Here is a question: how many times have you googled "best time to send an email?" What about "best subject lines for nonprofits?" Personally, I've lost count. To be fair - I have found a lot of great information through google searches exactly like the ones listed above. That information, however, is optimal for their audience, not mine.
One of my favorite things about the clients I work with is how unique each one of them are, and how unique their audiences are! That's why what works for one organization won't work for another, and why that information you found on google won't help you become a success.
There is something that will make you more successful though: A/B Testing. This (relatively) simple process will help you understand what works best for your audience. First, however, you need to learn how to A/B test your e-mails. Next, download my list of 10 A/B hypotheses you need to test now!
What is A/B testing?
A/B testing compares two versions of something - an email, a webpage, a direct mail piece - to determine which performs better and in turn optimize your communication.
Why should I A/B test my emails?
If you're not A/B testing, you're losing money. It's as cut and dry as that.
Sure, your emails may be converting now. But if you knew there was a chance you could increase your conversion rate, why wouldn't you try?
Avoiding A/B testing means you don't want to optimize your content, learn about your audience or speak to them when they want to be spoken to. It really means you just don't care.
How to A/B test your emails
1) Determine which element you want to test
Once you've learned how to A/B test your emails, you can test almost anything - subject line, times, background colors, images, text placement... the list is endless. However, A/B testing isn't simple or quick. It takes planning, time and money, so be meaningful about what you're testing. Determine how these results will benefit you in the future.
2) Develop (and write out) a hypothesis
If the element you selected means something significant to your organization, this step should be no problem. Part of the A/B process - and the scientific method - is writing out a hypothesis. What do you think the results will be? More importantly, why do you think that will happen?
Thinking about your hypothesis in advance will help you think critically about your results. If you're having trouble thinking of a hypothesis, download these 10 hypotheses you should A/B test now!
3) Determine how you will measure success
Imagine this: you know you're marketing to an older audience via email. You have a beautiful, colorful, creative template you use but you've heard some feedback recently that it's hard to read. So, you decide to A/B test the color of your email's background. But, what will you consider successful? The click through rate? The conversion rate? Having people respond to your email?
If you know how you will measure your success in advance, you will determine other elements you may need to include in your email. For example, if you're measuring click through rates, don't forget a link!
4) Create your tests
Now that you've determine the element you're going to test and how you're going to measure your success, it's time to create your emails. Your two (or three, though I wouldn't suggest doing more than that) emails need to be identical, with only the selected element being different. Ensure one email stays the same as before so you can determine if there were any significant improvements.
5) Organize your mailing list
Before beginning any email you should have your email list selected. Knowing which groups or segments you will be speaking to is the base of every great email. Because you will be sending two (or three) emails, you need to split your list. Don't organize by state, age, or alphabetically. You need to ensure each email is received by a random sample as to not skew your results.
6) Give it time
I typically wait a week before recording and analyzing my results. The way I look at it, the more time you wait before studying your results the more accurate your results will be. Some people don't check their emails right away, they may wait a few days and check them in bulk. Or, they may open it and file it away to read later.
7) Test it again
Have you ever heard the saying "once is a chance, twice is a coincidence, the third time is a pattern?" Well, that goes for A/B testing too! No matter how significant, results from one test aren't enough to base decisions off of. Instead, you need to retest the same element at least three times. If you continue to get the same result, you can decide to make a change.
However, that doesn't mean the retesting phase is over! You should test the same elements again at least twice a year. I typically retest every quarter, as behaviors tend to change with the seasons.
Now that you know how to A/B test your emails, what is the first element you're going to optimize?