Create Compelling Email Subject Lines with A/B Testing

Ok, you've accomplished the task of turning readers into email subscribers, but now you're faced with another hurdle: How to get those subscribers to actually open the newsletters you send. The solution is as simple as writing a compelling subject line!

Oh wait...that's not really all that simple, is it? Subject lines can leave even the best writer with a bad case of writer's block. It's difficult to know what your subscribers will respond to without a little trial & error. You know exactly what the content will be, and you know it's awesome, right? But before subscribers will read this awesome content, you have to convince them that it's awesome in a short line of text that they'll see in their inbox.

So how do you go about testing various subject lines for your email marketing campaigns? It's as easy as A-B-Testing! (You thought I'd say A-B-C right? It's almost that easy.)

Don't leave your open rate to chance. Create compelling subject lines for your email marketing campaigns with the help of A/B testing.
Don't leave your open rate to chance. Create compelling subject lines for your email marketing campaigns with the help of A/B testing.

While it's great that you spend a lot of time crafting the perfect newsletter, and you fill that newsletter with valuable content for your readers, if you neglect your subject line, all that work is for nothing because no one will open your email in the first place.

WHAT IS A/B TESTING?

Remember "back in the day" in high school science class when you were playing with chemicals and equations? You would have a constant and a variable in your experiments, right? The constant is the one thing that remains the same, and the variable is the thing that changes with each new experiment.

Have I lost you yet? Bare with me.

The variable effects the outcome of your experiment. With A/B testing, you choose the variable in your email marketing experiment, and if you're trying to craft more engaging subject lines, your variable will be your subject line while the constant is the content of your newsletter.

Make sense?

how does a/b testing work?

In the MailChimp platform, you are able to tell MailChimp which variable you want to test. You can choose from subject lines, send name, content, or send time. In this case, we're testing our subject lines.

Don't leave your open rate to chance. Create compelling subject lines for your email marketing campaigns with the help of A/B testing.
Don't leave your open rate to chance. Create compelling subject lines for your email marketing campaigns with the help of A/B testing.

You are able to choose up to three variations of your variable, meaning you can test up to three subject lines on one email campaign. Pretty cool, right?

You also decide how much of your list will receive each of the test subject lines.

Don't leave your open rate to chance. Create compelling subject lines for your email marketing campaigns with the help of A/B testing.
Don't leave your open rate to chance. Create compelling subject lines for your email marketing campaigns with the help of A/B testing.

MailChimp also allows you to determine how the winning combination is selected, and how much time you would like to allow the test to last.

When testing a subject line, I recommend having the winner selected by open rate, since your ultimate goal is to create compelling subject lines that entice your subscribers to open the email in the first place, right?

The time you allow the test to go on is totally up to you, but there is one thing to keep in mind: Subscribers don't always open an email the instant it hits their inbox. I'm sure you don't either. By allowing a longer amount of time, like four hours, for your test to complete, you will have a more accurate result.

Don't leave your open rate to chance. Create compelling subject lines for your email marketing campaigns with the help of A/B testing.
Don't leave your open rate to chance. Create compelling subject lines for your email marketing campaigns with the help of A/B testing.

Now it's time to play! You'll craft three subject lines, and each of these subject lines will be sent to a small portion of your list based on the percentage you selected in the previous step.

You might try a statement, a question, and a call to action, all related to the content of your newsletter, in order to gauge the response of your subscribers.

You will then create your newsletter and schedule it to send as usual.

How do you read the results?

After your stated test time has elapsed, MailChimp will email you with the "winner". You can also view the full report in your MailChimp dashboard.

Don't leave your open rate to chance. Create compelling subject lines for your email marketing campaigns with the help of A/B testing.
Don't leave your open rate to chance. Create compelling subject lines for your email marketing campaigns with the help of A/B testing.

The image above is from an A/B test for my home decor blog. As you can see from the report, the winning combination shows a 21% open rate, as opposed to the "loser" which is only 18.3%. After the four hour time frame for my test, the subject line with the highest open rate was then sent to the remainder of my list.

Ok, so now what?

In order to get a good feel for the types of subject lines your subscribers respond to consistently, you will most likely need to try A/B testing often. I know a lot of bloggers who A/B test every email they send, and that's not a bad idea!

I recommend documenting the subject lines you test and the winning combinations. Review this list periodically and you'll most likely start to notice a trend that will help you tweak your A/B testing and write consistently high-performing subject lines.

**A positive side effect** A/B testing the subject lines of your emails will also help you write better blog post titles! You'll know what your readers respond to, so be sure to apply that to the titles of your blog posts and check your analytics over time to see if your pageviews increase as a result.

To show you how to set up an A/B test campaign in MailChimp, I've made a short video that you can watch below.

How to Set Up A/B Testing in MailChimp from Kirsten Thompson on Vimeo.

YOUR TURN:

Have you tried A/B testing for subject lines? What have you discovered about your subscribers?