the other half. If the new style seems to improve results, test again on the next send to verify. If the same thing happens, roll the change out to all subscribers for your next campaign.

2. Format and Layout

Once you have subscribers opening your emails on a regular basis, the question becomes whether or not they like what they see. The style and layout of your emails contribute to the actions that readers take. This is why it's valuable to switch things up: to observe how click-throughs and conversions change when you make an adjustment.

Use the same A/B testing described above to test minor changes to format and layout. Most email marketing programs offer a variety of templates to do this. You can also experiment with something as simple as altering the color scheme, adding a personal salutation, or including an image instead of text to get your message across.

As there are so many potential areas for experimentation in this category, it makes sense to ask your marketing team and/or your readers for their ideas on what to improve. Make a master list of the most common suggestions and test them one at a time so that you know which ones move the needle. And don't forget to focus on mobile users!

3. Calls to Action

Just as it's easy to fall into the habit of crafting the same email style month after month, the same thing can happen with calls to action (CTA). How you compel customers to act is almost as important as the action you want them to take.

Say you want someone to read a download incentive you're offering. You could just use a button that says "Download" and it's clear what you mean. But what if you tried something more evocative, such as "Secure Your Copy!" or "Send Me My eBook!" Even adding a time component to the original - "Download Now!" - could instill a sense of urgency. There are many ways to say the same thing... why stick to just one?

It also pays to get creative. For example, have you ever included a phone number as your main CTA? As we've covered before, consumers associate numbers with a need to call. If your business uses a custom phone number, this also becomes an opportunity to reinforce the brand without taking up any extra space in your email.

Try some lateral thinking inside your next email and see what kind of unique CTA styles you can come up with!

4. Content Types

There are all kinds of content that could be useful to your customers, but putting it all together into an email that connects is a big challenge.

For starters, you have very little space. Research by Adestra suggests that at least one-quarter of us first read our emails on a mobile device. This acts as a filtration system, sorting the mails that we want to examine on a desktop later from those that go straight into the trash. If your emails are packed with tiny text, require excessive scrolling, or simply fail to get to the point sufficiently quickly, there's a good chance they won't make it to a desktop view.

Content provides a broad palette for your brand to communicate its unique value. Sticking to just one medium could mean you're missing out on a content format that would interest your customers. 

Try adding a new type of article - or even a new type of media, like video or audio - to your next newsletter and see how it performs relative to what you usually send. You could include a detailed 'how-to' style article that answers a common customer question, for example, or a more humorous take on a subject related to your industry.

5. Segmentation

Once you've finely tuned your general email marketing messages, it's time to get granular. Speaking to more targeted sections of your audience means a lot more work. Your marketing team will need to start crafting more mails and the content has to speak to their specific needs and interests to make it worthwhile. Thankfully, the impact will be almost immediate!

By tailoring content to a specific niche, you're automatically increasing the likelihood that they will find the subject interesting and open your email to learn more. If the information and offers therein are just as carefully targeted, you'll see more clicks and, eventually, higher sales.

How do you choose your target segments? That will take some analysis. 

Depending on the e-mail delivery platform you use and how much information you collect from customers, various data will be available. Look at common demographic distinctions like age, gender, location, and income. Most businesses will already have done some of this work to better understand what customers want. Use that foundation to examine different behavior when you send those groups an email.

Do people in a certain area open your emails less often? Perhaps you could send emails based on geographic segments, with content tailored to each area?

Do younger recipients ignore your emails completely? It might be time to review what you offer that segment and create a promotion customized to their needs and desires. There are several different ways to distinguish customers from one another. This guide to customer segmentation provides some useful criteria to get you started.

All of these ideas can be overwhelming for business owners and small teams, especially if you've never explored email marketing experiments before.

If that's the case for your company, just try to start out small with some of the earlier experiments. Create two versions of your next campaign, use two different subject lines and see which works best. Then try a new button or module on the following email and compare its performance against the standard version. Pretty soon, you'll be addicted to running all kinds of experiments and the main challenge will be not enough emails to test everything you want to!

Most importantly, don't be discouraged when something you test fails to improve your metrics, or even underperforms against your standard results. 

Every experiment is an opportunity to learn more about what your subscribers respond to and what they reject, all of which is valuable information to factor into your next send.

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