E-mail Experiments Pay Off

When it comes to online marketing, does an e-mail's subject line really matter? How to revive a failing pay-per-click campaign? What's the best way to distribute a digital press release? And how much more money could you be making if you knew all this?

The people at test online marketing tools, then publish the results for free. MarketingExperiments partners with companies to test and analyze online marketing techniques, then publishes briefs on its Web site and in a twice-monthly online journal. Audio clinics discuss topics such as a/b split testing, marketing intuition, click fraud, and how to use search to boost site traffic.

The site's 70,000 subscribers range from new business owners to CEOs to marketers. "We don't target a specific group, we just are trying to figure out what works and what doesn't ," says Jalali Hartman, senior analyst, strategy.

The company, founded in 2002, is part of MEC Lab Groups, owned by Florida-based Digital Trust Inc. Research partners have included New York Times Digital,, and Reuters Group plc.

The partner pays for a three- to 18-month experiment, anywhere from $4,500 to $100,000. Of course, not all the information becomes public, Hartman says. Out of 10 or 20 micro-tests, subscribers may see an online brief that details an initial hypothesis, testing method, results, and analysis.

A recent experiment explored how to improve conversion rates of visitors to subscribers on a given site. Marketing-Experiments looked at subscription pathways of three company partners. The brief laid out the steps they took and their rationale. Researchers concluded that reducing the number of pages in the subscription path from nine to three improved conversion by 300 percent.

"That's the type of tip that is priceless," says Tim Bete, national marketing manager for the University of Dayton.

"I knew intuitively that a shorter subscription path is better, but to see it quantified, with such a huge difference, tells me we have to pay more attention to the number of pages."

Sometimes, the results are counterintuitive. Crafts retailer didn't expect much from an experiment offering 10 percent off two sewing machines. Who needs two? But people drew in friends and relatives to get the discount, showing that the arts-and-crafts market can be marketed to as a community. "The point is, you have to test," Hartman says.

The experiments aren't the site's only draw. There are online courses on topics such as split testing, and earlier this year a contest challenged visitors to write a business plan that would fit on the back of a napkin.

"The biggest challenge in online marketing is actually not the marketing," Hartman says. "It is being able to clearly articulate your value."

MarketingExperiments' subscribers certainly value the site. Sally Falkow, president of West Coast public relations firm Expansion+, arrived in the U.S. from South Africa in 2000. She had plenty of experience but needed to learn about the new field of online marketing, so she subscribed to MarketingExperiments.

"It would give me ideas of things that I could try," she says. "It makes it easier for me to sell that kind of consulting to someone else, because I can say, 'See what happened with this guy.'"

"My clients [ask for] pretty arcane kinds of things," says Celeste Bishop, president of California-based Bishop Market Resources. " 'What's the best layout to reduce abandonment on our shopping carts?' That kind of thing."

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