May 01, 2012
Case Study

Email Marketing Case Study: 5-step update of welcome campaign leads to 450% increase in new subscriber clickthrough rate

SUMMARY: A new subscriber welcome message doesn't necessarily have to be just one message. SavvyMom, a Canadian digital publisher, increased new subscriber engagement by refreshing a welcome note that assumed readers were familiar with the newsletters. A new series of three emails now leverages focused messages and strategically designed graphics to walk readers through the offerings.

See how SavvyMom updated its approach to welcoming new subscribers, and review the five-step process that led to a 450% increase in unique clickthrough rate.
by Jeri Dube, Freelance Reporter, MarketingSherpa


SavvyMom, a digital publisher, has attracted an audience of 55,000 mothers spread across Canada. Once registered, subscribers automatically receive a weekly newsletter and three monthly themed newsletters.

After its latest annual reader survey, Sarah Morgenstern, one of the company’s co-founders, and her team noticed readers hadn’t figured out the full scope of SavvyMom’s publications.

Since most readers come to SavvyMom through word-of-mouth, they usually had a recommendation based on a specific article from a particular newsletter. So they’d sign up for SavvyMom and not realize they had a choice of five separate city editions that arrive weekly, the three monthlies and a website packed with mom-centric content such as Family Life, Health & Wellness and Green Living.

Around the same time, Morgenstern and her team also identified mobile as an opportunity. They discovered that 20% of their audience reported viewing emails on a small screen device. If 20% of existing readers were mobile, they deduced that a similar percentage of new readers would be too.

To better engage, inform and expand their potential audience, SavvyMom had to update the format as well as the content. While Morgenstern wasn’t dissatisfied with her open rate and engagement level, her challenge was to keep these metrics consistently high while adapting to emerging formats.

Maximizing engagement, as measured by clickthrough rate, for as many subscribers as possible helps SavvyMom attract advertisers. So ensuring subscribers know about and engage with the full scope of newsletters is especially important.

"We sell the ads on our newsletter for about three times what we sell the ads on our website," said Morgenstern. "Ninety-five percent of our revenue comes through ad sales through the newsletter."


Since sending its first newsletter in 2005, SavvyMom has added several newsletter editions and expanded the scope of its website. However, the company, completely run by moms, had not updated its welcome letter to reflect these changes nor the new habits of its audience.

The following five steps explain how SavvyMom refreshed its welcome campaign -- replacing a single, lackluster message with a series of three emails that orient new subscribers to the complete "Savvy" experience and community.

Step #1. Define the messages and timing while keeping the readers’ perspective in mind

When SavvyMom’s old welcome letter was written, the company paid little attention to the context of the person who would receive and, hopefully, read the email. The content inadvertently assumed the reader knew as much about SavvyMom as the writer did. The updated welcome campaign addressed this mistake head on.

SavvyMom regularly surveys its readers to stay in tune with their feelings. Therefore, the team understood that moms experience email overload. This understanding guided the company in its decision to use three emails in the welcome series and send them 10 days apart.

"We wanted to have more than one, but we wanted to be respectful of our busy moms," said Morgenstern.

The overall goal of the series was to gradually warm the reader up to the brand and then teach them how they can best engage with it.

To do this, the team narrowed the scope of what to highlight by listing what was new to the SavvyMom experience and what content they were spending the most time developing. These criteria led to a list of what’s most important and enjoyable to the Savvy readers.

The messaging came directly from the goal of each letter in the series.

Message 1: Guide subscribers to their next step

The goal of the first welcome message, which arrives within minutes of registering, is to thank subscribers for joining the community and orient them to the various facets of the community. For example, readers can interact with the community via Facebook and Twitter.

This first email also includes a link inviting the new subscriber to email a friend recommending SavvyMom. Prompting a recommendation leverages their initial enthusiasm and excitement.

The note also contains basic housekeeping, asking readers to add the SavvyMom email address to their address book or safe sender list.

Message 2: Enhance subscriber experience

The second email reaches subscribers 10 days after they’ve signed up. In addition to hoping the reader has had a chance to look around the SavvyMom website, the second message directs subscribers to three key features: the search box, how to select a specific city, and how to find recent newsletter articles.

The goal is to compel subscribers to further explore the website by pointing out specific areas where they can focus their attention.

Message 3: Increase awareness of future emails

Ten days after the second email, subscribers receive the last message in the welcome series. This one singularly focuses on describing the three monthly newsletters: EatSavvy, the dinner planning edition; ShopSavvy, offering deals on approved products; and PartySavvy, focusing on birthday celebrations.

The email provides a quick snapshot of the content of each newsletter with links to articles from the most recent issue. This third missive provides the context of what readers will see in each of the three editions.

Step #2. Personalize the content with dynamic text

People become SavvyMom subscribers in one of two ways. They either sign up via the website or participate in a contest. As part of the registration for the contest, they are informed that they will receive SavvyMom newsletters. And of course, they have the ability to opt out.

The personalization in the welcome letter has to do with how they became subscribers. For subscribers who registered on the website, the first welcome letter dynamically fills in their name and simply thanks them.

The dynamic text for people who subscribed through a contest is used to remind readers of the contest name and tell them that the subscription is SavvyMom’s way of showing its appreciation.

Step #3. Add pizzazz with graphic elements

Morgenstern readily admits the original welcome letter was overly simple from a design perspective.

"It didn’t reflect our site, which we had spent a lot of time and effort on maintaining and making look good," said Morgenstern. "We hadn’t reflected the Web design in the welcome message."

The only graphic element in the original welcome note was the logo, which Morgenstern and team had hoped would be enough to express the SavvyMom brand. All three of the emails in the updated welcome series include both hot-linked pictures and call-to-action buttons.

SavvyMom worked hard to design the call-to-action buttons and ensure they integrated with the overall design of the email. These buttons and their careful placement are key to impelling readers to click through to the additional content.

Step #4. Make engagement natural for readers

SavvyMom thought about how its readers behave when they review its email. Since readers often scan, they used a Z-curve layout for the desktop design. The object of the Z-curve is to use graphics to attract the eye to the most important ideas in the email. The placement of these graphics resemble the letter "Z," starting at the top left hand side, then moving to the right, next going diagonally back to the left hand side, and finally scanning again to the right.

Since many readers decide whether to scroll further down in the email, they made sure that at least one call-to-action was visible "above the fold" or in the preview pane. This meant they did not make the graphics or logo at the top of the emails too large so that there was room for a call-to-action.

In addition, SavvyMom kept the look and feel of the emails consistent with the website so there was no surprise once a reader clicked through. Working with a graphic artist, SavvyMom was clear about its design standards and ensured the artist adhered to them.

For example, Morgenstern and her team have a very clear idea of their audience. The photographs and imagery must reflect that ideal as well as be attractive to those it represents.

SavvyMom also leveraged technology to ensure that the welcome emails rendered correctly independent of the device.

Auto Detection

With the rise of the "iPhone mom," as Morgenstern referred to it, SavvyMom created a version of their welcome series emails formatted for small screens.

Auto detection determines the reader’s screen size and renders the email accordingly. SavvyMom created a small screen design using the following best practices:
  • Single column layout

  • Cascading Style Sheet 3 (CSS3), which included media queries that enable formatting for specific devices and resolutions

  • Large call-to-action buttons spaced far enough apart to allow for clicking with thumbs

Alt Text

Email clients like Hotmail or Gmail often have default settings that do not automatically render images. SavvyMom uses Alt text as a way around that, displaying alternative text with a functioning link when a picture doesn’t render.

For example, when the graphic representing the link to Facebook isn’t rendered, readers would see the word "Facebook."

Step #5. Include a "Recovery Zone"

SavvyMom uses the term "recovery zone" to describe a set of links at the bottom of the email similar to the navigation bar on its website. Morgenstern referred to it as the last backup because these hyperlinks offer one last opportunity to compel a reader to click through to the website.

The links in the recovery zone do not directly relate to the email’s main message, but it’s better to have readers engage with the brand in some way than not at all. Instead, since they link to other areas of interest such as advice from parenting experts or amusing cartoons, they offer an alternative when a reader hasn’t engaged or interacted with anything else.

Unlike the other links in the email, these are not graphical buttons. SavvyMom made this deliberate choice because it doesn’t want the recovery zone to distract readers from the main message.


Overall the series of three welcome letters created a higher level of engagements for SavvyMom’s new subscribers as measured by clickthrough and open rates.

"The welcome message series was giving them a much more appealing view of SavvyMom," said Morgenstern. "It helped them stay more engaged and be more active with what we were doing."

When comparing the first new welcome message with the old one, SavvyMom saw a 450% increase in unique clickthroughs. While only the first new message improved the unique open rate, all three of the messages showed improvement over the 2% unique clickthrough rate of the original welcome email.
  • Original email: 40% unique open rate, 2% unique clickthrough rate

  • New email 1: 59% unique open rate, 11% unique clickthrough rate

  • New email 2: 39% unique open rate, 4% unique clickthrough rate

  • New email 3: 37% unique open rate, 7% unique clickthrough rate

Furthermore 11.04% of the subscribers who read either the second or third email in the series had not read the first one. This means that a fair number of additional people were engaged that might not have been had they received only a single welcome message.

Most significant, however, was the improvement in subscribers’ long-term engagement.
To quantify this change, Savvy Mom’s email vendor compared the average open and clickthrough rates for two sets of subscribers: those who subscribed during the six-month period before implementing the new welcome campaign and those who subscribed in the six-months after.

The open rate for the subscribers who received the new welcome series was 63% higher than for those who didn’t. The clickthrough rate for this group was 117% higher.

SavvyMom’s investment in designing for mobile also paid off. Mobile and small screen viewers were two times more likely to click on the new welcome emails than readers viewing it on a laptop or desktop device.
  • 12% of those who opened the email on a mobile device clicked on a link

  • 6% of those who opened the email on a larger device clicked on a link

"It confirmed that we achieved our goal of engaging that 20% of readers who are mobile," said Morgenstern.

Creative Samples

  1. The old welcome email

  2. Welcome email #1

  3. Note recommending SavvyMom to a friend

  4. Welcome email #2

  5. Welcome email #3

  6. Mobile rendering of email #1 screen 1

  7. Mobile rendering of email #1 screen 2



WhatCounts - Solution provider and implementation partner to SavvyMom

Related Resources

Email Design How-to: 5 insights to improve open and clickthrough rates

Make Your Email Graphics Compulsively Viewable: Inspirational Samples

Mobile Email Marketing: 5 tactics to engage and convert smartphone users

Post-sale Nurturing: Nonprofit’s email welcome series beats newsletter open rate 47%, marketing emails 257%

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