Any marketer knows how difficult it can be to run a successful email campaign. No matter how carefully you chose your target demographics, or how much time you spend thinking of the perfect message, some people just aren’t going to open your emails.

And that can be frustrating, especially when you’re using open rates as a tool to measure the performance of your overall marketing strategy.

Luckily, just as in almost everything else, there is a scientific way to improve your results when it comes to email campaigns: A/B testing.

So just what is A/B testing? And how can you use it to get people to open your marketing emails?

What is A/B Testing?

A/B testing is one of the simplest methods for gathering empirical data. Essentially, you test something one way (A), then you change one element of it and see how the results differ (B).

A/B testing has been around for a long time. It was first developed in the 1920’s by statistician and biologist Ronald Fischer who established the basic mathematics and science behind the principle.

Fischer primarily used A/B testing in experiments with agriculture. He wanted to know if there was a way to increase the number of crops farmers could grow and tested a number of different methods to see what worked best.

But while Fischer used his technique to increase crop yields, marketers have discovered that it’s also the perfect way to increase yields of another sort.

Using A/B Testing To Improve Your Marketing Results

A/B testing is a way to scientifically determine if one option is better than another. You don’t have to go with your gut, in other words. You have evidence that proves that A is better than B or vice versa. It applies scientific rigor to a process that would otherwise be a matter of individual judgment.

So when you’re using A/B testing for email campaigns, it’s important to apply the same kind of scientific standards. Think of it as an experiment.

First, develop two different messages that you want to test. Obviously, you have a single theme you want to get across like, “Our company is offering you 50% your next purchase.”

But there are a few different ways that you could word this offer in an email to customers, and each will get you different results. Start with two opening subject lines (every email should have a subject line, after all). One might read, “Congratulations, you’ve just got 50%.” It’s a standard, straightforward message, right? No frills, but it gets the job done.

But maybe you think you could get better results if you got a little bit more creative with it. If so, the B, in this case, could read, “You just got 50%! Lucky you, we’re jealous.”

So how do you know which is better? Well, let’s test them out. Now you can do this on your own with whatever software you’re currently using to measure open rates. But there are also a number of different services out there that can help automate the process like Mail Chimp and Constant Contact.

No matter how you chose to do it, essentially you’re going to split your target audience into two groups. Each group will get an email with one of the subject lines. All you have to do at this point is see which one performs better. That’s the one you want to use. Simple, right?

The beauty of A/B testing is that you can use this technique for just about anything. Tweak different details in your emails and test them out. And once you have the results you’re looking for, you can expand them to a wider audience.

Of course, one thing you might want to consider is that, as in any scientific test, one result isn’t enough to say what works and what doesn’t. Scientists look for repeated results that confirm the original findings. This is a principle you might want to apply to your own testing as well.

The advantage is that once you do enough tests, you’ll have a much better understanding of how to craft emails in the future. You’ll understand which types of subject lines and messages get the best results because you’ve tested them. You’ve turned your email marketing into a science.

So how do you do A/B testing? Does it work for you?

Further Reading:

A Refresher on A/B Testing – Harvard Business Review

The Importance of A/B Testing in Email Marketing – SocialChimp