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Using A/B Testing to Boost Email Campaign Results

The first article in our Email Messaging Best Practices series

You’ve thoroughly researched your market, defined a prospect persona, and created content to address the key needs and wants of your strategically targeted audience. In your mind, there’s still one overriding question: will it actually move people to respond and engage?

A/B testing is an invaluable ally to help maximize the engagement and ROI of your email campaigns. By doing trial runs with varied content to a small sampling of your overall list of targeted recipients, it gives you the ability to hone your messaging to include the elements that are working best — in terms of boosting metrics such as open rates, responses, clickthroughs and conversions.

Elements and methods to consider.

The messaging elements you can choose to vary for A/B testing are numerous, depending on the focus and scope of your overall effort. Here are a few examples to get you thinking about the possibilities in general:

Segment your mailing lists in a consistent manner.

If you send out two different emails, but each of them goes out to a list with a different makeup and set of interests, that defeats the purpose of A/B testing. The idea is to create two different lists that closely mirror each other, but with different recipients. This way you’ll get a clear view of which email message is performing better.

Test various subject lines.

Studies have shown as many as 1/3 of email opens are the result of a strong subject line. Shorter subject lines tend to pull better than longer ones. Especially if you keep them between 30 and 50 characters in length. The challenge is trying to make a meaningful statement within that short span that will pique the recipient’s interest by offering a benefit for opening it.

Compare long versus short messaging.

It’s impossible to tell your whole brand/product story — or for a prospect to comprehend it — within the space of a single email. Look to create an “aha” moment that makes a connection, while intriguing the recipient enough to click on a link and/or dash off a return email to learn more. Studies have shown that short messaging tends to work better in terms of eliciting response and engagement. Experiment with different lengths of body copy to see what works best for your audience.

Vary the accompanying visuals.

Is there a visual you can add to arrest attention and help make your point? Can you replace a current visual with one that’s more intriguing and/or more relevant to yout message? Is there a hard-hitting infographic you can use in place of a more general image? A/B tests have often revealed that an email’s performance, in terms of opens and clickthroughs, can be substantially improved with the right image/graphic.

Change up your call-to-action (CTA) elements.

Your CTA messages, links and buttons are a place where the rubber meets the road for encouraging responses, clickthroughs and conversions. Experiment with using buttons versus links, different button designs and titles, alternate copy phrasing for CTA text links and the like — to see if you can generate more engagement at the moment of truth.

Try some personalization.

Using merge fields to insert the recipient’s name and/or company name at strategic points in the subject line, salutation, email body or CTA verbiage can make your messaging feel more personal. Just avoid overuse of this technique. In this case, less is definitely more.


All in all, strategic deployment of A/B testing is a time-proven way to maximize the effect and engagement factor for your email campaigns. It can also lead to messaging and design breakthroughs that produce exponential gains in terms of overall ROI.

More in our Email Messaging Best Practices series

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