Email marketing remains the preferred communication channel for people to interact with brands. Institutions should focus on email marketing to reach prospects and communicate with key stakeholders.

So, if your college is already using email marketing, you may have wondered why it fails to capture your stakeholder’s attention.

You can always opt for A/B testing email best practices for colleges, trying different elements to understand and help them reach goals effectively.

Email A/B testing, a.k.a. split testing, means sending one version of your email to one group of the target audience and the second version of your email to the second audience group. The winning variation is then sent to your list’s remaining target audience/subscribers.

Here, we’ll walk you through A/B testing email best practices your college can use to stand out.

  • Setting the Stage
  • Crafting Compelling Email Content
  • A/B Testing Variables
  • Analyzing Data and Metrics
  • Testing Frequency and Consistency
  • Tools and Resources

1. Setting the Stage

Leverage the data available instead of relying on intuition to enhance your email marketing. Implement A/B testing consistently to use this information, continually improving performance and maximizing the return on investment for your email marketing campaigns.

Understanding the target audience

Understanding the target audience

Understanding the target audience involves analyzing student preferences, demographics, and behaviors to tailor campaigns effectively.

By analyzing and adapting based on this information, colleges can enhance the effectiveness of their email marketing strategies and better cater to their audience’s specific needs and interests. It ensures that email content resonates with recipients, improving engagement and response rates.

Defining clear goals for email campaigns

What is the need to define clear goals for email campaigns? The most straightforward answer is to get better results. 

Common goals for email campaigns include:

  • Increasing student enrollment through targeted outreach
  • Boosting attendance at campus events through promotional emails
  • Driving alumni engagement through networking opportunities

2. Crafting Compelling Email Content

Crafting Compelling Email Content

The subject line is the first thing your reader sees when they receive your email. The body of your emails is where you communicate your message, convey your unique selling points, and drive action from your recipients.

Subject lines that grab attention

Crafting compelling email content begins with attention-grabbing subject lines. Engage recipients from the start with concise, intriguing subject lines that prompt them to open and explore the message further.

For example:

  • Emails targeted to alumni can have a subject line like ‘Connect, Collaborate, and Succeed: Join Our Alumni Network! ‘
  • Emails targeted to prospective students can have a subject line like “Discover Why XYZ College is Your Best Choice!”

Personalization and segmentation strategies

Colleges and universities must use personalization in email marketing to develop emotional connections with students. Personalization involves tailoring email content to individual recipients based on their preferences, behavior, or demographics.

Crafting content for each segment allows colleges to deliver more targeted and relevant messages. In email marketing, a few personalization ideas include:

  • Using prospects’ first names
  • Providing resources on specific programs of interest
  • Using images that reflect prospects’ demographic
  • Addressing emails from a specific person

For example, when implementing A/B testing email strategies for universities, segment its audience into prospective, current, and alums, tailoring content to address each group’s unique needs and interests.

Design elements and visuals

Enhance the user experience with compelling visuals, intuitive layouts, and consistent branding to captivate recipients and convey information effectively.

Experiment with variations in content, layout, and timing to identify the most effective approaches, ensuring optimal engagement and response rates.

3. A/B Testing Variables

A/B Testing Variables

Key variables in A/B testing for college email campaigns include subject lines, email content, visuals, and call-to-action buttons. Experimenting with variations in these elements allows colleges to identify the most effective combinations that resonate with their audience and improve conversion rates.

Testing different subject lines

Craft varied subject lines to identify the most compelling and attention-grabbing ones that resonate with your college audience, increasing email open rates.

There are a handful of A/B testing email tips for colleges to approach testing subject lines:

  1. Personalize with the recipient’s name
  2. Include a program or event description or attribute
  3. Ask a question or make a testament
  4. Play with character count

A/B testing your email marketing subject lines, which can greatly affect open rates and marketing metrics.

Experimenting with email copy and messaging

Refine communication by testing different content styles, tones, and messaging strategies to pinpoint the most effective approach.

Follow these A/B  testing email strategies for Higher Ed for writing email copy that sells:

  • Start with a good subject line
  • Be relevant to your reader
  • Get to the point and make it clear
  • Write for humans, not machines
  • Proofread with another person
  • Format your email to make it pop
  • Test a couple of versions

Moreover, if you want to send out the quarterly college newsletter, follow a different email copy than sending an event sign-up confirmation email.

Also, you can use the following email marketing strategies to increase enrollment. 

  • Discount on course registration
  • First-time subscriber discount
  • Exclusive access to course content
  • Free download newsletter
  • Receive university prospectus

Testing various calls-to-action (CTAs)

Evaluate the impact of different CTAs on user engagement and conversion rates to optimize the desired actions in response to your emails.

Consider the following best practices for crafting compelling CTAs:

  • Keep subject lines short, under 60 characters
  • Use action words to induce curiosity (i.e. explore, apply, join)
  • Include preview text
  • Personalize CTAs to increase open rates

CTAs in Higher Ed emails can also appear as hyperlinked text in action phrases, such as:

  • Want to know more? Join Online Community Now
  • Did you enjoy our open house? Tell us about it in the comments.
  • Love your campus life? Post pictures on Facebook.

If you are trying to put them into a user’s journey funnel, you won’t be able to move forward without a catchy CTA.

Exploring different visuals and layouts

Types of email design layouts you can use include:

  • Plain email text
  • Rich HTML email design
  • Interactive email design

Assess visual elements’ influence and layouts’ influence on user engagement, ensuring an aesthetically pleasing and compelling presentation that aligns with your college’s branding and messaging.

4. Analyzing Data and Metrics

Analyzing Data and Metrics

Analyzing data and metrics from A/B testing will provide insight into open, click-through, and conversion rates. This detailed analysis provides valuable data on audience preferences, enabling colleges to refine their strategies, enhance engagement, and maximize the effectiveness of college email marketing campaigns.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) for email campaigns

Here are email marketing KPIs to help you understand how well your messages connect with the recipient:

  • Open rate
  • Click-through rate (CTR)
  • Conversion rate
  • Click-to-open rate (CTOR)
  • Bounce rate
  • Unsubscribe rate
  • Web traffic and conversion

Interpreting A/B testing results

Compare performance metrics, such as click-through and conversion rates, between the A and B groups to identify variations in user response. Break down results based on audience segments to understand how different demographics or user groups respond to variations.

Use statistical tests like t-tests or chi-squared tests to determine if observed differences are statistically significant and not due to chance.

Assess whether the timing of the email variations influences user engagement and response rates. Collect user feedback through surveys or direct feedback mechanisms to gain qualitative insights into their preferences and perceptions.

Analyze the entire conversion funnel to pinpoint where users may drop off or face obstacles, helping identify areas for improvement.

Making data-driven decisions for optimization

Utilize A/B testing results for colleges to make data-driven decisions for optimization.

Analyze key performance indicators to identify successful variations. Tailor content, design, and strategies based on insights gained, ensuring future email campaigns align with audience preferences.

5. Testing Frequency and Consistency

Establishing the optimal email frequency through A/B testing depends on audience response. Start the testing process by comparing two variations and observe key metrics for a duration of 4-6 weeks.

Maintaining consistency across A/B email tests for colleges involves uniformity in visual elements, tone, and messaging. By maintaining a cohesive brand identity, colleges establish recognition and credibility.

Whether through email campaigns or other channels, the consistency approach ensures that audiences associate consistent attributes with the brand, resulting in a strong brand presence.

6. Tools and Resources

A/B testing is perceived as a more advanced technique as several tools and resources are available for colleges and universities.

An Email A/B testing tool is a software or platform that facilitates the comparison of different email variations to optimize performance. It allows marketers to test elements like subject lines, content, and design, providing insights for data-driven decisions to improve college email campaign effectiveness.

Here are some of the most commonly used tools for A/B testing email for colleges:

  • Mailchimp: Offers A/B testing features for subject lines, content, and send times.
  • HubSpot: Provides A/B testing capabilities for various elements within email campaigns.
  • Constant Contact: Enables A/B testing for subject lines, content, and email layouts.
  • SendGrid: Offers A/B testing for optimizing email content and delivery strategies.
  • Campaign Monitor: Allows A/B testing for different aspects of email campaigns, including subject lines and content.

Final Words

Implementing A/B testing email best practices for colleges and universities is something you should always do, even if you have a small audience or your college brand has become big. 

Consider creating two designs to check which elements work for your particular audience group and what inspires action. It’s important to continuously check what’s effective and what’s not, as trends and target audience behavior change.

The systematic analysis of performance metrics in A/B testing is the key to success, allowing colleges to make informed, data-driven decisions for continuous improvement.

To ensure your email A/B testing for your college is successful, it’s best to follow the best practices we listed. Or you can connect with a Higher Ed marketing agency to conduct a successful email marketing campaign.