Testing can help you make sure you’re spending your precious email marketing budget on the things that work. But if you don’t have a team of data scientists on call or an email platform that bakes in testing at every step, you have an alternative.

Data from competitors and peer brands shows you what the ecommerce brands are doing with email. You can get ideas for experimenting with different parts of your email program and optimizing without running a full testing program.

Then, when you’re ready to set up a structured testing program, you’ll have plenty of data — your own and what you learned by comparing important data across brands that are similar to your own — to figure out how and what to test.


Compare data against your own benchmarks

If you have a MailCharts Pro subscription, you can access unlimited historical data and detailed reports to see how your brand compares to the brands you’re tracking in MailCharts.

For example, you can figure out what your tracked brands are testing just by watching what they send – everything from subject lines to images, message content and offers – and when they send it.

This can give you guidance now for optimizing your emails and planning against your competition. Later on, when it’s time to test, this data can help you shape your testing strategy and experiments.


Testing subject lines using inbox view

Start with the emails from the brands you’re tracking now. Go to your dashboard and click “Emails” in the left column.

Rapid testing using competitive data image 1 300x107

Now, click on “Inbox” in the navigation bar over the email examples. This shows you just the subject lines and preheaders of the emails in your collection. Look for multiple emails from a single brand, sent close together. Those most likely are test emails the brand sent to all or a segment of its distribution list.

We found these two emails from Anthropologie when we dug down into our Inbox view:Rapid testing using competitive data image 2 300x78

The top email (“Brand new and just for you …”) went to the general newsletter list. The bottom email (“New in bloom: …”) went to its cart-abandoners segment. Everything else in the email is the same.

That tells us Anthropologie is using the subject line to differentiate emails sent to the general audience from specific segments like abandoners. That’s something you can either try now or use as a basis for a test.

Gather data from competitive reports

This can show you what the brands you care about most — your direct competitors, peer brands, those whose emails you admire — are doing now, how they compare to top ecommerce email brands and what opportunities you have to plan against them.

From a testing perspective, you can use this data as benchmarks to compare against your own email program performance to look for areas where you can experiment without running a full-fledged testing program.

Caveat: Although competitive data can stand in for testing data, don’t use it to make any major changes in your email program until you can try it out on a small scale.


4 email tests using competitive data

Below are four kinds of tests you could run on different areas of your email program. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Once you get the hang of testing, you can come up with dozens more variables. The “Basic” level is a question you can answer using competitive data. The “advanced’ level is a test you can set up using both competitive data and your own benchmarks.

Basic: How many emails should I send per week or as part of a triggered campaign?

Advanced: How many emails can I send before unsubscribes start going up?

Advanced: How many emails should I send in a triggered campaign before people will act?


Basic: How long should my subject line be?

Advanced: Do longer or shorter subject lines generate more opens?

Advanced: Do longer or shorter subject lines generate more clicks/conversions?


Basic: What time of day should I send?

Advanced: What time of day generates more clicks/conversions?


Basic: Do emails with animated GIFs get more clicks than emails without animation?

Advanced: Do emails with more than one animated GIF get more clicks than emails with just one?

Advanced: Do people click on emails with animated GIFS more or less often than emails with embedded video or other kinds of animation?

Use competitive data to test journey emails

Competitive data can help you fine-tune your journey emails, such as welcome/onboarding or cart-abandonment series if you don’t have time or resources to test.

Using MailCharts, go back to your dashboard and click on “Journeys”. Then choose two brands — yours and a competitor, for example — and a journey to compare. In the example below we compared two beauty brands on their abandoned-cart programs.

The results can show you where you could try adding another journey email to see if this nudges more customers to act. Rapid testing using competitive data image 3 300x249

Wrapping up

Testing is designed to help you make better decisions based on data instead of instinct or whims. But it takes time, expertise and budget to set up a useful testing program, and those three resources can be pretty scarce, especially if you’re a marketing team of one or two people.

Competitive data combines market research and industry data to give you insights you can use right now to optimize your email program in a fraction of the time it takes to set up and run a testing program.

Editorial photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash