by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter
StudentBeans.com needed more revenue from its email program. The company is an online portal for university students in the United Kingdom, and features a variety of offers and content on its website.
The company’s offers are featured on behalf of other brands, making affiliate commissions a key revenue channel. One of the most powerful ways the team has to promote the offers is through email marketing.
Charlotte Staunton is the digital marketing manager at The Beans Group. About a year ago, her team wanted to increase revenue by encouraging new subscribers to make a first purchase sooner in the relationship. Staunton thought increasing engagement would be the best approach.
"What we wanted to do was increase their engagement level at the beginning, and that would increase the lifetime value of the user," she says.
But, StudentBeans.com already sent new subscribers a welcome email. How could the team increase engagement further?
StudentBeans.com stretched its welcome email into a six-part series. The emails featured the most popular offers, and the team hoped they would increase engagement and revenue.
The team took five steps:
Step #1. Set the audience and timing
StudentBeans.com acquires new subscribers from a variety of sources:
- Partnerships with content sites
- Partnerships with student employment sites
- Homepage sign-up form
- Natural search traffic
Once people join the list, they will receive a confirmation email
immediately and a welcome email 24 hours later. The team wanted to maintain this practice, but follow up with a series of five more messages.
The welcome series would span six straight days. Afterward, subscribers would receive StudentBeans.com’s normal weekly newsletter. (Note:
As you’ll see below, the team carefully monitored response to make sure the increase in volume did not trigger a negative reaction.)
Step #2. Set the offer strategy
StudentBeans.com needed these emails to spur new subscribers to act on an offer. Each email features a single offer, except for the first email, which features several (more on that in a moment).
The team uses two criteria to select the offers:
The site’s most popular offers are featured to attract more attention and interest.
"We try to make sure that they are the most engaging offers of the site that are driving registrations, having really high conversion rates, and attracting lots of users," Staunton says.
Since the primary goal of the campaign is to monetize new subscribers, the team also chooses offers that are the most beneficial to its bottom line.
"We choose some of the most lucrative but also very popular offers," Staunton says.
Customize the offers
The team strives to send relevant deals. After all, even the most popular offer for a pedicure would not spur most men to act. The team customizes the offers based on two factors:
- Sex of the subscriber
"If [the offer] is region specific, we found it is really powerful to put it in," Staunton says. "People love to see ‘Rediscover Nottingham’ if they live in Nottingham."
Step #3. Include editorial content
In its regular emails, StudentBeans.com also sends content on saving money and related topics. The team only recently started including this content, and it has had great results, Staunton says.
"We have almost doubled our traffic coming from emails, which has been amazing."
Thinking that it might lend more power to the new welcome emails, the team sometimes works the content into the series.
"A version of it is ‘the best of the editorial newsletter,’" Staunton says, "so they will see that and kind of be primed for that before they receive [the newsletter] to improve the engagement with that as well."
Step #4. Design the first welcome email
The first email
alerts subscribers to the coming messages. Without this notice, the daily series would arrive unexpectedly and could spur people to mark the emails as spam.
"The initial email tells them that over the next six days they are going to get all the best deals," Staunton says.
Here are the key features of this message:
- Header image - the company logo and mascots are included in a header image at the top of the email. The image also says, "Welcome! To studentbeans.com."
- Salutation - greets the person by first name.
- Welcome series note - the email copy tells subscribers, "over the next six days, you will receive a bonus bundle of fantastic free stuff and brilliant offers."
- Subscription reminder - the email copy also mentions, "we’ll send our Top Twenty offers to your inbox every week."
- Social media options - the email links to StudentBeans.com’s Facebook and Twitter profiles. The copy mentions that subscribers can follow the company on the social networks if they prefer, and provides an opt-out link.
15 strong offers listed
Since the goal is to monetize subscribers quickly, the team lists 15 hot offers in large text in this first email. The offers are listed under the welcome copy, and cover more than half of the email’s real estate. Subscribers are very likely to see them.
Step #5. Watch response and test improvements
The information and opt-out link in the first message helps the team avoid catching readers off guard and irritating them. However, the team still needed to be certain the new strategy would not backfire.
"We measured to make sure this wasn’t fatiguing the list," Stanton says (see the ‘results’ section below).
Test to improve the emails
StudentBeans.com has a person dedicated to testing and optimizing all of its emails, including the welcome series. This person analyzes results to make sure they are significant when compared to historical data.
"Every week, we try to look at things and try to change something around to increase the open rate, increase the clickthrough rate, of those emails," Staunton says.
Here are some of the key insights from the team’s tests (see the ‘results’ section below for metrics):
- Subject line - the team found that putting the most engaging offer in the subject line gets more response than a generic summary or title.
- Call-to-action links - the team found orange to be the best color for its call-to-action links and buttons. Interestingly, the results depended on the reader’s sex.
"This increased clickthrough rate for guys," Staunton says. "For the ladies, there was an improvement but not as significant."
After launch, the team had its eye on subscribers’ responses to the new series, hoping it would not push down conversions or drive up complaints.
"We found that it is actually making the list more engaged. People were more likely to open the newsletters and be really engaged with us," Staunton says. "When we saw that, it was a very exciting moment."
The campaign achieved
- 13% increase in revenue compared to the original welcome email
- 66.7% higher average open rate for the newsletters delivered after the series (comparing the average open rates for subscribers who did not receive the series versus those who had)
"We have been doing a lot of work to optimize the emails even more. … It is improving all the time," Staunton says.
Optimization test results
For the first email in the series, one of the team’s subject line tests experienced the following open rates:
- 46.47% - Claim Your Free Cocktail plus Top Student Offers
- 41.2% - Claim Your Free Kinder Bueno plus Top Student Offers
- 30.9% - Top 12 Student Offers - Welcome to studentbeans.com
"As you can see, including an engaging offer in the subject line significantly increased the open rate," Staunton says.
Changing the color of the emails’ links to orange showed
- 33.9% increase in clickthrough rate for men (up from 4.49% to 6.01%)
- Negligible increase in clickthrough rate for women
- Homepage sign up form
- Confirmation email
- First welcome email
- Welcome email 2
- Welcome email 3
– the team’s email service providerThe Beans Group
– owner of StudentBeans.com
Related ResourcesEmail Marketing Case Study: 5-step update of welcome campaign leads to 450% increase in new subscriber clickthrough rateEmail Marketing: How to sprinkle subscribers with a well-timed welcome in 5 stepsElements of effective subject linesEmail Marketing: Do you tell your customers too much?