Unboxing: Touchstone from AlchemyWorx

Unboxing: Touchstone from AlchemyWorx

Welcome to a new series from Only Influencers called "Unboxing: Email". Each "Unboxing" article will examine the latest Email Innovations, and walk you through each tool from login to results. 

We kick off the series this week with a deep dive into AlchemyWorx's Touchstone product which is subtitled "Subject Line Gold". Touchstone, as the subtitle suggests, is an A/B Subject Line Testing tool.

Subject Line Analysis Tools: Tools to test your email subject lines are nothing new. What has changed is the introduction of so-called "Big Data" and the emergence of  "machine generated" language into the equation. Previously, tools, like the classic SubjectLine.com, where used explicity to test for deliverability. These tools were developed at at time when ISP's were using subject line and body content to determine an email's spam score. ISP's no longer use content as the criteria for determining whether something is spam or not, they use IP reputation and other user based actions (such as the recepient moving an email from the spam folder to the inbox) to determine the reputation of the sender. 

While some subject line tools provide suggestions, or generate complete subject lines for you, Touchstone is simply an A/B testing tool that utilizes not only your own data, but compares it to an AlchemyWorx database of billions of email messages using their proprietary algorithm to predict subject line performance within 1-2% of actual open rates, according to AlchemyWorx. 

Unboxing Touchstone.

We start by going to the Touchstone website at SubjectLineGold.comtouchstone1

Choosing Your Plan

Touchstone provides a number of different plans. The "Free" plan allows up to 6 free searches a month. Other plans include a $20 One-day Unlimited Search, a Single Seat for unlimited searchs for $100 a month, and a 5 seat plan for $300. All of the plans provide the same functionality and let you upload your current data into the AlchemyWorx database. No technical support for the free plans, but the Touchstone is pretty intuitive so I doubt anyone will miss this feature who wants to try it out. 

Uploading Your Data

The next step is to format your data in a way that Touchstone can use. This includes cutting and pasting into a formated spreadsheet with proper headers that Touchstone can understand. AlchemyWorx provides an easy to follow script for uploading your data from a number of the top ESPs: 


Since I use Mailchimp to send out the Only Influencers newsletter, I used the Mailchimp guide to export my data and import it into the AlchemyWorx database. 

The import process was fairly painless but I did have to correct some fields and make sure that my data was all properly formated before it would accept my upload: 



Testing Your Subject Lines

Now that the data is correctly uploaded into Touchstone, the fun part begins: actually testing your subject lines. First step is to choose your database to test your subject line against. Categories include your own database, B2B, Media & Entertainment, Retailers, Travel, Financial Services, Consumer Services, Telecom & Tech, and Price Comparison. 


I used Touchstone to select last week's Only Influencers subject line. Since the theme of last week's newsletter was using contextual and emotional language to improve email response, I tried the subject line "Cutting Edge Technologies for Improving Your Email Marketing Program."

Touchstone analyzed 188,904 subject lines drawn from 25 billion email messages and found 55 subject lines similar to mine. I first analyzed it, looking only at my own historical data:touchstone5

According to Touchstone, this subject line would perform 7% worse than my typical subject line when it comes to Open Rate, and a 6% decrease in my click rate. But it also tells me, if I mouse over the green underlined "Program", that the click rate for the word "Program" performs 14% better than other terms such as "scheme" or "strategy". It also tells me that the subject line will have no negative impact on delivery.

We can also see the word count (9 words), and I can compare the majority of other subject line counts and see that 9 words is more than most subject lines use. But we can also see that optimum click rate happens around 33 words. We can compare Subject line length and average word size as well.

If I choose a different sector to compare against, such as the "Telecom & Tech" sector, I can see the results for both my database and the other sector:touchstone6

As you can see, my subject line did much worse with the Tech sector than with my database, with a 39% decrease in opens and 58% decrease in clicks. I can also see that against the entire database of all sectors, it performed 8% less well for opens and 20% fewer clicks.

It also demonstrated a slight bug with the interface: as you can see, there are no results in the "entire databae" comparison unless I'm comparing against a sector. If I just look at the results compared to my own database, for some reason, the "entire database" sector shows zero. Only when I chose a sector do I see those results.

Here is where something that would suggest subject line possiblities would come in handy. I tried a lot of different subject lines but I couldn't find one that would really perform well against my own database. Instead, I went with a subject line that showed high performance in the B2B sector, and only 4% worse than the average subject line from my data. The subject I choose was "Subject Lines and Email Copy that Performs!"touchstone7

Besides performing well in the B2B sector, Touchstone suggests that I change the word "Subject" to "Content" which performs better and that "Copy" outperforms other words such as "issue" or "publication".

Results: How did it do?

The results were mixed. The open rate and click through rate were just about average for the newsletter, which is what the tool predicted. But on the other hand, I had a higher than average site traffic to the site. And while the open rate was average, the number of actual opens (which includes non-unique opens) was significantly higher. However, I only spent a short time, less than 20 minutes, playing with different subject lines. I have no doubt that more time testing with more subject lines would have provided even better results. 

Summary: Touchstone from AlchemyWorx is an easy to use, A/B test tool for subject lines that compares your results against billions of email messages to help you determine the highest performing copy. I look forward to watching this tool as it develops and evolves.