Join thousands of weekly readers and receive practical marketing advice for FREE.
MarketingSherpa's Case Studies, New Research Data, How-tos, Interviews and Articles

Enter your email below to join thousands of marketers and get FREE weekly newsletters with practical Case Studies, research and training, as well as MarketingSherpa updates and promotions.


Please refer to our Privacy Policy and About Us page for contact details.

No thanks, take me to MarketingSherpa

First Name:
Last Name:
Jul 15, 2009
Case Study

Personalize Triggered Email Programs to Boost Engagement: 6 Steps

SUMMARY: Creating triggered email campaigns based on your customers' stated preferences for the most relevant, up-to-date information can create must-open and must-click communications.

See how the marketing team behind developed a triggered email campaign based on their siteís most popular features -- saved searches and saved listings. Daily or weekly email updates provided customers with new information that strictly matched their stated criteria, and blew the doors off other email campaigns. Total open rates exceed 50%, and total CTR topped 30%.

Steve OíNeill, Director Consumer Lifecycle Marketing, and, represents sites with a host of features to attract and retain visitors. Home buyers or renters can search for properties using a wide range of criteria, view maps and photos, connect with real estate agents, research mortgages, and take part in other activities that made the sites extremely sticky.

The team wanted their email marketing programs to deliver a similar range of features that would encourage users to return to the site again and again. A basic email newsletter wasnít going to be compelling enough.

"The whole point really is to get the user to personalize their experience, and then bring that personalized experience to them when they are away from their site and checking their email," says OíNeill.

Working with a relatively small team, OíNeill realized that whatever personalized campaigns they developed had to be automated. As a result, they looked to integrate email with the siteís registered-user program, which allowed visitors to customize their experience and save recent searches or property listings of interest.


OíNeillís team created a triggered email campaign for and called "Home Alerts," which notifies users whenever there is an update to a property search or particular listing they had saved in their account. The automated messages deliver new content that is extremely targeted and relevant, based on each userís specified criteria.

Here are the six steps they took to develop the triggered email campaign:

Step #1. Select actions to drive triggered email campaign

The team examined all the different actions users could take on the sites to find the best potential triggers for an automated email campaign. They settled on saved searches and saved property listings for three primary reasons:

- Popularity

Most site visitors come to the sites to search for property listings. As a result, saved searches and saved property listings were among the most popular features.

- Quantity of data and frequency of updates

Saved searches and property listings offered a wealth of ever-changing data for potential emails. The team imports data directly from the Multiple Listing Service, updating listings every 15 minutes, or 48 times a day.

- Long lifecycle

Home buyers donít stop researching properties once they move into a new home, says OíNeill. Many continue monitoring the market to watch neighborhood property valuations. That behavior made the alert program likely to appeal to a broad audience.

Step #2. Promote saved search/listing options on site

The team designed the websites to encourage first-time visitors to customize and save search criteria or individual listings by becoming registered users.

Visitors can refine searches according to a range of criteria, including:
o Location
o Price range
o Type of property (single-family home, multi-family home, land, etc.)
o Number of beds/baths
o Square footage
o Lot size
o Special features (garage, central air, pool, etc.)

When a visitor customized a search, a blue star and text link at the bottom of the search box reminded them to save the search. When clicked, that link created a pop-up window on the page that collected user-registration information, including:
o Email address
o Password
o Age
o Gender

Each property listing on a search results page also featured a blue star and underlined link encouraging visitors to save the listing.

Step #3. Collect email preferences during alert opt-in process

Once a new visitor registered an account, or when registered users created new a new search, clicking on a "save" link prompted them to also sign up for email updates on their saved searches and property listings.

- As with the site registration process, the email alert opt-in form was delivered through a pop-up window that let users remain on the page they had created.

- The email alert opt-in window let users create names for their saved searches, and specify whether they wanted to receive daily or weekly updates on a saved search or property listing.

Step #4. Generate new email messages when data is updated

The team linked user account data to its online listing database to automatically check for updates to a saved search or property listing. Once a user saved a search or property listing, two types of events triggered an email alert:

- If a new property came on the market that matched the specific criteria of a saved search, such as location, price range, number of bedrooms, etc.

- If there was an update to a specific listing a user had saved, such as a reduced price, additional photos, upcoming open house, etc.

The html emails highlighted important account information, such as:
o Number of total saved properties and saved listings in the userís account
o Number of updates per search they have
o Links to save a listing from the email

The messages also highlighted the specific change to a saved property that triggered the alert, such as:
o New photos added
o Open house
o Price change

Step #5. Send updates in batches, according to visitor preferences

The team adopted a batch email strategy to handle updates, so that registered users wouldnít receive multiple emails from the site. After all, the database was updated dozens of times a day, and many users had saved multiple custom searches and specific property listings.

Instead of sending individual email alerts for each saved search or listing, the team consolidated all updates into a single email, which was delivered either daily or weekly, depending on the userís preference.

Initially, the team used a multi-step process that involved sending raw data via FTP to their email service provider each night. Then, they changed the process of delivering update information to the ESP by working with the vendorís open API, which allowed them to specify when alerts were delivered.

The programming change allowed them to time email delivery for early morning, based on the time zone in which users were looking for properties. (Although some users may be moving cross-country, and therefore looking at properties outside their existing time zone, the teamís research showed that the majority of site visitors look for properties within 15 miles of their current location.)

Step #6. Monitor email and site engagement metrics

The team monitored basic email metrics to gauge the impact of the triggered alerts campaign, such as:
o Open rates
o Clickthrough rates

But they also monitored additional site activity to determine the campaignís impact on user engagement and retention, such as:
o Likelihood that recipients use the siteís "contact a realtor" feature for more information
o Likelihood that recipients send an email to a friend, driving new unique users to the site


The campaignís impact was "amazing," says OíNeill.

- Saved search alerts generated an average:
o 60% total open rate
o 36% unique open rate
o 38% total CTR
o 32% unique CTR

- Saved listing alerts generated an average:
o 70% total open rate
o 48% unique open rate
o 49% total CTR
o 43% unique CTR

"It goes back to the idea of delivering something thatís relevant and useful to users," says OíNeill. "This is valuable information, and itís timely, and they are very eager to receive it."

The campaign also delivered insights into consumer behavior and preferences around email messages:

- The majority of users chose to receive daily alerts. That trend confirmed the teamís assumption that visitors want to receive the most up-to-date information.

- More users save searches than individual listings, which bodes well for the potential length of engagement. Individual properties eventually disappear from the database when they are sold or otherwise taken off the market. But searches according to specific criteria are continually refreshed.

- Most clicks were generated by the graphics highlighting the specific piece of information thatís been updated, such as price or new photos.

- Users who had registered accounts and opted in to email alerts were three times more likely than non-registered users to contact a realtor or send an email to a friend.

- Streamlining the method of delivering data to their ESP and customizing email send times generated an 18% lift in total opens and clicks.

The campaign was so successful that OíNeillís team is now developing additional triggered email programs based on other actions visitors can take on the site.

Useful links related to this article:

Creative Samples from the "Home Alerts" triggered email campaign:

Responsys: The teamís email service provider

See Also:

Comments about this Case Study

Jul 16, 2009 - Mark Bennett of AE Europe Ltd UK says:
A very good article I can associate with, we carried out a trial sending out triggered email to our newsletter database. Those clients that dropped out at the last step int he booking process were sent a reminder follow up that by booking via the newsletter they got exclusive rates as a subscriber. We saw a 42% increase in conversion over a 3 month period.

Post a Comment

Note: Comments are lightly moderated. We post all comments without editing as long as they
(a) relate to the topic at hand,
(b) do not contain offensive content, and
(c) are not overt sales pitches for your company's own products/services.

To help us prevent spam, please type the numbers
(including dashes) you see in the image below.*

Invalid entry - please re-enter

*Please Note: Your comment will not appear immediately --
article comments are approved by a moderator.

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly Case Study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions

Best of the Week:
Marketing case studies and research

Chart Of The Week

B2B Marketing

Consumer Marketing

Email marketing

Inbound Marketing

SherpaStore Alerts


We value your privacy and will not rent or sell your email address. Visit our About Us page for contact details.