Skip links

How to Optimize Your Library Marketing with A/B Tests (3 Ideas + Results)

At some point or another, nearly every marketer has asked:

“When’s the best time to post to social media?” 

“Which ad heading will get the most conversions?” 

“Which email subject line will get the best open rate?”

The best way to answer these questions? Test them.

Testing your marketing tactics is the best way to overcome subjective opinions (“Well, I check my email at 8am, so everyone else must do that, too . . . “) and base your strategies on objective data.

Why? Because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing. What works for one library, might not work for another library, since they have different audiences, services, and goals.

With this in mind, here are three A/B tests we executed, along with their results and tips for doing them yourself.

1. Email timing

Tool: MailChimp (free up to 2,000 subscribers, then the price increases)

One of the most common email marketing questions we hear is: “When should we send our emails?” And the unfortunate answer is . . . it depends.

Some organizations get better engagement in the morning, some get better engagement in the evening, and some clients have customers who are so darn loyal they’ll open the email any time of day.

So, to get your less ambiguous answer, test it!

Our test:
We sent the same email for one of our library clients at 6:45am and 5pm to see which time received better open rates and click-through rates (CTR); here are the results:

  • Morning email: 27.5% open rate and 4.0% CTR
  • Evening email: 29.7% open rate and 4.3% CTR (winner!)

We ran the same test for a separate library client, and here are the results:

  • Morning email: 19.0% open rate and 1.5% CTR (winner!)
  • Evening email: 18.3% open rate and 1.2% CTR

As you can see, despite the fact they’re both libraries, their audience is different, thus, they have different email and technology habits—one library audience prefers the morning and the other prefers the evening.

So, while I’d love to say there’s a certain time that works for all libraries, the better answer is: test it to see what works best for you!

Pro tip: To replicate the test above, create an A/B test campaign in MailChimp and select “Send times;” from here, you can choose up to three times to send your email. Once the campaign has completed, MailChimp will create a report on which time performed best, based on open rates.

2. Library card signup form

Tool: Google Experiments (free!)

Allowing patrons to sign up for library cards online is one of the best ways to increase cardholders. This is particularly helpful for the elderly, disabled, and parents with small children who might have difficulty getting to the library.

To make sure you’re getting the most out of your signup form, test the graphics, copy, and layout to see which combination gets the highest conversion rate.

We executed an A/B test for one of our library clients on their library card signup page to see if we could increase conversions. Here’s the original page:

Get a card page version 1

And here’s the version we tested the original form against:

Get a card page version 2

The second version includes a few small tweaks: we moved the form above the fold, added an image of someone pointing to the call-to-action, and simplified the copy.

After running the test for three weeks (until we reached a 99% confidence level in Google Experiments) we found the second version increased card signup conversions by a whopping 64%

Testing just a few page elements helped this library significantly improve their online marketing and card signup efforts (which is why you should test your card signup form, too).

After some more tweaking and testing, we settled on this card signup page:

3. Facebook ad placement

Tool: AdEspresso ($49/mo.-$499/mo.)

Facebook ads are an excellent way to segment and target your audience; you can target your audience based on age, gender, interests, location, mobile activity, and more.

AdEspresso (one of our favorite marketing tools) allows you to easily test up to 100 ad variations at a time—just enter your copy, visual, and audience variables, and the platform will create all possible iterations of your ads and test them at once. (If you’ve spent time wading through Facebook’s not-so-user-friendly Business Manager dashboard, then AdEspresso will be a breath of fresh air.)

While you can test everything from audience, to copy, to visuals, to timing . . . a good A/B test to start with is placement.

Facebook offers a variety of placement options (i.e. where your ad displays), including Facebook’s mobile app, desktop platform, messenger app, Instagram, and audience network—this is a group of external websites and apps that have agreed to display Facebook ads (this is a great way to reach patrons beyond Facebook).

For one A/B test, we compared mobile/audience network ads to Instagram to see which platform received a higher CTR at a low cost-per-click (CPC); the results were pretty surprising:

  • Mobile + Audience Network: 1.147% CTR and $0.74 CPC (winner!)
  • Instagram: 0.324% CTR and $2.96 CPC

As you can see, Instagram had a significantly lower click-through rate (CTR) at a much higher cost (Instagram cost about 75% more). In other words, we were paying more to engage fewer people (a lose, lose).

Another test compared mobile ads against desktop:

  • Mobile: 1.138% CTR and $0.816 CPC (winner!)
  • Desktop: 0.291% CTR and $8.742 CPC

Again, mobile ads performed significantly better than desktop–with a much higher click-through rate at a much lower cost-per-click.

But while this worked for us, it might not work for your library, which is why testing is so important.

Want more tips and advice? Contact us!

Want help optimizing your marketing efforts? Contact us! We specialize in digital marketing and website design for libraries.

To get started, contact our CEO, Tyler Byrd, at or (360) 747-7401.

Leave a comment