4 Easy Email Tests to Start Today | npENGAGE

4 Easy Email Tests to Start Today

By on Aug 4, 2011


Are you testing your email messages (i.e. subject lines, time of the day, etc)? If not, you’re missing an opportunity to improve your results.

Email has a unique advantage over direct mail. You can immediately see what worked and adjust your message on-the-fly, if needed. And while you may have a hunch about the best day or time to send email, testing validates (or disproves) your theory. It really allows you to make data-driven decisions.

However, I don’t see enough nonprofits taking advantage of email testing.

While direct mail may involve considerable effort and planning, an email message may be written a few days (or hours) before being sent. And while it does require a few extra steps, email testing doesn’t have to be time-consuming.

Here are 4 easy ways to get started testing your messages:

  1. Subject Lines: Your message is competing against daily deals, close friends, and social media alerts in an inbox. Testing subject lines will help you get by the first round of cuts. It’s also the easiest way to begin testing.
  2. Day of the Week: You’ll find different research on the best day to send email. MailerMailer found Sunday has the best open and click-through rates. eROI indicated Monday. MailChimp found Saturday and Sunday get the most click-throughs. So what’s the best day? Whatever your readers tell you. Use this research as a starting point, but test until you find which day gets your best results.
  3. Time of the Day: Many studies have found the morning is the best time to send email. MailChimp indicated 6-7am yielded the most click-throughs. MarketingSherpa and eROI found 9am resulted in the highest open and click-through rates. To find your ideal time, test these and other morning time slots.
  4. Stories Within Appeals (& Other Content): It’s difficult to have success without good content. So, continue testing content until you find what resonates with your readers. In your next email appeal, test two stories. See which one generates the most click-throughs and conversions. Learn from it and repeat.

Start Testing Tomorrow

So, how can you start testing immediately? For your next email, send one subject line to 10% of your list. Send another 10% a different subject line. Wait 48 hours. Send the winning subject line to the rest of your list.*

Simple enough? Systems like Blackbaud NetCommunity will even do most of the work for you, including randomly and automatically dividing your list into selecting 10%/10%/80% increments.

*Note: It’s important to achieve statistical significance in your email testing. Otherwise, results may just be by chance. eMarketing Dynamics has a free calculator that will check this for you.

What tips do you have for email testing?


Mike Snusz brings 18 years of fundraising experience to his role as a Senior Team Lead on Blackbaud’s Professional Services team. He leads a team of digital consultants and works with nonprofits to improve their digital fundraising, monthly giving, email marketing and peer-to-peer fundraising programs. Prior to Blackbaud, Mike managed the turnaround of the Ride For Roswell from 2003 to 2005 in his hometown of Buffalo, NY. When he’s not contemplating fundraising, Mike enjoys hide and seek, tag, and dance parties with his two kids.

Comments (2)

  • John Haydon says:

    Mike – great post here! I especially like your idea to A/B test with 20% of your email list. Very smart!

    In terms of subject lines, many organizations might use blogging as a platform that spits out an email via their email service (Aweber, Mailchamp and most others do this). If something this is automated, it’s hard to manually edit the subject line. In this case, it would be smart to feed a post title into the subject line field, and focus on writing great blog post titles (which is good for readers / SEO anyhow).

    • Mike Snusz says:

      John, fantastic tip! 

      Working to improve the quality of all subject lines is an important part of an email program. I wonder how many organizations also change-up their automated alert subject lines (donations, events, etc) throughout the year. With so much already on their plate, it’s easily overlooked.

      Thanks for the comment.

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