The 3 Email Tests That Improved Results by 10 Points

I’ve got a brief blog post for you today. Give is managing the email marketing, communications, and fundraising programs for a few nonprofits. During the past few months, we’ve deployed dozens of tests. I’d like to share our findings with you.

But first, the caveats:

  • Our findings don’t apply to every vertical or organization. You need to test hypotheses for yourself. Don’t let your fundraising consultant or agency push you with, “This way is best practice.” If you’re willing to accept and own the consequences of failed tests, then you’ll be able to improve the results of your email program quickly.
  • We’re working with modest email subscriber files—in the 2,000 to 10,000 range. Testing errors within small populations can’t be ignored. That’s why we test hypotheses more than once. You should too.

Test This, Not That

The following tests improved our open, click-through, and conversion rates by 1-10 points.

  1. Subject Line Testing. Duh. Every blog post about email marketing opines subject line testing. And for good reason! Just like the outer envelope of a direct mail package, your subject line will make or break your deployment. Test your subject lines. We did. We do. We’ll never stop. We’ve tested generic subject lines versus personalized subject lines. We’ve tested first word personalization versus last word personalization. We’ve tested click-bait-type subject lines versus more traditional subject lines.
  2. Creative Template Testing. I’m fascinated with clients’ and designers’ obsessions with top-of-message branding. You know what I’m talking about. Perhaps you’re of the same mind; your nonprofit’s logo should be the first element in your creative. Well, hold on there. I thought so too. And we tested logos at the top versus logos at the bottom. Logos at the bottom won. Why? My guess is because the brand name is already being used for the sender name. The brand is already being communicated up front, so using the top of the creative to communicate offer improves conversions. We believe the first 400 pixels of creative are critical. Don’t squander the space with logos.
  3. Link Frequency Testing. Chalk another one up to the Duh category. The number and types of links you include in your creative matter. My personal fundraising philosophy is: if you don’t ask, they (donors) won’t give. If your email creative just uses one call-to-action (typically a button), you’re doing your potential conversion rate a disservice. Use multiple means to link donors back to your donation/volunteer/other conversion pages. Link the pre-header. Link the header image. Link a call-to-action in your first paragraph. Use a button. Link a call-to-action in your second paragraph. But high link frequency doesn’t guarantee success. If you’re linking every other word, your message is just going to look spammy and weird. There’s a balance, find it through testing.

What Did We Learn?

  • First word personalization beats most other subject line types. For example: John, there’s only 3 days until Thanksgiving. Timebound subject lines are second best. For example: Our Christmas Dinner is in 3 days. Please help.
  • You can over use personalization. Weird, but true! That’s why we use a 1:1 ratio (sometimes it’s a 2:1 ratio). We personalize one subject line and use a generic subject line for the following deployment.
  • We are yet to see emojis improve open rates. This one makes me sad. I love emojis.
  • Pre-header text is a powerful complement to enticing subject lines. Use pre-headers!
  • Use an image in the first 400 pixels of your creative. That image should feature need or clearly communicate an offer.
  • Linking no more than 3 action sentences improves click-through rates. 2 doesn’t work. 4 doesn’t work. Too few links and readers don’t know what to do. Too many links and your message looks like spam.

What Are We Currently Testing?

  • Pictures of Signatories. I read somewhere that including the picture of the sender in the signature section creates a sense of trust that ultimately drives conversions. We’ll see.
  • Best Day/Time. I’ve read and been told, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days to send email solicitations. We’ve actually seen our top performing emails deploy Thursday mornings at 10am.
  • Call-to-Action Language. A more recent test, we’ve been looking at ‘Please Give’ versus ‘Donate’ versus ‘Donate Now’ in driving conversions. ‘Donate Now’ has generated nearly double the number of click-throughs and conversions.
  • Dollar Handles. We’ve tried personalized dollar handles with little success. I think it didn’t work because we didn’t pass the unique dollar handles through to the donation page. There was an immediate disconnect. But we’ve tested generic dollar handles, reinforcing impact (for example, $20 will feed a person who is homeless for two days), with some positive early results. Point being, just like direct mail, anchor the offer in a number. Tell the donor what to give or what to do.

But All Is For Naught…

…if your email creative isn’t mobile responsive. Well over 50% of email messages are opened on a phone or tablet. We use custom message designs for all of our clients, each coded to be responsive and rigorously tested using multiple operating systems, email clients, screen sizes, and devices.


Give is a direct response fundraising agency helping Canadian charities raise more money. Wanna work together? You gotta get referred. We’re picky that way—and you’ll like us more for it.

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philipgive

Give is a direct response fundraising agency. We help Canadian charities inspire their supporters to greater levels of commitment. Give was created for your charity and its supporters.