Nine Email Tests to Boost Engagement in 2017

a diagram outlining the testing process for marketing emails

Email is an important stream of communication to both B2B and B2C audiences—all audiences, including millennials. The best email marketing campaigns send the right message at the right time to the right audience. Time should be dedicated to constantly measure, test and optimize your campaigns to get maximum reach and engagement from your audience.

Here are nine recommendations for testing and optimizing your email campaigns. Just remember to test only one thing at a time. Too many variables make it hard to pinpoint exactly what made the difference in engagement.


Subject Line: This is something you should be doing for every email campaign to improve open rates. Seriously—do it.

  • Send to a portion of your list to test which one receives higher open rates, and then send the remainder of your list the winning subject line.
  • Test using a question instead of the usual statement lines.
  • Try to keep it short since longer lines are truncated on mobile—especially iPhones and Galaxies.
  • Consider being a little vague to pique interest and solicit the open.
  • Test the way you case your messages to see what capitalizing all words will do.

Pre-Header/Teaser Text Line: This small piece of copy that shows as a preview in mobile inboxes and at the top of layouts in regular inboxes is often overlooked.

  • Use bold action lines to promote a sense of urgency to encourage audiences to open your email campaign.

From Line: Consider the way you refer to yourself to see if it intrigues audiences and improves open rates.

  • Consider something that shows value to the consumer. For example, if you send from “Company Name,” try something that denotes exclusivity in the name.

Day of the Week: If you’re sending campaigns every Friday at 4 p.m. EST, try to switch things up to see if a mid-week send will improve open rates.

  • Make sure you keep as many things standard as you can, so if you always send out a campaign at 4 p.m. EST, change the day but keep the time the same as well as your typical subject lines and such.

Time of Day: The same principles apply here. Consider sending a campaign earlier or later in the day to see if you can improve your open rates.

  • Try to keep the campaigns you test on the days of the week you normally send your campaigns.
  • Try segmenting your campaigns by time zone to find the time that works best by region.

Personalization: This is so important that I probably should have included it twice. Personalization creates a level of relevancy in a sea of sameness; in fact, emails with personalized subject lines are 26 percent more likely to be opened.

  • Try to include the recipient’s name, company, job title, and/or their location to help improve open rates.
  • The same logic should apply to content contained within the email layout to increase click-through rate. Use something unique to them. Show content unique to their consumer behavior instead of generic messaging.

Message/Offer: Many of my favorite retailers disappoint me on a weekly basis by repeating the same offers each time. 30 percent off this, 30 percent off that. Test different offers or messaging to improve click rates.

  • Reduce the number of offers. If you’re serving up too many offerings, audiences could be plagued by a choice paradox — which reduces a person’s likelihood of selecting an option if served too many.
  • Switch up the offer by trying a bigger promotion on a few specific items. Sometimes the bigger numbers will draw higher clicks to your site.
  • For messaging, I also recommend testing business speak against a more personal tone to see if you can better connect with your audience.

Layout: Aside from making sure your email campaigns are mobile responsive—which is so important—push the way you display your messaging to try to improve click-through rate.

  • If your sends are usually dedicated to one message with a basic hero image and complimentary text, play with reducing the size of the main message and including additional related content and/or offers.
  • Consider increasing the amount of imagery if your campaigns are text heavy. Or simply vary the image used in a specific area.
  • Test which pieces of content will interest your audience the most (video, PDF, etc.)

CTA: To improve click-through rate, try manipulating the way you present your calls to action.

  • Start with placement and move a usually lower CTA at the base of your email campaign to the top of the layout.
  • Play with the color to see if it calls more attention to the action you want them to take.
  • Push a sense of urgency and/or create FOMO (fear of missing out) by displaying expiration date or limited quantity available.
  • If CTAs are underlined text, use buttons to draw their eyes to the idea of action.


Open Rate: This is defined by how many people open your email. Open rates depend on your industry, but generally between 20 and 30 percent or more is good.

Click-Through Rate: A click is tracked when someone clicks one of the links in your email message. The click-through rate, measured as a percentage, is how many recipients out of 100 clicked somewhere in your email message. Like open rates, click-through rates depend on your industry, but anything over 10 percent is good.

Individual Click Rate: It’s important to see what sections and content in your email layout are consistently getting clicks, as this will help guide editorial decisions in later sends.

Unsubscription Rate: This is defined as a percentage to show how many people unsubscribe from the email message you just sent. Each email has its own unsubscribe rate. Across all industries, the lower the better, so try to keep it no higher than about 0.3 percent. Many retailers and marketers who have a high send frequency may see unsubscribe rates that creep into the 0.5 percent range. They also tend to have a high subscription rate, so turnover is usually expected.


Email marketing allows your business to email your potential and current audiences whenever you want, but you need to make it count. Now that you have some good ideas in your back pocket, start testing!

Inspired to move from email testing to other mediums? Check out my whitepaper Anatomy of a Content Optimization Strategy for guidance and inspiration.

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