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Feb 05, 2004

Email Test Royalty Share Hard-won Test Results:

SUMMARY: What should you test to improve your email results? We asked the email team at, who test more segmentation and creative ideas than almost anyone else on this planet, to share their tactics and results. Includes:

Segmenting by interest area
Segmenting by relationship
Colorful HTML vs text-like HTML
Unless you're into handicrafts, you may not have ever heard of Jo-Ann Stores and their accompanying eretail arm, Which is a shame, because you may be able to learn a lot from them on the email front.

In fact, we collectively dub's email team, Linsly Donnelly, H. O. Reed, and Patricia Lim Ancheta, Testing Royalty.

"We have tested SO many permutations," says Donnelly. "And now we have to do repeat testing to make sure the information stays current." We asked the team to tell us what's worked, and what's not worked, so far:

-> Segmenting by interest area

At first glance's list would seem incredibly targeted -- American women in their late 40s who've all proactively raised their hands to get email by filling out forms on the site or in the stores.

The team discovered, by watching offer clicks and asking sign-ups to check off interest-boxes, that few women are generic handicrafters. Some adore knitting, others only sew, and a vast group are into scrap booking. If you send each of these niches a specialized offer, the responses are significantly higher than sending a generic message.

But the effort isn't always worth the reward. "We have 13 segments and we're talking to the customer every week," notes Donnelly. "That's a whole lot of work. Segmenting is very powerful, but not powerful enough to warrant it every single week."

So the team tested creative tactics to make generic-interest emails more powerful. Two tactics worked in particular:

1. Adding a search box near the top of the message
2. Running a text-list of interest areas as a navigation bar down the left side of the email

-> Segmenting by relationship

In addition to segmenting the list by interest, the team tried segmenting the list by where each name was on the "purchasing path."

"If you've signed up but you've never purchased anything on the site, we may send you a reward offer to get you interested. A lot of it's our best guess - what will get this person over the hurdle to buy online the first time?" explains Donnelly.

"Whereas, if you're buying online already, we may reward you for adding more to your average basket."

The team track conversion rates by source of name as well, to see if the place where the relationship started makes a difference in ultimate conversions or lifetime value. Interestingly, the names that come from refer a friend tests have not performed as well as expected. Names from sweeps have been better than expected -- perhaps because the offer's only made to site visitors and is not placed on third party sites.

The most successful relationship test has been the "anniversary project" where the team sent customers special offers based on the amount of time it had been since their last order.

They tested at-30-day and at-90-day mailings and found no discernable difference in results. (We suspect that would be very different for other products. It may take some handicrafters a few months to work through their current supplies and need to re-order.)

Now the anniversary project is fully automated. The team only express disappointment that it's not more scalable.

-> Colorful HTML vs text-like HTML

As with most eretailers, get the best responses with product images in the email creative. However, they've tested "text-only looking" messages as follow-up reminders for special sales. (Link to sample below.)

Text can feel much more urgent and telegraphic than HTML which feels like a graphic designer had time to do a nice lay-out.

The team send these messages two-four days after a special HTML offer has gone out, which means the send-day isn't always optimal. Instead of mid-week, it might be Sunday or Monday.
Despite this, the reminder messages are a rousing success.
(Note: We've heard in the past that this tactic works for Time Life books & music as well.)

Patricia Lim Ancheta notes she doesn't think text-tactics or the added frequency of a reminder message would work for lists with whom the mailer doesn't already have a strong relationship. You have to be mailing to your customers, and your customers have to really like you, for you to be able to get away with it.

-> More test results and notes

The continuous testing has paid off. "We haven't seen dollars per email record do anything but grow," notes Donnelly. More results:

* Absolutely watch your opens and responses by email domain. It's been the best way has to see when an ISP might be filtering email. You can't fix it if you don't know it's going on.

* Subject lines with words like "free" don't work anymore because too many ISPs filter for them. Frustratingly, the team have not been able to find anything that works as well though. One test that shows some promise - putting the customer's name in the subject line.

* Append has not been a good way to gain names thus far. "The hit rate is low, and the effectiveness of the names we hit was not worth it." (Note: this is another data point we heard echoed by Time Life.)

* Online buyers tend to buy more per cart on average than brick and mortar store shoppers. "You might buy $8 worth of items in the store, but on the Internet you want to buy as much as you can and leverage shipping costs," says Donnelly.

"Also, higher-ticket items that require a lot of info, like a sewing machine, sell well on the Internet. A regular store aisle can't have all the information or comparison charts and perspectives on different models."

Useful links related to this article:

Samples of emails that work for

@Once, the email technology system uses:

IdeaForest - own and operate the online branch of Jo-Ann Stores
See Also:

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