June 26, 2007
Sometimes even the smallest change can make a world of difference in your email design. See how one publisher transformed a related stories link into a gray utility button and immediately saw a 190% increase in clicks.
It's an easy tweak that if you haven't considered, you may want to test on your own newsletters.
“We had a great product, yet our data showed that readers were spending five minutes a day with us,” says Chris McNeilly, VP Technology, SmartBrief Inc. “We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to get them to spend 10 minutes a day with us?’ We needed to build on the number of pages that were being viewed.”
Stickiness wasn’t the only thing that McNeilly wanted to bolster for the 1.2 million B-to-B emails they send daily. Improving clickthroughs, enhancing their search ranking and ramping up subscriber growth were also on the agenda.
In 2006, McNeilly and his team added a 'Track this topic' link into their newsletters that took readers to applicable news stories. While the hotlink immediately improved clickthroughs, McNeilly knew the feature wasn’t perfect. He wondered if the wording was right and if an actual button might increase clickthroughs even more.
When it came time to design a new newsletter in early 2007, McNeilly wanted to keep the basic format of other newsletters they produced: 10-12 summary items with one or two sentences per summary. But he was ready to jump on surrounding features, specifically the ‘Track this topic’ and ‘E-mail this story’ links. Here are the six steps they followed:
-> Step #1. Turn link into a button
First, McNeilly and his team redesigned the ‘Track this topic’ link and made it into a utility button. At the same time, they deleted the small image of a piece of paper that accompanied the link. While the type was light gray before, they put four colors into a newsletter mockup:
o A darker shade of gray
The mockup newsletter also helped them realize that they wanted a uniform button for each of the newsletters they published for partners, so they needed to decide on one color that would complement all of their respective brands.
-> Step #2. New button wording and size
Next, they focused on the actual words in the button. McNeilly didn’t think ‘Track this topic’ was specific enough to what action they wanted users to take. So, they changed it to ‘Related Stories.’ The button still took users to a results page on their site with other articles about the company mentioned in the summary.
They also increased the size of the button by 7 pixels and made the wording all caps to make it stand out from the summary. “We didn’t want it to get lost amongst links to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.”
-> Step #3. Changes to ‘Email this story’ link
Adjacent to the ‘Track this topic’ link was an ‘E-mail this story’ link in light gray type along with an image of a small envelope. McNeilly wanted to make this consistent with the ‘Related Stories’ button, so they dropped the image, put a box around it and widened it by 4 pixels. They kept the wording the same as before.
-> Step #4. Fuel database
To make the 'Related Stories' button work on the back end, they added:
o Web-scraping software in order to collect thousands of stories a day
o Software that finds company names from blocks of text on the Internet
-> Step #5. Subscription landing page
McNeilly and his team definitely wanted to use the 'Related Stories' button to build their subscriber list. So, when a reader clicked on the button, a landing page appeared with the same headline and summary as in the email. More importantly, a very visible signup box was added just to the right of the headline and summary.
-> Step #6. Link to companies mentioned
Finally, McNeilly focused on ways to increase traffic to their site from search. In the previous version, they didn't hyperlink company names that were mentioned in the summaries. An easy change was to add a hyperlink to each company mentioned.
What a difference a button makes! The more prominent ‘Related Stories’ button outperformed the ‘Track this topic link’ by 224% in the first month, while it has dropped slightly to a 190% average in the months since.
More good news: a lift of 6% in traffic at SmartBrief's News has resulted because of the Related Stories button, and page views have increased “significantly.” “That 6% figure is even more impressive because 90% of the traffic on our entire site comes from the News section," McNeilly says. "And one of the great things is that people reacted to the button without any emarketing on our part. It just showed up one day, and people started using it.”
They're also seeing a 10% increase in the time spent in their News section.
Internal testing proved that the bold colors pulled the focus away from the content. Also, a gray box coordinated best with various newsletter color schemes. “We ended up making the button prominent without going overboard,” McNeilly says. “We didn’t want it to detract from the other links.”
The change in wording to ‘Related Stories’ is leading to more viral/forwards via ‘Email This Story,’ which has led to more subscriptions. “There’s definitely a positive effect going on between the two buttons. 'Track This Topic' would be great for a more sophisticated product that monitored over time, but the casual reader didn't know what it was or how it would benefit them by clicking. 'Related Stories' is clear and concise. The reader knows immediately what is on the other side of the button.”
Indeed, three-quarters of their trade clients now use the ‘Related Stories’ buttons.
When comparing two SmartBrief’s partner newsletters from the healthcare industry -- one who used the ‘Related Stories’ button and company-name hotlinks and one who didn’t -- the former saw 4% more clickthroughs. In the case of two retail trade newsletters, the buttoned newsletter got 3% more clickthroughs.
Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from SmartBrief:
FAST - provider of their search engine that sorts the stories scraped from the Web:
Inxight Software - enables SmartBrief to mine company names from blocks of text: