happy holidays from google

Gmail has always been a bit of a quagmire for marketers, they lack feedback loops for reporting on spam complaints, they heavily filter email to the junk folder if users aren’t engaging with it and they’ve recently deployed their “Tabs” which scares plenty of marketers into thinking their emails won’t be seen in the inbox again.

Just this past week on Word to the Wise a blog post appeared confirming that Gmail has been re-writing image links in emails.  For the non-technical this means that when an email comes to a Gmail inbox (and has images) Gmail is converting the links from the original email to links to the same images but now cached on the Gmail servers.  So the first time someone opens your email and the images get downloaded it will register as an open but any subsequent open will retrieve the image from the Gmail server where it has now been cached instead of your servers (and thus registering as opens and clicks).

Big deal, you say, you only care about unique opens.  Ok, so maybe you are alright with your metrics this way, did you use any kind of dynamic content or geo-targeted information in your email? That type of information will be impacted as well, it may render properly the first time but it may not ever again.

The full impact of this image re-writing process is still unknown and Google is mum at the moment on the subject. Happy Holidays, right?  That’s exactly the present everyone was looking for…hopefully Gmail will help offer up some alternatives or information on how best to navigate the murky waters of their inboxes.

don’t go blindly forward

Lately I have been hearing a lot of people talk about ways they are using blind forms.  I think this tool has either just come to light for many marketers or it is enjoying some kind of resurgence.  So, for the uninitiated, what are Blind Forms? Blind forms are a mechanism that allows an email click to translated automatically as if the recipient hit “submit” on behalf of the recipient (they are identified by their email address). Blind forms allow a known contact to be send directly to an asset/landing page/etc. without requiring data entry but still allows the same processing steps behind the scenes (such as the sending of a confirmation email or thank you email).  Sounds powerful, right? Well they are, here is a small list of the benefits:

  • It directly ties clicking a specific url inside an email to the submission of a form within your automation platform
  • It mirrors existing form actions (i.e. if you have a form submission trigger the sending of an email or adding someone to a different campaign a blind form can achieve the same end)
  • It appends campaign response to a contact record

So, what is a good use of a Blind Form?

  • Sharing knowledge with existing customers
  • Moving late-sales stage deals through the pipeline with additional nurturing

Conversely, what is not a good use of a Blind Form?

  • Sending to 3rd Parties Lists/Vendor
  • Any program with potential reach outside of your known audience (known meaning, email addresses that currently exist in your Eloqua database)
  • Opt-In campaigns (this would not only be very inappropriate but also is likely outside legal compliance

There are some caveats to the use of Blind Forms.  They are only applicable in scenarios where a URL is driving from an email to a single asset or landing page. They cannot be used to monitor traffic/clicking inside of landing pages or between landing pages.  Additionally, using Blind Forms is likely to break the way that out of the box reports in your Automation platform work.  Be prepared to do your own, custom reporting on Blind Forms if you plan to use them.  You should also be cautious about how you leverage them if your lead scoring programs are simple in that they score “form submit” vs. submission of specific forms.  While Blind Forms are an immensely powerful tool they also come with a big flashing yellow caution light because you need to consider a lot before you forage ahead in using them.

Do you have a creative use for Blind Forms that I haven’t mentioned?

test me, i dare you

Remember how excited you were about testing sitting around the conference table?  Yea I know, now it’s real work but a little elbow grease will yield good, actionable results so stick it out.

At this point you have a good feel for what your assumptions are…will the blue CTA win out?  Will the text-only email perform better than an image-heavy version? Take bets and make some guesses.  The only way to find out is to let it go then sit back and wait.  Here comes the least popular thing you can tell a marketer…one test doesn’t give you all the answers.  You want to drive results right?  This is all about conversions and what does best so you have to know whether or not you have significant results.  No, it’s not as simple as saying email A got an 8% open rate and email B got a 9% open rate so BOOM email B worked!  It’s a little more than that.  Some marketers are lucky enough to work with statisticians on staff, but that’s a rarity.  So how do you decide something is significant?  Math of course (scary, I know).    In textbook terms you need to run significance testing.  Good news, there are calculators online for that!  Bad news, you still have to know things to be able to use them effectively.  So before I point you to the calculator here’s what you need to know:

Low Confidence Level is defined as being in the range of 90-95% while High Confidence Levels are defined as 95-99%+. If you plan to conduct multiple tests or have low traffic, go with the Low level. If you have high traffic or “significant business value flowing” through the page, go with the High Confidence level.How do I know this you ask?  Because I love to read and I spent some time reading a great book on Landing Page Optimization.  It’s a well written book for those who want lots of detail on Landing Page optimization, definitely recommend it, however for your “Cliff Notes” version of testing all you need to know is whether you are going with Low or High confidence.   The place to use this new found knowledge?  Well this handy calculator of course!
So what happens if you are testing email and run the results through the calculator, and GASP! your results aren’t significant??  Run your test again!  No, I don’t mean email the same people with the same stuff all over again…not unless you want to make your audience angry.  What I mean is develop a new email that tests the same hypothesis and send it to the same folks again. Don’t be afraid to retest your assumptions and even known results over time.  Your audience changes and so do the things that cause them to react, so don’t be afraid to revisit old tests to see how things change.
What if you aren’t testing email, what if you’re building a fabulous landing page and need to do some testing there, how do you determine significance if you don’t have fancy schmancy software to help you out? Well you can read all about it here on this great post by Hubspot where they even have a handy spreadsheet to use in calculations.

easy as a…b…multivariate?

The scene: a small conference room full of marketers, the problem, one of them wants to “test” things.  Everyone smiles, nods, knows it needs to happen and then walks away happy no real plan in place and no idea what the plan should even be.   Where do you go from here and what do you do with it all?

Start off by adopting a framework for testing and a methodology.  This is a step all too often skipped.  Think back to the days of elementary school science fairs…scientific method anyone?

  • Formulate a question – What are you testing?
  • Develop a hypothesis – Which if the items being tested will be well received?
  • Predict the results – Make some assumptions
  • Perform your test – Do work!
  • Analyze the results – Measure, measure, measure

First, decide what kind of test you are going to do, here are a few options for you:

A/B or Split testing: This involves two versions of the same thing (be it a web page, email, asset, etc.), the plan is to divert half of your test subjects to one version of the asset and half to the other.  In this scenario you make a single change in the two versions, variations could be as simple as changing the color of something, placement of a call to action, font being used, day of the week an emails is sent, the possibilities are endless.

Multivariate testing:  The process that allows testing of multiple variations in the same test.  In a mutivariate scenario you make many different changes in an attempt to find the biggest impact the fastest across your experiment.

The important thing to know here, if you are doing mutivariate testing on a landing page/web property you will need substantial traffic to find real answers.

Next, set up your test.  Depending on what tools you are using you can go crazy at this stage.  If you are running web tests there are literally tons of great software tools available to test with from Google’s own testing tools available through Google Analytics to KISSMetrics to Optimizely or even native apps inside Marketing Automation Platforms.  If you are running an email test you might need to build out some programming inside your automation platform but at this stage in the game you have to put all the pieces together inside the technology.

Where do you go from here?  Wait and see..that’s up next.