November 25, 2014
Case Study

Email Marketing: 26% average increase in clickthrough rate for CNET's welcome and nurturing program

SUMMARY: "We really test. If we're going to take the time to run a special program, like these programs, we're going to test them. If we can't test them, we're not going to run them," Diana Primeau, Director of Member Services, CNET, said.

In this case study, we'll be covering one element of Primeau's upcoming presentation at Email Summit 2015 — the CNET welcome and nurturing program. Learn how Primeau achieved a 26% increase in clickthrough and 12% lift in open rate by onboarding new subscribers and optimizing the process.
by Erin Hogg, Reporter

Diana Primeau, Director of Member Services, CNET, is no stranger to sharing her insights on email marketing and helping her peers improve their efforts.

In 2013, she presented at Web Optimization Summit in Boston on how revamping and refining the CNET newsletter offering led to increases in open and clickthrough rates.

That same year, she presented at Email Summit in Las Vegas on how a win-back campaign successfully re-engaged 8% of the CNET list.

Since then, Primeau and the CNET team have been hard at work, discovering what works best for their users by leveraging testing and optimization.

Primeau will return to the stage at Email Summit 2015 to present "How to keep subscribers engaged with your brand via personalized content."

In that upcoming session, Primeau will detail a welcome and nurturing program for new users, as well as programs for existing users, that have aided CNET in not only generating new subscribers but also engaging them for the long-term.

In this email case study we are going to share some of those insights, so read on to learn about her efforts in the welcome and nurturing series — including the results of the campaigns — and take away some of the discoveries Primeau gained to apply to your own email efforts.


For the past five years, Primeau has truly been on the forefront of email marketing and its evolution.

"In the beginning, email was kind of a one shot — I call it the shotgun approach — where you send out a bunch of emails and you hope you reach your customers," she explained.

According to Primeau, when Internet marketing really took off, email marketing lost some its clout and was overtaken by hot and emerging trends at the time, such as social media.

However, Primeau cited that marketers have figured out that email is still one of the most effective ways to reach customers.

"In my world, email has never left; it's just changed," she said.

That change, as Primeau described, lives in the subscriber. Relevancy has become a key focus as users, and customers, expect more from companies.

CNET has embraced this challenge to provide the most relevant content to users and has seen that email customers are some of the most loyal customers to the brand.


Primeau explained that in 2013, CNET had a home-grown email system that was performing as intended.

However, when looking to the future and wanting to increase relevancy for subscribers, the system would not meet CNET's goals of tracking behaviors to provide a more personalized experience.


CNET's audience is very focused on technology, and they come to CNET to research products to aid in making a purchasing decision through CNET's reviews. They also want to learn how to get the most out of their gadgets and consume how-to content, with articles such as "How to share your location in iOS 8."

Users are also coming to CNET to learn what's on the horizon in the latest in tech updates and trends. CNET also offers Windows, Mac, iOS and Android downloads of software and apps.

The users in the welcome and nurturing campaigns are new to the CNET brand, learning and discovering what the site has to offer. With vast array of information on the site, it is essential that these new users are fully aware of all the offerings and services CNET provides and are served email content relevant to their interests.

Step #1. Revamp the email system

Starting from the ground up, Primeau knew the decision must be made to implement an email service provider to achieve better relevancy at a more complex level and move away from the home-grown system.

Determined through a research and vetting process, Primeau and the team began a process to find an ESP that would help meet the goals of the CNET personalization and segmentation goals not possible with the then current system.

She laid out the objectives that could be accomplished by going with a new ESP the need to:
  • Acquire new customers

  • Onboard those new customers

  • Continue engaging with them

  • Retain new customers for the long-term

Once the new ESP was implemented and Primeau and the CNET team had the capability to ramp up their engagement efforts, they got to work building better and more personalized programs for all ranges of customers — from brand-new to existing users.

"The welcome and nurturing series is one of the first things we started. And then, from there, we moved into really focusing more on the user and starting to do segmenting and testing that," Primeau said.

All of the emails CNET sends, including the following welcome and nurturing series, are responsive on mobile devices.

Step #2. Create a welcome email

In spring of 2014, CNET began to craft its welcome and nurturing series with the goal of engaging new subscribers early on and allowing them to discover what CNET has to offer. Everyone who signed up as a registered CNET user would receive a welcome email.

In that send, the copy welcomed the subscriber to "the wonderful world of CNET," and offered various resources they might find useful, including smartphone tips and tricks and CNET forums.

In the beginning of the campaign, the idea was to provide a "mini digest in each email of all the things they could get [from CNET]," Primeau said.

After speaking with her peers about other successful programs are doing, she saw very robust sends, filled with lots of content. Applying the need to provide lots of information upfront presented a challenge for Primeau: How much is too much?

Balancing all of the news and reviews CNET offers, as well as the community forums, newsletters and many other features, Primeau had to find a sweet spot that would help new users see what CNET offers but not overwhelm them.

Primeau began testing and saw the model of less is better to be true. The current welcome email contains copy offering new users to CNET links to popular resources.

View the Creative Sample

Click here to see the full version of this creative sample

"So it's really not boiling the ocean [with content] at first, but really seeing where they're clicking. And the same held true to one of our other emails that we tested," Primeau explained.

Primeau has found that driving people to the CNET site rather than providing too much information in the email works best to get new users discovering the brand.

Step #3. Develop nurturing program

Based on several factors, the new subscriber would then receive a series of nurturing emails. Depending on if they opened the welcome email or if they clicked through, that would prompt the next email in the nurturing series.

These nurturing emails included sends encouraging new users to:
  • Connect with CNET on social media

  • Download the CNET mobile app

  • View CNET's best tech videos

"We were really careful that when someone is in the nurturing series, we didn't email them about anything else. We were just really focusing on onboarding them and making sure they had a good experience," Primeau explained.

In the first nurturing send, users are presented with links to connect with CNET on Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter.

Each link provided brings the user to the specific social channel.

In the CNET second mobile nurturing send, new users are exposed to CNET's mobile program, which includes apps for smartphones and also for televisions via the Xbox 360, Roku and Tivo platforms.

Other resources are offered, including links to the CNET forums, smartphone tips and tricks as well as CNET Deals.

The third, and final, nurturing email includes tech videos from the CNET video library. In this send, users are directed to view the "thousands of videos dedicated to product reviews, DIY how-tos and torture tests" as well as tech industry news and updates.

View the Creative Sample

Click here to see the full version of this creative sample

Below the main CTA, the send shares a few of CNET's popular video channels, which users can click through to view.

Step #4. Test and optimize

In implementing the welcome and nurturing program, CNET has constantly tested and optimized the campaigns to ensure that subscribers were engaging with the programs and being served the most relevant content for their needs.

"I think we really try to test everything. Sometimes, you don't get to test it right away, like we'll roll this out and we knew we were going to test it in the summer. If we wouldn't have tested it, we would have had a mediocre program," Primeau explained.

She added that finding the time to test and optimize any email program is huge, and it is also important to devote time to sharing those numbers internally so the company can see the value of testing.

"We really test. If we're going to take the time to run a special program, like these programs, we're going to test them. If we can't test them, we're not going to run them," she explained.

Elements in the program that were tested included subject lines, calls-to-action, content (design and amount), advertising and the order in which the nurturing emails were sent.

For example, the email focused on CNET’s mobile program, which is a "huge initiative" for CNET, was the second email in the series, so Primeau bumped it to be the first in the nurturing series. However, this minor change caused a 1.28% drop in open rate and a 4.64% decrease in clickthrough.

"We're not done yet. It's just really, really interesting [to see] the impact of order of operations and timing and all that stuff," she said.
In the tech video nurturing send, CNET offers recorded videos and continuously tracks to see how many are clicked on, and how much engagement they receive.

CNET has also been testing the nurturing series and how a user may receive the content based on their action, or inaction, in the welcome email.

"So, the idea is not to send everyone the nurturing series. Everyone gets the welcome email. And then we've tried different things. For example, everyone gets the welcome email and then depending on what the second email is, if you click on it, if you open it and click through, then you're going to get the next," Primeau explained.

However, if a user does not open the second nurturing email, they may not receive the third nurturing email based on their engagement.

"It depends on what people click on and what they're doing and how we keep them in the funnel," she added.


"It's truly amazing. You've got this new customer; they want to know who you are, they want to engage in your site. It's a huge value for the new users that are very, very interested," Primeau said.

Results Primeau and the CNET team have achieved are:
  • 12.31% increase in open rate for the welcome email

  • 10% increase in open rate for the nurturing series

  • 26.11% increase in average clickthrough rate for both campaigns

By providing this valuable onboarding information to new subscribers, Primeau and the team at CNET have capitalized on highly interested new subscribers by driving them back to the CNET site early on in the lifecycle.

Open rates for the welcome and nurturing emails range from 40% to 80%, Primeau said.

But even with this success, Primeau is determined to continue testing and optimizing these programs to further increase new subscriber engagement with CNET.

Through these programs, Primeau has seen the importance of leveraging what is available and at-hand. Once Primeau established the goals for new subscriber engagement and began utilizing a new email platform, the capabilities for developing a more targeted welcome and nurturing series were available.

"People might not have an actual welcoming and nurturing series built into their platform, but what's to stop people from doing that? They're just emails. It could be a little more work, but everyone can do it. If you can send emails, then you can create a welcome and nurturing series," she said.

In the future, Primeau is dedicated to continually test and improve the programs to keep those highly interested new users engaging with CNET.

This campaign is just a part of the CNET initiative to engage and retain new and existing customers. Interested in learning more? Primeau will be presenting more details on this campaign, as well as another CNET program to keep existing users engaged with segmented, relevant content sends during her Email Summit 2015 presentation.

Creative Samples

  1. Welcome email

  2. First nurturing email

  3. Second nurturing email

  4. Third nurturing email



Related Resources

Email Marketing: CNET win-back campaign sees 8% subscriber re-engagement

Email Marketing: CNET increases engagement by cutting nearly half of newsletter portfolio

Win-back Campaigns and List Cleansing: How CNET re-engaged 8% of its email list [Video]

Content Marketing: Optimizing the newsletter offering for CNET

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