The Problem With A/B Testing

This week we set up an elaborate A/B test on subject lines. I liked “How 1.75 Billion Mobile Users See Your Website” and my client manager liked “Business Cards are No Longer the First Impression.” We learned long ago not to be a focus group of two, but our testing also proves something else I’ve been saying for years—A/B tests do not stand alone.

This week we set up an elaborate A/B test on subject lines. I liked “How 1.75 Billion Mobile Users See Your Website” and my client manager liked “Business Cards are No Longer the First Impression.” We learned long ago not to be a focus group of two, but our testing also proves something else I’ve been saying for years—A/B tests do not stand alone.

For our Mobile Users campaign, we dropped in an actual screenshot of every recipient’s website as viewed on an iPhone 6 (see image), because we knew this level of personalization could add a sizeable bump to engagement. It’s one thing to tell a recipient their website looks awful on a mobile device; it’s another thing to show them.

At the end of the campaign, we will have sent under 10,000 emails, but before we get to the balance, we felt it was important to know which of the two subject lines would perform better. All of us want to have the very best chance of success, so this was a necessary step. Ensure our subject line would foster a higher open rate.

For our initial test, we sent 600 emails, half to each subject line. One subject line performed best with opens, the other subject line performed best for clicks to the form. What that means is we now have a new question: is it better for us to get more people to open and see the message, or is it better to get fewer people to open, but to have accurately set their expectation about what was inside so they would click?

The open rate differed by more than 10 percent, and the CTR by about 2 percent.

Should I stop my analysis here and answer the only question I started with (which subject line should we use), or would it be better to take a look at other factors and try to improve the overall success in any way we can? For me, the problem I see with many marketers’ A/B tests is they ask one question, answer it, and then move on. In fact, many email automation systems are set up in precisely this manner: send an A/B test of two subject lines, and whichever performs better, use it to send the balance. What about the open rate and the CTR combined? Isn’t that far more important in this case (and many others)? Let’s take it one step further: what about the open rate, CTR and form completion rate combined? Now we’re on to something.

There are many factors at work here: time of day, past engagement, lifecycle and more. The subject line is a good place to start, but I can’t afford to ignore what we’ve gleaned from other campaigns.

This then becomes the hardest part of testing—be that A/B or multivariate—isolating what we’ve actually learned, and that usually means I cannot analyze just this one campaign. It must be an aggregate.

For our campaign, I took our test results and put those into a spreadsheet of 2014 campaign results and started to look for patterns. We’ve all read Thursday mornings are good (as an example), but does that hold true for my list? Were my open rates affected by time of day, by date, by day, by business type, by B-to-C vs. B-to-B? These are all analytics we track because we’ve found each of these does, in fact, influence open rate.

So, yes, we did learn which of the two subject lines performed better for opens, but what we also learned is that a repeat of the test to another 600 recipients on Tuesday morning instead of Thursday morning resulted in almost exactly opposite performance.

A/B tests can be hard. If they were easy, everyone would do them. Our simple one-time test was not enough information to make decisions about our campaign. It took more testing to either prove or disprove our theories, and it took aggregating the data with other results to paint the full picture.

We did find a winner: an email with a good subject line to get it opened, good presentation of supporting information inside, that led recipients to a form they actually completed, and all sent on the right day at the right time, from the right sender,

While you’re not privy to all of the data we have, on the top of the subject lines alone, which do you prefer?

4 Hi-Tech Direct Mail Tricks

Marketers continue to use direct mail in 2014, because it still leads in  ROI. However, traditional direct mail marketing is changing. We can  “tech up” direct mail to meet the needs of recipients and to increase  that ROI even more! By adding technology, you can spice up the direct  mail, create a wow factor and make it even easier to respond

Marketers continue to use direct mail in 2014, because it still leads in ROI. However, traditional direct mail marketing is changing. We can “tech up” direct mail to meet the needs of recipients and to increase that ROI even more! By adding technology, you can spice up the direct mail, create a wow factor and make it even easier to respond.

Here are four ways to “tech up” your next direct mail campaign:

  1. QR Code: At this point most everyone has seen a QR Code in a magazine or other ad (little box with squares in it). You can create personalized QR Codes so that the content is unique to each person or just generic for that campaign. This landing page content can be changed and updated as needed, creating an easy way to keep people coming back for new content. Make sure your content is mobile-ready since the recipients will be using a mobile device to scan the QR Codes.
  2. PURL: A personalized URL will provide a personalized landing page and content as you need it to. This should be setup with dynamic formatting—in other words, the landing page should work for both mobile users and desktop users since the URL can easily be used on both devices. You can even use the same page as the QR Code to save on costs if you are providing both on your direct mail as a means of response. This provides the recipient with the choice of which method they prefer.
  3. Augmented Reality: This can be a very sophisticated technology. Having an image come to life and be manipulated by the recipient is a very powerful wow factor. You do not have to go all out here if your budget does not allow it. You can create a great user experience without breaking the bank. Keep the recipient in mind when designing: What will they want to see, get out of it and like? This will take time and testing to make sure that a wide array of phones display correctly, and that you are conveying the correct message.
  4. NFC: Near field communication is the next great technology. Most cell phones that are now coming out have the NFC capability (iPhone still does not). This allows the user to tap their phone to the mail piece and launch the content you provide them. No scanning or application download required, which makes it better for the recipients. This is another sophisticated technolog,y and just new enough that it can be really exciting to recipients.

These “tech ups” do not have to be big budget items. Plan out your strategy and talk with your direct marketing company. They can help guide you through the process as well as steer you toward ways to keep costs down. Creating the bridge from the offline direct mail to the online content is a great driver of response. Keep in mind you still need the basic elements of direct mail. A good list, a good design and a strong call to action are a must. If any of these are lacking, your response will show it. You will also need information on how recipients can use the technology and then provide them with strong content to view. If the content is not well designed or planned out then the whole process will be a waste of time.

Email Marketing: To Open or Not To Open …

For many of us, choosing the from name is a simple task. We send it from the person to whom we want the recipient to respond or connect, but hold on … did you test that?

For many of us, choosing the from name is a simple task. We send it from the person to whom we want the recipient to respond or connect, but hold on … did you test that?

One of our clients sends more than a million emails daily to their subscribers. They have built their list using a variety of resources, one of which was to purchase three million self-identified target recipients, but they also used co-registration with a daily newsletter offer to acquire another million names over a span of a few months. The co-registration names were a double-opt in so ideally should have produced stellar results and highly qualified names, but that didn’t actually turn out to be the case.

After sending to the purchased list, we tossed it completely due to the very high number of spam traps we managed to trigger in our first two sends. With those names eliminated, we focused on the co-registration list, which we segmented into large groups to receive the daily message they had been offered. This was done through more than a dozen different ESPs.

As we saw it, job one was to validate the email addresses were deliverable, not spam traps, and were—at best—being opened. As we suspected, a number of them were spam traps, so we dialed it back and a great deal of time to a deep-cleanse effort of sending in very small batches (about 200 per day per ESP) in order to more easily stop the cycle if we irritated more spam sensors. (It takes a long, damn time to send to millions of recipients at the rate of 200 per day.)

Using this process, once we reached 250,000 verified emails, we sent to those in larger groups through our three best-performing ESPs—those with whom we historically saw the best deliverability rates. We continued these two steps with the balance of the names and applied the deep-cleanse process for new names still coming in through the co-registration sites (about 500 names per day).

The combination of the deep cleanse and slow send improved our results drastically. All emails were deliverable, unsubscribes were low, but open rates were still lagging. Since this was a daily message to which the users had specifically subscribed, we were pretty sure there was room for improvement even though the list was growing faster than the combined attrition rate (unsubscribes + undeliverable + spam complaints), and traffic to this site was flourishing.

While our client does not sell anything on their site, they do sell ad space in the daily email, monthly newsletter and on their website. The number of views for these ads is critical to our client’s revenue. Emails going unopened, being marked as spam, or gaining an unsubscribe are not generating revenue in a click or impressions ad placement.

Regardless of which email application the subscriber uses, there are two things they see: from and subject line. Some email applications will also show the preheader text, a preview, or other snippets to give the recipient more clues about the content. We chose to tackle first the sender information, and then work on the subject line. After all, there’s only so many ways we could say, “Here’s the daily email to which you have subscribed.”

The target audience for this daily email is largely male—not all male, mind you, but nearing the 85 percent mark. I suspected males would rather receive emails from women, so we started there. We also used tried other sender names and email addresses:

  • Company name
  • Site owner’s name (she has some visibility in this space, so we tried to parlay that recognition into opens)
  • General email address
  • Mature-sounding woman’s name
  • Young-sounding, woman’s name
  • Sexy woman’s name
  • Mature-sounding male name (in line with the target audience age group)
  • Young-sounding male name

We didn’t just change the from name, we created a matching from address for continuity and credibility (rather than use a system address such as newsletter@companysite.com). For instance, if Brittni Jones was the from name, the address was brittni@companysite.com

What we found, and what I’m sure you already know, is sender matters—in a big, important way; at least for this client.

I was right on one front: This primarily male constituency did open far more emails from Brittni than Edith, but they also liked getting emails from Trevor, a very close second. They didn’t read nearly as many emails from Bob, though Bob was more popular than using the company name. The actual statistics for this campaign are not important; your company would experience completely different results. The takeaway here is about testing and being relevant—even at the sender name and address level.

If your opens are suffering, think first about whether or not John Smith is convincing enough to get me to open, then remember: test, track, tweak. Repeat.

Privacy – More or Less

As marketers, we should be gravely concerned about the questions of privacy and the ethics surrounding collection and use of what many email recipients consider private information. Please bear with me as I continue my commentary on the topic

As marketers, we should be gravely concerned about the questions of privacy and the ethics surrounding collection and use of what many email recipients consider private information. Please bear with me as I continue my commentary on the topics.

The line between business and marketing email is often blurred, and what affects one nearly always affects the other. Not surprisingly, privacy—and the lack thereof—is of heightened concern to businesses and individuals alike these days. With new and frequent discoveries concerning alleged abuse by both government and private agencies, this shows no signs of diminishing.

Google Is on the Hot Seat
It’s easy to despise Google. The company is a ridiculously successful behemoth that collects an immeasurable amount of data they then choose to use, sell, share and—seemingly arbitrarily—withhold in their quest to profit from what many recipients of email believe to be private thoughts, browsing experiences, correspondences, search phrases and more.

In two separate cases, Google’s collection and use of email data is being challenged.

In the first, a group of private email users have claimed Google illegally intercepted, read, and mined information from their private email correspondence in order to better understand the recipient’s profile and deliver targeted advertisements. (Wait. That sounds a bit like what I do as a marketer …)

In September, California Judge Judy Koh rejected Google’s bid to dismiss the case based upon their argument Gmail users had agreed to allow interception by accepting the company’s terms and privacy policies.

As the legal wrangling ensued, the lawsuit lost a bit of steam when the judge ruled these plaintiffs could not band together in a class-action suit because the proposed classes of people in the case aren’t sufficiently cohesive. Her ruling may well impact a number of other email-privacy cases in which she will be asked to rule, including lawsuits against Yahoo and LinkedIn. (In other cases, Facebook and Hulu are defending their right to monetize their members’ data.)

In a submission to the court, Google has said users of Google’s email service Gmail should have no “legitimate expectation” that their emails will remain private. A “stunning admission” of the extent to which internet users’ privacy is compromised, proclaims Consumer Watchdog (CW), a US pressure group.

This causes me to ponder: Yes, of course, Google collects more information than we do—but is it simply because they can? If we, as marketers, had the ability to collect to the same degree, would we? Is the difference between Google and my company the temperance with which the small business (compared to the conglomerate) would collect? As I said in my last blog, Spider Trainers—and other marketers—should proceed carefully, respectfully, and exercise care in not just what to collect, but how to use it. But is that a distinction without a difference to the average recipient?

Students’ Consent
In a similar lawsuit, students in California have come toe to toe with Google claiming the company’s monitoring of their Gmail violates federal and state privacy laws. This case, being heard by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, was brought by nine students whose emails were subject to Google surveillance because their accounts were provided in part by Google in their Apps for Education suite; a suite touting more than 30 million users worldwide, most of whom are students under 18.

Google admits to scanning student emails to serve students targeted advertisements even though display ads are not shown in Apps for Education. Contained in a sworn statement, Google “does scan [student] email” to “compile keywords for advertising” on Google sites.

What’s different about this case is the age of the typical recipient. FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) issued in 1974, ensures the privacy of records of students under the age of 18 and, as big as Google is, they should not be immune to legal constraints of this act. Like the previous case, the students are seeking class-action certification for the case.

This begs the question: Are marketers immune? Perhaps in our B-to-C events, we too must be mindful of the age of our audience. Certainly we know that we are collecting more than most of our recipients imagine. What preteen suspects that emails from her favorite store are actually vehicles for accumulating information about her buying behaviors in order to send her more relevant email offers?

Extending Acceptance
The pivotal topic in many of these Google and Gmail users discussions should be this: Even if the sender understood and agreed to the terms and conditions, that consent could not and should extend to the recipient who has not consented and who is probably unaware their data and profile is being assimilated from these communications. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is also concerned about Google’s ability to build detailed profiles of Gmail users by augmenting email-collection data with information collected by Google’s search-engine cookies, though Google denies such cross referencing occurs.

The Government
For most adults, searches are easily defined. If law enforcement suspects of us wrongdoing, they get a warrant, search our house, our car, our locker, and then seize the evidence of a crime. With an email account—be that Gmail or any other—it’s different. Emails are seized first and then searched for evidence. It’s similar in approach to the argument of the Obama administration for collecting every American’s phone records—law enforcement doesn’t know what is relevant until they have reviewed it all. In other words, it’s a fishing expedition on a grand scale.

So, it’s not just the private sector misbehaving if a federal judge has found it necessary to admonish our own justice department for requesting overly broad searches of people’s email accounts—nearly all of whom have never been accused of a crime. It’s widespread, but worse; all data collectors are at risk of being painted with the same brush. It’s coming to this: If you’re collecting data, you must be committing some sort of offense in the form of invasion of privacy, and perhaps even acting illegally. (Wow! All I wanted was to send you a personalized dog food coupon because you have three mastiffs and a poodle named Fred, Pete, George, and Ginger.)

In this case against the justice department, Judge Facciola concluded prosecutors must show probable cause for everything they seize – especially since it is possible for companies to easily search for specific emails, names, and dates of content relevant to an investigation. It’s therefore not necessary to ask for all electronically stored information in email accounts, irrespective of the relevance to the investigation.

Education
It’s going to become necessary to become educators—we marketers must educate our clients on appropriate collection and use in order to delineate what we do from what is happening with Google, NSA, Yahoo, and others. Without our input, and our self-regulation, it is quite possible that we will be spoon-fed rules of engagement—and likely that those rules will reduce future access to less than what we have now.

With the caching of images and relegation of email to specific tabs, Google is already getting in between us and our recipients by intercepting data to which we’ve already become accustomed. It’s a slippery slope to be sure, but we do have an opportunity to steer this downhill roll in a direction that will protect our ability to be good marketers in a healthy balance with the privacy of our recipients.

In Other News…
In an ongoing case, a U.S. appeals court has again rejected Google’s argument that it did not break federal wiretap laws when it collected user data from unencrypted wireless networks for its Street View program.

In the U.K., the High Court ruled Google can be sued by a group of Britons angered when using Apple’s Safari browser by the way their online habits were apparently tracked against their wishes in order to provide targeted advertising. Google asserted the case is not serious enough to fall under British jurisdiction.

Microsoft is feeling the heat after acknowledging it read an anonymous blogger’s emails in order to identify one of their employees suspected of leaking information. The FBI was involved only after the emails had been read.

Maybe I need a new blog: Privacy Erosion.

The Demotion of the Open Rate

For years, marketers have been tracking open rates and using this stat for everything from choosing the best time to send to validating the deliverability of a particular email-automation vendor; and well, everything in between. With more and more email being opened on mobile devices, Gmail caching images, and fewer recipients choosing to download images (perhaps accounting for as much as 40 percent of your audience), the open rate simply isn’t what it used to be—not that it was ever all that accurate

For years, marketers have been tracking open rates and using this stat for everything from choosing the best time to send to validating the deliverability of a particular email-automation vendor; and well, everything in between. With more and more email being opened on mobile devices, Gmail caching images, and fewer recipients choosing to download images (perhaps accounting for as much as 40 percent of your audience), the open rate simply isn’t what it used to be—not that it was ever all that accurate.

Charting a high open rate does not necessarily equate to clicks or conversions, but this has always been true. You might have written the most fabulous or enticing subject line and enjoyed a very high open rate, only to have failed to deliver the message and lost in the long run.

The Mobile Effect
Mobile devices are lowering the dependability of the open rate for some analysis, too. Most people scan emails on their devices and save only those they wish to read or act upon later. Emails that don’t answer an immediate need, or that are not relevant, may be deleted prematurely and without much recipient consideration. Even with responsive designs, the recipient is less likely to take advantage of an offer on a smartphone than on a tablet or desktop device, it’s simply easier to engage on a bigger screen.

Open Rate Increases
Gmail’s new image caching system automatically downloads images, and, for those recipients using Gmail or Google Apps, this can further affect your open rate tracking—your open rate will likely increase. The first open will be tracked correctly by most ESPs, but subsequent (repeat) opens by the same recipient will likely decrease. Unique opens, like opens, will become more accurate.

As with Gmail and Google Apps, iPhone and iPad devices download images by default. If you’re tracking your stats year over year, this increase in open rates by Gmail and iOS users will affect your ability to accurately assess your campaigns.

You may find that your open rates increase, but click-through rates do not, resulting in lower click-to-open rates.

Best Time to Send
Some email automation systems, such as Variant4, are able to send messages at the same time as the last open from the recipient, and this can be useful, but determining the right time to send based upon open rates alone will be misleading for the reasons stated earlier. When possible, opt for the previous engagement time, since if the open occurred on a mobile device, the click or conversion may have taken place later from a desktop device and that actually represents the better time for future sends.

Ensuring your content is on the mark is more important than ever as this is the driving force behind clicks and conversions (and not opens). Getting your audience to engage will gain you future priority placement in the inbox rather than a continued relegation to the promotion tab of Gmail.

Still Some Value
As undependable as the open rate has become, it does still represent some value—especially for segmentation and A/B testing of subject lines, for instance. Show caution when basing your conclusions on open rate alone and take the necessary steps to validate your finding through other supporting metrics.

Design Wins
As more email providers download images by default, we as marketers make a major win in the design arena. No longer will we have to design text formats and forfeit brand recognition. Our emails will be displayed in the manner in which we had intended all along.

Automated Marketing: Drip vs. Nurture

Yes, Virginia, there is a difference. Earlier this week, I was interviewed by a reporter doing an article on nurture campaigns and was surprised that she did not differentiate between drip and nurture marketing. In fact, I know many seasoned marketers who also do not follow separate protocols for these two disparate approaches to marketing. So, while you may well disagree with me, here’s how I see it and how we develop campaigns for our clients

Yes, Virginia, there is a difference.

Earlier this week, I was interviewed by a reporter doing an article on nurture campaigns and, as I had been in so many conversations before, was surprised that she did not differentiate between drip and nurture marketing. In fact, I know many seasoned marketers who also do not follow separate protocols for these two disparate approaches to marketing. So, while you may well disagree with me, here’s how I see it and how we develop campaigns for our clients.

Blast
Blast campaigns are not automated, though you might well schedule a blast to deploy automatically. A blast email is a single event—think of your weekend sale, your newly released demo, or your new YouTube video. You’ll send out a single email making this announcement. Let’s suppose, however, that you have a podcast series and each episode posts early Monday morning. Now, we’re talking automation.

Drip
Drip marketing is designed to keep you top of mind when your recipient is ready to enter or reenter the sales funnel—gentle reminders. These emails or direct mails are of a similar design and usually based upon a branded template or theme. The message is general and is sent to a general list. Of course, personalization and segmentation will ensure that your message is targeted and better received even when using a general list, but the message is sent on a predetermined schedule. We often refer to this as the passive path.

Think of the drip-irrigation system, from which this campaign style acquired its moniker. The water drips at a consistent rate regardless of whether or not the plant is thirsty. Drip, drip, drip. Your campaign should do the same.

In order to determine the frequency of the drip, or touch, you will need to test or survey your audience. If you are a nationwide pet food supplier, you might find that twice a week is the right pace. If you’re selling enterprise software, perhaps it’s more like once every two weeks. The span of time in between drips does not change the definition or purpose. You are regularly pinging your constituents with a cue describing an existing relationship and providing information that, in the long run, will contribute to their buying decision.

Eventually your recipient will receive a message from you—either at exactly the right time or of the ideal offer—and they will engage—click to watch, download, or take a test drive. Now it’s time to get your nurture campaign involved.

Nurture
Unlike the drip campaign, the nurture campaign fires off at will each time your recipient engages. When you send a drip event offering a preview of your new video and the recipient clicks to view, your nurture campaign should automatically deploy a message thanking them for viewing the video and offering up a link to something that nudges them to the next step in the purchasing process. Perhaps this is a white paper or a demo. It might even be a meeting with a sales person.

To build your nurture steps, give consideration to your current sales process: You acquire a lead, qualify the lead, nurture the lead by providing additional information as needed, and at some point close the sale. It’s critical to sit with your sales team and discuss their current process for closing sales. Along with management and your creativity, you should be able to architect a campaign that is a digital (or, if direct mail, a physical) representation of the sales team’s approach. Here’s a rough sketch of what that might look like:

  1. Acquire a lead
  2. Welcome the lead – for your first touch, consider a blast email that simply proves deliverability. If the email successfully makes it to the inbox and/or is opened, clicked, or not deleted, shuttle the opened and non-deleted emails to your drip segment (until such as time as they too engage and become a member of your nurture segment) and the clickers to your nurture segment.
  3. Qualify the lead – this might be an email that simply provides links to your social-media accounts, a YouTube video, a resource download, or high-value areas of your website.
  4. Auto-respond appropriately to the lead – With each specific type of engagement, automatically send a prepared message (called an auto-responder) that acknowledges the engagement, thanks them for the engagement, and offers an accelerated engagement (the next logical step in the sales process). For example, if they watched a video, now might be the time to offer them a white paper on the same subject. For someone shopping for dog food, you might offer them first a video on the benefits of this brand, if they watch the video, the next auto-responder might be a coupon on that brand, if they do not redeem the coupon, the next auto-responder might be a coupon with a higher-value discount and more urgency (shop until midnight tonight and get free shipping). If they still pass on the coupon, consider a video on another brand.
  5. Rinse and repeat. For each engagement, respond appropriately, and offer an accelerated engagement acting as a nudge in the right direction – your shopping cart or offline purchase.

If you’re using a CRM, each event can and should contribute or deduct from your lead score. For instance, if a lead unsubscribes, you can deduct from the lead score and if they open the email, follow you socially, watch the video, download the resource, or visit your website, you can add to your lead score.

We call the nurture campaign the active path because your recipients are actively engaged.

Automated and manual monitoring of your engagement in blast, drip, and nurture events is important. It ensures that you do not continue to email messages that are missing the mark and enables you to move drip recipients into the nurturing path at the appropriate time.

Recipients in the nurturing path that show no signs of life should be kicked back to the drip campaign and those in the drip campaign who are without a pulse should be retired so as not to adversely affect your sender reputation.

When to Squeeze

A marketing email should not ever be an isolated interaction between you and the recipient—it should be a player in a concert designed to delight, woo and convert. Other players in this concert include forms, links, content, assets, and, importantly, landing pages or squeeze pages. For your recipients, these pages should

A marketing email should not ever be an isolated interaction between you and the recipient—it should be a player in a concert designed to delight, woo and convert. Other players in this concert include forms, links, content, assets, and, importantly, landing pages or squeeze pages. For your recipients, these pages should:

  • Provide a clear, concise path to becoming a customer.
  • Enable them to become customers.
  • Resolve any concerns they may have about becoming customers.

Let’s cover the basics:

A “landing page” is a web page, either on your site or hosted within your ESP or other site, that details the offer of your call to action (CTA). A landing page provides the visitor with several or numerous information sources or paths to engagement. For instance, you might link to white papers and videos that support your message (see Figure 1 int he media player at right), provide social media icons for connecting, or even reviewing options for feedback. In short, there is no limit to the amount of information you may include on a landing page—but more is not always better.

When more is not better, a squeeze page provides an ideal solution. A “squeeze page” is a Web page with a singular focus on the conversion (see Figure 2). Similarly designed to a landing page, it is without the myriad options one might find on a targeted landing page. On this page you’ll have no social icons, no links to your website, and only one option for engagement. As a mnemonic, think of a squeeze page as putting the squeeze on the visitor to do just one thing: complete the call to action referenced in your email.

Landing and squeeze pages provide you with ample opportunities for A/B and multivariate testing. Creating multiple versions of your pages, you can test messaging, buttons, images, color, formats (responsive or static) and much more. What’s more, combined with analytics monitoring, you can discern who’s visiting, for how long, what they did, where they go and so much more.

We have many clients who at the outset were performing some marketing (either direct mail or email), but in most cases were sending recipients to their home page—and without benefit of a tracking URL. There are two primary reasons you should never, never send your marketing traffic to your home page, 1) your home page should provide information appropriate for your general audience and, as such, does not specifically engage the marketing-message recipient; and 2) it is difficult or impossible to discern—even through analytics—which visitors came to your home page through other promotions, and which specifically visited your home page after having received your marketing campaign. These analytics are critical to understanding the behavior of your recipients, so don’t miss this opportunity to collect it, analyze it and act on it.

As you design your landing or squeeze page, use your email or direct mail piece as the guideline. Be sure you are directing clickthroughs to a page using the same art, same messaging and consistent branding. This similarity of design is comforting to the visitor and ensures they’ve come to the right place. Given they found the design of the email compelling enough to click, why spoil the moment? You already found what works, give them more.

If, however, you find that you’re simply not getting the conversions you expected, check the number of visitors first. You must have visits to gain conversions. If not, back up and take a closer look at the initial engagement and consider first things first. No matter how wonderfully written, artfully designed, and programmatically perfect a landing or squeeze page is, if your message does not drive your recipient to visit the page, your conversion rate will suffer. Ensure your message drives the visit before you give angst an audience over conversion disappointments.

If number of visits is within your acceptable range (but when is it ever enough?), work on the other players within your campaign, such as:

  • Form length
  • Form questions
  • Button design and placement
  • Text content
  • Links
  • Downloads
  • Supporting resources
  • Design
  • Programming errors

All of these elements can and should be tested and tracked through A/B and multivariate testing combined with analytics and heat-mapping. Using landing and squeeze pages makes this testing process easier and more reliable than trying to root through or make drastic changes to your site’s home page.

Taking this discussion just one step further, if a landing page simply doesn’t provide you adequate real estate, consider a “microsite,” a series of linked landing pages that spotlights your offer.

Sometimes integrated email means the integrated components within your campaign and rather than the components of the initiative. As you develop your emails, think beyond the inbox and give consideration to the end-to-end experience and what you can provide to your visitor in order to attain that elusive conversion.

How to Make Subject Lines Work Overtime

Emails are a series of components working together to motivate recipients to act. The subject line has always been a front-line player. Its ability to capture attention in a flash is critical to getting people to open the email for more information. The best subject lines are the ones that stop people before they can move along to the next message. This isn’t an easy task because today’s hectic lifestyles are filled with distractions. The only messages that get through are the ones that hit the target for an immediate need or are from trusted sources. The best messages combine trust and need

Emails are a series of components working together to motivate recipients to act. The subject line has always been a front-line player. Its ability to capture attention in a flash is critical to getting people to open the email for more information. The best subject lines are the ones that stop people before they can move along to the next message. This isn’t an easy task because today’s hectic lifestyles are filled with distractions. The only messages that get through are the ones that hit the target for an immediate need or are from trusted sources. The best messages combine trust and need.

The challenge for marketers creating email messages is creating trust and targeting needs. Trust comes with time. If your customers and prospects are consistently treated well, they will trust you. Targeting needs is much harder. Even the best analytical minds cannot predict with a high level of accuracy all of your subscribers needs at a given time. Missing the mark by a few days is the difference between a sale and a lost opportunity. Google is working to change that. The Gmail field trial that is currently running changes the email marketing game.

The enhanced Google search delivers a personal experience. The results are delivered from the web, Google Drive, Google Calendar and Gmail. This extends the life of emails exponentially for companies whose subscribers haven’t achieved InboxZero. Emptying the inbox every day and reaching the goal of InboxZero is elusive to most people. They try, but the best they can do is take care of the most pressing messages and leave the rest to another day. After all, there are more pressing demands than deleting messages most of the time.

When your subscribers search for products or services featured in your messages, they will be reminded of your email. Having a subject line that includes the search terms increases the likelihood that they will open your email and breathe new life into the campaign. This means that your subject line has to work overtime to deliver a better return. In addition to motivating people to open the email now, it needs to give them a reason to open it later. For example, if your business sells sunglasses, the subject line of “New Styles Just Arrived” becomes “Just Arrived – New Styles from Oakley, RayBan and Gucci.” When a recipient uses Google to search for “Oakley Sunglasses,” your email will appear with the detailed headline.

The same rules of engagement for subject lines still apply. The only difference is you want to add high quality keywords that will target recipients when they are searching for items or services you are featuring. The following subject line best practices have been adapted to help you capitalize on the new opportunity:

  • Put the most important information in the first fifty characters to capture attention and create a sense of urgency. Use the space after the first fifty to add targeted keywords.
  • Make the first two lines in the email consistent with the subject line. This is a good place to provide additional information and emphasize the keywords.
  • Avoid spam triggers in the subject line and first two lines of the email. Otherwise, even if the email happens to make it past the spaminators and into the inbox, Google will most likely ignore it.
  • Be your brand’s self. Your customers trust you, so create subject lines that make it easy for them to recognize your company.
  • Test, test and test. Don’t rely on other people’s experiences. Test to see what works best for your company.

The field trial is in progress now. If your subscriber list has a high volume of gmail users, you may want to start testing now to find the best ways to capitalize on this opportunity. Knowing Google, the senders who get opened the most are more likely to be at the top of the results. Shouldn’t that be your company?

7 Email Marketing Mistakes Even Seasoned Marketers Make

Email marketing is so easy that it is tempting to use it as a set-and-forget marketing tool. Failure to optimize email marketing strategy and execution affects customer loyalty, sales and costs. Email provides a personal, one-to-one connection between customer and company. It’s a shame to lose opportunities to build relationships, increase revenue and reduce expenses by not committing the time and effort required to maximize email effectiveness.

Email marketing is so easy that it is tempting to use it as a set-and-forget marketing tool. After all, if the subscriber list is large enough, almost every send will generate revenue. Marketers dealing with constantly changing technology, platforms and channels have little time to commit to a channel that works with minimal effort.

Failure to optimize email marketing strategy and execution affects customer loyalty, sales and costs. Email provides a personal, one-to-one connection between customer and company. It’s a shame to lose opportunities to build relationships, increase revenue and reduce expenses by not committing the time and effort required to maximize email effectiveness.

Most of the mistakes made in email marketing have simple fixes with minimal costs. Here are seven common mistakes made by even the most experienced marketers:

1. Treating All Subscribers Alike
People choose to receive your emails for personal reasons. Some are trendsetters who want to see the latest and greatest items. Others are discount shoppers seeking the best deal. Nestled between the two are a variety of personalities looking for specific solutions to their problems. Failing to recognize the different types and create customized marketing messages for them speeds the email fatigue process and reduces sales opportunities.

2. Failing to Capitalize on Contact Opportunities
The email subscription process provides several opportunities to connect with people interested in knowing more about your business and products. Each step should be used to educate, entertain, and enlighten new subscribers. Poorly designed confirmation pages and welcome emails are lost opportunities.

3. Ignoring Deliverability Rules
The problem with this mistake is simple and obvious: Emails that don’t reach recipients won’t generate responses. Spam is a huge problem. According to a report by Symantec, 75 percent of global emails are spam (pdf). The tools designed to eliminate spam aren’t perfect. Encouraging subscribers to whitelist your emails increases deliverability but it doesn’t guarantee it. Ensuring that all emails follow deliverability rules improves chances that people will actually receive them.

4. Repeatedly Sending the Same Visual Email
Creating branded templates so that your emails are easily recognized is a good practice. Using the same one repeatedly isn’t. You have less than three seconds to capture the recipient’s attention before the delete button is pushed. People respond to visual information first. If all of your emails look alike, they trigger an “I’ve seen that already” response.

5. Presuming Recipients Recognize Icons and Know What You Want Them to Do
Icons are great visual add-ons, but they need a text call to action to encourage people to take the next step. People are trained from an early age to follow instructions. If you want them to connect with you on social platforms, visit your website, call your business, or get directions to your store, tell them. Icons without a call to action are tools for people who already know what they want. Icons with a call to action encourage people to do what you want.

6. Neglecting to Make Emails Mobile Friendly
According to a study by YesMail, over 41 percent of mobile device owners said that they have made either an online or in-store purchase as a direct result of an email promotion they viewed on their device. Are your emails easy to read on the small screen? Do all sections render properly for mobile devices? Some emails show a blank body when viewed on cell phones. Be sure to test your emails on Apple, Android and Blackberry devices to ensure recipients can read them.

7. Expecting HTML Emails to Automatically Convert to Readable Plain Text
The automated conversion tool provided by most email marketing services simply converts HTML to text. It does not make it readable. If your email is filled with links, the text version will look like a page of computer code instead of a message from a company that cares about customers and prospects. Always create HTML and text versions of every email to insure the message is appealing and readable for all recipients.