Thursday, May 03, 2007

Best practices, optimization, or proven steps – which one would you choose?

This week we had a good reminder on the importance of testing your message. Working on a client’s campaign, we tested three different messages promoting a new whitepaper. We tested the messages as a lead nurturing campaign to the client’s house list, with the intention of using the best performing version for a lead acquisition campaign to a rental list later on.

The three messages were identical in format and most of the text. The only differences were in how we phrased the topic of the whitepaper, which appeared in the message subject lines, the title, and in one line in the e-mail body. The three variations were:

- Ten ways to optimize
- Ten best practices
- Ten proven steps

The results were rather striking. Open rates for all three messages were rather similar despite the differences in the subject line (24.0-24.8%). However, click through rates were significantly telling:

- Ten ways to optimize – 21.9%
- Ten best practices – 16.0%
- Ten proven steps – 32.1%

Given the significant differences in click throughs, I was a bit surprised to see the similar open rates for the three different subject lines. At the same time, it has been a trend I have been seeing developing for awhile. My take is that sender name has become much more important than the subject line (we used the name of a salesperson + the company name as the sender name, with the salesperson’s e-mail address). If the sender is someone I know and trust, I would probably take a look at the e-mail.

So what did we learn from this experiment?
  1. Obviously, we know which message we will use for the rental list.
  2. The parity of the open rates does not mean that we should stop paying attention to the selection of subject lines. I am pretty sure we could have come up with some bad subject lines that would have performed significantly worse even with the same sender name.
  3. With sender name having a major effect on open rates, it is more crucial than ever that each e-mail we send delivers value to our audience. Once they stop reading our e-mails, even a great subject line is unlikely to reverse the trend.
  4. Above all: we are going to continue testing as much as we can. 100% more clicks is not something we can pass on!
Please send me a note or post a comment if you have any interesting test results you can share.

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