April 28, 2015
Case Study

Email Marketing: Segmentation and list cleansing campaign results in 500% increase in clickthrough

SUMMARY: JustAnswer had not invested much in list hygiene prior to 2014, instead focusing on quantity of those on their list over the quality. Like many marketers, the team feared that cleansing or trimming the list would result in fewer conversions.

See how over the course of a year, the marketers implemented an automated email marketing platform and segmented engaged and non-engaged users, both improving deliverability and increasing clickthrough rates 500%.
by Courtney Eckerle, Manager of Editorial Content


JustAnswer provides online conversations with experts, such as lawyers, doctors, vets and mechanics, and covers top category topics, such as tech support and home improvement.

"We are marketing to existing customers, people who come through and actually make a purchase through our site," said Kara Douglas, Senior Manager of Marketing Communications, JustAnswer.

Ultimately, she added, the mission is to help people quickly, affordably and conveniently.

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"We feel that we have this ability to provide professional services to people who may not have the means or may be in places where they just don't have that accessibility, so this gives them that opportunity," she said.

The ultimate goal is to be the leading platform for online professional services and top of mind when people have everyday problems.

"We want to be everywhere … A lot of times people are coming to us with kind of a hair-on-fire question like, 'Oh my dog just ate an acorn. Do I need to take him to the vet?' And they just kind of want to understand the severity of that. While our expert can't really diagnose anybody online, they can make the recommendations and give advice and tips," she said.


Douglas said most of the time in marketing efforts, the team is trying to figure out the next question a customer might have.

"It's tricky. We're not a retailer who has a new pair of shoes to spotlight every week. We're really just trying to figure out the ins and outs of people's lives and what are the ways that we can help somebody and provide that accessibility," she said.

JustAnswer doesn't currently have email acquisition outside of the site, but it is exploring to see if there is enough interest to build out an email channel of non-customers and potential prospects.

"The challenge was that, although we have paying customers who are paying for this service, we were receiving really high spam complaints, and we couldn't quite figure that out. And some of it boils down to probably not having the opt-in be clear," she said.

From a transactional standpoint, if customers make a purchase with JustAnswer, they are compliant with CAN-SPAM and able to email them.

"But we still couldn't figure out why we were seeing such high spam complaints, so obviously that was impacting our deliverability. And we want to be ethical," she said.

With an email service provider background, Douglas said she came to JustAnswer with the objective of discovering what its best practices are and to "figure out what is it that is sinking us in this kind of deliverability frustration? … Why are people not happy to receive our emails? What is the problem there?"


The team approached this challenge by first "just shedding some of the dead weight, stuff that was dragging us down in terms of deliverability," Douglas said.

In March of 2014, the team decided to do a deep dive into who was engaging with emails versus who was not engaged to begin segmenting the two. The team decided on a 90-day email engagement period and classified those who had been active in that time period as engaged.

"It was a little eye opening to see how that separation worked out. At the time, it was about 17% of our total eligible email database [that] was engaged," she said.

That number told the team they needed to learn more about their customers and what tactics would engage them.

"It felt like … OK, we've got some work to do. We have to figure out how to get customers more engaged. But it was good experience for us to understand the difference, and that was what triggered us into doing this sort of segmentation. And in the process of it, we've learned a lot about our customers and figuring out what works and what doesn't work," she said.

After separating the segments, the team took the focus from the engaged users to the non-engaged users.

"We started realizing that, after a certain period, if you haven't engaged with us in 90 days, let's think about how we are going to re-engage you," she said.

The team built a re-engagement offer to "support the separation. To say, 'OK, we know that you haven't opened our emails in a while, and we want to make it easy for you to get off our list.' We know there's a lot of competition in the inbox, but let's give these guys an easy way out. Let's not make them stay on the list if they're not happy," she said.

In the end, she added, it came down to the quality of the list and focusing on people who really wanted to be receiving JustAnswer emails.

Step #1. Build campaign while migrating to a new system

"We came up with this concept, and we really researched how other people are doing re-engagement campaigns to figure out how to make it applicable to our business model," Douglas said.

The team put together some email copy that encouraged people to stay on the list with a $10 off coupon. However, according to Douglas, "if you don't [want to get emails], here's a nice big opt-out button for you to get off the list," she said.

Also, if the unengaged segment doesn't open the re-engagement email, they were taken off the list automatically.

"We've done a lot in terms of looking at how far back in our database were we willing to go, how recently somebody asked a question on our site, as well as engagement. And then we put all that criteria together to form these two different buckets, but we're treating them a little bit differently," she said.

Every 90 days, Douglas looked to see who was eligible to receive this re-engagement email and sent it out. Being able to leverage behavioral data points within marketing automation tools was key to this process as well as seeing who is opening and clicking.

Getting to that point where the team was able to quickly and efficiently reach those data points was a challenge in and of itself as they had to find a system that would work with automation.

"We were trying to solve the problem of having an in-house system for our transactional mail. We had our email service provider for our marketing emails. They didn't speak to one another, so we couldn't really have all that data in one place to pull them. We had limited data resources in our email service provider," she said.

The team had to work on getting new data points, but that required pulling the resources of developers.

"By the time we'd get the data, it didn't feel as relevant anymore. If you wanted to do something quickly, it just was very frustrating," she said.

According to Douglas, the problem to solve became, "How do we get everything integrated into one system where we have all of the data in one place and we can leverage all of the data that we have to really get to that personalized, one-on-one conversation with our customers?"

It took three months to get the proper tools up and running, she said, but it took a year to fully migrate from the old system to the new one.

"We really are trying to build out a customer journey, so we had a lot of campaigns that needed to be moved out of the old system into the new system, and we also support five different websites. We have our U.S. website, but we also have one in the U.K., one in Japan, Germany and Spain," she said, adding that her team is responsible for email marketing at those five sites.

Once the team was done with the migration, she said, "we're able to really optimize and take a look at, OK, what are we doing. What can we do differently? What can we leverage now with the new tools that we have to really improve our email communications?"

Step #2. Differentiating conversations with the engaged and nonengaged

At the time of this interview, the email lifecycle currently in place runs about 35 days, Douglas said.

"So, for example, you'll come to our site, you purchase. You'll get a welcome email from us. Then you'll kick into … what we call our conversation lifecycle. There are series of emails that are wrapped around a conversation," she said.

The objective is to build out this journey and to figure out how to drive these conversations with the engaged and unengaged segments differently.

"We're really trying to find more of those micro-conversions, so it's not so much that we need the email to perform at a certain ROI. We just want to make sure that we're getting a decent amount of engagement where people are actually opening and clicking and showing an interest in the content," she said.

A big part of the team's strategy for the nonengaged segment is to incentivize them first with a discount or offer.

For instance, the team has used the subject line, "Hey, you've got $10 to spend in your account," which has been "a big win for us in terms of how to talk to our customers when it comes to coupon offers. It's incentivizing them and making them feel like your money's just on the table to spend versus a percentage off," she said.

The rest of the re-engagement email starts with the headline, "Should we stay or should we go?" and explains why JustAnswer wants to continue emailing the user.

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Then there are two large buttons that ask people to either "Get $10 off" or receive "No More Email."

Step #3. Send from two different IP addresses to preserve reputation

To protect deliverability, the team began dividing the sends for engaged and nonengaged segments from two separate IP addresses.

"Any emails that we send that are relevant to the conversation, we need to get those emails delivered. We can't risk those getting put into a spam folder. So we need to have one IP address that's really solid in terms of deliverability and reputation," Douglas said.

The team felt it might be best, she explained, to separate the two to preserve sending reputation, even while making unsubscribing as easy as possible for nonengaged users. Douglas explained that this was because "the nonengaged are a little more likely to hit the spam button ... even if they did pay for a service of ours."

This way, at least one send reputation would be "really solid, really clean and make sure that all relevant messages get through to the customers who need to get those messages that are timely," she said.

By doing this, the nonengaged wouldn't get in the way of engaged users getting those timely, relevant messages, and the team could treat sends to unengaged recipients as separate entities and try to have the ISP look at them separately in terms of reputation.

"We're still working on making sure that we're still doing all the best practices on the unengaged. But again, it's just because they're a little bit higher risk. It gives us a little freedom to have a little bit more experimentation on that side without impacting stuff that we don't want to mess with at all and stuff that we don't want to hurt at all in terms of delivery," Douglas said.

Use data to focus on engaged subscribers

"I think the biggest thing that I've learned through this process — I mean, I think I already suspected [it], but we've now been able to prove it with our data: Quality is going to beat out quantity," Douglas said.

It's really important to stand out in the inbox, she added, and the best way to have an effective email is to make sure you're sending to people who are engaging with you.

"It really boils down to the people who aren't engaging. They're really just kind of dead weight, and they're going to drag down your metrics. So to really get those metrics to where you want them to be, where you know your emails are successful, you want to really focus on your engaged users and really focus on the quality of the list versus the quantity of the list," she said.

That aspect of the re-engagement email, which cleansed people out of the list, was a hard sell, Douglas said, because "a lot of organizations think, 'If we have 2 million people on our list, why aren't we emailing all of them?'"

Email marketers can learn a lot more from people who are engaging with emails about how to improve, she added, but "the quality over quantity lesson I think is a tough one. And you think, 'Oh, the more emails I send them, the more money I make,' but it really isn't that way. Your conversion rate and everything is going to look a lot better on paper when you're sending less but getting more out of it," she said.

The team's main priority is to focus on those engaged users by leveraging behavioral data to understand customers.

"We want to make sure that our customers aren't getting these emails and they look at them and go, 'I don't know why they sent this to me. I just did something on the site yesterday, and I'm getting this email telling me to do something,'" she said.

Step #4. Consistently evolve A/B testing

The team is consistently performing subject line tests, Douglas said, alongside content testing and minimal call-to-action tests.

"We built a workflow in our marketing automation tools that allows us to send an A/B test on Monday … We evaluate the test results for three days, and then on Thursday, we send out the remainder of the campaign with the optimized version," she said.

Every week, she said, the team is coming up with new content to test against what was done previously and running tests within each group.

"So we're A/B testing within the engaged group, as well as the unengaged group to see what works, and sometimes they don't [work]. Sometimes it'll be a clear winner on both fronts, and sometimes they perform differently, so the optimized campaign might be slightly different on the unengaged versus the engaged side," she said.

Every Friday, there is a company meeting where the email marketing team shares the results of the tests from that week, and "every Friday afternoon I go up and have a quick little 10-minute presentation with the slide deck that shows maybe a new learning for the week or something we've tested to share those company-wide so we can all understand what's working for the customer," she said.

Whether it be from the email side, the social side, product side or even elsewhere within the company, she added, every team is supposed to share some insight.

"That is part of our culture … And I have views where I can just go in and see how things are doing and then we just kind of share that information. We're still kind of a small company, so we very much have a startup culture. It's very collaborative, and they just share information pretty easily," she said.

As a marketer, Douglas said, there is no such thing for her as perfection in the email program.

"There's always going to be optimization. There is always room for improvement … I don't want to just move the needle an inch. I really want to make a bigger impact. So it's important to be testing, but it's sometimes important to be thinking bigger and always trying to figure out what we're going to do next," she said.


"It's been a really interesting year of learning … It's exciting to see from where we started to where we are now in terms of we feel we [now] have a really complex system," Douglas said.

There was a time, she added, when people in the company would come and say, "'Wow, this is a really cool email. How come we don't do that?' And we'd say, 'Well, we'd love to, but our tools just don't support it.' Now that's never the answer," she said.

Since implementing this engaged versus nonengaged strategy in March of 2014, the results the JustAnswer team was able to achieve included:
  • An increase of the engaged recipient base by 207% for marketing messages

  • Reduced spam complaints by 84%

  • A 46% increase in open rates

  • A 500% increase in clickthrough rates

"When we started this experiment, only 17% of our total database was engaging with our marketing emails. We now have 53% of our eligible recipients engaging with our email communications," she said.

As for what is next in JustAnswer's marketing, Douglas said, "We're really always going to be continuing to optimize our customer journey. Next, really for us, is to explore cross channel marketing, getting beyond email, looking at maybe some possibility with some SMS, possibly even doing a little bit of direct mail … Really trying to unify that message across all channels for our customers."

Creative Samples

  1. Example of JustAnswer question

  2. Re-engagement email



Related Resources

Email Marketing: RunKeeper app results in 100% open rate increase in a single campaign

Email Segmentation: 40% average open rate via relevant content journey

Email Marketing Chart: How email influences purchases (online and off)

Email Summit 2015: Top Takeaways from this year’s best sessions

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