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Split testing your emails

A few Emma customers illustrate different ways of testing

I like to remind Emma customers to send their campaigns to their Emma test group before sending to their entire audience, but I'm not sure I stress enough the importance of split testing. To find out what really works for your unique audience, create two versions of the same campaign and see what kind of effect a particular variable has on your open rates.

What kinds of variables? Glad you asked. Let's take a closer look at three customers and three different variables.

Peru Mission
Emma agency: Outbox Design + Marketing
Their client: Peru Mission
Split test: Subject line

Peru Mission, a client of Emma agency Outbox Design + Marketing, sends monthly email campaigns to their audience of over 3,000 recipients. They split their audience in half in February and sent a campaign with two different subject lines: A) February News from Peru Mission vs. B) University Students Explore Christianity, Women's Group Forms, Parish Furniture Evolves, and Trujillo Homecomings.

Let's break down some assumptions about subject lines before we dive into the results. Many marketers will tell you that a shorter subject line is better than a longer one; in this case, subject line A wins the battle for length, coming in at 31 characters, while subject line B contains 113 characters. And then there's the issue of uniqueness. We've told you that a generic subject line is no good, and that you're better off giving a teaser of the content to come. In that case, subject line B edges out subject line A.

So, what happened in Peru Mission's test? The results may surprise you, as they did Heidi MacDonald, who manages their monthly emails. The campaign with subject line A received a whopping 45.18% open rate, and subject line B came in with a strong — but much lower — 22.55% open rate. Shall Heidi chalk it up to her subscribers recognizing and preferring the shorter subject line? She could, but she's smarter than that.

She was skeptical of the results and took a closer look. Heidi says, "I began to suspect that the way we split the list [alphabetically] was not fair. After a little more investigation, we discovered that though the lists were split alphabetically, the second list (the one who received the long subject line) was full of email addresses without recipient names. Any email address we had that we didn't have more information for (i.e. first and last name) went to that second list. And probably, the less information we have for somebody, the less likely they are to be interested in the Mission and the less likely they are to open the email."

Heidi went a step further to prove her theory right. In March, she split the list randomly, and sent their March campaign with two subject lines — one short and generic, the other long and specific. And the open rates turned out evenly (32.44% and 32.11%). As Heidi has discovered, "The people who read the emails are generally going to read no matter what the subject line is because they are interested in what we have to say."

What I love about Heidi's split test is that it revealed something completely different than what she initially set out to discover. She may not need to closely focus on subject line strategy going forward, but now she can spend some time figuring out how to better engage the audience members for whom she knows little about. She could send a survey to find out more about them, or send a targeted campaign asking them to manage their email preferences.

Emma agency: Halogen
Split test: RSVP address

Wes Bentley of Halogen was game to test two RSVP addresses, the email address that your email appears to be from when it lands in your recipients' inboxes. He sent two identical campaigns in March — one sent from, the other sent from his personal email address at the company.

Both addresses are valid email addresses and both provide brand awareness (they have the domain in common) so the question here was whether or not recipients would respond differently to receiving an email from an alias versus an individual.

You might expect an email from an individual to perform better than one sent from a company alias. It's seems more personal, right? However, for some audiences, it's actually more important that your RSVP address remain consistent. For one thing, subscribers may grow accustomed to looking out for emails from that address. Secondly, it's likely the address that they've already added to their safe sender list or address book.

In Wes' case, is the address he typically sends from, and it's the one that performed slightly better — a 20.4% open rate versus a 17.1% open rate for the personal address. Still, there's not much of a spread here, and it may be worthwhile to to run a few more tests in the future.

The Ark
Emma customer: The Ark Church Split test: Time of day

Kyle Kutter manages The Ark Church's media and communications and sends emails to an audience of more than 7,000 subscribers. In February, he split the audience and tested two send-times: 9:00 am and 3:00 pm. Kyle says that he typically sends between 9 and 11 in the morning, so trying an afternoon send was something different. And different can be good. If you don't try something new, you don't have anything to compare to.

Kyle's open rates were very similar — 18.06% for the 9:00 am send and 17.17% for the 3:00 pm send — and as he explained to me over the phone, he was surprised the afternoon send provided nearly the same open rate. It could be that, like Heidi of Peru Mission discovered, Kyle's most engaged readers will open no matter what time they receive the email. (And keep in mind that no matter what time you send, the times folks receive the email will depend upon how quickly their servers accept it.) In fact, most of his audience members are people who've filled out a signup form right in The Ark Church building. They have a direct connection to The Ark Church, and as a result, Kyle sees very low opt-out rates.

Still, if an afternoon versus a morning send-time doesn't make a huge difference, Kyle says he'd like to strategize ways to increase his open rates. He mentioned doing a content shake-up, such as changing the visual format of his campaigns or moving the social share buttons. And he'd like to segment the regular openers into their own group and send specifically to them.

If these three split tests didn't reveal different results, what's the point?
Maybe it's tempting to look at these results and return to the same ol' way (and when and how) you're sending emails. But you'd be missing out on the silver lining here. Whether or not these split tests revealed drastic differences in open rates, they did reveal subtler — and more significant — steps these customers can take to segment and better engage their audience.

And since you've got your own unique audience members with their own habits and behaviors, your split tests might reveal something else entirely. If you're ready to test a few variables, give these a try:

  • Subject line
  • RSVP from name or address
  • Send time based on time of day
  • Send time based on day of week (maybe a weekday versus a Saturday or Sunday)

And try these variables for testing click-throughs:

  • Placement of the the key story in the campaign
  • Copy of a call-to-action button
  • Personalization variations (such as opening with a personal salutation versus none)

We'd love to hear how your testing goes. And if you have a compelling test to share and would like to be featured in a blog post, let us know!

With Emma, you're in good company. Meet our Customers.

Variety is the spice of email

Part three of four to building an effective engagement strategy

It's time to think just a bit more about effectively targeting your most and least engaged readers. If you missed parts one and two of this series, give them a read here and here. And today, we'll talk about new things you can try to reach a level of response you'll want to write home about.

Trying something different can be a bit unnerving, require a few rounds of testing and even a little research. Why would you want to take on something that sounds like, well, a lot of work? The answer is simple. Just like your mother always taught you, "Variety is the spice of life." The same goes for email. Mixing things up may reveal new strategies that work better than the old, as well as new things about your audience's behaviors and preferences.

Creating personalized emails

Creating personalized emails means much more than merging a name into the body of your emails. While it's nice to call someone by name, why not go a step further and get specific with the content as well? Targeting members based on location, interests and even something as simple as the weather in their region is a way to connect with them on a personal level. (Check out some of Emma's advanced personalization options here.) Marketing Sherpa reports that 64% of people they surveyed were willing to share personal preferences in return for a more personalized online shopping experience. The email addresses in your audience aren't just addresses. They're real people. You wouldn't carry on the exact same conversation with every person in your audience face-to-face, so why do it in email?

rainy day campaign
Special offers brighten up a rainy day.

Experimenting with subject lines

Another variable to test with your audience members is the length of your subject line. Return Path shows that click-through rates can be 75% higher in emails that have subject lines with 49 or fewer characters versus subject lines with 50 or more. Do you have better luck with super short subject lines? Have you done some testing with vague, quirky subject lines compared to content-specific lines? Picking two distinctly different subject lines to test may provide you with surprising answers for what your audience prefers. Feel free to test your intuition regarding subject lines here.

subject comparison
Test different subject lines to find out what works for your audience.

Determining sending frequency

Your sending frequency is another great variable to test. Email Stat Center reports that 54% of people who unsubscribe from permission-based emails do so because they're receiving emails too frequently. We've also mentioned how sending too infrequently can cause problems with bounces and keeping your list current. To determine how often your audience wants to receive your campaigns, you could ask in a survey format, allow them to choose during the signup process or do some testing. Experiment with sending frequency, and compare opens, clicks and opt-out rates to gauge your audience's engagement.

What works for one person's audience may not be the same thing that gets your list actively engaged. Don't be afraid to spice it up and see how your audience responds. There is no need to settle for mediocre response rates when a spiffed-up subject line or more personalized content is all that's standing in the way of stellar response rates.

Tell us what works for you, and join me for the final installment of the series, where I'll discuss comparing mailings and checking out how your results stack up.

5 questions for LUXE Design Group

Heather Shelby
Meet Heather Shelby.

Heather Shelby runs online marketing agency LUXE Design Group out of Saint Joseph, Michigan. As the owner, principal and sole full-time employee, she relies on a handful of freelancers to help build and maintain websites for her clients. She's been an Emma client for six years and is next in line for our 5 questions.

Tell me about LUXE Design Group and what sets you apart from your competition.
We're an online marketing agency. My degree is in graphic design, so when that's combined with programming talent, the website has the right look and functionality. We're very strong with the visual part.

You found using Emma to be particularly helpful in driving online sales for a winery in your area. Tell me more about that.
We set up an e-commerce site for Round Barn Winery and doubled their online revenue in the first nine months. We used Emma to send a survey to customers and found out that people didn't know you could make purchases on the site. We sent emails to let people know, and we regularly email the winery's customer base, with Christmas and Thanksgiving having very successful online sales due to email marketing. Any time they don't hit an online sales goal, it's because we didn't send an email.

What's your secret for staying up-to-date on design trends and industry news?
I read and subscribe to a lot of email newsletters. I've got a folder called "examples" where I file them all away and look to them for inspiration. I loved a recent Qdoba email that promoted a Valentine's Day special; they always do great work. I also look to other agencies for expertise, like Oneupweb.

As an agency owner, who do you turn to for advice on running your business?
I read the Entrepreneur newsletter and follow the work of David Baker and Blair Enns to help me run my business. I recommend David's book, The Financial Management of a Marketing Firm. I was two chapters in and couldn't help wishing I had had this book when I started my business eight years ago.

Tell me about your current brand crush.
I love Dave Ramsey. Everybody at that company is so in line with his philosophy. It's an amazing company and what they do for people is amazing.

Also, Jeep. I am a Jeep Girl through and through. I have a Wrangler Sahara, and my husband has a Grand Cherokee. We even have Jeep power wheels for the kids! Jeep really gets to know their audience and actually talk to them. We went to Camp Jeep in the Poconos one year, and they have engineers there talking to owners about what they like, don't like, want, etc. The Rubicon was actually created from talking to owners. It's a very fun brand.

Thrillers, fillers and spillers

How the hidden talents of an Emma colleague made our office a bit greener
Emily and her potted plant
Earth Day … a little bit at a time.

Maybe it was the fact that spring finally descended upon Nashville, or maybe it was the anticipation of Earth Day and our initiative — with your help — to plant 100 extra trees this month, but we found ourselves hankering to get our hands in some potting soil and bring some greenery to our desks.

Our inspiration other than leafy goodness? Marc Powell, who leads our infrastructure team, and his invariably green thumb. A visit to his desk sometimes involves parting fern fronds to see if he's actually in his chair.

Marc was kind enough to impart some planting knowledge to a few eager members of the Emma community team. During a recent workshop, he taught us which plants thrive in terra cotta, glazed and self-watering pots, as well as the recipe for a beautifully planted "ensemble" (that's the combination of a few complementary plants in a single pot). Marc's ensembles are all the rage here in the office, and I'm happy to share his secrets with you, in case you'd like to get your office in the Earth Day spirit:

  • Select plants that need approximately the same amount of water and sunlight
  • Consider how much light your workstation gets when making plant selections
  • Combine plants in odd numbers (otherwise the human brain tries to find patterns rather than just enjoying the aesthetic)
  • Go for contrasting colors

Finally, remember that a perfect ensemble pot contains three kinds of plants:

  • Thriller, which boldly shoots straight up and gives height and drama to the ensemble
  • Filler, which provides leafy bulk and interest
  • Spiller, which tumbles out of the pot

With Marc's wisdom fresh in our minds, we headed down to the closest nursery and picked out some appealing plants. We potted our own little ensembles in no time flat and are currently enjoying them at our desks.

Do you have any Earth Day tips, or ideas for making your workspace greener?

Emma goes to TEDxNashville

Kelley and Christy share their TEDxNashville experience

Emma's feeling the love for TEDx this month. Gina Nykerk and Annie Parsons attended TEDxMileHigh on April 7, and two days later, a group of folks from our Nashville office went to TEDxNashville (take a look at our pictures from the event on Facebook).

Kelley Kirker and Christy Montoya, two of Emma's design coordinators, share their TEDx experience here.

Kelley Kirker
by Kelley Kirker

New to the world of TED, I didn't know what to expect from a day of "ideas worth sharing." I was curious enough to invest a Saturday, and I'm so glad I did. I left inspired and utterly motivated.

Nashville's theme was "A Sense of Wonder," and as I listened to each speaker, it wasn't long before I started to ponder how I could play a role in changing the world. I may not be a philanthropic photographer or children's songwriter, and I probably don't have a future in rocket technology, but my mind was alive with wonder.

The final two presenters of the day, Ashley Judd and Jimmy Wayne, went beyond wonder and absolutely moved me. Ashley shared experiences from her travels and introduced us to the lives of people this world has forgotten: women and children who live in some of the worst conditions imaginable. She shared her commitment to honor and remember them.

Then, Jimmy took the stage. Since he's a musician, it didn't seem strange for him to step up to the microphone with a guitar strapped on. But I was in no way prepared for the weight of his message and the poignant song he shared. Jimmy spoke quietly as he told his personal experience with abandonment, incarceration, foster home survival and hope. Ultimately, Jimmy's story took something previously global (read: a world away) and made it local. It's not a heartache nine time zones away — there are children right here in Nashville who need to experience safety and love. It is surprising and wonderful to connect so profoundly with a story.

Now I know TED. It's about knowledge and inspiration that resonates and spreads. Thanks to the folks at TED, the local planners and the speakers for a life-changing Saturday.

Christy Montoya
by Christy Montoya

Months before TEDxNashville arrived, I was invited to join the marketing committee coordinating the exposure and communication of the 2011 event. I had become intrigued by TED over the previous year and was quick to join the team for Nashville's 2nd annual conference focused on Technology, Entertainment and Design. Taking a step behind the scenes allowed me to see the creativity and determination of those in my community, all committed to facilitating a space and time for ideas to be shared, for energizing dialogue to take place and for inspiration to jumpstart a thousand more fantastic dreams and goals.

The conference flew by with each speaker approaching the stage for a few minutes to share his or her story. I was struck by the simple idea that a portrait could allow someone to see his or her value, that a poetic anthem might preserve the dignity of otherwise forgotten sisters, that the plight of homeless children would cause a man to walk 1,700 miles across the country in order to spread awareness about their experiences.

I'm proud that Emma supported this event, that so many of my colleagues attended and that I had a behind-the-scenes look at the people who make TED successful. (Check out TED's initiatives if you're interested in getting involved.)

Even now, I find myself reflecting on the stories and ideas shared a few weekends ago, and I sense a renewed passion for the causes I care about. What idea are you putting motion to? How might your passions make the world a better place?

Things we love: Creative alerts to email subscribers

Fandango Email
Fandango sent their new address in style.

As seasoned email marketers know, it's important to alert your subscribers when something changes related to how they're hearing from you. But it's not always the most fun message to share. After all, it would be more entertaining to send a note with big news like, "Taylor Swift visits our office!*" instead of a heads-up that you're changing the frequency of when you send, asking your audience to update their preferences or prompting your subscribers to update their address books with a new RSVP address.

That's why I unexpectedly smiled (and it *may* be because I'm a bit of an email nerd) when I received this email from the folks at Fandango. They wanted to let me know that their "from" email address was going to change, and that I should add the new one to my address book.

I love the way they framed the message as if they were moving physical locations. We all recognize the mundane process of going to the post office, filling out the change of address form and then notifying everyone of our new address. It was easy for me to relate to. They also did a great job with the design of the email — it's branded with a clear call-to-action at the top. (The cute Muppet-like guy didn't hurt either.)

Add a little creativity to the way you shape these types of messages for your audience, and you'll most likely yield some successful results. A simple heads-up or FYI alert might not be enough if you want your subscribers to actually engage with your email, even if it's something as simple as clicking "Add to Contacts."

*(Hint hint, Taylor.)

Mind your email’s images

How three Emma customers use well-sized images to elevate the design of their emails

In the email marketing industry, the adage is true: Less is more. And this is nowhere more true than when it comes to images in your emails. It may be tempting to splash your email with every image you created in Photoshop or mined on Google Images, but it's better to practice restraint. Email benefits from simplicity and ease over complexity and bulk. After all, your email is being delivered to hundreds or thousands of inboxes that have their own way of rendering your campaign. If your images are too large or too many, your email runs the risk of being blocked or, even if it reaches the inbox, being poorly rendered.

Let's take a look at three Emma customers who've used moderately-sized images to balance the text and tone of their campaigns.

Natural Touch Marketing

Natural Touch Marketing, an Olympia, WA distributor of massage marketing tools and supplies, sends email campaigns twice monthly to their subscribers. This campaign spotlights a series of new business cards, promotional posters and clearance items. The images are modestly sized at around 215 x 180 pixels — large enough to see, but small enough that readers want to click through to the website to view larger versions. That pays off for Natural Touch Marketing with a 43% click-through rate to their website.

The send-off, at a glance.
> Sent Tues, Feb 1 at 3:11 pm to 2,041 people
> Subject: Stellar New Business Cards
> Open rate: 31% | Click-through rate: 43%
> Created with an Upload Your Own HTML template

Harrison West Society
The Harrison West Society is a nonprofit civic association in Columbus, OH that plants trees, builds parks, organizes public art projects, hosts social events and more. They spread the word to subscribers and fans in a monthly newsletter that's equal parts update and entertainment. In this campaign, the images are 120 x 120 pixels, and they condense the news blurbs to balance the images (with "read more" links for continuations of the stories).

The send-off, at a glance.
> Sent Tues, Feb 1 at 2:00 pm to 187 people
> Subject: Harrison West Society – February 2011 e-Newsletter
> Open rate: 62% | Click-through rate: 47%
> Created using Emma's newsletter 5 layout

Sawyer Design Associates
Sawyer Design Associates, an interior architecture and design firm in Dallas, TX, is a co-branded Emma agency, partnering with Emma to offer email services to their clients. In a recent campaign, they alternate images of about 250 x 190 pixels using Emma's newsletter 7 layout, resulting in a balanced, stylish email whose content takes center stage.

The send-off, at a glance.
> Sent Feb 17 at 1:08 pm to 235 people
> Subject: Stay warm. Do good work. Work for good.
> Open rate: 53% | Click-though rate: 4%
> Created using Emma's newsletter 7 layout

Guarantee that your campaign's images look good no matter where they end up by adhering to a few best practices:

  • Avoid mega-sized images. Large images take longer to load and cause problems if your campaign becomes too big in terms of file size. 40KB is about as large as any single image should be, and 480 x 480 pixels or smaller is our recommendation for an image's length and width.
  • The more images in your campaign, the smaller each image should be. Visual symmetry is key. If you're using Emma's simple layouts, we recommend images of 480 x 480 pixels or smaller. A newsletter layout works well with images that are about 240 x 240 pixels. Our advanced layouts tend to be most successful with images that are around 120 x 120 pixels.
  • Limit the number of images in the campaign. Our layouts have 10 or fewer image placeholders for a reason: More than 10 images may result in an email file size that's too large for servers to digest. Additionally, too many images serve as a distraction to your email's content. If you have more than 10 images, consider creating a landing page to further content, or save content for a part II installment.

Visit our Image FAQs page in our Help Guide for more tips, and let us know if there's anything we can do to help.

A leafy infographic for Earth Day

Plus, help us plant 100 more trees
Earth Day infographic
Design by Jennifer Kasdorf. Inspiration by Terry in Hoboken. Click to view the full infographic.

In anticipation of Earth Day on April 22, we sat down to do a little trees-by-the-numbers infographic recently here in the Emma office. Designer Jennifer Kasdorf and writer Molly Niendorf — with some help from Jesse Worstel and Jamie Bradley — came up with all kinds of nice things to say about our tree friends.

And just as soon as 100 of our non-tree friends share this post or this month's Emma email roundup on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, we're going to plant 100 extra trees (in addition to the five we already plant for each customer, of course). We're pretty sure the forest creatures would help with this social networking effort, but — let's face it — squirrels and rabbits are ridiculously inept when it comes to computers. So it's probably up to you.

You can take a look at the full version of the infographic handiwork above and share it with your followers using the icons below. And thanks! We'll let you know right here on the blog and right over there on Twitter what happens.