Winning the Internet

The online laboratory: Perfecting your outreach through email testing

After a great run, the Winning the Internet blog has been retired. However, you can still keep in touch with New Media Mentors here.

As we get ready for Netroots Nation 2014, we’re taking a closer look at some of the convention’s most exciting training sessions. We’re interviewing the trainers and taking you inside some of online activism’s most popular and elusive topics.

Today we’re interviewing Damien Shirley, who’ll be leading The online laboratory: Perfecting your outreach through email testing.

NN14 Training Session

The online laboratory: Perfecting your outreach through email testing
Every email list is different, so how do you know what messaging will motivate your supporters the most? What subject lines will grab their attention? Which email layout will get them to click through? Here’s the good news: the answers to those questions are a simple test away. In this session, attendees will learn the basics of email testing, including what defines effective testing, what tools they need to get started, testing best practices, how to determine if a test was statistically significant and how to apply testing results to refine successful email practices.


Q: Tell us about yourself and your experience with email testing.

A: I’ve been doing new media and email communications for the past six years, working for Media Matters for America, the League of Conservation Voters and Democratic campaigns. I’ve been with CCAH for the past two and a half years, which has given me the chance to work with amazing groups like People For the American Way.

Over the years I’ve launched more emails, run more tests and analyzed more testing data than I can count. In that time I’ve found that constant testing is a must—the online world evolves so rapidly that the results you get from one test may change completely even just few months down the road. Testing is always an eye-opening experience for me and I’ve seen first-hand the kind of boost nonprofits, campaigns and other organizers can achieve just by implementing a basic testing program.

Q: In your opinion, what is the most common mistake that organizations make when doing email testing?

A: Honestly, the most common mistake is not testing. There are so many variables in any given email launch; getting even one of them wrong might be turning off your supporters and inadvertently depressing your response. Maybe the time of day you send your emails actually doesn’t work for a lot of your supporters. Maybe your sender or signer isn’t someone whose voice resonates with your supporters. Maybe your subject lines or calls to action aren’t strong enough. Maybe your graphic content is too heavy—or too light. Unless you’re testing those facets of your emails against other, different approaches, you’ll never know if you could be doing better—you could be losing out on engagement opportunities and not even know it.

Q: What are the two most important things to keep in mind when doing email testing?

A: First, don’t test for the sake of testing. Focus on an area you think your email performance could improve—maybe your open rate is flagging or your response rate is below benchmark—and test a new approach that could boost your performance in that area. Second, make sure your tests are scientific—some of the things you’ll need are a test email and a control email, as well as a test and control audience that are representative samples of your email list. Your testing should be both purposeful and scientific if you want to use your results to optimize your outreach.

Q: Why should folks attend your session at Netroots Nation?

A: Everybody wants to make sure they’re engaging with their allies and supporters as effectively as possible. Testing is the key to achieving that optimization; my training will teach someone everything they need to implement an email testing program to optimize their outreach. There are a lot of people who are surprised to learn that boosting their email performance—everything from their open rate to their response rate—can be as simple as testing a new approach and seeing what data comes in—my goal is to teach people that lesson, as well as how to use testing to boost their email performance.


To attend this training, or one of the 39 others at Netroots Nation 2014 in Detroit, register now.

About Melissa Foley

Melissa is the Director of Training and Mentoring for Netroots Foundation and New Media Mentors. She aims to use her MBA + nonprofit background to teach organizations to use new media tools strategically.

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