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How we run experiments on our weekly newsletter

Learn how to effectively run growth experiments on your newsletter and emails.
running weekly experiments with our newsletter

We’ve been running GoSquared Weekly for over 200 weeks. When we hit the 150th milestone and the 200th milestone, we wrote about the process and what we’ve learned about running a long term newsletter.

GoSquared Weekly followed roughly the same format week-on-week for the majority of this time, and that’s not inherently a negative thing. If something is broken, don’t fix it. The simplicity and regularity of a structured newsletter can be great for readers. They know what they’re getting.

However, we wanted to see what would happen if we changed things up. It’s good to be iterating on your work, and with an expanding marketing team, we had more minds and more ideas to test out.

So what did we do, and how do we measure success?

Which metrics matter for newsletters?

which metrics are important for newsletters

It’s vital to be specific about what you are measuring, but it’s more important to know what those numbers are telling you. For our experiments with GoSquared Weekly we decided to pick the two metrics that made the most sense to us: open rate, and CTR.

Open Rate

email open rate

Email is an interesting thing to measure because there’s a massive first hurdle – whether it gets opened. You could argue that the obstacle before this is whether the email ends up in the spam folder, but let’s assume that your emails are reaching your reader’s inbox. If someone isn’t opening your email, the value stops there. Maybe they are reminded that you exist by scrolling past the email or hitting delete – but it doesn’t really have the effect you want it to.

There are a few things that influence whether or not someone opens your email:

  • The subject line
  • The ‘sent from’ details
  • The time of day and time of the week it was received
  • Whether the person is busy or not

Now, you can’t control whether or not someone will have the time to open and read your email, but the other elements are well within your remit.

Click-Through Rate

email click-through rate

Once you’re over the first stage and someone has opened your email, how can you get them to engage with it?

This metric will vary depending on the types of emails you send out, and on how much information you give away in the emails itself vs encourage to read on further elsewhere.

For us, we often use the newsletter a way to share our own content and resources, so the click-through rate is a fundamental metric. Not only that but when we are sharing roundups of great articles we’ve read and enjoyed it’s important to know which topics resonated with readers enough that they clicked through to learn more. From this, we can tailor our picks to include more of what people like, and less of what they don’t.

Why did we decide to change things up?

why did we change up our newsletter

We are always striving to test and experiment with new things continuously. Whether this is in our product, or our marketing, or the way we work as a team. This is the foundational reason for shaking up the way we create GoSquared Weekly. The other reasons?

  • We want to keep our readers engaged, and believe that more variety might be the answer.
  • We want to review and consolidate our database – it’s not the most exciting reason, but it’s necessary for businesses in the B2B space. People change jobs, and we had some out of date profiles and information in our system that we wanted to spring clean.
  • It’s really fun to change things up and try something new.

What effects are we hoping to see?

what effects can experiments have

Just like with our Blog redesign, we took the time to understand what we were aiming to get out of our experimentation with Weekly.

  • More responses: We hope to see more people clicking reply and engaging with our newsletter, we don’t want this to be a one-way conversation
  • Building our consistent open rate: We want to see more of our subscribers make Weekly a part of their weekly routine and who consistently find the time to read our newsletter week-on-week.
  • Increased traffic flow from our newsletter to our Blog: We want to be sure that all of our content is cohesive. Each element should be able to stand alone but increasing the traffic flow between our Blog, and our newsletter, and our social channels will enable us to deliver more useful content in a range of ways depending on a reader’s preference. It also helps us to nurture leads and share the value of our product with customers and potential customers.
  • Encourage more of our customers to sign-up: We have a monthly newsletter that goes out to customers, but we haven’t in the past made it clear that we also have our Weekly Newsletter. There are resources in Weekly that will help our customers, and we want to be sure they know where to find it.
  • Development of a strong feedback loop: The more two-way communication we can have with our customers and our audience, the better our product and our content are going to be. We hope to see an uplift in replies, in feedback, and in the amount we learn about what our customers want and need.

The benefits of testing

what are the benefits of testing

Testing the success of your newsletters, or any of your marketing activities, is essential because it allows you to base your strategy on actual, personal, data. You learn what works for your company specifically, which may be different from what works for others.

Testing helps you to iterate continuously.

you can continuously iterate

When you test, you are always going to learn something new. When you learn something new, the culture should be to iterate on that information. Creating this culture of always wanting to do better and be better is easier to establish when you have a solid foundation of data showing you what works, what doesn’t, and what customers want.

Testing helps you to be data-informed.

be data-informed

A/B testing your emails, particularly on elements like subject lines or sending times, is a great way to be sure that your work is data-informed. Being data-informed is the smart way to manage your campaigns. Although ‘data’ can sound a bit cold and mechanical, it actually allows you to increase the level of personalisation to your customers through gaining a better understanding of what they’re interested in and what drives them.

“I keep an internal Google Sheet noting the outcomes of each test, and a detailed record of what’s worked and not worked” – Jeff Doan, SaaS Weekly 

Keep a record of the tests you run and the results that they produced, even if it doesn’t seem significant right away. Taking the time to note down all of your results allows you to see patterns, none of which are visible straight away from only a few tests.

Testing helps you to focus on one metric at a time.

test one metric at a time

To make any test successful, you need to have a whole bunch of controlled factors, and one single variable factor. Without this balance there’s no way to tell which of the things you changed created the impact you saw – and this can send your entire team off on a wild goose chase.

The benefit of A/B testing with one variable at a time is laser focus. Your team can get a really clear understanding of what works best in a chosen variable and have a clear way to measure success.

We call this kind of focused metric a North Star metric.

Here are some experiments to try out with your newsletter

experiments to try out

Testing and experimenting should form the basis of your marketing strategy. The market is always changing. Your audience’s interests are always changing. The only way to keep up is by making experimenting a habit.

Test out a range of content themes.

content themes

We’ve been really enjoying writing themed newsletters, like this one on content marketing, or this one on live chat strategies. Picking a singular topic to explore through different posts has enabled us to go into more depth with our content and the way we write the newsletter. But also, it has made our newsletters more actionable. You could save our newsletter on content marketing and come back to it at a later date when you’re ready to start testing it out for yourself.

Try focusing on a single post.

focus on a single post for an experiment

If you’ve released a piece of content that you’re really proud of and think that your audience will find especially valuable, it can be a nice idea to ‘launch’ it with an issue of your newsletter that focuses just on that one post.

You can choose to go into a small or large amount of detail in the newsletter depending on whether you want to drive people to the original post or keep them in the email. Some newsletters include entire posts in the email itself – while this might sound like a lot it can be an easy way for people to consume content on the go, for example, on public transport where they might not have the internet to click through to the post.

Be careful about doing this too much as when repeated week-on-week it can come across as very promotional.

Test out a web roundup.

roundup the best articles on the web

We are a big fan of article roundups at GoSquared. It’s been the basis of GoSquared Weekly for many many weeks, and we love to share what we’re reading and enjoying with our readers.

These roundups allow us to share content that we wish we had written and that we have learnt a lot from. Being able to feature some of our friends and colleagues that we are inspired by and learn from is a real treat, and we don’t plan on taking this format out of the rotation anytime soon.

Recently we tested out grouping the articles we picked by team member, rather than by category like we usually do. This extra touch of personalisation was fun to include and, we hope, helped readers feel more connected with our whole team.

Experiment with subject lines.

experiment with subject lines

Your subject line is one of the most important parts of your newsletter, or any email for that matter. As we mentioned earlier, there are only a couple of things that convince a reader to open an email – and the subject line is arguably the most important.

We’ve got a resource page on how to write great subject lines which is worth a read to understand the factors at play and get a few ideas on how you might increase your open rates.

“My favourite newsletter experiment almost always has to do with the subject line. In just a few words, you have the power to give your email a fighting chance to be read.” – Wes Bush, Product Led Growth 

We have had ” – #xxx of GoSquared Weekly” as the second part of our subject line for as long as any of us can remember. A couple of weeks ago we A/B tested the subject line with this and without it, and the one with the issue number came out on top, so it stays. Though this was confirmation that what we were doing was working, it was nice to be able to say that concretely, and of course, if when we next test this, the results are different we will keep a note and monitor the pattern.

Experiment with the time you send you emails.

experiment with sending time

We noticed a real uptake in open rates when we started experimenting with the days and time we send our emails.

You can begin by thinking about your own habits. If you’ve not got any data to work with this is a great anecdotal starting point. When do you read newsletters? Is it when you’re commuting or at work?

Think about the timezone that your audience is in and tailor your sending time to that. Some tools have this feature built-in and can automatically generate the best time for you, depending on the known locations of your audience.

Written by
Beth is our Head of Growth. She likes to write about customer behaviour, creative strategy, and, well, growth.

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