Christine Banning, VP Marketing & Communications, SCORE Association, relies on two email newsletters to establish the organization’s expertise, credibility and value as a business training and mentoring service.
As the economic downturn took hold last fall, Banning and her team examined whether their newsletter strategy was doing enough to reinforce how SCORE’s offerings can help small-business owners.
“We wanted to revamp the design, positioning and usability of our email newsletters,” says Banning. “We asked ourselves, ‘What are ways we can make these newsletters easier to use and more engaging?’”CAMPAIGN
In October, 2008, Banning and her team undertook a comprehensive redesign of their email newsletters – SCORE eNews, and Expert Answers, a monthly Q&A with business experts.
They focused on a new linking, layout and editorial strategy to increase engagement and to promote key business mentoring services that can be especially helpful to small businesses in difficult economic conditions.
Here are four strategies they used to overhaul their newsletters:Strategy #1. Cluster hotlinks to related content above the fold
Banning’s team researched email best practices and determined they needed 6-10 hotlinks in the body of their email messages. They then developed standards for content selection and link placement to provide the most value to readers:
- The team looked for contextual links that were highly relevant to each newsletter article or the topics discussed in Q&A interviews. For example, if an interviewee discussed managing cash flow, the team added links to an online SCORE training program on creating cash reserves.
Typical targets for newsletter links included:
o Business templates
o Online training and workshops
o Website editorial content
o Contact information for SCORE mentoring services
o Online quizzes
o Microsites for small business programs with SCORE partners, such as Visa
“Anytime there is something within the article that relates to SCORE’s mentoring and other services, we add a link that will take people to more information about what SCORE does.”
- Hotlinks were embedded within the articles, highlighted in blue, underlined text. That way, there were no additional graphics to download that might create deliverability or rendering issues.
- The team chose to “front-load” its links in the top of its email messages, to attract the interest of subscribers who scan the newsletters or might not read below the fold.
For the SCORE eNews newsletter that meant:
o Providing a link in the newsletter header to take readers to a landing page featuring all of that month’s feature articles
o Weighting links to a diverse array of related content within the first few articles
For the Expert Answers newsletter that meant:
o Weighting links within the first few answers, in case readers didn’t scroll down to read the entire interviewStrategy #2. Provide links to bonus downloads
In addition to contextual links within newsletter articles, the team added links to bonus content that could be downloaded from the website. Unlike links to existing content on the SCORE website, these resources were offered exclusively to newsletter readers.
- Bonus features were typically additional content and resources related to the subject of articles and Q&A features, such as:
o Additional tips from the interviewee
o Tools, templates, or checklists
- The team also created a monthly giveaway as part of its bonus features program. Subscribers could register to receive free gifts, such as a USB memory stick. Strategy #3. Create permanent links to key services
The team was also aware of the newsletters’ role in longer-term lead generation. Few subscribers are ready to jump directly from reading a newsletter article to engaging with SCORE’s business-mentoring or training services.
For that reason, the team also created a new section of permanent links to key SCORE services that appeared in every issue of the newsletter. “We get anecdotal feedback that subscribers save email newsletters and put them in a folder for future reference,” says Banning. “We felt, from a lifecycle perspective, it was good to have those permalinks.”
- They identified three primary services to include as permanent links in each newsletter:
o “Ask SCORE,” an online communication channel with business mentors
o “Find SCORE,” an online tool to identify the office closest to your ZIP code
o Online workshops and business training
- They designated a set location for those links in the right column of each newsletter. That way, subscribers who received a newsletter every month grew accustomed to seeing those links in the same place, and would know where to access those services when they were ready. Strategy #4. Use keyword research to identify newsletter subjects
The team developed a research process to identify newsletter articles and interview subjects that were timely and relevant to their audience.
They looked for editorial guidance in two key areas:- Keyword research
The team examined the company’s Google adWords campaigns to find keywords that drove strong traffic. When they saw terms that were performing particularly well, they created articles related to that subject area.
For example, when the team saw terms related to small business startup tools appearing regularly in their keyword research, they created a feature that included three resources to help entrepreneurs start a new business. - Small business news and trends
The team also used anecdotal research to guide their editorial planning. They identified the top 15 small-business news websites and monitored the most significant news and trends featured on those sites each month.
Then, they compared those subject areas to the information available on the SCORE website to develop articles that could feature several links to existing resources.
For example, they saw that organization was a major subject of editorial coverage around the first of the year. So the team created a bonus download for the January newsletter that featured three tips from a noted organization expert on organizing for success in the new year.
The new strategy began paying off immediately. “The most fabulous result is that we dramatically increased our clickthrough rate because of our additional links,” says Banning.
- CTR for SCORE eNews increased roughly 700% on average
- CTR for Expert Answers increased more than 1,200% on average
Clustering links toward the top of each newsletter captures readers’ attention. The links in the header to monthly features and the bonus download are consistently among the most popular links.
Clicks to the permanent links offering more information key SCORE services tend to fall in the middle of the pack, says Banning. “[Those links] are relating to people who have gotten deeper into our content, see the value we offer, and are ready to take the next step.”
The team’s keyword and anecdotal research is also teaching them lessons about content strategy. Some topics they expected to perform well, based on observed trends, haven’t been as popular as they had hoped, while others are surprisingly well-liked. For example, the January feature on getting organized did not generate as many clicks as the collection of tools and resources to start a new business.
“Our features on smart-start tools and ramping up sales really performed better for us,” says Banning. “Our readers respond to very accessible topics around money and cash flow. But when there’s a deeper level of complexity in a story, the clicks begin to drop off.”
The lesson: Email newsletters require a policy of constant improvement to achieve incremental growth. Useful links related to this article
Creative Samples from SCORE’s newsletter campaign