Case Study: 160% Lift in Clicks on E-mail Newsletter Ads

Last year I wrote a two-part column on tips for selling ads in e-mail newsletters. By applying these tips with one of my clients last year, we were able to boost the click-through rate (CTR) on their e-mail newsletter advertisements by 160 percent – without significantly cannibalizing clicks to the editorial articles. Here’s the full story – along with a blueprint for doing this with your own e-mail newsletter.

The client was a large association; its weekly e-mail newsletter is sent to roughly 160,000 members that have opted-in to receive it. There’s also a daily newsletter, which uses the same layout. The overall open and click-through rates for both were very good – above industry averages (see below).

Source Segment Open Rate Click-through Rate (CTR) Click-to Open Rate (CTOR)
Epsilon Q2 2009 E-mail Trends and Benchmark Report Publishing/Media General 17.8% 6.3% 28.9%
Non-Profit/Education General 17.5% 1.7% 9.7%
Client’s E-mail Newsletters Daily Newsletter 23.0% 7.0% to 27.0% 30.4%
Weekly Newsletter 23.0% 13.0% to 24.0% 56.5%

The old layout included two text ads, at the top and bottom of the newsletter, along with a column of banner ads down the right side. While the average click-through rate on the ads was in line with industry benchmarks (0.07 percent), the median was not (0.0 percent; see below).

Source Figure Click-through Rates
DoubleClick 2008 Year-in-Review Benchmarks Overall Click-through Rate (Vertical Banner) 0.07%
Click-through by Industry Vertical (B2B) 0.10%
Weekly News Metrics Ad Sponsor Click-through Rate (2Q’09) Low 0.00%
Average 0.07%
Median 0.00%
High 0.60%

Further analysis showed that over 80 percent of the top performing ads appeared in the top text position; on average, this ad placement garnered 40 percent or more of the ad clicks every time the e-mail was sent.

The ads in the right column were vertical banners (120 x 240 pixels). According to DoubleClick’s end-of-year 2008 report, vertical banners garner an average CTR of just 0.07 percent; this is the lowest of all standard sizes they track. Changing the layout to accommodate higher performing ad sizes was a must.

We redesigned the layout to incorporate two vertical rectangle ads (240 x 400 pixels), which have an average CTR of 0.37 percent according to DoubleClick. We also wanted to leverage the performance we’d seen on the top text ad, so we also included four ads (336 x 145 pixels), which allowed for text with an image (image size was 104 x 109 pixels).

The new layout included a left column, which began with a table of contents, followed by a variety of visual editorial items (videos, quick quotes, etc. with links); the two vertical rectangle ads were mixed in with the editorial items.

We interspersed the new text/image ads in between traditional editorial content (headline, brief paragraph, link) in the wider right column.

Mixing the advertising in with the editorial was key to increasing performance. The old layout segregated the banner ads in the right column, which made it easy for readers to ignore them. By mixing the ads in with the editorial, they are more likely to be noticed and clicked on. We did include the word “advertisement” at the top of each ad in small type, to clearly but subtly differentiate ads from editorial content.

Once we had the redesign complete, we did an A/B split test to see if it boosted performance.

click to enlarge

The overall click-through rate for the redesigned newsletter showed a lift of 15 percent over the control; the click-to-open rate also showed a boost of 17 percent.

When we isolated the clicks on the ads, the results were even more impressive.

Overall ad clicks more than doubled – in fact, they nearly tripled, with a lift of 160 percent over the clicks garnered by ads in the old/control newsletter. The average ad CTR more than doubled, from 14 percent for the control to 29 percent for the redesigned test version (see below).

Source Figure Click-through Rates
DoubleClick 2008 Year-in-Review Benchmarks Overall Click-through Rate (Vertical Banner) 0.07%
Click-through by Industry Vertical (B2B) 0.10%
Weekly News Metrics Ad Sponsor Click-through Rate Control Low 0.01%
Average 0.14%
Median 0.08%
High 0.35%
Weekly News Metrics Ad Sponsor Click-through Rate Test Low 0.01%
Average 0.29%
Median 0.06%
High 1.10%

The average lift per ad was 36.7 percent. The best performing ad in the test version garnered 722 percent more clicks than it did in the control version. Five of the six ads featured in both versions got a lift – and the one ad that didn’t was only behind the control by 14 percent.

Best of all, we recognized this large increase in clicks on ads without sacrificing a significant amount of editorial clicks. The test version garnered 13 fewer clicks on editorial content, which is a net decline of just 0.3 percent. While we are looking for ways to boost this, the increase in advertising clicks more than makes up for it.

Improving performance on advertising increases the value to your sponsors. In this economic climate, companies are looking for quantitative justification that their ad dollars are being well spent. A boost in click-through rates drives more traffic to their website and should increase their conversion rates. Simple, inexpensive changes to your e-mail newsletter can deliver on this promise – it’s a win-win all around.

Until next time,


Related reading

Flat business devices communication with cloud services isolated on the light blue background.