November 05, 2008
Case Study

Test Content to Create Best Layout to Boost Email Revenue, Conversions, CTRs

SUMMARY: Mixing educational content with product promotions to boost sales is common. But where you place the content in your email design can make a difference.

Check out how an eretailer tested placements for informational and promotional content in their email layout. In three simple steps, they increased email revenue by 15% and lifted conversions and clickthroughs.

Gordon Magee, Internet Marketing and Analysis Manager, Drs. Foster and Smith, the pet supply specialists, and his team knew that their clickthroughs and conversions were not all they could be. Up to that point, their emails were either product- or content-driven. It was simply time to try something new.

“Our niche had been providing veterinarian-level advice for consumers,” Magee says. “We wanted to continue that content focus – but also consider the promotional aspect when it comes to products.”

They wanted to discover whether mixing educational content with product promos would work for their brand. But they had no idea which approach their emails should focus on.


To start, they ran an A/B test on two already scheduled campaigns that were a week apart. The sends offered products and discounts that were comparable in value proposition. The team pitted a specific product offer against a piece of content to discover the optimal spot for each in a vertical layout. They ran the test on their ‘dog owner’ segment, their largest preference file.

Here are the three steps they took:

Step #1: Test Vertical Design Locations

They tested two offers each week that were similar overall, but with some notable variations. During the first week, the A/B split was as follows:

- Half of their list received an email containing the ad for a flea-and-tick product offering purchasers the chance to save $14.99. The hotlinked copy appeared underneath: “Are you fully protecting your pet – and your home – from fleas?” People who clicked through were taken to an article addressing the subject.

- The other half of recipients saw the same offer, but different copy design. The “Are you fully protecting…” hotlinked article was featured at the top, while the flea-and-tick product offer was put below.

In either case, the size of the presentation for the item *at the top* was more than double than that of the offer at the bottom.

Step #2. To Be Safe, Do It Again

Even though the ‘dog owners’ segment was big, they wanted a second round of data to back up their findings. They repeated the same strategy in the second week, but with different offers.

This split test was conducted in the following way:

- Once again, half of the segment received an email that positioned the product offer at the top with an article at the bottom. But, this time, it featured pet joint care pills and 20% off – an offer Magee says equated roughly to the $14.99 savings pitched the week before. Underneath, the linked copy read: “7 steps for easy dog arthritis maintenance.”

- As during the first week, the other half saw the same offer, but with a different design. The “7 steps for easy …” article was featured at the top, and the pills copy and image were placed below.

Step #3. Make Landing Pages Function for Education & Sales

Next, Magee and his team helped drive sales from people who clicked through to read the article. First of all, they didn’t want to bore the reader with overly long copy. So, they limited the articles to a few hundred words apiece.

Second, the image at the top of the landing page was hotlinked to a products page on which the reader could immediately purchase items for the dog care issue addressed in the article. For instance, the “7 steps for easy dog arthritis maintenance” readers were taken to a page with joints pills and other relevant items.

After combining the numbers from the two tests, Magee and his team discovered that the version with the article at the top outperformed the product-driven version by 7% for clickthroughs and by 6% for conversions.

In addition, the victorious version enjoyed an unexpected benefit – the articles helped push the audience to add more items to their shopping carts. It produced 15% more sales than the product-driven design. Needless to say, Magee and his team have tweaked their template accordingly.

The key takeaway: Their audience responds better to relevant content than to a heavy-duty sales pitch.

“If you are building a trust with people like we are with pets’ health education, by offering the content – along with a product – we continue to build that relationship.”

He suggests that other brands and niches should also consider testing this concept.

“Teach them how to buy or why the products are important. For example, if you are a men’s clothing retailer, it might be a good idea to send out an email that explains how to match colors. The ‘X goes with Y, but doesn’t go with Z’ kind of information. Or, ‘Here is how you should launder a particular piece of clothing.’”

Two additional takeaways on how relevant email content can benefit eretailers:

o Wisely placed educational articles may heat up sales in a blue economy. With consumers tightening purse strings, Web shoppers are not likely to be in as much of a hurry as they used to be. Therefore, holding people’s hands with educational content can be worthwhile for your brand, Magee says. “As people are looking at their dollars, they want to make a better buying decision.”

o Educational content can create a comfort level for Internet shoppers who don’t have the luxury of physically assessing products the way brick-and-mortar shoppers do. Hence, relevant content can help bridge that gap between the product and the shopper.

“The ability to make a better decision takes away the anxiety in the decision. They think, ‘OK, now I know what I am buying here.’”

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples for tests of Drs. Foster and Smith:

What Counts Marketing, Ltd. – their email services provider:

Drs. Foster and Smith:

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