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How to Test Your Copy

Before you roll out a major marketing campaign, it is critical to test different approaches on small segments of your customer base. Doing so will offer you insight on what promotions work, and it can also prevent you from launching an expensive campaign that totally bombs.

One of the most critical aspects of marketing is constantly testing and improving your copy (otherwise known as your writing). The words you choose have a profound influence on the effectiveness of your advertisements, emails and other marketing efforts. In some cases, even a single word can have the power to improve or devastate your conversions. Testing different variations on your copy can help you better target and understand your audience and increase sales over time.

Testing Copy in Your Emails

Before looking at your copy, it’s important to understand how you evaluate your email marketing success overall. To determine whether your email marketing strategy is successful, you will need to analyze the following elements:

  • Deliverability. Are you slipping into spam filters? Are you using a clean list? It’s always better to find this out early and when you are dealing with only a small segment of your list. Deliverability problems can get you blacklisted under the CAN-SPAM Act, and testing your lists can help avoid that.
  • Open rates. How many people open your email? Open rates vary by industry, type of business and customer base, so it's important that you know what is typical for your business by analyzing the open rates of emails you've sent previously. As you test promotions, you can use that rate as your benchmark to determine if a promotion is a success.
  • Click-throughs. Once people open your emails, are they clicking through to the desired website or product landing page? If not, you are likely hooking them with your subject line, but once they read the email copy, they either don't see what they want, or you haven't convinced them that your product or service is worth further investigation.
  • Call to action. Do viewers do what you ask them to? For example, are they signing up to receive free coupons, clicking on the blog post you’re promoting or visiting your website to learn more about a product? If not, your marketing piece is not serving its purpose, and your call to action may not be clear or strong enough.
  • Revenue generated. All the other elements can get the customer to your site, but if customers don't buy once they’re there, your strategy can't be deemed a complete success. Improving your click-throughs and open rates is good, but in the end, your goal is to make money.

So how do you go about improving these elements and figuring out what works best? A/B testing is one of the most popular choices amongst marketers. Essentially, you create two or more versions of something to see which version is more successful, and you send the versions to two separate groups you've randomly picked from an unfiltered list. The versions should ideally only vary in a single way, so that you can isolate the one element that makes a difference. For example, if your “A” email and your “B” email have different images, copy, subject lines, calls to action and headlines, you won’t understand what particular aspect of the email is making the difference.

Here are some components worth testing:

  • Subject lines. Open rates are mostly affected by the subject line. Benchmarks and guidelines vary depending on the nature of your business and your average client, and testing will help you pinpoint what works for your customer base. For example, you might test one subject line that emphasizes urgency and another that focuses on a pain point for the customer. Or you could test to see whether a hard-sell approach or the offer of a freebie is more attractive to your customers. You could also focus on something subtler, such as longer versus shorter subject lines, or capitalizing versus keeping lowercase lettering throughout.
  • From line. This can also have an impact on your open rates. Experts disagree on what you should include here. Some claim that it is better to build your brand by using your business name. Others tout that using an actual name is more personal and therefore more successful. Test whether your customers are more likely to open a piece from your company or one from a person within your organization, perhaps you or an officer in the company.
  • Timing. Again, timing varies depending on your type of business. Testing will show you on which day of the week and time of day customers are most likely to open and click-through your promotions so that you can schedule your marketing pieces to go out on those days. For example, send the exact same promotion on both Monday and Thursday or on a Wednesday at 9 a.m. and then again at 7 p.m. It will take some time to begin to see a pattern, but it will pay off if you can isolate the times with the highest potential.
  • Pricing. Oftentimes, when your conversions are low, pricing is an issue. At that point, you can lower a price to see if your conversions increase. It is usually recommended to space these promotions out to decrease the chances that the same person will see two different prices on the same item at the same time. Additionally, you can test discounts and, for example, offer one group "20% off" and the other "$50 off." The discount might equal the same dollar amount, but the language affects the outcome.
  • Design. While this is not directly related to copy, it’s important to test different design elements. You might test the placement of your logo, the size and color of your headers and image placement, or even swapping out different images entirely. You might also test which hyperlinks are clicked more often—ones that are only in color, only underlined or both. Another common design element to test is your call-to-action button; some people believe changing the color or placement of buttons can significantly affect your conversions.
  • Call-to-action language. This is critical, so test the language you use. For example, you might test "Sign up here" versus "Subscribe now," or "Learn more" versus "Order now."

Testing Copy in Your Ads and Landing Pages

A/B testing is also useful when you want to gauge which of your online ads will generate the most click-throughs as well as the effectiveness of your landing pages. As with emails, you create several different ads or landing pages to see which combinations are more successful in driving revenue. In these cases, the amount of variations you must test will increase exponentially (i.e. two ads and two landing pages equal 4 different ad/landing-page combinations).

Some thoughts to keep in mind for each:

Ads

Banner ads are clean and straightforward, and their sole purpose is to drive people to your website—and often a specific product landing page. When testing ads, you don't have a whole lot to focus on because the text is minimal. However, you can test the following elements.

  • Your unique sales proposition. You only have a few words to convince people to click your ad, so test your approach. Search for the Google ads of some competitors; see their angle and consider how you can make yours different. Are you offering a greater sale? Do you offer free delivery? Are you the oldest supplier of this product in your city? Figure out what makes your offering unique, and incorporate that into the headline to stand out from the crowd.
  • Call to action. It's probably the most critical thing on your ad because it directs people to your site. Play with the wording. Test more demanding "Buy now," "Order" and "Get it now" language against softer "Learn more" or "Check it out" prompts to see which works best for you. Leave everything the same, including the button, so that you know what element works.

Landing pages

When it comes to testing landing pages, it’s important that you test specific elements to learn exactly how those minor changes affect the overall results. A total redesign of a landing page will cost you a lot more money and time than rewriting a Google ad, and in many cases, you may find that one simple change drastically increases your sales. Test the following:

  • Headlines. Write a benefit statement that clearly states the offer. Most experts recommend that you begin with a strong verb. For example, you could write two headlines, with one focusing on a positive "Double your productivity with the XYZ Widget" and the other focusing on a negative "Climb out of that productivity rut with the XYZ Widget."
  • Content. Test short versus long copy to see which is preferable for your audience. While being concise is ideal in many circumstances, when it comes to expensive, complex or technical products, the consumer may want to read a longer and more in-depth description of the product before considering a purchase.
  • Images and videos. People love images and videos, so you can test different ones to see which—if any—increase sales. Or if you aren't convinced that your landing pages need graphical elements, test one with images against one without.
  • Order form. Change the placement, or eliminate some of the fields you require customers to complete.
  • Links. You may want your landing page to be full of great resources for customers. However, too many links can distract customers and keep them from completing a purchase. Test a clean version without any outbound links against one that contains a few.