August 25, 2006
Case Study

How to Raise Email Newsletter Clickthroughs by Testing Content Types

SUMMARY: Do you sweat for hours over a hot keyboard trying to come up with fascinating content for your next email newsletter, only to wind up with slim clickthroughs?

Get inspiration from this story of a marketing team who experimented with topics and headlines until they grew story clicks from 1.5% to as high as 14%. Yes, includes samples:


Year after year, the marketing team at used to send a promotional email to their list of corporate clients and prospects almost every single week.

Naturally, they varied the creative and offer each week to keep the campaign as fresh as possible. But, let's face it, when you hit your list weekly with messaging that basically boils down to "Buy Now," it's hard to maintain great response rates over time.

Director of Corporate Marketing Jason Ferrara asked his team to make improving email results a goal for 2006. Everyone reviewed the data and brainstormed possibilities.

Should they cut back dramatically on frequency? Should they slice out the older names on the list that hadn't clicked in the last 12 months?

Ecommerce Marketing Manager Michael DeHaven pitched his boss on keeping up the frequency, but altering the types of content. Instead of sending only buying offers, why not alternate with a more informational email newsletter?

His first issues launched this February. (Link to samples below.)

The cleanly-designed template had a single column of content, with no distracting side columns, extraneous hotlinks or ads. It appeared very 'newsletter-y' in contrast to classic promotional broadcasts. Each issue had space for about four-five story summaries, and if printed out would fit on a single sheet of paper.

Of course, it's one thing to brainstorm a newsletter launch and another thing to create 4-5 stories twice a month that your customers will find fascinating enough to click on.

The first issues (link to sample below) featured a combination of serious business advisory stories ("Time Management for the Business Owner," "Hiring the Best"), promotion updates ("Season Pass Giveaway Ending Soon -- Win $5,000") and company news ("'s Industry Lead Grows in February.")

At 1.5% or less per issue, clickthroughs were not outstanding. DeHaven was convinced he could do better, if only he could discover the right content formula.

Then came April Fool’s Day.

"We were about to go out with an issue and I discovered the PR team had done a release titled, 'Top 10 April Fool’s Office Pranks' the day before," says DeHaven. What the heck, he figured. Why not toss the link into his next issue and see what happened?

The story got 11% clickthroughs.

Thrilled, DeHaven started a series of tests to try to discover what made the story do so well and to see if this success could be replicated on an ongoing basis. He carefully assigned tracking codes to stories based on the type of content it contained so he could track story types by success overall.
Over the next six months, the tests included:

#1. Headlines with numbers
"7 Tips for Improving Your Cashflow"
"Top 10 Interview No No's"
"Top 10 Recruitment Myths -- Busted"
"Top 10 Sales Killers"
"5 Traits of Great Leaders"

#2. Stories with a controversial angle

"Are Your Employees Telling the Truth?"
"Eliminate 10% of Your Staff Each Year"
"Get Your Underperforming Employee to Quit -- Counseling Out"

#3. Humor
"Top 10 Excuses for Being Late"

"Since that initial April Fool’s breakthrough, we have identified four types of communication that appeal to our customers: humor, top 10 lists, controversial topics and interviewing advice.”

Other clickthrough rates:
o Counseling Out, 14%
o Interview No No’s, 14%
o Eliminate 10% of Your Staff, 4% (“too controversial,” DeHaven says)

Also, the segment of users who have been inactive on for more than a year also had very high clickthrough rates, DeHaven says, resulting in more than 1,400 inactive customers who are now re-engaged with their marketing communication.

Since the initiative started in February, renewal contract rates have increased from 54% to 61%.

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples of's emails:'s home page for employers

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly case study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions