Email Marketing Research: 7 steps for successful email marketing testing and optimization


Brad Bortone recently wrote a blog post regarding one of the surprising findings from the MarketingSherpa 2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Report – that 61% of marketers do not routinely test email campaigns to optimize performance.

Yes, as a member of the MECLABS team, a place where woven into the fabric of the corporate culture is testing and optimization, the news is disappointing. However, I can’t say it is surprising. Marketers today have more responsibilities and less time to accomplish their objectives, making it easy to overlook the benefits of testing.

The facts remain that the benefits of testing are enormous

Only through testing and optimization will marketers find what works best for their organization, and more importantly, his or her customers. Continuous experimentation is the quickest path to peak performance. With each new insight, the nuggets of knowledge collected will add up to more efficient and effective email communications.

I consider testing and optimization as one of the six key elements in accelerating email performance.  In MarketingSherpa’s 2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Survey (Editor’s Note: The survey closes Monday which will be your last chance to add your input), we have dedicated an entire portion of the survey to this subject, including percentage of budget and staff committed to email optimization.

In our search for the best practices to increase the velocity and accuracy of email communications, I am particularly interested in discovering which internal processes make testing routine and repeatable.

In the 2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, we found that those companies in the strategic phase are four times more likely to routinely test email campaigns than those in the trial phase of email marketing maturity. MarketingSherpa defines an organization in the strategic phase of email marketing maturity as one that has a formal process with thorough guidelines they routinely perform.

Email Marketing Chart

For this year’s survey, I want to examine in more detail the “formal processes with thorough guidelines” employed to routinely test and optimize email campaigns. To understand the general steps in implementing a test, I spoke with Gaby Paez, Associate Director of Research, Conversion Group at MECLABS.

Here are seven steps she shared with me for successful testing and optimization.

  1. 1. Segmentation – Segment lists to target a specific audience to test. Universally testing across the board will muddy the results. The respondents will inevitably give you data that pulls you in all different directions.
  2. 2. Analytics – Be sure you are able to track metrics like deliverability, open, clicks, and conversion rates to document the impact of the email message on the marketing and sales funnel. A lack of complete information can quickly turn a success into a failure and jeopardize the brand’s profitability.
  3. 3. Methodology – Select a methodology to make it easier to create tests and analyze the resulting data so that the process is consistent and repeatable. For example, MarketingExperiments uses its own Email Message Optimization Index to accelerate the pace of discovery.
  4. 4. Brainstorm – Look at the challenges and opportunities for email optimization with other team members to give you a greater perspective when executing new trials.
  5. 5. Identify key elements – Define the research question, main objective, and key metrics before conducting a test to achieve actionable results. Clearly state each element for the entire team to understand.
  6. 6. Benchmark – Document findings at regularly scheduled times for open, click, and conversion metrics. Examples of time intervals may include hours, days and weeks after the email send date. Maintain internal benchmark reports that the research team can evaluate monthly, quarterly and/or annually.
  7. 7. Follow up – Review the test and its results. The findings may lead your team to decide on a follow up test to further explore a particular email message element. Keep the momentum moving forward by making plans to repeat this test three-to-six months down the road.

I look forward to sharing with you the results from the 2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Survey regarding testing and optimization soon.

Related Resources:

2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Survey

Email Deliverability: How a marketing vendor with 99 percent delivery rates treats single opt-in lists vs. double opt-in lists

Email Marketing Optimization: How you can create a testing environment to improve your email results

Email Testing: More specific subject line improves open rate by more than 35%

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