The Golden Rule of Copy – Test, Test, and Test Some More

It goes without saying that it’s critical to test all of your copy because it’s impossible to know how customers will respond to what you’ve written.

Something you write may be unknowingly offensive or confusing. Other lines may not be as appealing as you thought they’d be.

The only way to know for sure is to test.

But that’s also become a cliche. You hear people talking about “testing this” and “testing that”, but not many are doing it. A lot of people are talking about testing, but not as many are actually testing. The goal of this post is to show why you need to be testing, and then to show how you can do it for your business.

Why You Need to Test, Test, and Test Some More

First, let’s talk about why you need to test. The reason is that testing is the only way to know how well your copy actually works.

When you’re sitting in a boardroom talking about a campaign, everyone has an opinion. Some people think you should use this picture and others think you should use another one. Some people think you should use larger fonts and others think you should use smaller ones.

Often, when you’re coming up with an initial design, you have to just choose one option or another based on the best information you have available, and then move forward. Then, when possible, you need to test because you never know how your design and copy will actually perform.

In other posts, for example, we have talked about how a one-word change increased click-throughs for an e-mail campaign by 46%. Extrapolated over 2,000,000 e-mail sends that results in 17,000 more clicks for the same amount of advertising dollars spent. If you want to get more for your money, testing obviously provides big returns.

Here’s another example. Switch Video recently tested a one-word copy change on their call-to-action-button copy and increased conversions by 228%. That’s right, you read that correctly. A one-word change increased website conversions by 228%.

How’d they do it, you ask? First, they surveyed their customers to learn more about them. From the surveys they learned that site visitors were most interested in learning more about pricing, so they changed the button copy from “Get a Free Consultation” to “Get a Free Quote.” This one-word change increased form submissions by 228%.

That’s a really big improvement from changing a single word, yet without testing, your team could argue for days trying to decide which word is better. Three quarters of the team might like “Free consultation” more than “Free quote,” so you decide to go with that. The result? You get 228% fewer form submissions.

Switch video changed one word on their call-to-action button and increased conversions by 228%.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that these small changes can make a big difference.

Here are a few ways you can begin to test your copy.

Test #1: E-mail Subject Lines

The first thing you can test are e-mail subject lines. The good news is that most e-mail marketing clients make it easy to A/B test subject lines for the e-mails you send out.

MailChimp, for example, makes it super easy to A/B test your campaigns. After sending two versions to 20% of your list, it will send the winner to the remaining 80%. Here are some screenshots that show how this works.

Example: MailChimp

To conduct an A/B test in MailChimp, first select to start a new campaign, and then click on “A/B Split Campaign.”

E-mail marketing clients like MailChimp make it easy to test your subject lines.

Next, choose how you would like to set up your test. You can select a winner based on “open rate,” “click rate,” or “manual.” Most of the time click rate is the best option to choose, but you can decide what makes the most sense for your e-mail.

Finally, you’ll conduct your test by entering two different subject lines, and then setting up the rest of your e-mail campaign.

For our sample project, we could enter two subject lines such as:

  • Sign up for a free Simple Survey Tool trial today
  • Find out why everyone’s talking about the Simple Survey Tool

Both of these subject lines are different enough to provide relevant testing results. After sending them to 20% of your list, you’ll know which one is most likely to perform better across the final 80%.

As this example shows, setting up an A/B test in most e-mail marketing clients is as easy as clicking a few buttons and coming up with two different subject lines.

Test #2: E-mail Creative and Copy

In addition to testing subject lines, you can also test your e-mail creative and copy. The design and copy of your ad or website work together to get the optimum result.

To test this, you can send an e-mail to one group of recipients and a different e-mail to a different group of recipients. The difference between e-mails can be the design and/or the copy that’s used.

First, you’ll need to come up with the hypothesis you’re going to test. Are you going to test two different color schemes, two different layouts with different font sizes, or two different copy versions?

You could, for example, test two versions for the call-to-action-button copy. One could use “Buy Now” to get people to click through and the other could use “Learn More” as the call to action.

You could also test the length of the copy. You could use more copy for the “Buy Now” version and less copy for the “Learn More” version since you’ll need to say more to make people willing to “Buy Now” then you will to get them to click to learn more “Learn More.”

You may be wondering what you’re testing in this scenario. With a test like this, you can measure the following:

  • Click throughs
  • Orders

It’s ok to measure both, but in most cases, it’s much more important to measure orders because it’s possible that one version will lead to more clicks while the other will lead to more orders.

So how exactly do you compare order numbers with a test like this? One way is to set up campaign links with the Google URL Builder. Let’s look at how to do that now.

Setting Up Campaign Links with Google URL Builder

To measure the performance of different campaigns, you can set up campaign links for different ad variations.

First, go to the Google URL builder.

Once there, begin entering the information for your different campaigns. For ours, we’ll be testing “Buy Now” vs. “Learn More” and will enter the information accordingly.

Here’s the information for version 1:

And here’s the information for version 2:

After hitting submit, we get the following tracking URLs:

So how do you use these urls?

First, add them into the appropriate places in your e-mail campaign such as “Buy Now” or “Learn More” links and call-to-action buttons for the corresponding e-mail campaigns.

Once you’ve done so, Google Analytics will start to track visits and conversions from those links. The conversions are particularly useful to show which e-mail led to the most signups or purchases. (Note: You’ll first have to set up conversion goals in Google Analytics in order to track conversions.)

To view the campaign results in Google Analytics, click on “Traffic Sources” and then “Campaigns.”

Now that you’ve set up campaign URLs whose conversions will be tracked within Google Analytics, you can send them out as part of an A/B test to see which e-mail version converts better.

With an example test, we could send the “Buy Now” to 10,000 e-mails and the “Learn More” version to 10,000 more e-mails. After evaluating the results, you’ll know which one generates more clicks and sales, and you can send the winning version to the rest of your list.

Setting up conversion goals in Google Analytics and setting up campaign URLs in the Google URL Builder enables you to measure different campaigns to see which one gets the best results.

In-depth tests for different design and copy versions make more sense for campaigns that require a significant investment. If you’re just sending an announcement to your blog subscribers, it’s easier to simply test your subject line to see which gets the best open or click-through rates, but if you’re paying $50,000 to send to a rented list of 2,000,000 e-mail subscribers, then it’s worth testing your subject line and your copy and creative to find a version that’s the most effective.

Test #3: Website Headlines and Copy

Another testing option is website headlines and copy. You can test to see if one headline leads to more signups than another, or if longer copy leads to more purchases.

As mentioned before, Conversion Rate Experts conducted a headline and copy test for CrazyEgg to see if a longer or shorter page with different headlines would be more effective. The control used CrazyEgg’s original length and headline, and the challenger used a headline that compared CrazyEgg’s heatmap software to eye tracking technology and used much longer copy. The challenger increased conversions by 30%, and the rest is history.

This comparison shows how much more copy the challenger (right) used than the control (left).

So how do you conduct an accurate test for website headline and copy? The best way is to use a tool like Optimizely, Visual Website Optimizer, or Google Analytics Content Experiments. Since

Optimizely is the easiest to use, we’ll talk about how to conduct a test with it now.

First, go to Optimizely, enter your URL, and click “Test it out.”
Next, decide what makes sense to test. Some key areas to test are:

  • Headlines
  • Page copy
  • Call-to-action-button copy

Since we know that headlines are the first item that people read, we’ll test that as a sample project. (Note: Since there isn’t a website set up for the Simple Survey Tool, we’ll have to test Joseph’s site—5 North Marketing.)

The current headline for 5 North Marketing is “Convert Your Traffic into Paying Customers.” We’re going to test that against “Take the Stress Out of Your Content Marketing and Conversion Optimization” to see which one leads more people to fill out the contact form.

In order to know which headline version converts better, we’re going to test contact page visits (the number of people that click to view the contact page), engagement (which version leads to more clicks overall), and home form submission (the number of people that fill out the contact form on the home page).

Once you add the tracking code to your site, Optimizely will begin keeping track of the results and help you to identify a winner.

This practice example used Optimizely, but you can use Visual Website Optimizer, Google Content Experiments, or any of the other tools that are available. You can use them to test headlines, website copy, or other changes you’d like to make to your website pages.

Additional Copy Testing Options

In addition to the tests mentioned above, you can test any kind of copy you’d like. You can test copy on a direct-mail postcard by mailing two versions with different URLs on each, or you can A/B test Google display ads by creating two versions and testing to see how people respond to different headlines and designs.

The number of tests you conduct is really endless once you know how to setup a test and measure the results. One famous example is the testing Tim Ferriss did with his book The Four Hour Work Week.

When selecting a title for the book, he didn’t rely on his gut. Instead, he ran Google text ads with different book title variations. He eventually chose “The Four Hour Work Week” because it received the highest number of click throughs. The result? The book went to become a New York Times bestseller.

This is a great example that shows how testing can be carried out for more than just e-mail subject lines or website copy. You can A/B test nearly any piece of copy to see how people respond and to see which version gets the best response.


One of the things that’s really cool about testing is that you start to learn how your audience responds to different pieces of copy. They may respond well to words like “free” or “special” or “powerful.” No matter the case, each time you conduct an A/B test, whether it’s a headline test, a Facebook ad, or a Google ad, you learn something new about your business and how people respond to different wording or different offers.

The amount of testing you do is up to you, but you can continue honing all of your campaigns by continually testing new elements. The good news is that the internet makes it really easy to conduct A/B tests, and there are ways to test offline as well.

To end the post we’d like to mention that we understand resources are limited. Sometimes people talk about testing, but they don’t have the time or the resources to carry it out. Other times you’re limited in the number of tests you can conduct. We understand, and this is totally part of any businesses operation.

But what you need to realize is that testing can unleash revenue and profit potentials you never realized were possible. If changing one word in an e-mail subject line can lead to 17,000 more clicks, just think what that will do for your bottom line.

Testing can be a challenge, but once you figure it out and commit to doing it, the opportunities are endless. We highly encourage you to add A/B testing into your copywriting and decision making in order to improve your results.