Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was unprecedented in many ways. One of the ways was how his team approached e-mail marketing. It was rigorous, a bit weird and a bit overly familiar. And it worked! Obama raised a ton of money through online fundraising, and most of it came from his email campaigns.
Through extensive A/B testing.
Obama’s team of experts don’t just test the subject lines and timing for each email, but also the formatting, the tone and the messages.
But you probably don’t have a team of twenty writers working for you at any given time, so how do you test these things yourself? Glad you asked.
Let’s look at what you can test
There are limitations to everything. With A/B testing, you have to zone in on what you can actually test.
- Your email’s subject line
- The sender (AKA you)
- The content in the email
- When your email is delivered
- Your audience
The last point is probably the trickiest one. The reasons that people are subscribed to your mailing list are extremely varied and play a big part on whether they even open your emails. We’ll talk about that in a bit.
The first thing you need to do is get the appropriate email marketing software, because not all are created equal. But can decide for yourself which one is best for you with this handy comparison chart.
Now it’s time to start testing!
Test your subject line
I don’t have to tell you that subject lines need to be great. The likelihood of one of your subscribers opening your email is dependent entirely on a good subject line.
A good subject line makes the recipient want to open the email, is relevant and describes the contents within. You already knew that, right?
What you probably didn’t know is that tiny variations in the subject line make all the difference. Your subject lines don’t have to be amazing – in fact, in Obama’s campaign, one of the most effective subject lines was just Hey.
That’s right, “Hey.”
That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be just as effective for you. You need to start experimenting. Here are some things that you can play around with:
- Use their names. Using someone’s name or doing something else to personalize your email is going to increase engagement. Maybe try using a location, too!
- Exploit urgency. Nobody wants to lose out! Tell your subscribers that they only have a certain amount of time or they are going to miss out.
- Use contextual information. Depending on your email marketing software, you may be able to get some behavioral information from your subscribers. Use it!
- Ask questions. Don’t you like to know answers? Of course you do. Questions pique your subscriber’s curiosity!
- Cliff hangers. You want to know what happens next. Your subscriber also wants to know what happens next.
- Be funny. Everyone likes to laugh, right? Stand out in someone’s inbox with a little humor.
It seems a little silly, but you should also test… you! As the sender, you need to play with the ‘from’. There are lots of ways to do this. You can use your first name to sign your emails, use your name instead of the organization’s name, use your full name if it is attached to your brand and even play with the gender of the sender.
You may also want to change the email address that you are emailing your subscribers from. For instance, you could try <firstname.lastname@example.org> instead of <email@example.com>
Test your content
Pictures are great but remember this – when it comes to email, there is nothing better than good copy. Yes use visuals, but only as a way to compliment your writing. And then just experiment until you find something that sticks! Using too much imagery in your email stands out as “oh, it’s just this promotional thing.”
Test your timing
I always check my email when I wake up in the morning and then at around ten thirty at night. I usually don’t go to sleep until then – and if I am being bad and check it on my phone while in bed, I won’t reply and will only open emails that look super important.
When to send an email matters a lot. The problem is I can’t tell you when you can send an email and it’ll work.
Only you can know that.
How? Well, you will just have to test it.
Just be patient. There will be a time when something sticks!
Test your audience
Before you can even start with testing, you need to know your audience. It doesn’t matter how amazing your email is, your audience has to be good.
How do you make sure your audience is good?
You’re probably sick of hearing it by now…but you just have to test them. Try dividing your audience into three or more groups. Then try build their trust and sell something – do it with incentives like free products or downloads then look at your conversion rate. You may find that it takes a long time to build trust or that your audience gets turned off if you take too long to try to sell them something.
Your audience depends on your niche, your site and your relationship with them. As with everything, your mileage may vary.
Now you know how to test, but to be able to test you need to have the idea in mind that not everything will work.
Do your research then TEST, TEST, TEST. Only then you’ll know what works for your business. Leave the second guessing and gut feelings to the amateurs.
I’m pretty sure that Barack Obama didn’t go through his presidential campaign with a fingers cross strategy. Neither should you.