November 27, 2007
Case Study

How Rearranging Newsletter Ads (a little) Increases ROI (a lot)

SUMMARY: If your newsletter’s clickthrough and conversion rates aren't what they used to be, don’t immediately assume you need a radical redesign. Instead, you might simply try tweaking your ad strategy.

A membership organization focused on the size of the banner ads they were using and placement in the copy. A month after making these changes, they increased clickthroughs 70.9% and conversions 57.1%. Includes three simple steps to follow and test results.
Subscribers to the New York Academy of Sciences’ newsletters could select among six choices for content and how often they received the emails. A majority of members chose the monthly NYAS eNews over their weeklies and biweeklies.

Because of the frequency, however, the marketing team found it harder to sell tickets for their conferences and symposia.

“We needed to establish more interactivity between the subscribers and the brand,” says Alexis Clements, Online Marketing Manager. “Particularly, we wondered if the events ads in the emails were doing the job. When we looked at our data, we thought that with a few tweaks we could get more clicks and, therefore, more sales.”

Clements and Marketing Director Maria Palombini began changing their monthly newsletter early this year. Clicks improved each time, but they still thought their in-message banner ads weren’t doing enough for ticket sales, specifically the size of the ads and where they were being placed.

For the November edition, Clements and Palombini decided to test whether changes to the size and placement of banner ads in the monthly newsletter could improve:
o Total banner clicks
o Overall conversions
o Events tickets sales
o Orders for their annual series
o Yearly membership renewals

Here are the three steps they took:

-> Step #1. Widen copy box and banners

First, they rescaled how the copy was presented to make their text easier to read and to facilitate the testing they wanted to do with the banners. They doubled the size of the main column to 468 pixels and resized the banners to fit that width.

-> Step #2. Test new size and reposition ads

Next, they resized and repositioned the ads. Changes involved:

- Using the new banner format (468 by 60 pixels) exclusively and eliminating all rectangle- or box-shaped banner ads. “We were interested to see how industry-standard sized ads -- rather than the boxed-shaped ones -- would perform because we eventually want to sell newsletter space to other marketers.”

- Eliminating ads from the right-hand side. “With the position they were in, I thought that subscribers were sensing [a level of irrelevance] by the fact that they had to make a jump to the right column to click on an ad,” Palombini says. “And, we had noticed our in-text ads outperforming the ones that were off to the side.”

- Taking down the banner that had been running at the top of the email. By having the brand at the very top, Palombini says, they might have been momentarily confusing recipients on who the email sender was.

-> Step #3. Create content flow

They positioned the ads vertically within the 10 paragraphs of copy on the page with each of the three banner ads placed near the most-relevant information. Another focus, Clements says, was to create a cleaner design than the October newsletter.

From top to bottom, the ads pushed three events:
o How to Communicate Controversial Science
o The Secret History of the War on Cancer
o Finance: High Frequency Trading
The cleaner, vertical ad placement within the flow of the newsletter copy worked wonders for Clements and Palombini:
o Banner ads showed 70.9% more clicks
o Conversion rates leaped 57.1%
o Revenue jumped 60%
o Events tickets sales soared 70.8%
o Membership renewals grew 2.6 times

“We were [elated] by the results, but the biggest surprise was the number of membership renewals we received,” Clements says. “And, the significant increase in traffic tells us that the call to action we’re using is getting stronger.”

The placement of the ads and the consistency in shape and size -- from the top banner to the bottom one -- drove the statistics, Clement says. “I think the conversions are related to how the content [structure] and the ads worked together. Of all the elements, though, I think that placement had the strongest impact.”

As for those old box-shaped ads? “We are banishing them forever,” she says. “We are currently redesigning our other newsletters and will not be including them in the layout.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from New York Academy of Sciences' newsletters:

Bronto Software Inc. - NYAS’ email service provider:

The New York Academy of Sciences:

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