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Putting Email to the Test: What to Test in Email Marketing

Feb 18, 2014   |   3 min read

Knowledge Center  ❯   Blog

what to test email marketingAs marketers, we see blogs and tweets and whitepapers touting the newest email best practices everywhere. But where do these best practices actually come from? An individual account? A company survey? There’s no guarantee that what works for one company will work for yours. That’s why you need to create your own email marketing best practices based on solid evidence. The best way to do that? Testing. The next question, of course, is what to test.

Below are four smart elements to test (and test as effectively as possible) for the best results in your campaigns.

Subject Lines

According to MarketingSherpa, a whopping 72 percent of marketers test subject lines. Subject lines are usually short and straightforward, so they’re a great way to dip your toes in the testing waters. And because they’re typically the first thing your readers see, they’re a great opportunity to test the very top of your conversion funnel. After all, if the email isn’t opened, it doesn’t matter what it says.

Nevertheless, MarketingSherpa reports that only 35 percent of marketers report testing subject lines to be effective. Julian Dutton of CardFellow thinks this may be because marketers are looking for the wrong things. “Testing subject lines shouldn’t be done to satisfy a particular campaign,” he says. “Try to broaden the test so that it may be useful for other things.”

For example, if you’re testing a subject line promoting a discount on a particular product, what works well for that product might work for similar products, as well. The idea is to look for big-picture lessons, not just a narrow focus on a single campaign.

Target Audience

Another effective element to test is target audience. MarketingSherpa actually rated target audience as the number one most effective testing variable. But despite all that, less than one-third of marketers actually test target audience.

In truth, the benefits of refining your target audience shouldn’t be surprising. Marketers in every corner of the industry are talking about the power of knowing your customer. It’s crucial. After all, if you’re sending your message to the wrong audience, why bother sending it at all?

To get started with target audience, try testing with personalization. From adding a “Hello, John!” greeting to including specific information about the reader’s latest purchase, test to see how different levels of personalization drive different results.

Landing Page

Though not technically part of an email, the landing page actually placed second in MarketingSherpa’s effectiveness report. It makes sense: If a landing page doesn’t reinforce the message initiated in the email, the email has no chance of converting for you.

However, as Abraham Nord at Search Engine Land reminds us, great landing pages don’t happen overnight. Therefore, it’s important to take a long-term view when testing. Your first test won’t magically perfect your landing page. You’ll probably still need to tweak and edit and test again. Also remember nothing is too small to test. If you’re ready for a more advanced project, Nord suggests running multivariate tests in addition to A/B testing to see how multiple landing page elements interact with each other.


The importance of CTAs is undeniable. Take Friendbuy, for instance which recently quadrupled the number of visitors interacting with its products simply by implementing the insights gained from A/B testing CTAs.

To start off, try spicing up your text. If you’re currently using bland action words like “submit” or “download,” test against something like:

Try using a value-based phrase to imply why someone would want to click. When you provide a phrase with more clear direction, you encourage the reader to actually take the action.

Ultimately, in email marketing, the best decisions are informed decisions. Along with your testing, you can get the information you need to make marketing decisions from data. To see how you can benefit from more customer data, click here for a free trial of TowerData Email Intelligence!

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