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  • Writer's pictureLiz Maguire

Deploying A/B Testing.

Whether you are new to email marketing or have been using the channel for some time, the value of A/B testing is irrefutable. A/B testing allows you to hone your strategy by serving your audience the best material and in return, receiving the best result. In this post we'll look at how A/B or 'Split' Testing your subject line and content layout can help refine your email channel.

A/B testing can help determine what content works best for your audience as well as when to send (i.e. day/time) but it is not a 'quick' fix and shouldn't be used 'willy nilly'. An A/B testing strategy should have a clear question you're seeking to answer and a window you're testing that question.

Subject Lines:

Have you ever heard the adage that it's harder to say more with less? Email marketers repeat that to themselves, regularly. When your email arrives in subscribers inboxes your subject line has one chance to entice them to open. A split decision! According to leading email provider Mailchimp a subject line should be 9 to 60 characters. How can you possibly know what will work? Testing!

Photo by Justin Morgan on Unsplash

Consider testing a number of elements of your subject line: length, voice, and tone. Your subject line should relate to the first 'Call to Action' (CTA) point in your email. For example if you are a bookstore and you are promoting an author event, your subject line should relate to that directly, regardless of whatever else you include in the message. Next, the voice of your subject line should match the voice of your overall brand communications. Does your founder write the emails? Are they unsigned? Do you email exclusively about promotions or are you using a hybrid of newsletter and sales? Being consistent in your brand voice will help build brand awareness for subscribers. Finally, the tone of your subject line affects the action that your subscriber takes. Make sure to use action words or hooks to capture attention and curiosity.

How do you A/B test subject lines? Easily. Once you have the content of your email done, write too subject lines -- wildly different. If your provider has an option for sending to a percentage to test then sending to the segment that can be a great, easy way to set an A/B test. Make sure that your A/B samples are different enough but that your test sets align with each A/B in principle. Experiment with length, voice and tone and be sure to test at least 4 sends before you start to draw conclusions.

Bonus: Your 'Preview Text' for your email can act like a subheader for your subject line. Be sure to put something there or else your email will appear in inboxes with that auto filled by pulling the first line of text from the email and that is almost always clunky.

Content Layout:

There could be a whole blog post about the content of your email -- in fact check out this post on at least three of the 'types' of emails you can send -- but today, when designing A/B testing it's time look at the bigger picture of how your content is formatted.

Ultimately, your content layout whether it's copy or image based should follow the principles of the 'inverted triangle of interest'.

Now that you're familiar with the 'inverted triangle of interest', consider testing some of these elements in your of your email content layout for optimization: font size, button size, and image orientation. Remembering that most subscribers will reading your email on mobile the font size of your email should be tweaked to accommodate that usability. Are your CTA buttons/links clearly delineated for easy conversion? Experiment with their color, size and location on the page. Hopefully, you use more image than copy in your emails. Your subscribers have limited time and even less attention, so once you have them in your email you should be sure to prioritize capturing their attention and optimizing the time with them by...

Getting them to click to your website!

How do you A/B test all of the above? In phases. Start first with your orientation of image and copy, running the standard 4+ tests. Then once you've optimized your layout, experiment with your font OR your buttons etc. Don't get over zealous and start testing completely different emails all at once because you will never know what truly worked on increasing -- or decreasing -- conversion. Be measured in your testing and methodical in your choices, tracking results and after some time the subscribers will start to show you what they respond best to.


On your A/B testing journey be sure to set a window and a question you want your experiment(s) to answer. Be sure to test at least 4+ times over a period of time. With regards to subject lines experiment with length, voice and tone. With regards to content layout, always consider the 'inverted pyramid of interest' and how your font size, button size, and content layout affect the conversion of the email. Never test more than one thing at a time (i.e. Subject Line & Content Layout simultaneously) or or else you will never know what truly affected change.

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