Winning the Internet

10 things to test to make your email program better

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

EmailTesting, testing, testing! It’s not unusual these days to hear people talk about the importance of testing email campaigns, but what do they really mean? Here are ten things you should consider testing to get more out of your email program.

1. Subject lines
If you’ve never done testing before, this is a great place to start. Subject lines are pretty easy to test and can have a dramatic impact on results. As a best practice you should try to test at least two subject lines for every email if you can.

Try forcing yourself to come up with 20 subject lines when you’re writing your email, then pick the best two. You can also try testing subject line best practices if you don’t already follow them. Ex: Using numerical targets, deadlines, or personalization (usually the recipient’s name).

2. Images
If you’ve got two amazing images and can’t decide which one to use in your email, test them to see which one boosts your action rate higher! This also works well if you use the same kinds of images over and over.

3. Header
When was the last time you took a critical look at your email header? It’s not unusual for people to use giant email headers in the name of branding. Branding is important, but tall headers make it difficult to get important information and your call to action above the fold consistently. If you’re not sure about your header or think it could be too tall, test it.

4. Call out box & action button
Do you use some kind of call out box with an image and/or text highlighting the action you want readers to take? You may want to think about testing this. Some people have found call out boxes effective. If you use a call-out box, you may want to consider testing including a clickable looking button. Again, some folks have found these helpful.

5. Videos
When you run petitions, do you sometimes include a video on the petition page and push people to watch the video and sign? If so, you may want to test not doing that, and just focusing on the petition. Some organizations have found that videos hurt petition signatures (which makes sense since there are technically two calls to action and it’s harder to get people to do two things than just one).

6. Call to action
If you haven’t tested they way you present your call to action, you may want to do this as it can really be a game changer in some instances. You may want to test things like formatting (ex: making the call to action a complete sentence that appears as its own paragraph), hyperlinks (ex: hyperlinking the whole sentence instead of just a few words), and wording.

7. Donation amounts
If you want to raise more money from email (and who doesn’t want that?), try experimenting with the amount you ask for. You can even segment your list by donation history and use past donations to inform the amount you ask for.

8. Style/tone
If your emails tend to be particularly professional (like if they read like a mission statement), you might want to experiment with style and tone. The best emails tend to be casual yet informative, written as if they’re being sent from one friend to another.

9. Length
If your emails tend to be long, you should strongly consider testing shorter emails. Even if you feel like you need to include a bunch of information to support your case for taking action. This might be uncomfortable but it’s definitely worth testing.

10. Emphasis/formatting
Ideally readers should be able to take in your message in a matter of seconds—this means emails should be scannable. If you love a nice chunky paragraph, consider testing emphasizing important points with strategic bolding and/or using bullets when it makes sense.

Happy testing!

Image courtesy of Ilker.

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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