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Jul 14, 2003
Case Study

How to Convert 5 Times More Site Registrants into Paying Customers - William Hill's Email Tests

SUMMARY: It's one thing to get people to register at your site, it's a much, much harder thing to get them to actually dig into their pockets and buy something.

UK megalith William Hill ($2.5 billion in sales per year across all channels) discovered roughly 50% of their site registrants never took that next step. So, they tested a clever series of automated emails to get registrants to convert.

Yes, samples of email campaigns are included, plus some fascinating data comparing results of the control group (who got no email) to email recipients

It's fairly easy for Peter Nolan, Group Director of Marketing at $2.5 billion sports-betting-giant William Hill, to drive traffic to the Company's online service.

He promotes the site at more than 1,500 William Hill brick and mortar locations, and features the site's URL in all offline campaigns including daily newspaper ads in the UK. Plus, he's got a nice budget for search marketing, an affiliate program, and online ad buys.

However, he had a big problem - roughly 50% of site registrants failed to make the initial funds deposit to their account so they could start betting online.

Nolan says, "It's a big issue for someone like us because of the scale...if we can get even a small percentage increase in the registration to deposit conversion, it actually adds quite a lot to our business."


Nolan was already using ad hoc email marketing to chase up deposits. But he felt the manual approach wasn't getting to people at the right time, with the right message, and at the right cost.

He admits, "If truth be known, we were thinking of ideas, trying those ideas, winging them off and having a go."

So he decided to test a more rigorous and automated approach combining visitor tracking and segmentation with an event-driven email.

New customers who registered at the site, but didn't make the initial deposit that allows them to bet, triggered a four email sequence of reminder emails. (See below for creative samples.)

-> Initial welcome email

When a customer registers, this triggers an automatic HTML email confirmation/reminder, containing:

- a welcome message
- a reminder that the customer needs to make a deposit
- a list of available site services
- information on the different ways to make the deposit
- contact information for customer service

The whole email is strongly branded with colors and logos. Nolan says the stress on the brand is important because, "at the end of the day, gambling is a financial transaction and people want to be reassured that they'll get paid."

-> Three automated follow-up emails

If the customer fails to make a deposit within 4 days, this triggers a follow-up email. Another week with no deposit triggers a third follow-up email. If there's still no deposit a week after that, the customer gets a final follow-up message. Again, all are heavily William Hill branded.

Each follow-up mail contains an offer of help and contact numbers for depositing funds, plus alerts to specific time-sensitive betting or service opportunities.

Nolan describes the timing of the intervals as "a balancing act." He explains, "We didn't want leads to go cold so we wanted the emails to be reasonably close to when they first registered. But people get bombarded with emails so we don't want to overdose people either."

Worth noting: these follow-up mails do *not* drive people back to the standard registration and deposit pages.

Nolan explains, "If you drive them back there, you're not presenting them with anything new that they believe is relevant to them." So, instead, the follow-ups direct recipients to the site page specific to the feature or betting opportunity highlighted in the relevant email.

Nolan says, "Punters don't bet in abstract. They bet on an event, a sport, or a particular set of odds they're interested in...we drive them back to another part of the site that's got something we believe will tickle their fancy, and from there the deposit will follow."

-> Testing: Does email really make a difference?

Once the system was set up, Nolan's team began to test its value and tweak campaigns for optimum results. First, non-depositors' names were randomly put into one of four test cells.

The first cell received no email communication whatsoever - not even a registration confirmation.

The other three email cells were sent the same initial confirmation/reminder email, but a different set of follow-up emails...

Cell 1: odds-based messaging (alerting the recipient to interesting betting odds)
Cell 2: events-based messaging (focusing on forthcoming sports events and relevant bets)
Cell 3: services-based messaging (focusing on site features, such as the Internet radio and 24/7 customer service)

Nolan's team reviewed which of the cells performed best - plus they saved all click data from Cell 2 to profile each user's sports preferences for future email marketing.

William Hill has site registrants from many countries. So, the system also matched the email's language with the source of the initial registration. Nolan explains, "if it was a portal from Singapore, for instance, then we'd send them an email which was in traditional Chinese, though they have the option to flip back to English if they want." (The site has eight language options.)


Compared to the control group who received no email email recipients were almost five times more likely to go back to the site and make that initial deposit.

Currently, of all new active customers generated at the William Hill site, 1.2% can be attributed to the email follow-up campaign for non-depositors. Given the costs and numbers involved (the site has 130,000 depositing customers), that's a big ROI.

More results data:

- Registrants receiving a series of automated follow-up emails are roughly two and a half times more likely to convert than those who just get a single confirmation/reminder message.

- CTR for the initial reminder was 9.4%, for subsequent follow- up mails up to 5.4% for any one email.

- Nolan notes that the differences in response between the three sets of emails were significant. He can't reveal details but says that the results were, "significant enough that we've changed the balance of email content."

- However Nolan says, "the [non-English] language side was a little bit disappointing to be honest. We thought it would get a better response than it did. It wasn't the silver bullet."

He adds that customized language alone isn't enough. Even assuming you get the translation perfect (a tricky task with a colloquialism-ridden topic like betting), he says it's important to carry the concept through the whole website, for example by designing landing pages featuring sports "local" to that language.

He explains, "If they've seen an email...that gives the impression they're going to go to a fully-functioning multilingual site. If they then turn up on the front page and see the 2.30 from Haydock (UK) as being the lead competition, then you've got them to the fence but they're not going to go over it."

- Make the return path as simple as possible so you maximize the response to the call to action. Nolan says, "If we send an email about the Grand National, we have a Grand National minisite - we send them there, not to the main site."

He concludes, "That simple rule now seems obvious, but people miss it."

Useful links:

1. Five samples of the automated emails tested:

2. RedEye, the tech company that provides the site tracking and event-driven email tools William Hill uses,

See Also:

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