Email Testing 101: 9 A/B Tests You Can Start Today To Skyrocket Your Results
by Aaron Orendorff last updated on 0

Email Testing 101: 9 A/B Tests You Can Start Today To Skyrocket Your Results

Despite social media’s blazing popularity – not to mention the rise of all things “app” – one fact remains certain: email marketing is still the reigning marketing champ. After reviewing cumulative data earlier this month Martin Zhel from MainMunch lays it out plain:

If you have 2,000 email subscribers, 2,000 Facebook fans and 2,000 followers on Twitter – this is what you will get:

  • 435 people will open your email
  • 120 Facebook fans will see your message
  • 40 Twitter followers will see your message

According to our research, a whopping 64% of companies rate email marketing as their most effective marketing channel, and the 2021 DMA National Client Email Report found that email marketing generated approximately $38 for every $1 spent. That’s 3,800%!

What’s all this mean?

Easy. If you and your business are struggling to see those same kind of results with email marketing, the problem isn’t email itself … it’s how you’re using it.

Email marketing is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and unfortunately, the best practices from one company or case study aren’t guaranteed to work for you.

The only way to truly keep on top of email marketing and continuously build performance is to test.

Email AB test reports in GetResponse.

However, if you’re not familiar with email A/B testing, you might be a little confused about where to start. That’s why – to cut through the clutter and get down to brass tacks – I’ve put together this list of nine A/B tests focused directly on the three areas that have the highest potential to skyrocket your email effectiveness:

  1. Subject Line
  2. Email Body
  3. Call-to-Action

Related: Email Marketing KPIs

Table Of Contents

9 email A/B test ideas

Subject Line

Naturally, your subject is the first thing people see in their inboxes. And given that the average open rate across all industries is 21.73%, for the vast majority of your subscribers … it’s the only thing they’ll ever see. This means, if your subject line sucks, you might as well not bother writing the email at all.

So, how do you find out what your audience wants?

1. Long vs. Short

It’s true what they say, size matters. However, the truth is there’s no optimal length for everyone. While some people prefer short, catchy, and often cryptic subject lines, others want something a bit more descriptive or explanatory before clicking on your email.

The best place to start testing your emails is to formulate two subject lines: one that’s less than 50 characters and a second that’s 60-70 characters.

2. Exclamations vs. Questions

Did you know that adding punctuation in an email subject line significantly affects open rates? Just take a look at these options:

“How about a trip to Vegas”


“How about a trip to Vegas?”


“How about a trip to Vegas!”

Technically, they all say the same thing. However, the second leans on intrigue while the third majors on excitement.

Which do your customers like best? The only way to find out is to test.

3. Fear vs. Joy

In a similar vein, the emotions you evoke with your email subject line can also impact open rates. FOMO – or the “fear of missing out” – has the power to drive action. After all, scarcity and avoiding the inevitable consequences of our bad decisions, mistakes, and ignorance are the dominate human motivators.

On the other hand, adopting a joyful approach – delighting your subscriber with the prospect of what awaits them after the click – can also work.

So will it be, “The HOT New Shows You’re Missing Out On” (Fear) or, “Watch These HOT New Shows With Your Friends This Weekend” (Joy)? Only one way to find out.

Email Body

Let’s assume you’ve optimized your subject line and got your audience to click-through to the actual content. What are they looking for once they get inside? Try these A/B tests to find out what makes your customers stick around.

4. Hell vs. Heaven

Similar to “Joy vs. Fear” in your subject line, this fourth test focuses on the emotions that the body of your email evokes in readers.

You could focus on the pain the person might experience from not having your product. Or you could simply highlight a pleasurable outcome. Both approaches work, but only one can be used to grab attention at the outset.

To stress these emotional states, I like to frame it in terms of “salvation, not sales”:

Ask yourself, “What hell does my product save people from? And what heaven does it deliver them unto?”

There are lots of hells and good marketing takes advantage of them all the time. There’s no-time hell, stressed-out hell, bored hell, out-of-shape hell, lonely hell, over-worked hell, no-budget hell, debt hell, bad-hygiene hell, low-CTR hell, human-relations hell, disorganized hell… you get the idea.

Try using different language to motivate your readers and see which approach they like best.

5. Plain vs. Rich

Rich emails are the sexy, dressed-up cousins of plain text emails. But in the age where more emails are being read on mobile devices, you might want to opt out of sexy, and go for sensible plain text.

Generally speaking, rich email – HTML email with elements like images, gifs, and logos – work better for ecommerce customers. This enables you to feature your products in all their real-world glory. On the other side of the equation, plain emails tend to work better for service-related businesses or info-products. They feel far more personal and educational.

Want to know for sure which route works best? Go ahead, test it and you’ll find out for yourself.

6. Appetizer vs. Meal

This test mostly applies to newsletters, blog promotion, curated emails, and content marketing. Should you provide a snippet of your most recent content to whet your subscribers appetite or is it better to go ahead and send the whole thing directly to their email?

It’s hard to tell if someone reads your entire email, so if you’re trying to gauge interest or simply want to drive website visits, you may be tempted to go with the appetizer option. Full-meal emails, however, offer more immediate value and can feel exceptionally more intimate. Practically speaking, if the majority of your subscriber view their emails on a mobile device, they may not take the time to click-through to a separate browser window.

In the end, the Appetizer vs. Meal test comes down to two factors: do you want to raise your click-through rates or do you want build your relationship with your audience? The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but testing them is the only way to discover.


This is the make or break point of your email. Even if your readers have opened your email and  read through to the end … you still need them to take the next step. If not, you’ve failed.

What’s the best way to convincing them to take the next step?

7. One vs. Many

Too many call-to-actions cause analysis paralysis and dramatically lower your click-through-rate.

At least, that’s what we’ve always been taught … right?

Not necessarily. While singularity is almost always paramount, what about the cases where having more than one call-to-action could actually be useful to your reader? This might mean sending ecommerce-focused emails with multiple products. Or it may mean creating multiple calls to action with different keywords and formats all of which lead to the same page. For example, notice that even though there are three separate calls to action in Peep Laja’s landing page optimization email below, they all send readers to very same YouTube tutorial:


The fact is, there are tons of different ways incorporate CTAs into your emails, and you shouldn’t limit yourself just because of so-called best practices.

At the most basic level, test one call to action versus multiple calls to action and see which one works for you.

8. Feature vs. Benefit

If you’re familiar at all with marketing principles, it’s been drilled into you since the beginning of time: “Focus on the benefits, not the features.” In other words, highlight what people get out of your product rather than the elements that make up that product itself. Instead of saying, “This is an iPod. It play mp3s.” say – as Steve Job famously did – “How much would you pay for 1,000 songs in your pocket?”

Alternatively, for some audiences … specifications matter. If your customers are more savvy and knowledgeable about your industry, they may actually prefer hearing about nitty-gritty details, as unsexy as those details might be.

This divide demands testing calls to action that sell your product (1) through a benefit and (2) through a highly sought-after feature.

9. You vs. I … Your vs. My

For our final test, let’s go all the way back to ninth grade English and talk about first-person versus second-person pronouns.

Less grammatically speaking, should you write your calls to action using “You” or “I”? Is it better to direct your audience – “Your ebook is ready and waiting … click here!” — or put words in their mouth – “I want to download my ebook right now!”

One A/B test by ContentVerve got a 90% increase in clicks just by changing “Start your free 30 day trial” to “Start my free 30 day trial.” Another test – going in the opposite direction – found that changing “Create My Account” to “Create Your Account” decreased conversion by 24.91%. Simply put, pronouns are powerful things:

Image Credit: Content Verve

Those results are amazing, but don’t go changing up all your pronouns just yet! This doesn’t mean it will work for you. Instead … well, you know what to do.

There’s only one way to find out …

There you have it. Nine A/B tests to get you started today:

  1. Long vs. Short
  2. Exclamations vs. Questions
  3. Fear vs. Joy
  4. Hell vs. Heaven
  5. Plain vs. Rich
  6. Appetizer vs. Meal
  7. One vs. Many
  8. Feature vs. Benefit
  9. You vs. I … Your vs. My

Remember, best practices are a great jumping off point to achieve the kind of 3,800% ROI some businesses are seeing.

But there’s only one way to find out what really works for yourself: test, test … test.

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