We’ve all been there. You spend weeks pouring your heart and soul (and countless hours of design and writing resources) into the perfect email, then send it out to your list of hundreds, maybe thousands of subscribers.
Two days later, you check the responses and metrics, hoping to find out that your audience loved the email and couldn’t wait to sign up for your project, buy your service, and praise you as their next inbox hero–and instead, it’s just crickets. You have the same open and click-through rate you always have, and your signups remain on life support.
Sad face with single tear emoji.
We’re here to help. Because, as we said at the beginning, we’ve ALL been there. Some of us, maybe too many times than we’d like to admit professionally. It happens, and it happens all the time. Fortunately for us, our many failings early on molded and shaped us into the email marketing experts we are today.
And we are happy to pass along that knowledge to you because if we can eliminate just one broken heart from the email marketing world, we feel good about ourselves. We also hope that it leads to us gaining you as a customer–but that’s a sales pitch for another day.
Today, we’re focusing on helping you determine how effective your current email marketing strategy is and how you can test it.
Let’s get started.
How to Test Your Current Email Marketing Strategy
Email marketing can be a great way to reach your target audience, but it's only effective if people actually read your emails. So, how can you tell if your email marketing strategy is working? There are a few key indicators to look for:
First, check your open rate: this is the percentage of people who open your email compared to the number of people who receive it. If your open rate is low, people aren't finding your emails interesting enough to read.
Of course, now is the time to mention Apple and the changes they’ve recently made that are affecting everyone’s open rates. We speak more about this later on in the Privacy Matters section of this article. If you’d like to learn more now, check out our blog article “Apple is About to Take a Bite Out of Email Marketing.”
Next, look at your click-through rate: this is the number of people who click on a link in your email compared to the number of people who receive it. If your click-through rate is low, people aren't taking action after reading your email.
Finally, pay attention to your unsubscribe rate: this is the number of people who unsubscribe from your email list after receiving an email. If your unsubscribe rate is high, people are finding your emails annoying or irrelevant.
These key metrics are important, but they are not the only information you should rely on to understand the effectiveness of your email marketing strategy.
Look for Advanced Metrics
Advanced metrics are those that maybe don't show up immediately on your email marketing dashboard. Instead, they require a little bit of digging.
One such metric is ROI or Return on Investment.
Calculate Your ROI
If you ask some, figuring out your ROI is as simple as dividing total revenue by the number of emails sent. While this is also a nice-to-know number, it's not exactly correct.
To figure out your ROI, you'll need to know:
- The cost of your email provider (ESP)
- The number of hours (and cost of those hours) you or your team spent on writing, designing, and deploying your email
- The amount of revenue generated through your emails
Did you know the average ROI for email marketing is around $40 for every $1 spent? Which isn’t 40%. It’s 4,000%. After you’ve done the calculation for your ROI, see how close you are to this number. Even if it’s half, that’s still a great ROI!
What About Emails That Don’t Generate Leads?
Of course, not every email marketing campaign is about generatin leads or even sales. Sometimes, we email our subscribers to inform them of upcoming news, events, or to help increase awareness of our brand or services. In cases like that, the ROI isn’t quite as clear-cut, so it can be harder to test the effectiveness of your email marketing campaign.
For times like that, you’ll want to figure out what is important and find ways to calculate your results for those things. There is no shortage of formulas to help you online.
Why You Should Be A/B Testing
A/B testing is about putting two things against each other and seeing if one outperforms the other. Or, more importantly, if one option over the other outperforms your own average numbers. Many brands and companies do A/B testing. However, some make the mistake of testing more than one thing at a time or not following through on measuring their test results.
Consider these best practices for proper A/B testing:
Test One Thing at a Time
As brand and business owners or marketers, we want to know exactly what will work every time we send something out. Unfortunately, we can’t. When we mention testing, the first instinct for most people is to test everything. But that is a huge mistake. A/B testing is done best when you focus on just one area of the email. This could be the subject line, the image or layout, the body copy, or the CTA. It could be the colors you choose or even dark mode vs. light mode.
The testing possibilities are endless, and one can drive themselves mad trying to list everything they’d like to test. Regardless of which area you choose to focus on, ensure the test stays in its chosen lane. Otherwise, your results will be skewed because you won’t actually know which part of the email helped you gain more or less success.
For example, if you test a subject line vs. another subject line AND two different CTAs–well, was it the CTA or the subject line that got more people to engage with your email?
Pick one part of your email and test that area only. You can always switch the areas for the next email.
Make the Tests Significantly Different
Changing one word slightly is not really a test. Unless that word is significant, you’ll want to make your base copy or image significantly different from your test copy or image. As you gain more experience testing or start narrowing down what’s best for your brand, you can try out more subtle changes to see if they move the needle.
But, when you begin testing, make the two pieces of email collateral as far away from the other as possible–while maintaining brand standards, of course.
One way you can do this is through plain text vs. emojis or animations.
For example, in a subject line test, you might try:
Find the right sunglasses for you!
😐 + 🕶 = 😎
Those two approaches are quite different and could provide you with some great insight into whether your audience prefers a straightforward approach or a more whimsical one. You could try product versus lifestyle images to see if your audience prefers one.
No matter which area you choose to test, try to put the two options as far apart from each other as you can–you might be surprised at your audience’s reaction.
Test the Weakest Parts First
The simplest way to determine whether your emails are effective is by comparing your metrics against your industry benchmarks. You can usually find these numbers in reports online.
For example, according to this report, the average open and click-through rate for all industries is 25.39% and 1.25%, respectively. However, the average open and click-through rate for the internet marketing industry is 14.97% and 1.66%, respectively.
Find your industry benchmarks and compare them to your numbers. Whichever area lacks the most, you should focus on testing that area. Want more opens? Test subject lines. If you want more sales or site visits, try testing your call-to-action (CTA). And so on.
Go Over Your Results
What good are numbers and metrics if they just sit around collecting digital dust? Plan to go over your testing numbers monthly or, at the very least, quarterly. Checking your results can help you learn what’s working and what's not, and it can also help you change up your email as needed to incorporate (and hopefully replicate) any of the better results you’re getting.
Build a Plan
Does one good test mean you should change everything? Probably not. Perhaps your sudden use of emojis throws your audience for such a loop that they couldn’t help but open your email to see if someone had gone mad. If you see significant results from one of your tests, build a plan to try it again. Either do it the same way (with different pieces of copy or images, of course) or try to take it to the extreme again.
If emojis work one time, try them against non-emojis the next month. If they work again that time, maybe it’s worth considering using them occasionally throughout your entire email marketing campaign.
Of course, each of our audiences can be fickle at times, and your results could change after a while. This is why it’s important not to act impulsively and to test something every time you send an email.
Understand Trends and Email Marketing Changes
Email marketing has changed dramatically over the last decade–even over the last couple of years, for that matter! For many, it’s nearly impossible to stay updatd on all the changes. This is why it’s good to hire a team or work with an email service provider. Trying to go at it alone is a full-time job. And all it takes is for one significant change to make all your previous efforts almost worthless.
Luckily, you have options for staying updated on important trends and changes to email marketing. Check your current email marketing efforts to see if they comply with some of these current trends and best practices.
One of the most impactful changes over the previous years is the privacy changes and how brands must regulate their email marketing. Most recently, these changes were seen with Apple. Essentially, after an update to iOS 15, Apple Mail users will receive a prompt asking them if they want to disable “Protect Mail Activity.” One can safely assume that most users will indeed want their mail activity to be “safe,” so it’s likely that no one will disable the default setting.
But, what’s wrong with being safe, you might wonder?
On the surface, nothing. Everyone should take safety measures for their information online. But, for email marketers, this one change will all but eliminate the ability to track whether or not a user opened an email. It becomes even more difficult to tell if our emails are effective or just downright ignored. Now, the only way to determine whether an Apple mail user opened their email or not is if they take action inside the email itself. Tracking your metrics becomes a bit trickier.
But, it’s not impossible. If you’re curious to read up on this or other trends, check out our blog and see whether or not your email marketing efforts will be impacted. Also, you can take advantage of this privacy movement by making your own efforts more trusted and transparent. Learn about Brand Indicator for Message Identification (BIMI).
The Role of AI
The robots are coming, and they want to help you deliver better emails. Okay, maybe that’s not their prime objective. We all know that their prime objective is actually to control our minds and turn our Roombas and Alexa’s against us. But, for now, email seems like a safe avenue for introducing artificial intelligence into our marketing efforts. Some AI tools are already being used to perform predictive analysis, curate lists and copy, and send personalized emails.
As email marketing becomes more and more complex, brands will need to utilize every resource and tool they can if they want to stay ahead.
One of the more dreadful parts of early email marketing was the inability to put moving pictures inside emails themselves. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case with more design and visual options than ever before. If you are still just using still images or screenshots of your videos, you may want to make your email marketing efforts more robust.
People like to feel special and one of the best ways to make them feel that way is to use their name when you speak to them. Personalizing emails has been around for a long time, yet it’s always amazing to us how many people still don’t take advantage of this when it’s as simple as inserting a built-in tags like [first_name] into your body copy. But, personalization doesn’t just stop there.
Now, there is hyper-personalization. This updated way of making your emails more relevant to your customers takes into account their behaviors and interests and updates parts of the email or even the layout of the email accordingly. After all, what good is the greatest message in the world if it’s not relevant to the person seeing it?
How personalized are you making your emails during your current email marketing efforts? If the answer is “new email, who dis?” Then, it might be time to make some updates.
Unsubscribes vs. New Subscribers
One final way to discuss tracking your email marketing effectiveness is to compare your unsubscribe rate to the number of new subscribers. If you’re bleeding subscribers and not doing a good job of getting in some new ones, it won’t be long until your email list runs dry.
If you sell something (product, service, attention, etc.), then every subscriber on your list is worth a specific value amount. And while losing a subscriber hurts, it’s likely that the subscriber wasn’t worth very much or only signed up for a specific reason (like a free download or whitepaper).
On the flip side, not gaining subscribers can hurt far more. There’s a huge difference between losing a customer who chose not to purchase your service or product and someone never hearing that your product or service exists in the first place.
Perhaps your solution is exactly what they need, and they’d happily be a customer for life. But, if they don’t know about you, then they won’t even get to make that choice.
Check all the areas of your website or sales collateral where you list your email subscription link. Make sure they are working correctly and check if they are effective. Just like emails, those parts of your marketing efforts can be tested and optimized.
Hopefully, this article has provided you with a guide and some insights on how to check and improve the effectiveness of your email marketing strategy. It may seem like a lot, but if you want to reach the pinnacle of your potential ROI and not be disappointed with your results, then it’s worth it in the long term.
Download our checklist to log and test your email marketing efforts.
Here’s a handy checklist of everything we discussed: Click on it to download it and use it to test your email marketing efforts.