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Jul 31, 2007
Case Study

Subject Line Tests Help eDiets Pass Filters: Tips to Improve Deliverability

SUMMARY: Everyone knows that s-e-x sells. But referencing it in your email is downright tricky because of deliverability and filter concerns. One wrong word can send your email straight to the junk bin and add a black mark to your otherwise healthy reputation.

See how an online diets service started a newsletter using racier subject lines and content. Clickthroughs are averaging 92.2%, and they’re getting a surprising number of conversions for a newsletter that was meant to add a dose of fun to the sometimes mundane world of dieters.
When Kim Evenson, Sr. VP Marketing & Sales, eDiets Inc., came onboard last year, she was impressed with the creativity among her email department’s writers when it came to subject lines and the content in their 11 newsletters.

Still, she wondered whether some of their more light-hearted newsletters truly used the writers’ talents to the fullest. With the “Worst Foods” newsletter, they had tested subject lines with more risqué content (“10 Best, 10 Worst, Plus Porn-Watching,” for example), but open and clickthrough rates didn't increase much.

Once it came time to launch the “Love Lines” newsletter, about love and relationships, Evenson and her marketing team knew they had to really see what would pass the filters and get readers opening and clicking.

Because Love Lines was a biweekly newsletter, Evenson didn’t need to recruit any more writers; instead, she expanded the assignments for her in-house staffers and her freelancers. Each newsletter contained four or five stories, ranging from fewer than 100 words to more than 700 words.

-> Strategy #1. Newsletter design and content

For the design of the newsletter, they modified the layout of their Worst Foods newsletter, which gets a 56.2% average clickthrough rate. While the far-right column was dedicated to advertising, they used the two left columns for story summaries, article links and photographs.

-> Strategy #2. Deliverability & reputation management

Because the newsletter referenced sex on a regular basis, they didn’t want to end up getting filtered into subscribers’ junk bins.

- Evenson instructed her writing staff to avoid using filter-tripping items, such as exclamation points and words in all caps.
- They added test accounts for AOL, Yahoo!, Hotmail, Gmail and Outlook and tested each campaign separately before sending the newsletter.
- They gave a numerical ranking to each newsletter and made sure they kept it under the threshold so they didn’t damage their good-standing sender score.
- Since they had too much riding on their whitelisted status with 11 other newsletters to worry about, Evenson wasn’t about to chance it all. To monitor the situation, they set up a weekly teleconference meeting with their email service provider to make sure Love Lines wasn’t getting eDiets’ whole newsletter system into trouble.

-> Strategy #3. Subject line word count

Employing the right “aura” was integral to getting good open and clickthrough rates, so Evenson gave the copywriters free reign when it came to crafting the subject lines. Nor did she impose a word count. “While we don’t have a number-of-characters limit, they knew we wanted short and sweet.”

For Love Lines, typical subject lines included wording, such as:
o “10 Dumbest Things to Say in Bed”
o “Sex Shockers: Positions, Dos, Don’ts”

Other eDiets newsletters had subject lines with content, such as:
o “Does Your Diet Make the Grade?”
o “Snacks Under 100 Calories”

“Overall, we were aiming at something that might catch your eye standing in the grocery store line,” Evenson says.

-> Strategy #4. Call-to-action ad

Evenson and her team also wanted to test whether this tabloidesque approach converted more readers into paid subscriptions. They included a two-sentence ad in each article with a strong call to action in the first few paragraphs and at the bottom of the page. For emphasis, they set off the ads in different colors:

- In maroon type immediately after the second paragraph: “Passion stuck in a rut? Your diet has a powerful effect on your sex drive. Maybe it’s time to shift gears and let eDiets help you keep your engine revved up! Click here for a free diet profile.”
- In pink at the end of the article: “Want a steamier love life? A healthy diet may be just the thing you need to sizzle. Click here for a FREE diet profile!”

-> Strategy #5. Protocol to address offended readers

Wisely, they suspected that some of their readership might not be keen to seeing this type of content, so they set up a system to address these concerns.

Email complaints (as well as positive feedback) about an article’s content were directed to the writer of the article. Evenson instructed the writers to respond to comments as they came in and to reply with short, thoughtful responses.

“We believed the cool factor of getting a personal response from a writer whose byline they recognized could do a lot for any situation, whether it was dealing with negative or positive feedback.”


The payoff for the Love Lines newsletter was better than Evenson imagined. The newsletter quickly became one of their top performers and it's consistently adding subscribers who “turn into passionate followers.”

The sexier subject lines have been quite successful with their female audience -- open rates average 25.3% compared to 22.2% for their regular newsletters. Meanwhile, Love Lines' clickthrough rate is averaging an amazing 92.2% vs 55.9% for eDiets’ other newsletters.

“When you find a winner like this one, it’s hard to ignore,” Evenson says. “It validated the wish of the team to walk on the wild side every once in a while. It also reinforced my instinct to let my writing team members do their thing.”

Thankfully, that walk on the wild side isn’t getting emails misrouted to the junk bins. Their deliverability rates (typically in the upper 90% range) are remaining consistent with other efforts, although she acknowledges that their good reputation on the front end is probably helping some newsletters get through.

Although Evenson wouldn't disclose exact conversion rates from the color text ads at the end of the articles, let’s just say they won’t be getting rid of them anytime soon. “We are delighted by what we are seeing so far.”

The writers-led email response system has been effectively dousing any controversy, she says. Subscriber complaints/unsubscribes haven’t been a major issue because of the subject lines or article content. “Our audience is very vocal, but we get mostly positive feedback. A lot of our existing subscribers from other newsletters have signed up, so [Love Lines] has the complementary aspect we were looking for.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from eDiets' Love Lines newsletter:

Datran Media Corp. - their StormPost solution provided eDiets’ email marketing and delivery platform:

eDiets Inc.:

See Also:

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