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Improve your email marketing with A/B testing

One of our first blog posts explained how to start an email marketing campaign. If you’ve followed that and you’re up and running, you’re now probably looking for ways to improve your open rates, click through rates, and conversions. The best way to do that is through A/B testing.

What is A/B testing?

Optimizely describes A/B testing as:

“AB testing is essentially an experiment where two or more variants of a page are shown to users at random, and statistical analysis is used to determine which variation performs better for a given conversion goal.”

The idea is to understand what happened and why so that you can continuously improve and build upon ideas over time. The concept can be applied to everything in marketing, from website copy to social media to advertisements.

Conducting an A/B test is simple but requires a bit of planning to get right. If you just go in blindly, you won’t understand what you were actually testing and it will be difficult to make improvements based on your results.

How to conduct an A/B test for your email marketing

Because A/B testing is an experiment, you need to approach it as such. Start with a hypothesis and clearly identify what you want to test. An example of a good hypothesis is:

“A shorter email will produce significantly more click throughs than a longer email.”

Make sure your hypothesis makes sense. Consider this slight variation.

“A shorter email will produce significantly more opens than a longer email.”

This doesn’t make logical sense and is therefore not a valid hypothesis. People will not know the length of the email until they open it, so it is impossible to judge whether or not this influenced their decision.

Next, ensure you are only testing one factor at a time. For example, don’t change the colour of a button and the call to action text in the button. If your test email performs better, you won’t know whether it was the colour or the text that made the difference. Stick to testing one clearly defined factor at a time.

Finally, write two different versions of the same email. In our above example this would be the longer email and the shorter email. The first version will be your control, and the second version will include the factor you want to test.

Send both emails to a segment of your list

Most email marketing platforms will have built in features that make A/B testing easy. To run the A/B test, send one version of the email to part of your audience and the other version to a different part of your audience. The email that performs best will then be sent to the remainder of your list.

Say you have 1000 contacts on your email list. Set the test audience to 20% of your total list, in this case 200 people. Your control email (the longer one) will then be sent to 100 people, and your test email (the shorter one) will be sent to the other 100 people. The email that performs best will be determined to be the winner and will be sent to the remaining 800 people on your list.

How to use A/B testing to continuously improve

Once this test is complete, revisit your hypothesis and determine whether there is a significant difference between the control and the test results. Significance in this case can be mathematically found using statistical analysis if you are an advanced user or have access to online tools, but in the beginning common sense can be used.

For example, if your test email received 20 clicks and your control email received 10, you can say:

Our test email received twice as many clicks as our control email. The hypothesis is confirmed and we can say that shorter emails result in more click throughs than longer emails.

Finally, start the process over with a new factor. Use the idea that shorter emails will perform better and build upon it with something else. Over time, you will optimize your emails for the best possible performance and get the most out of your email marketing efforts.

4 ideas for email A/B tests

Subject line:

This is the most obvious and easiest to test repeatedly. There are endless different subject line tests you can run to get people to open your email.

"From" name and address:

Whether you should use your personal name, your company name, both or something else depends on you and your audience. The right "From" name will make people more likely to recognize your email when it arrives, and therefore open it.

Text vs HTML emails

HTML emails are the highly designed, commercial type emails we’ve come to expect. The problem with them is that people immediately see them as impersonal or cold. Text only emails may come across as more personal, as though they are only written to one person. Try this with some of your emails to see if you can get better clicks.

Different types of offers

If you are using emails to promote specific content or offers, test to see if some perform better than others. For example, are people more likely to go to a blog or download a whitepaper? What product offerings make them more likely to visit your online store? This is more difficult to test, but can result in a massive increase in conversions if done right.

Start A/B testing today

A/B testing is a more advanced marketing technique, but one that can drastically improve the results of your campaigns. The goal is to always look for ways to continuously improve based on the data that you have access to. Otherwise, you’re just guessing and getting results without understanding why.


Bridge the Gap Marketing Solutions offers email marketing strategy and email copy writing services for small and medium sized businesses. Contact us today to learn more.


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