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Aug 27, 2003
How To

How eDiets Keeps 13 Million Email Opt-Ins Reading, Clicking & Buying from Daily Emails

SUMMARY: If you think email is dying, guess again. eDiets mails daily to most prospects on its lists and response rates have not dropped over the past year, despite everything. Our exclusive in-depth interview with eDiets' VP Marketing includes:
a. Gathering high-quality names
b. (Very) frequent newsletters prospects love
c. Promotions to convert email readers to buyers
d. Policing affiliates' campaigns
e. Samples of campaigns and newsletters that work
"For all the money we spend on banners, email accounts for half of our sales," says Sheryl Gatto, eDiets' VP of Marketing. Considering that eDiets spends millions on banners, that is really saying something about the significance of email.

The company has a gargantuan house file with over 13 million permissioned names; about 200,000 of whom at any time are current paying members to the eDiets service.

This 13 million is not a total of all names collected over the years the company's been in business, these are just the currently active, "good" email addresses. eDiets mails to them constantly, for many as much as five times per week.

How do you keep a list that big happy so they will continue to open, read and respond to your emails? Gatto shared her tactics and insights with MarketingSherpa:

#1. Gathering high-quality names #2. (Very) frequent newsletters prospects love #3. Promotions to convert email readers to buyers #4. Policing affiliates: "Spam once and you're out"

-> Tactic #1: Gathering high-quality names

"To get quality names, we give them something they want," says Gatto.

For eDiets, that offer has been a diet profile. Viewers fill out a questionnaire to personalized info on their diet. The profile serves multiple purposes: It is not only a great involvement tool, it is also a way for eDiets to gather information from prospects, and it gets prospects into the sales funnel right away.

Gatto's team does two particularly smart things with their sign- up process:

a. Constantly testing landing page tweaks

Working with Optimost, a service that manipulates components on a page (up to millions of different combinations), eDiets tests placement of questions, offers, banners, the opt-in box, and other components of the sign-up page to get the most emails.

They are religious about using Optimost's services, and with each test look for as little as one-tenth of a point difference. "If you have the kind of traffic that we do, a tenth of a percentage point is really important," Gatto says.

b. Involving prospects before asking for an email address

Only after the consumer has already invested the time to fill out the profile questions such as height, weight and health concerns does the form ask for an email address.

"We're not saying, 'sign up and here's your survey,'" says Gatto. "We're saying, 'here's your survey and then sign up.'" The email address is gathered almost as an afterthought.

One interesting effect of the diet profile as a tool for gathering names: eDiets capture more emails than they have actual additions to the database.

That is because some people take the profile a second time with different responses to see how the profile changes, or they might take the profile for someone else such as a family member.

"If we capture 100 emails a day, the new emails would probably be 70," Gatto says.

-> Tactic #2: (Very) frequent newsletters prospects love

Most marketers fret about hurting response by blasting their list too frequently; and, struggle with newsletter open rates degenerating as prospect names age. (In fact we have heard for many lists names older than 90 days have sadly diminished open rates compared to new names.)

eDiets does not seem to have either problem. Even though they send newsletters every day of the week to millions, the newsletters continue to be opened and to convert readers into membership buyers.

In fact, while about 30-35% of prospects who convert do so the same day, with another 30% a few days later, eDiets still gets about 30% of converts up to nine months or more after the original contact. 30% of names read daily newsletters for almost a year before they join.

Each of the company's five weekly newsletters is on a different topic: one's on motivation, one's on beauty, one's on "worst foods," etc. Prospects can chose to receive just the newsletters they want. There are separate check boxes for each one. If they sign up for all, they get a newsletter every morning.

Interestingly, most people do sign up for all newsletters, rather than cherry-picking.

Three reasons why eDiets' newsletters are opened and read:

a. Editors from the tabloid industry

"A lot of our writers have come out of the tabloids," Gatto says. After all, tabloids are an impulse buy. The headline grabs you and convinces you to buy it, and then the copy is written in bite-size chunks, a style that fits the Internet perfectly.

For example, Wednesday's Worst Foods newsletter recently announced, "Hall of Shame Horrors!" The subhead read "Bow Wow: Woman Eats Killer Dog." It is fun and compulsively open-and- readable.

b. Editorial is not driven by marketing

"We can put in requests, and if they can spin it, they will, but for the most part, they're trying to get people reading."

On the other hand, every success story in the newsletters can be considered an ad for eDiets. It is the newsletters on Mondays and Fridays, that routinely contain success stories as editorial, which convert the best.

c. Take a tone and push it to the limit

Newsletter editors take a definite point of view.

For example, Michele Hickford, eDiets' Email Campaign Manager (also known as "Email Princess") writes a column in the eFitness newsletter in which, "I write about whatever I can because I'm not an authority in anything," she jokes.

In one recent column she played the fashion police and wrote about the top 10 things women should not do in fashion.

Does she worry about angering her readers? No, she says. Rather, that's how they keep readers hooked for so long that eventually they say, "Yeah, I really need to do that diet."

She includes a special personal email address on all her columns and checks that box frequently so she can respond to reader feedback. She has found that if someone does get miffed by her column, a fast personal answer from her can make a huge difference.

-> Tactic #3: Promotions to convert email readers to buyers

Along with fun content, the newsletters all feature promos for eDiets memberships. The offer is always compellingly stated, and placed above the fold. "People don't want to sit and read a lot of copy," Gatto says. "We get much better results if we slam them over the head with what the deal is and give them a clear way to reply than if we're subtle."

When prospects do click on an offer, the landing page always matches exactly. "We have tested landing pages ad nauseum," Gatto says. "If a banner says, 'Are you overweight?' the landing page must say 'find out now.'"

eDiets do not include regular site navigation on their landing pages, because they want visitors to go directly through the sales funnel without distractions.

In addition to requested newsletters, when new names join the eDiets list, they're also sent an eight-step autoresponder series over the next 60 days.

For example, the first follow-on email sent at day two offers a price break "After reviewing your eDiets diet profile, I've selected you to receive very special pricing when you join eDiets..."

"We have the most luck in terms of messaging to people who are the impulse buyers and are likely to convert the same day," Gatto says. "In terms of banners and landing pages, we're talking about ten pounds in five weeks, so it's within reach, it's possible."

The longer-term converters are those who have more weight to lose. Letters targeting them change tone and focus.

Your best buyers are your past buyers, so eDiets also runs regular promotions to this list. (Link to sample below.) Every time they send to the recapture list they see double digit conversions, Gatto says.

-> Tactic #4. Policing affiliates: "Spam once and you're out"

eDiets writes checks to 20,000 affiliates a month. How do they know those affiliates are not sending to junk lists on their behalf?

It is a constant battle, and one which Gatto knows she needs to tackle in a more robust way.

Currently, they have a "Spam once and you're out" policy and each affiliate has certain requirements on how they send email (the "from" line must specify the sender and the email must say "you have opted in").

Beyond displaying their 800 number prominently on the site and relying on their 13 million readers to alert them of spammers, eDiets has no specific means of tracking affiliates' use of lists.

"For a while we were ending up on blacklists by mistake every month," Gatto says. They are implementing tougher procedures to track and stop mailers using bad lists.

What about the big question on every emailer's mind these days? Is the increase of junk email causing reduced response rates for permission mailers? Do more cluttered boxes mean less viewing for your message?

Gatto certainly expected that eDiets email campaigns would have reduced response over the past 12 months. Luckily she was wrong. “We’ve been surprised. Our open rate is fairly consistent.”

Useful links related to this article:

Samples of eDiets email newsletters & campaigns:

MarketingSherpa's Case Study, How eDiets Sells Millions of $65 Memberships Profitably Online:


See Also:

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