Daniel Burstein

Email Optimization: 72% of marketers test subject lines

October 5th, 2012

We surveyed 2,735 marketers for the 2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, and asked them which email marketing elements they test most often …

Q. Which of the following email campaign elements do you routinely test to optimize performance? 

Click to enalrge


Subject line testing

“I’m not surprised ‘Subject line’ testing leads the way. You have to convince a reader to open and read your email — a solid subject line gets you in that door! Once past that, then all the others come into play,” said Trevor Barnes, Senior Web Services Specialist, AMD (Advanced Micro Devices).

“Also, that’s why one of the top three CAN-SPAM guides/provisions … ‘prohibits deceptive subject lines,’” he added.


Target audience testing

“I’m somewhat surprised at the relative positions of email specifics versus call-to-action (which I assume means ‘offer’) and target audience. Part of this may be due to how the question is worded and whether recipients view the whole email interaction as ‘test-able’ or just campaign specifics,” said Prugh Roeser, founder, LeadLogix.

While some respondents may have also assumed we meant “offer” when asking about “call-to-action,” it’s worth noting that we’ve found significant conversion rate increases from simply testing and optimizing the wording and presentation of a call-to-action without changing the offer.

Prugh went on to say, “As an email marketer who came out of a direct marketing background, the target audience has always been viewed as the most important factor in an email success, followed by the offer (call-to-action), and then by creative specifics of the email, such as subject line, copy, length, graphics, etc.”

Prugh’s remarks about testing the audience are very prescient, as we see in the following chart that matches effectiveness to the above usage data (also from the 2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Report) …


Click to enalrge


You can see from the above chart that while target audience is not the most commonly tested element, it is the most effective.

Prugh explains why, “There’s a common-sense logic to this in the sense that the offer and email specifics won’t matter if it’s going to the wrong audience, and the email specifics won’t matter if it’s going to the right audience but with the wrong offer.

“On the other hand,” he concludes, “if both the audience and offer are right, then the email specifics can be tweaked to communicate better.”

If you would like to see your analysis and insights about a MarketingSherpa chart featured in a future blog post, sign up for Chart of the Week and share your advice based on our weekly marketing industry charts.


Related Resources:

2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Report – Free excerpt

Email Research: The 5 best email variables to test

Email Optimization and Testing: 800,000 emails sent, 1 major lesson learned

Improve Your Email Programs: 5 Test Ideas

Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS Institute Daniel oversees all editorial content coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – working with our team of reporters to dig for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a frequent speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has more than 15 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

Categories: Email Marketing Tags: , , ,

  1. Adam Lapp
    Adam Lapp
    October 5th, 2012 at 14:17 | #1

    Testing the “target audience” is precisely aligned with our conversion methodology in that the “Motivation” of the prospect has the highest impact on conversion. C = 4M + 3V + 2(I-F) – 2A.

    The ideal would be a one-to-one communication with everyone on your list, i.e. giving John Doe an offer that corresponds to his buying habits, needs, persona, etc. However this is impractical, emailing a list of 200k one by one.

    But you should try to segment your lists as much as possible. Emails do not need to be persuasive, you just need to have great timing and relevance, which only comes from great customer insight and targeting.

  2. November 2nd, 2012 at 11:05 | #2

    So… what are the most efficient methods and tools to test subject lines that you have found?

    Google Adwords can get quick results, but it their ad text is on 3 lines.

    Facebook ads are like subject lines but the audience is playing with their friends, not engaged with the subject of your email. Another positive about Facebook ads is that you can test images.

    Have you seen that testing subject lines with limited email releases is best?

  3. July 12th, 2013 at 00:58 | #3

    How can effect email marketing on a website? Social media also take a part in this.

We no longer accept comments on the MarketingExperiments blog, but we'd love to hear what you've learned about customer-first marketing. Send us a Letter to the Editor to share your story.