June 12, 2006
Blog Entry

The Highest Performing Email Newsletter Ad in History

SUMMARY: No summary available.
By Anne Holland, President

How much are marketers spending on newsletter ads? Our research team's very rough estimate is tens of millions. (Frustratingly, most newsletter ad buys are either bundled with other online spots or part of affiliate/CPA deals -- so not reported separately or specifically to anyone.)

Mid-2006 MarketingSherpa study data shows that year over year email newsletter ad conversion results are remarkably steady. Plus, we have plenty of happy anecdotal evidence about ROI. So, email newsletter ads may not be the most glamorous campaigns on the planet, but they are generally a media buy you can count on. 

Which naturally makes me wonder: what works? Which creative will get the clicks, and which is more likely to be ignored?

Sherpa reader Kristin Paxton of the National Association of Realtors, who we interviewed for the top Case Study below, told us that she reviewed the data for all sponsors of her organization's newsletter over the past four years. It's one of the highest circulation business newsletters in the world, so these numbers may have some merit:

Two things that don't seem to work as well:

1. Ads in the right column -- these may be cut off when people who use Outlook view issues in their email preview pane. (Far more people read entire issues in their preview than you'd imagine.)

2. Graphical ads -- anything that looks like a banner generally won't work very well for clicks (although it might be great for brand awareness.) An ad that's mainly or completely text can outpull an ad with colors or images.

The best-pulling ad of all time:

Kristin says the ad with the best clickthrough rate of all time for the newsletter ran in their May 2006 issue. (You can see a copy of it in the Creative Samples link at the end of the Case Study below.) I spotted four elements that probably helped clicks soar:

1. Preview pane "hotspot" --

The ad is placed immediately above the first story of the newsletter edition. So, it's where the readers' eyes naturally go when they are looking for "real" content.

2. Text-only --

The ad is nothing more than copy, set in the same size and style as articles appearing immediately below it. 

3. Wording --

The ad is very clearly an ad because it's labeled as such in the headline. However, without that label you might not guess it's an ad at all. The copy is styled to read as though it's just like one of the article summaries directly below it. The first two words are "Business Tip" ... and the name of the newsletter is  "Business Tips Newsletter." That kind of customized copy must pack a wallop.


4. Link at the end of the paragraph, not in middle.

The hotlink to click to respond to the ad is at the very end -- not the middle or the start. This has two advantages - first it looks more like a story summary that also feature a link at the end.  Plus, it is easier for humans to click on links that are next to white space, rather than buried within text.  


Right after I saw this creative sample for the first time, I naturally ran down the hall to our own graphics department to share these revelations with them. "Look!" I cried, "It's the best performing newsletter ad in history!"

They were less than overwhelmed.

But then, these are mainly women with Macs on their desks and awesome personal shoe collections. They like style. They embrace cool graphics. A boring old text ad that looks just like editorial ... it wouldn't catch their attention.

Luckily I am in a position of some power (OK, fairly limited, but some anyway) so my burbles of delight about this plain-as-dishwater ad format were taken fairly seriously. You can expect us to begin testing dulled-down ad formats placed on the left side of our newsletters shortly. 

I'll let you know what sorts of stats we get back from the tests and if a boring format works here, too. In the meantime, please let me know if you're running tests, too. 

Anne Holland, President


MarketingSherpa Inc.

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