Increase newsletter engagement with A/B testing


Reprinted from GateHouse Newsroom

A mean girl once said, "I mean, you wouldn't buy a skirt without asking your friends first if it looks good on you."

A/B testing is like asking your friends what they think about two skirt options, allowing you to pick the most popular of the two before you commit to making an actual purchase. For newsrooms, it can be a powerful tool for gaining insight into audiences to see how best to engage with readers.

Earlier this year, StarNews participated in A/B testing with the newsroom's Facebook account, testing which types of content struck more of a chord with followers. The staff was able to establish some important best posting practices.

Recently, we've been doing a little testing of our own down at the GateHouse Newsroom laboratory with our weekly newsletter using MailChimp's built-in A/B testing feature, and have come to some great revelations about how to better engage with our own audience.

Hello, it's me...wishing you would open our email

It's the year 2016, people get a LOT of emails, and it's easier to mark one as read rather than actually opening it. It might seem obvious, but sometimes getting to the point of the matter is truly the best way to get folks interested in what you have to say – and in the case of subject lines, sometimes it can mean the difference in your email getting opened or passed over.

We found that eliminating unnecessary details like dates and the name of your newsletter from subject lines freed up characters for us to get to the heart of the content we were offering AND gave us a higher open rate over our test with a date in the subject line. With more subject line real estate to work with, we were able to shift to longer, more descriptive subject lines that did a better job of explaining what the content of our newsletter was.

Eliminating the date in our subject line meant a higher open rate.

Eliminating the date in our subject line meant a higher open rate.

Put your Love On Top

Once we had completed our subject line testing and made some click rate-enhancing tweaks, we turned our focus to next phase of our testing: content.

Just like Beyonce says, it's important to put your love on top, and we found that picking one "featured" piece of content we were the most proud of and giving it a little extra attention made a significant improvement in click rate not only to the featured content, but to the additional newsletter content, too.

Featuring one article had a big impact on the number of clicks it received.


We emphasized one piece of featured content by giving it a larger image and a few more lines of preview text.

Call (to action) me, maybe?

After seeing the impact of giving one link a little more attention than the others, we decided to test giving all of our newsletter links a little more love by giving each one a call to action.

In the case of our newsletter, we'd love for our subscribers to read the posts we link to, so our call to actions are variations of "Read more here," though depending on what your ask, call to actions can encompass almost any action, and be as obvious or subtle as you feel would work for your own audience.

A call to action is a simple add that can increase your clicks.

call to action

Giving each of our links its own call to action suggesting that readers give our links a read was an easy addition that saw a big bump in clicks when compared to our test without call to actions.

Testing takeaways

While each member of your audience is unique, A/B testing is a great way to for you to experiment with various engagement styles to understand which ones are bigger hits than misses.

For our newsletter tests, we found:

  1. Subscribers like more detailed subject lines about content. Eliminate unnecessary details like dates or newsletter names to free up more subject line real estate.
  2. Having a featured piece of content increases your clicks. Giving one newsletter link you're really proud of a little more attention is an excellent way to make sure your subscribers know where to focus first.
  3. If you want audience, don't be afraid to ask. Call to actions are simple asks that can have a big impact on the actions of your readers once they are in your newsletter and have a huge impact on click rates.

John Crouch is the social media coordinator at GateHouse Media's Center for News & Design in Austin, Texas, where he works with newsrooms to help increase sociability and online presence. Before joining GateHouse, he worked as a freelance writer in Toronto.

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