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The Basics of A/B Testing

marketing analyticsA/B testing is something most marketers are familiar with, but don’t necessarily enjoy or perhaps even really understand. So it’s not surprising that a lot of marketers don’t A/B test as much as they should—or possibly don’t test at all.

This is a big mistake, as A/B testing can yield valuable information to guide your marketing strategies and can alert you when something needs to be changed or re-evaluated.

It’s common knowledge that testing is important to each email marketing campaign, and A/B testing is the most simple approach so it’s a relatively quick and easy way to gain some important insights to help with decisions involving the various elements of your email.

In “The ABCs of A/B Testing,” Cara Olson at Marketing Land discusses some of the important things to remember about this method of testing. She suggests you mainly focus on the big picture items to avoid getting bogged down by a lot of little details. Here are some areas where she suggests testing regularly:

Timing. For testing time of day, Olson recommends a full 50-50 split test. Send to 50% of your list at your usual time of day, and 50% at a different time. She notes that one current theory is that consumers are making more purchases in the evening, when they are engaged with their tablets or mobile devices while watching TV—so if you don’t normally send at that time, you may want to try it. Olson adds that testing can also be very helpful in deciding the best timeline for sending triggered emails.

Creative. Testing creative elements requires more work for you (or, more accurately, your design team) because it involves designing two different creative samples. But this can be a worthwhile investment because creative elements can have a big impact on how readers respond to your message.

Offers. If your email involves some sort of offer, this provides a great opportunity for testing. Experiment with using dollar off, free shipping or other different approaches to see which gets the best response.

Subject line. This is where many marketers start when doing A/B testing because it is the easiest element to change. It can also be one of the most important parts of your email, so you should at the very least be testing your subject lines, even if you do little or no other testing.

Olson notes that evaluating the results is often the biggest challenge with A/B testing. With subject line tests, the results are fairly easy to understand. But when testing other elements, you often must consider a combination of metrics.

Of course, the most important part of A/B testing is implementing your findings. After all, you aren’t going through all of this trouble just to learn some interesting tidbits for your own entertainment. You need to evaluate the findings to pinpoint the most effective options and determine what (if any) changes you will want to make to your future campaigns.

Need help figuring out how and what you should test—or analyzing the results? Analytics is one of our specialties at KEO Marketing.


With more than 25 years of hands on marketing strategy and operations experience, Sheila Kloefkorn is dedicated to developing marketing strategies and plans that help clients succeed. Some of the world's largest brands have depended on Sheila for marketing programs that delivered tangible and substantial results. Specialties: B2B marketing, lead generation, lead nurturing, sales strategy, marketing strategy, competitive marketing strategy, social media, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), mobile marketing, email marketing, website design, marketing plans.