Don’t ‘Cyber’ Your Customers

Dear Baked by Melissa: We may share a name, but you obviously missed the bus when it came to writing appropriate — and relevant — Cyber Monday subject lines. Shame on you. Bad marketer, bad!

While many of us enjoyed loafing around our family homesteads this past holiday weekend, eating too much food and getting into too many political arguments with uncles, most of our inboxes got quite the workout between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

And while I did most of my holiday shopping on Small Business Saturday, I still kept an eye on my inbox, just to see if any good deals in general popped up. Sadly, I was grossed out by one email in particular.

Melissa Ward's Cyber Monday Inbox
Just … gross.

Though it might be a little hard to see (click on the image and it’ll open larger and you’ll get a peek into my life and email), the above image shows my inbox displaying all Cyber Monday emails that used the word “cyber” in the subject line. I received more than 20 between Sunday evening and 2:30 p.m. Monday afternoon. Most are pretty standard, and then you have the email from Baked by Melissa (seen in bold).

“Let’s Cyber…” are you freaking kidding me???!

Grossed out Emma Stone gif

Opening the email — though in my mind’s eye Baked by Melissa didn’t deserve the open — you get this benign email. Oh, and look … they were cute with the preheader text: “…Monday, that is.”

BakedbyMelissaemail

Sigh. I want to know who at this NYC-based bakery thought this was a good idea. Mini cupcakes are not sexual in nature. And don’t get me wrong; I can appreciate a well-crafted, provocative subject line. But this isn’t.

The product and overall email message doesn’t match up with the subject line. Instead it feels like a cheap grab at being a little sexy/naughty, but it’s about as sexy as the back corner of a Spencer’s Gifts (remember those shops in the mall?).

And to add insult to injury, Baked by Melissa’s Cyber Monday deal is barely a deal: a complimentary gift box with any order of 50 or 100 cupcakes.

John Green Who Cares reaction gifBaked by Melissa: I expect better from a bakery that shares my name and passion for butter and sugar. You’re on notice, and if I see you acting up again, you’re not invited into my inbox. I don’t have time for cheap marketing ploys.

You Won’t Believe What Happens Next in this Shocking Post About Clickbait

For me and many other Millennial Marketers, the word “clickbait” makes us roll our eyes and mutter a curse against sites like UpWorthy and Buzzfeed. It’s often lazy copywriting, cashing in on people’s curiosity for the sensational, but then failing to deliver relevant content (and usually the websites are a hot mess, IMHO).

Clickbait memeFor me and many other Millennial Marketers, the word “clickbait” makes us roll our eyes and mutter a curse against sites like UpWorthy and Buzzfeed.

It’s often lazy copywriting, cashing in on people’s curiosity for the sensational, but then failing to deliver relevant content (and usually the websites are a hot mess, IMHO).

For some of us, hearing someone benignly say, “You won’t believe …” causes a collective shudder, and if you tell me something is going to shock me, it better be pretty horrific.

That said, Pat Friesen — one of my copywriting mentors — presented on a recent All About eMail session titled “You Won’t Believe It! Clickbait and Email Subject Lines,” and made a great point: All subject lines and headlines are bait of some sort. They’re in place to convince readers to open, click through, read, etc. The editorial staff here at Target Marketing knows that all too well: Our subject line can make or break our daily e-newsletter’s performance.

But here’s the caveat: It’s what you, the marketer, provide after the click.

Buzzfeed Chips StoryOkay, admittedly, I’m already skeptical. Chips (actually, in this case, the Buzzfeed piece is referencing what most Americans call fries) are a pretty basic food. A little salty, a lot potatoey. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, but I don’t consider them capable of blowing my mind. So let’s look beyond the headline.

Buzzfeed Chips Body

Ohhhhhhh. Yum. So we have a few things going well here.

No. 1: excellent food photography (seriously, who would stick around on an article about food without some photos?! Instagram has trained us all to well).

No. 2: Each listing links to a recipe. Yes, that’s right: You’re going to scroll through this Buzzfeed piece, get a bunch of ideas, and when something looks really good, you can click the link and go to the recipe, which you can then pin on your Pinterest board for later. To make my point, here’s the Buzzfeed link so you can get pinning yourself.

Now, is the Buzzfeed headline kind of ridiculous? Yes.

Is it kind of clickbaity? Yes.

But does it deliver on the headline?

YES. And better yet, to throw back to last week’s post, this content arguably levels me up. How? Because now I have a recipe for kimchi fries for my next party and everyone attending is going to be impressed. Thanks Buzzfeed for making me a better me.

Now for something completely different …

ClickbaitIn comparison … well, Macaulay Culkin is still very much alive, and the other two headlines result in sites that try to sell you suspicious products (not provide you any information about how to do the thing). These three are the epitome of time-wasting and useless clickbait. I’ll pass.

So remember, there is a difference between provoking your reader to make the click, then delivering on that headline, and being a lazy marketer who’s just out for clicks. Don’t be that guy.

If you’d like to listen to Pat’s complete session, register to access entire virtual show on-demand, because I barely scraped the surface of all the solid copywriting information she provided in our 30-minute session.

And now, as a special treat, here’s a taste of @clickbaitrobot … yes a Twitter bot that takes trending topics and attempts to turn it into bizarro clickbait. (I dare you not to laugh or at least question humanity.)

3 of the Best Subject Lines I’ve Found

Inbound marketing is the rage in B-to-B marketing. But there’s no substitute for diligent prospecting: cold calling and cold emailing. No, these techniques are not dead. They work. But only if you have an effective, repeatable process to interrupt and spark conversations with new prospects.

Inbound marketing is the rage in B-to-B marketing. But there’s no substitute for diligent prospecting: cold calling and cold emailing. No, these techniques are not dead. They work. But only if you have an effective, repeatable process to interrupt and spark conversations with new prospects.

Yes, I said interrupt. So shoot me.

An effective digital prospecting process starts with your opening line. In an email (or LinkedIn InMail) message it starts with your:

  1. subject line and
  2. first sentence

Your first few words will make or break your “cold” digital approach.

So let’s have a look at an effective, repeatable email messaging approach that helps you interrupt prospects in a way they appreciate.

A Cold Approach Process Prospects Like
This is the effective technique practiced by the top 5 percent of digital sellers when prospecting. Remember to always structure what you write to:

  1. earn attention and quickly direct it in ways that …
  2. spark curiosity (in what you said, not your product/service)
  3. provoke response (immediately, without hesitation)

Once you’ve completed this process with the “first touch” message you can connect the conversation you sparked to your product/service — naturally, with integrity and without feeling pushy.

The output of this process is lovely: Buyers that self-identify or poor leads that self-disqualify.

All thanks to your effective, repeatable email messaging approach that scales your time. Thanks to your ability to interrupt in a way that is appreciated by potential buyers.

3 Subject Lines That Provoke Opens
The job of your subject line is to get your email opened—in a way that doesn’t backfire in your face. Remember to never:

  • Signal what is inside your email by being too specific. Weird or odd is good. But a total disconnect with the prospect risks the delete key.
  • Ask for a meeting in your subject line — or telegraph you want someone’s time!

And for Heaven’s sake don’t write your subject line like an email newsletter headline. What do you do with anything looking like that — coming from someone you don’t know? That’s right. You delete it!

1. “Not spam — I read your profile”

I wish I could take claim for this one. It was originally suggested by a client. It works for him, other students and me, too.

This is a LinkedIn-specific approach that works because it:

  • Bluntly capitalizes on the spammy environment inside LinkedIn by being honest about it
  • Separates you out … draws bold distinction between you and the crap (noise)
  • Suggests you invested time researching the prospect (setting you up to prove it)

Pair this kind of honest approach with a bold, no-nonsense first sentence and you’ll earn better response. The “curiosity factor” here is secondary to the “wow” factor you get with blunt honesty. And sounding different than most of your competitors.

Inside your email message be certain to focus on one (minimum) or two specific noteworthy items from the prospect’s LinkedIn profile. Don’t be general. That won’t work. You must be specific about what you see and link it to the “why” (why this spurred you to contact them).

Be specific. Even if it’s anecdotal (e.g., they’re into mountain biking, tennis, cars, Star Wars, etc.).​

2. “Have you considered?”

Think of what your prospect is aware they need to know … or suspects they might not know enough about. That’s what to focus on. Leverage that uncertainty. Here’s how: Inside the email, reveal a specific fact or alarming trend most customers don’t know right now — but should.

Warn them.

A warning is a mental trigger. We all appreciate being warned about unseen dangers or hidden opportunities.

Don’t waste time introducing yourself in the first sentence. They can see who you are in your signature.

Help your prospect think, “I didn’t consider that. I didn’t know this was an option. Doggone … what else does this person know that I should know?” or “Wait. I didn’t realize that. I need more details. How exactly does that work?”

Focus on making your email message sound like a message from a person—not a marketer or sales rep. This way you can get invited into a discussion about what they are receptive to talking about right now.

At least half of your success depends on a willingness to try something different, or a little weird.

3. “Worth a discussion?”

This technique can be super effective because it’s direct. Many of my students feel an urge to not be so mysterious. Well, this is for you. Because it balances being direct with a mental trigger.

It helps readers wonder, “Is what worth a discussion?”

It sparks curiosity. That’s your subject line’s only job.

The only downside to this effective subject line is how it:

  • requires you to write a message that is both direct and a little bit mysterious (inducing questions)
  • relies on a “yes/no” answer (earning a “no” gets you deleted … although this is also a plus as it qualifies yeses)
  • usually works with messages that are near-term (pain/goal) focused (generate yeses only from immediate-term buyers … people who know they’re buyers right now)

All of that said, it’s a handy subject line that works with many of my clients. Me too!

Do you have any subject lines that are working lately?

P.S. (Pumpkin Spice) I Love You

It occurred to me recently that, for a blog called Creative Caffeine, I really don’t discuss coffee enough. And this is the perfect time of year to bring it up. That said, guess what kind of coffee I was drinking as I wrote this very post …

It occurred to me recently that, for a blog called Creative Caffeine, I really don’t discuss coffee enough. And this is the perfect time of year to bring it up. That said, guess what kind of coffee I was drinking as I wrote this very post …

IMG_1270

I promise, it’s relevant to the post. If the “perfect time of year” hint wasn’t enough, check out this telling screencap of my email inbox:

inbox

Yuuuup, you guessed it! That’s a delicious pumpkin spice coffee in my adorable cat mug, serving as both fuel and inspiration for today’s post — a brief overview of some of the many, many emails featuring pumpkin spice that have come my way since summer came to a close.

caribou

Subj. Line: Fall is here and so is PUMPKIN!

Kicking off with one of my favorites in terms of both design and copy, here’s an email from Caribou Coffee. I love the clean, simple design and the color scheme. The drinks themselves, of course, look very appealing. And seriously how cute is “Tick tock, it’s pumpkin o’clock?” Love it. Only thought is the CTA could be a little larger or brighter.

 zazzle

Subj. Line: ☕ This Is Big: 50% Off Mugs + 20% Off Everything Else!

Here is Zazzle capitalizing on the pumpkin spice craze to sell mugs — a clever hook. The use of steaming mug emoji in the subject line is a nice touch — also, the coupon code FALL4ANEWMUG is great. We all know I love a good pun.

dd perks

Subj. Line: NEW Macchiato, Only $1.99 for DD Perks Members!

This Dunkin Donuts email doesn’t have a ton going on by way of graphic design, but it features the star of the show– the new pumpkin macchiato drink, which looks delicious. My focus here was on the copy. They really pull off the conversational, personal tone well and stick to nice, short “paragraphs.” Confession time: I generally wouldn’t choose a DD coffee over any other if I had the option, but this email convinced me I wanted one.

560c3b17e4b0a1ef160a2973-full

Subj. Line: Pumpkin Tea Paradise

Not a coffee fan? No worries, the flavor of the season isn’t limited to coffee — tea wanted in on the action too. Here’s an aesthetically pleasing email from Capital Teas, featuring a nicely alliterative subject line and a bonus pun (“Turn over a new leaf.”) The whole design really captures the feeling of fall. Also, I honestly think tea descriptions have some of the best copywriting next to wine descriptions. I read the backs of tea boxes for fun sometimes.

560136efe4b0a1ef16085953-full

Subj. Line: Only thing better than Pumpkin Spice… 

The “better than pumpkin spice!” theme is almost more popular than emails actually about pumpkin spice, it seems. I came across at least four with subject lines like this one, but the content of Lauren Nicole’s did the best job of following it up. The chalkboard “menu” graphic is nice, and they actually incorporated the drink into the idea of shopping — drinking a coffee while surfing the Web is always appealing.

shirts

Subj. Line: Pumpkin Spice T-Shirts! Just $16!

Speaking of banking on the trend without actually selling any pumpkin spice products — here’s my final email, and my personal favorite, courtesy of Headline Shirts. This post served as proof of the tidal wave of pumpkin in our inboxes, and these guys were not afraid of a little gentle parody of that. It’s witty, but it also works — wouldn’t you open an email claiming proclaiming “Pumpkin Spice T-shirts,” even if out of curiosity alone? And a sale based on fall colors? AND the phrase “fall up”? I’m digging everything about this. Two enthusiastic pumpkin-spiced thumbs up.

That about wraps it up … I’m intensely craving another cuppa right now, how about you?

Happy #PSL season!

The Difference a Word Makes (Or Doesn’t?) in a Subject Line

(Note: You have to read this in your best Movie Trailer Voice.)

In a world where subject lines dominate … can one word truly make a difference? One copywriter sets out to learn just that …

Okay, you can go back to your normal voice now. This probably doesn’t actually rank up there with the most dramatic endeavors I’ve ever encountered, but was a pretty interesting test for future reference, and I’d love to know if anyone has done similar experiments and gotten similar results.

Last week, we started promotion of our annual Integrated Marketing Virtual Conference for 2015. First, I just want to note that for the first time, we incorporated video into our regular email campaign. We had Thorin, the editor-in-chief of Target Marketing, record a short “video invitation” to the virtual event, and linked to the video in the email blast.

It was an easy and engaging way to promote an integrated marketing event with, well, integrated marketing. I’ve included it here so you can see what it looked like. All in all, a very successful effort.

Video Email for IMV15

But, as always, without a good subject line no one would even make it to the well-designed HTML. So our question was, how much of a difference might it make to tell the recipient outright that they’d find a video in the email? Would it make a difference at all?

A/B tests to the rescue: We tested two subject lines, evenly split, and they were identical aside from one word.

Version 1: See why you need to be there for IMV 2015!

Version 2: See why you need to be there for IMV 2015! [Video]

Any guesses as to which did better? I assumed Version 2 would have, reasoning that people might be more excited to watch a video clip than read what might just be a block of text.

Here’s how it actually shook out: Version 1 (See why you need to be there for IMV 2015!), nudged its way to victory with an open rate .6% higher and a viewed image rate also .6% higher than version 2 (See why you need to be there for IMV 2015! [Video]). Their click rates were exactly the same.

So in actuality, more people were compelled to open an email that did not tout some sort of video. My theory is that it may have simply read a little more like a casual greeting, and a little less like a promotion. However, I also feel these numbers are just a little too close to draw a firm conclusion, and this question would be best answered by looking at the results from at least a few more attempts of the same experiment.

Have you noticed a difference in subject lines that mention video (or any other specific form of media,) vs. those that don’t? I’d love to hear what you’ve tried and observed.

(In the meantime, don’t mind my little shameless plug — please check out Integrated Marketing Virtual Conferencelive from your desk on August 13, and totally free!)

Best Practices Exist for a Reason, Part 3: Email Results Analysis

For many marketers, the bulk of their time is taken up with list selection, subject lines, email design and ensuring the email links to integrated landing pages. But not enough time is spent analyzing the results of those efforts in order to learn and apply it to the next campaign.

For many marketers, the bulk of their time is taken up with list selection, subject lines, email design and ensuring the email links to integrated landing pages. But not enough time is spent analyzing the results of those efforts in order to learn and apply it to the next campaign.

Whenever clients ask us to help them with new creative, our very first question is “Can we see what you’ve done before and the results associated with it?” You’d be amazed how many don’t have this information — let alone know where they can find it.

And on many occasions when they do provide us with it, they are unsure how to interpret the results or use them to influence the next campaign effort. So here are a few best practices worth considering:

  • Maintain a Historical Record: You should have one digital file that contains the creative for every email you’ve blasted. Organize them by target audience (existing customers, warm prospects, cold prospects). This makes them much easier to find when you’re thinking about your next campaign by audience type.
  • Target Audience: Ideally your notes should include the parameters you used to select your target from your house file (e.g. customers who haven’t purchased in 60 days from X/XX/XX; or inquirers who downloaded whitepaper “ABC” between X/XX/XX and X/XX/XX”). If you rented or purchased an outside list, include additional information like the company you rented from, the name of the list, the parameters you provided to them, and the price you paid (you’ll want this to measure your ROI).
  • Blast Quantity: While this is important, it’s NOT the metric you should be using to calculate your open rates. You’ll also want the number of hard and soft bounces, and whether or not your email system is automatically re-blasting to soft bounces at another time. You want to start measuring results based on how many recipients actually received your email which requires you to subtract hard and soft bounces from your gross blast quantity.
  • Open Rates: While this may seem like a no-brainer, emails can get opened up to 10 days after you blasted, so be sure to take a “final” tally a few weeks after your initial blast date instead of creating your only results report within a few days of the blast.
  • Clickthrough Rates: This number should be based as a percent of the number of unique individuals who opened the email. I’ve seen lots of email companies report click thru rates as a calculation of clicks divided by the number blasted—and I just find that irritating. Your audience can’t click unless it opens the email, so the most important stat is to understand how many of those that opened, clicked.
  • Conversion to Sale: What was the objective of the campaign? To sell a product? To download a whitepaper? Don’t assume that just because your target clicked on the link, they took the next step. Using Google analytics (if you don’t have any other source of intel) will let you see which links a web visitor clicked on, including the “download” or “shopping cart” button. If your email is the only source of driving traffic to this page, then you can match this rate back to your email campaign. If your email drives the recipient to your website, shame on you. Read Part 2 of this series about Best Practices for Landing Pages.

If you achieve a high open rate (there are lots of recent industry stats here for comparison), then your problem is not your subject line.

If you achieve a high click thru rate, then you’ve designed great email creative with a great offer (and may want to examine/test your subject line to see if you can get better exposure of your message).

If you achieve a low conversion rate, reexamine your landing page. Does it match your email offer? Is it working as hard as possible to lead the visitor to the desired next step? Is your button obvious and clear what the recipient will get when they click?

The truth is, you won’t really know if YOUR email campaign is working until you establish some benchmark metrics, and then begin to compare additional email efforts against that benchmark (while always keeping an eye on industry averages).

Best Practices Exist for a Reason, Part 1: Email

I’m continually stunned when a client, art director, copywriter or any other strategist in the marketing industry insists on using a design or copy technique that directly contradicts proven best practices.

I’m continually stunned when a client, art director, copywriter or any other strategist in the marketing industry insists on using a design or copy technique that directly contradicts proven best practices.

Over the years, I’ve absorbed studies about the ventricles of the brain and how it performs distinctly different cognitive processes. I’ve read color studies, the anatomy of eye movement, how words and numbers trigger comprehension and reaction, fonts and their role in evoking an emotional reaction, persuasion psychology and unconscious motivation—the list goes on and on—all in an effort to apply these learnings in order to help our clients get the maximum response to their marketing efforts.

While I have a laundry list of “must-do’s” for every medium, I thought I’d share a few digital best practices as Part 1 in a series, and I’d love to hear why you’re NOT following these proven techniques:

  • Test Your Subject Lines: According to a 2014 poll by Howling Mad’s Parry Malm, marketers ranked subject lines among the top variable that affected email response rates however 25% ever conducted any testing. Parry (one of the leading experts on email subject lines) has learned that ‘Sale’ delivers 23.2% opens while ‘Save’ only gets 3.4%. He also found that if the subject line is personalized but the email content isn’t, you gain opens but don’t drive clicks. I put that insight in my ‘Duh!’ file.
  • Buttons Will Get More Clicks Than Text Links: Many have tested this theory (myself included) and the answer seems to always conclude that buttons will outperform text links. AWeber conducted a series of button/text links, and their findings are fascinating as they determined that, over time, text links outperformed the buttons—but they also concluded that what works today, may not work tomorrow. Again, test and keep testing.
  • Text Links Should Be in Color: While this might seem like a ‘Duh!’ I’m always surprised when I accidently hover my finger or mouse over a block of text and discover “there’s a hyperlink in them there hills!” If you want me to take an action (like clicking on something) then lead my horse to the water.
  • A Button Needs to Look Like a Button: Neil Patel, the co-founder of Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics, owns the button testing world hands down and he concludes that the digital button that gets the most clicks is shaped like a button (rounded corners, slight drop shadow) and is colored (or at least in contrast to the rest of the page of copy in order to stand out—duh). Try NOT to match the color of your button to other call-out boxes on the page as the distraction prevents the action.
  • Button Copy Should Be in First Person: Try this test yourself. If your action button is written in third person (“Start now” or “Try Product X Free”) try testing it against copy in the 1st person (“Help Me Work Faster” or “End My Headaches”). It’s highly likely you’ll see a lift of at least 25% in clicks, at least according to Ashtyn Douglas and Joanna Wiebe who conducted similar tests.
  • Fonts Matter: While many designers will argue this topic endlessly, the current consensus is that sans serif fonts are superior for body text and serif fonts are best for headlines. Of course if you have a newer display, it doesn’t make much difference. But not everyone has the newest technology and some work on displays that are 10+ years old, so if you target a senior audience (yes, that includes senior managers in small companies who cannot afford to regularly upgrade their hardware), you may want to design for maximum legibility. Make sure your font is a system font (most likely to be supported by the majority of email clients and web browsers) like Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, Geneva or Trebuchet MS, and large enough for people to read without any effort—at least 10 if not 12 pt. Even though Google is now providing supposedly supported modern web fonts, it’s a little too early to tell whether every email client and web browser will be able to properly display them.

In summary, if all of these marketers have already done all the testing for you, why wouldn’t you at least consider these insights and apply them to your own email marketing efforts? Tell me. I’m all ears.

Subject Lines in Sheeps’ Clothing: A Go or a No?

I’m sure you’ve seen it, if not used it yourself: Marketing emails wearing a friendly disguise, boasting “RE:” or “FW:” in their subject lines, usually with a real person’s name in the from line rather than a publication or company name. Obviously, the objective is to give the recipient a sense of familiarity. But is it worth the risks?

I’m sure you’ve seen it, if not used it yourself: Marketing emails wearing a friendly disguise, boasting “RE:” or “FW:” in their subject lines, usually with a real person’s name in the from line rather than a publication or company name.

Obviously, the objective is to give the recipient a sense of familiarity, or curiosity about whether this is a correspondence they were previously involved in, thus hopefully prompting an open.

I can tell you that in my three years copywriting for the Target Marketing Group’s marketing department, I’ve used subjects like these several times, as have most of my colleagues—and to be perfectly honest, we’ve seen impressive results as far as response and conversion rates.

Many marketers feel strongly that this method is simply too dishonest, erring on the devious rather than the clever side of crafty. Integrity and ethics are never negligible factors in what we do, even when a high open rate seems like the most important goal.

After some consideration, our marketing department decided to stash away the “RE”s and “FW”s for a while. Still, I thought I’d check out the stats for a few of these emails, to see if it was at all possible that the benefits outweighed the risks. Here’s what I found at a glance:

Subject 1
Re: Your Direct Marketing Day @ Your Desk Registration

Subject 2
Re: 2014 email marketing plans

Subject 3
FW: Reasons to register

Registrants:

340

Registrants:

336

Registrants:

15

Open rate:

28%

Open rate:

18%

Open rate:

21%

Unsubs:

372

Unsubs:

309

Unsubs:

90

Spam Complaints:

6

Spam Complaints:

7

Spam Complaints:

4

The first two examples were used in promotions for free virtual conferences, while the third promoted a paid workshop. You can see that the open rates were rather good, especially the first of the three. You wouldn’t know from the table, but I can tell you that these registration numbers were among the highest of any email in these events’ respective campaigns.

Now for the bad news: Example No. 2 had the highest number of unsubscribers and spam complaints in its campaign by far. Nos. 1 and 3 were not the “winners” in this respect, but certainly too close to the top to be in the clear. We also received a small handful of, shall we say, colorfully phrased (so colorful they’d have been bleeped on network cable) criticisms from offended readers.

So, what’s the conclusion? Does the fact that all of these emails were huge successes purely in terms of conversion mean that a large majority of recipients were fans, or at least not bothered by the tactic? Or are those unsubs, spam complaints, or simply the principle of the thing too significant to handwave?

As of now, I treat them as I treat wasabi: Use sparingly and with extreme caution. I’d love to hear what you think, or if you’ve done some testing with it yourself!

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?

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?