Email A/B Testing: Steps and Best Practices To Follow

Marketing 17 minute read 14th June 2024

Email A/B testing is the right way to approach email marketing and get the desired results. You’re probably aware of this term if you’ve been sending marketing emails for a long time.

But if you don’t, this testing allows you to optimize your email campaigns to their full potential. You’re changing your email body or other elements based on your customers’ reactions.

Once the process ends, you will only have the best email version that resonates with your audience.

Let this article change your mind if that sounds too good to be true. It’s easy, but only if you follow the right steps and best practices. So, let’s dive right in.

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What Is A/B Testing in Email Marketing?

So, what is A/B testing in email marketing? It’s essentially a process of running experiments to see which version of your email performs better.

This doesn’t mean creating completely different emails. But rather, you create two (or more) email versions with only a few different elements. For example, you can use two different subject lines or CTAs.

This process removes the guesswork from your email marketing. You rely on concrete data to see what works.

Besides, this data comes directly from your customers. Applying it to your email campaigns will improve your results, as you’ll discover the most effective ways to communicate with them.

Moreover, you get to know their preferences and behaviors, which you can even apply to other marketing efforts.

How To Do Email A/B Testing in 3 Steps

Did you know that 59% of companies perform email A/B testing? Plus, these companies enjoy 37% more ROI than those that don’t test! These statistics prove you’re missing out if you’re not performing these tests.

The good news is that it’s neither too late nor too hard.

Follow three steps to set your email tests in motion. If you’re curious about those three steps, the following sections will help you.

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1. Decide the Winning Factor of Your A/B Test Email

The worst thing you can do during A/B email testing is start without a specific goal. That’s because you can’t judge the results if you don’t know what makes an email “win.”

Now, there are two ways to decide this winning factor. Your first option is to consider your overall marketing goals. What do you want to achieve in the long run? For example, if you want more website visits, your A/B testing email marketing should focus on better click-through rates.

However, if you want more sales or sign-ups, you’ll have to increase overall customer engagement. That might mean reviewing the basic steps of email marketing or changing more sophisticated aspects of your approach.

On the other hand, you can judge your current email performance to set this goal. A/B testing subject lines and sender names could be a good starting point if you’re struggling with open rates. In short, remember to start with a goal or winning factor.

2. Choose What You Want To Test

The next step is to choose the test variable. As you saw above, this will depend on the goal you choose for your A/B email testing.

Here are five of the most common variables to help you decide:

  1. Subject lines: It’s no secret that making a good first impression increases open rates. That’s why most email marketers start by choosing subject lines for the A/B test.
  2. CTAs: However, even the best subject line will be useless if the CTA isn’t actionable. For example, a “Learn more” CTA won’t make sense with a discount offer email. Even the smallest change can bring substantial results when it comes to CTAs, so this is another thing marketers test.
  3. Design and format: In addition to the text, you can also test the overall design of your email. For example, you can send plain text emails vs. emails with pictures. Or, you can send interactive emails for more customer engagement.
  4. Personalization: There’s no doubt that personalized emails work better than general emails. But you need to test what type of personalization works best for you. Do your customers want customized recommendations based on past experiences, or do they want special offers on their special days?
  5. Preview text: If the subject line gets people’s attention, it helps them decide if the email interests them. Therefore, experimenting with preview text is another great approach.

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3. Split Your Email List Into Test Groups

Once you choose your goal and variables, create your test groups or sample sizes. You can do this by randomly splitting your email list.

However, how you split the list will depend on your business and the number of subscribers. Testing for a small percentage will be enough if you have a long list of subscribers. But if you have a short list, say 1,000 subscribers, you might have to send the test emails to everyone.

That’s because you won’t get concrete results if only a few customers receive the test emails.

Keeping that in mind, large enterprises can use the 80-20 rule. This means performing the test with 20% of the list and sending the winning email to the remaining 80%.

But how do you know which email won? By sending email A to the first 10% of the sample size and email B to the second 10%.

On the other hand, small enterprises can use 85% to 90% or even their complete list as the sample size. If you’re unsure about your ideal sample size, your email A/B testing tool might help.

With this splitting of the email list, the hard part is over. Now, all you have to do is create the emails by implementing your findings.

For that, create two versions of the email and send them to the test groups. This will initiate your testing. Once you have the results, you can implement your findings into the actual email marketing campaigns.

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Email A/B Testing Best Practices: 4 Tips for the Best Results

As you can see, A/B email testing isn’t about randomly picking and changing something in your emails. It’s a strategic approach in which everything is an educated guess.

However, the above steps might not be enough to get the desired results in some cases. For guaranteed success, you have to follow some email A/B testing best practices as well.

Doing so will make sure you don’t miss anything. The last thing you want is to implement mass email marketing without testing.

So, here are the four most important tips to follow for the best results.

1. Form a Hypothesis

Even though you’re testing for concrete results, you have to make some educated guesses first. Randomly selecting variables to test will get you nowhere. You have to create a hypothesis for the variables that will help you achieve the test’s goal.

Moreover, develop a clear and concise statement when you make this prediction. For example,

“Changing the email subject from generic to personalized will increase open rates by 10%. That’s because personalization creates a sense of urgency and relevance.”

Coming up with such statements will ensure that you choose variables that can impact your email marketing strategies.

2. Focus on One Variable at a Time

As mentioned earlier, if you’re starting, you should only focus on one variable at a time. Doing so will tell you what’s working to improve your results.

Focusing on multiple variables at the same time might get you results. But you can’t pinpoint what’s responsible for those results.

On that note, here’s a bonus tip: Choose high-impact variables first and gradually move to low-impact variables. This means choosing variables that significantly impact KPIs, such as subject lines.

3. Think About the Results Before Implementing Them

Once you have the test results, don’t jump into implementing them. You must first spend some time thinking about them. Why did one email win while the other failed?

You’ll have to compare the versions and note the differences. Let’s say you own a skincare company. While A/B testing, you sent one email with user testimonials and the other without them. However, email B had a free shipping offer. Yet, email A won.

If you think carefully, you might learn that people need to see results regarding skincare. Maybe that’s why most of your customers preferred testimonials over free shipping.

Knowing this, you can focus your overall marketing efforts on reviews rather than discounts and offers.

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4. Be Patient Throughout the Process

The last tip on this list is the most important: being patient. Email A/B testing is a long and continuous process. Without patience, you won’t get the concrete results you’re after.

Therefore, wait for some time before you gather the results. Ideally, this duration would be two weeks. However, your specific time will depend on the frequency of your emails and your data set.

You’ll need to be patient with the frequency of sending. If you send too many emails at once, spam filters might pick your email address. Impatience is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in email marketing.

As a result, your email deliverability might suffer. So, be patient in all aspects of your A/B email testing.

Choosing the Best A/B Testing Email Tool

You’ll need an automation tool to do email marketing for your small business. Running campaigns and testing manually isn’t impossible, but it will be more time-consuming. Besides, you’ll be more likely to make errors when gathering the results.

Therefore, it’s best to depend on an email marketing strategy tool. But which tool should you choose? Well, it depends on your business needs.

However, there are some general features you absolutely cannot do without. Understandably, one of those features is split testing. The tool should let you test variations of all the elements mentioned in this article.

Advanced A/B testers might even look for multivariate testing. This allows them to hypothesize changes in multiple elements for a single campaign. But for inexperienced testers, it’s better to focus on a single variant.

Secondly, the tool should be easy to use. This includes having an interactive drag-and-drop editor where you can edit email templates to fit your needs.

You might also need help choosing the sample size and keeping track of different versions of emails. Moreover, you might need to integrate other marketing tools with your A/B testing tool. If that’s the case, look for tools with these features.

Lastly, your chosen tool should have detailed analytics and reporting features. What’s the use of testing your email marketing campaigns if you can’t measure the results?

Most importantly, look for tools with statistical significance testing. This will ensure you’re making data-driven decisions instead of relying on chance.


Invest Time in Testing To Avoid Wasting It During the Actual Campaign

Overall, email A/B testing is another name for testing different email versions to see which performs best. Applying this test’s findings makes your email marketing more effective, bringing better results.

The process starts with determining what you want to improve. If you wish to improve open rates, conversion rates, or website visits, you’ll change variables based on that.

With Beambox’s WiFi marketing platform, you can:

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