5 Best Practices for Subject Line Testing

Make the most of our latest feature with expert advice from Brooks Bell Interactive

Editor's note: We've just launched subject line split testing in Emma, so you can apply these tips today if you like. Watch a quick screencast to learn more, or see if you can spot a winning subject line over at our Split Test Showdown.


Email marketers who consistently conduct split tests know that the rewards are numerous—higher open rates, increased conversions and, perhaps most importantly, insights into subscriber behavior and preferences. But if you’re new to testing, how do you know you’re doing it right? Testing subject lines is a simple, effective way to start building a solid email testing program. These five tips will help you get started today:

Get scientific. 

As you probably remember from seventh grade science, any good scientific experiment follows structured steps.  First, start with observation and research. For email marketing, this means analyzing data and reviewing current subject lines. Then, come up with a hypothesis based on your research. For example, your hypothesis might be, “A short subject line will lead to a higher open rate than a long subject line.” After you conduct the test, you’ll see if the results proved or disproved your hypothesis.

Identify goals.

There are many ways to measure success—how will you measure yours? Determining your business goals at the outset will help ensure that your testing campaign will be worth your time. Figure out which metrics you’ll be looking at once the test deploys. Open rate may indicate reader interest, but your ultimate goal may be to increase the number of people who submit the form on your landing page. In that case, the email version that gets the most opens may not be the one that leads to the most conversions.

Batch test first. 

Conducting your test on a small sample of your subscriber list can be a smart way to maximize results. Use the winning subject line for the remainder of your subscriber list. Be aware, though, that batch testing only works when your results can reach statistical significance. The sample has to be large enough to draw sound conclusions; if your subscriber list is small, you won’t benefit from batch testing.

Test one variable.

Effective testing leads to learnings about your audience. But learnings aren’t clear when you test more than one variable at a time, because you aren’t able to tell which one made a difference. For example, you may want to test personalization: Will your readers respond better to a subject line that includes their first name? In that case, make sure the two subject lines you’re testing, aside from the personalization, are completely identical. Additional variations—whether in messaging, tone, length or offer—will lead to inconclusive results. Likewise, testing subject lines means that all other content is the same, from the email to the landing page.

Be consistent. 

Contrary to what many email marketers believe, creating a compelling subject line isn’t hard. The real challenge is creating a compelling one that is consistent with your email and landing page. Otherwise, your awesome subject line could inspire a lot of opens, but very few clickthroughs. Worse, the email will likely end up in subscribers’ “deleted items” folder—and your subsequent emails will be regarded with suspicion. Take the long view when it comes to testing. Short-term wins are pointless if you’re not learning about your audience.

These five best practices are a good starting point for any email marketing campaign. But this is just the beginning. Testing is a mindset, not a tactic. Your results will help shape future tests, inspire additional testing ideas and form new research questions. After all, a testing expert’s work is never done.


Today's post comes from Rachel Healy, senior copywriter at Brooks Bell Interactive. They're long-time Emma customers and experts in all things testing and optimization. If you're looking for expert guidance for optimizing your website and running smart tests, give them a shout.

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Connecting with consumers to learn more about your own brand

Takeaways from Advertising Week

If you asked your customers (or anyone familiar with your organization) to describe your brand in a word, what do you think you'd hear?

That question stuck with me after attending the 9th annual Advertising Week in New York City earlier this week. Emma is proud to be the email marketing provider for this great organization, which puts on a fabulous event that brings together the best and brightest minds to engage in conversations about advertising. The topics range from content to privacy to medium to brand.

I went to a fantastic panel called the Best Global Brands 2012: The Human Touch. Senior marketers from UPS, Harley Davidson and Microsoft, were moderated by the Josh Feldmeth, CEO of Interbrand New York, which is an agency that I've had the pleasure of working with a number of times.

At one point the panelists were asked to reflect on a moment when they really connected with the impact of their brand in the world. Mark-Hans Richer, CMO at Harley-Davidson, shared a story of his recent motorcycle ride through China to Tibet. As he was approaching Tibet, he stopped at a rock wall where people paint Chinese characters that are carved into the rock. Richer asked a man to paint on his jacket what Harley-Davidson meant to him. The characters the man painted read "freedom." This action, halfway around the world, solidified for Richer what his brand means to him. 

This is the most exciting thing about being a marketer, isn't it? Getting those one-word answers about what your product means to the people who use it is powerful stuff, and it can distill your work in meaningful ways.

Some of my favorite single words that I have heard people use to describe Emma are easy, intuitive, funny and creative. What is the word that you would use?

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Employee handbooks, social media fears and those extra-mile moments

Our thoughts on noteworthy customer service posts from around the web

If you follow us on Twitter, you may have noticed that we tweet resonant articles and blog posts that we're reading every day. We’ve rounded up some pieces below that we think are noteworthy and added our two cents. Here’s how we see employee training, social media avenues and personal interactions have helped our story:

1. Establish your core approach

When Gizmodo revealed excerpts from Apple’s secret employee training manual, we were flabbergasted: You mean those aren’t off-the-cuff niceties they use to calm me down about my computer’s “condition”?

The only handbook at Emma is the House Guide to Handball, which is hush-hush; I can’t even talk about it. (You know that goal counted, Cody.) Instead, we look for hires who already have great communication and critical-thinking skills as a foundation. We strive to be positive, approachable and empathetic while remaining people you don’t mind spending five minutes with on the phone, and that thoughtful charm can’t be faked.

Instead of pulling all-nighters with yawn training documentation, we sit close to one another and move desks every few months. When your company’s core approach is “let’s be friendly and make some magic,” it never hurts to learn a few tricks from a new deskmate.

2. Decide on your channels

Reading about the challenges of using social media in customer support (in this post from Radian6) reminded us of our concerns when we first brought Emma to social media. Would anyone other than our friends follow us? Would so many customers have questions via these outlets that we couldn’t address them all?

Emma loves interacting with customers on Twitter and Facebook, and we make sure the person manning those networks stays connected to the Support Team so it's a seamless experience. That helps us spot tweeters who have an account question but can’t find our phone number (800.595.4401) or those who aren’t having a great experience and want to hear directly from us.

Most customers do go the traditional route and email or call, but we can vouch from experience that your audience appreciates contact through avenues they already frequent. It isn’t so hard: Simply be timely with your response, and take challenging conversations to channels that support more than 140 characters.

3. Take it to the next level

Okay, so we didn’t tweet this article recently, but this speaks volumes about our philosophy. We think every interaction with Emma is an opportunity to make a great impression, and we love the chance go above and beyond. Emma Moments are a fun part of our job – These notes or little presents sent to our customers let them know that we appreciate them and their criticism, patience, kind words, etc., and that we hope their surgery went well or that their dog has finally learned to heel. (What’s the secret?)

It gets kind of personal sometimes, but we love that; we’re people here connecting with people out there around the world, and that’s what great service is all about, right?


What's your company's approach to customer service? Leave a comment below – we'd love to hear what works for you.

New to Emma? Get started with 30 days free.

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Being timely = being amazing

Successful customer support means going the extra mile

In today’s world of instant gratification — where customers can tweet, email and call you within the same five-minute timeframe — you can never turn off your customer service. Plus, potential customers and current ones are not exclusively active during the traditional nine-to-five work hours. Being able to respond with a timely reply is more important than ever.

Service that stands out

Let me share an example. I’m at the point in my life where I’m looking to get in better shape and live a healthier lifestyle. Recently, I was curious about running so I did what I always do when I have a question: I asked it on Twitter.

I was flooded with responses. People on Twitter are extremely helpful, and with a topic as popular as running, there were lots of opinions. I’m still getting responses this morning.

I thanked everyone and went about my day.

Later, as I looked more closely at my replies, I noticed this tweet from @naturalrunstore:

Less than two hours after I asked my question, a company had chimed in. It wasn’t Puma, New Balance or Reebok (who all have local offices near me), but rather Richmond, Virginia-based Natural Running Store.

As I write this post roughly 24 hours after asking my question, they are still the only running company that was listening enough to chime in and answer.

But, they didn’t just reply to a tweet and leave it at that. They followed one of our Content Rules: “Share or Solve, Don’t Shill.” They realized that answering my question might be hard to do in the 140-character limit of Twitter and instead recorded a quick, custom video.

Yes, this running shoe company took time out of their day to film a video for me. The video is personalized by my name and, at the end, it references my book and a couple of other things I had talked about online earlier in the day.

If you watch the video, you’ll see that it’s obviously filmed in their store. You’ll hear people working in the background — it’s not overly-produced or scripted. It is simply a heartfelt conversation that they probably have multiple times every day in the store with customers who walk in.

The only difference? They realized their store is more than the brick-and-mortar structure they are based in.

So, how does this apply to you?

You might not be able to record custom videos for every question you get. But, couldn’t you take the top 10 most-frequently-asked questions and film video answers to them? Then, when you receive those questions via social media or email, send along the video link.

The personalization in this particular video was awesome, but honestly, if they had sent me a note saying, “Hey C.C., we’ve got this great video on how to start running that might help. Let us know if you need more details,” it would have been just as helpful.

The key fact here is the timely nature of your content. You’re no longer allowed to be asleep at the wheel or coasting through support queries. We live in a 24-hour world these days, and you never know where your next customer is going to come from. If you’re not spending at least one hour every day listening and reacting, you are missing out on business.


C.C. Chapman is the co-author (with Ann Handley) of Content Rules, a book that explains how companies can create remarkable blogs, podcasts, webinars, ebooks and more. C.C. is a leader in the online and social media marketing space; he speaks about building passionate consumer communities, and the strategic values of content-based marketing. C.C. can be reached by email at cc.chapman@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter (@cc_chapman).

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Gazing into the crystal ball

Emma staffers predict email marketing trends

If you’re trying to keep up with the latest email-related app or social platform, you probably find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed. And you may wonder how to make the best use of your time and energy

I know the feeling. As I try to stay on top of email trends, I find myself wondering, What’s next for email? And how can I keep up?

From email personalization and audience segmentation to cross-channel messaging and social marketing, there are lots of possibilities to pair with online media’s cash cow. (Email’s ROI hovers around $40 for every $1 spent, by the way.)

I challenged five Emma staffers to hop into a time machine (fashioned from a few cardboard boxes, lamp wiring and Hubba Bubba’s Bubble Tape) set to a year from now, and tell me what they believe the hot email trends will have been. Let’s see what they have to say …

Suzanna Best, Sales

Suzanna: I’m pinning my email predictions on Pinterest. With email’s mastery of social integration, this new craze is an asset worth welcoming into every email campaign. Be it a simple link, a call-to-action button or a custom Pinterest icon permanently embedded in your email design — the pinboard social network is a must in terms of connecting with your email audience.

There’s already a wealth of tech-savvy artists and craftsmen utilizing the down-the-rabbit-hole platform to generate interest in new products and projects. And with the launch of Pinerly, a comprehensive analytics tool, even the more traditional internet denizens will be jumping on the pin-wagon to strengthen their online presence. Email, pin and watch your efforts go viral.

Jimmy Thorn, User Experience

Jimmy: I think the biggest trend that we need to pay attention to is actually less of a trend and more of a revolution on how we view content. There has been a huge surge in the mobile realm, and the idea of “mobile first” is really starting to sink in.

This applies specifically to us (and to Emma customers) because it’s easy to check email from your phone. If we don’t cater to the mobile market, we’re missing the opportunity to meet our clients and their constituencies where they are — and that’s really the most important thing in regards to sharing content.

Carolyn Kopprasch, Agency Relations

Carolyn: Over the past few years, emails have gotten longer and more crowded — this sense of more and more content. However, we seem to be at a (welcome) tipping point, as content creators and curators realize that more isn’t necessarily better; it takes a lot more time and it makes readers’ eyes glaze over. Know the feeling?

This will be the year that content marketing reaches maturity. Developing blog posts, whitepapers and other thought leadership has become a huge focus of B2B and B2C companies, and for good reason. Handing out free knowledge builds a company’s credibility, reach and even search results. But, with the explosion of content, we have started to drown in it.

We’ll see the craze to create content become a lot more focused. Blog posts, email newsletters and (hopefully) even tweets will get less frequent, but more focused. As companies continue to demonstrate expertise, we’ll churn out fewer articles, but the ones that make it to the presses will be richer and more valuable.

Art Quanstrom, Delivery

Art: For email deliverability trends this year, I would say that people will look back and say, “I’m glad I started segmenting my audience by engagement: removing people that don’t respond, rewarding my most loyal readers and giving people options regarding how often I send to them.” I risk sounding like a broken record, but as far as improving and maintaining great email response, it’s the most important thing a sender can do with their opt-in, permission-based list.

Grey: The trend we will have likely seen is one where our friend email has found renewed energy by hanging out more with its younger cousins in social media.

Grey Garner, Market Strategist

Email realizes that it doesn’t have to carry the engagement load like it once did and, honestly, is a lot happier being the stable, reliable and trusted channel for delivering all kinds of messages, large and small. It feels more personal than ever because it stays connected to other sites and information sources automatically; email sometimes even creates and sends itself. How liberating!

Personification aside, the point I’m trying to make is that email is evolving alongside every other marketing and communications channel and will continue to have tremendous value because it does certain things better than any other medium. Consumers value the relevance of a message, not the delivery channel; the challenge for marketers will be first learning what their members value, and then leaning on technology like Emma to get it delivered down the right pipe.


There you have it, folks. If you’re looking to implement similar thoughts or tactics into your own email marketing plan, please give us a ring — we’d be more than happy to talk shop with you.

Do you have your own email predictions to share? We’d love to hear them in the comments section below!

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Ask, listen, sell. (In that order.)

Thoughts on making connections during the sales process

I’m sure you’ve all heard the adage that “Great customer experiences start with listening.” While we default to think of that in a service and support role, today we’re talking business development, where listening can also be the most important step in the sales process.

At Emma, we have a group of business development specialists who work remotely from our Austin, Portland and New York City offices. We’re looking to bring on great clients and grow the Emma brand, and we accomplish it by being consultative first.

Let’s face it, the email space is crowded. You can throw a paperclip and probably hit four email service providers before it lands. Below I’d like to share four biz dev concepts we revisit on our team frequently. And as mentioned above, they all start with the best part of communication (and sales): listening first.

1. Talk to your clients

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of books, blogs and websites dedicated to networking and asking for referrals. (One of my favorite resources is WordofMouth.org.) But, before you get referrals, you’ve got to develop relationships with your customers first.

When’s the last time you checked in with your top five local clients? Does your product still serve their needs and are they thrilled with it? Whether it’s taking a client to coffee or lunch, emailing them a great blog post relevant to their business or even asking if they’d like some extra training on a new feature, being accessible after the sale leads to success in the referral game.

2. Educate about your industry during the sales process

After you’ve heard what a prospect’s specific needs are, use follow-up calls and emails to educate about your industry in a way that highlights your strengths. This’ll uncover connection points in general, and match their business needs to the features and solutions that your product offers.

And, hey, it’s easy to follow up when you’ve got smart tools in place, like an automated email campaign series (for example, Emma’s autoresponder feature). Or you can send individually-tailored emails that link to a post on your blog or educational content online. Either way, linking best practices with your product as the solution is a key step in the sales process.

3. Apply pattern recognition

Dave Broke recently wrote a fantastic article on pattern recognition on CustomerThink.com. He explains that the sales process is much the same as any repetitive, muscle memory activity. The more you actively listen and engage in the first minutes of interaction with a prospective buyer, the more successful you’ll be at understanding their needs — and then applying what made you successful last time you encountered a similar scenario.

He also mentions that this pattern recognition approach can be enhanced by leaning on your team members. Don’t be afraid to learn from the expertise of your biz dev team and ask what’s working for them.

4. Think beyond the sale

When you do uncover a great relationship with a new customer, think past the signature of that particular sale. What other ways can you work together? It could mean sharing referrals over social media, or asking for a testimonial on your site from that brand. It could even mean pairing up during a talk at an upcoming event — or planning a local event together.

Most importantly, listen for what really made the sale — and the relationship — sing so you can apply it to future interactions.

The rest of our team will be sharing ideas and thoughts on business development in the upcoming months, so stay tuned to hear from Laura in our New York office, Abby in our Austin outpost and Lisa in Portland. Until then, happy selling, er, listening!

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