February 08, 2011
Case Study

Email Marketing: Triggered content for on-site searchers

SUMMARY: Featuring your company's content in an email newsletter is great, but your content can do more -- especially if you have a lot of it.

Find out how a travel website designed triggered emails -- based on subscribers' on-site searches -- that achieve open and clickthrough rates which more than double those of its weekly newsletter. Includes creative samples and metrics from their best sends.
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter

Travel comparison shopping site LowFares.com had a wealth of content on its site. Brad Hettervik, Product Manager, Marketing Systems, LowFares.com, often featured this content, such as city travel guides, in LowFares’ email newsletter -- but he thought the material could do more.

Much of it was based on specific travel destinations. Hettervik’s team thought LowFares could further engage subscribers by identifying their destinations of interest and sending them related content.

His team tested the idea with triggered emails last year. Subscribers who recently used a search tool on LowFares' site would receive an emailed travel guide for their searched-for destination.

"We wanted to show people, here is plenty of information, teaser information. If you want to go dive in more, all that content rests on our site," Hettervik says.

The system was quickly deemed a winner and rolled out to feature 50 destinations. Compared to the LowFares' weekly email newsletter, the triggered emails have on average:
o 3x increase in open rates
o 1.5x increase in clickthrough rates

Average metrics for LowFares' top two triggered emails (see creative samples below):
Mexico City: Open rate: 39.43%, Clickthrough rate: 30.16%
London: Open rate: 31.67%, Clickthrough rate: 24.45%

Here are four key tactics the team used to make the triggered emails a success:

Tactic #1. Build emails around search tools and content

Under LowFares' triggered email system, a subscriber who visited the site and searched for "las vegas" received an email 24 hours later containing:
o Buttons to search the site for Las Vegas hotels, car rentals, and vacations
o Ten links to LowFares content about the destination
o Short paragraph description of Las Vegas
o Image from destination
o Subject line: "Las Vegas City Guide Save up to 65%"

With three large buttons, the email emphasized that readers could easily click to search for travel information. These searches were the core of the LowFares shopping experience.

Each of the ten content links pointed to a corresponding section of a page describing Las Vegas. The page also included a search widget to find flights, hotels and cars (see creative samples below). This made it very easy for readers to become "searchers" and eventually "customers."

- Emails are very similar

The emails for each destination were based on a template, and their content was customized. Some emails had more content links than others -- reflecting that LowFares had more content on these destinations.

Tactic #2. Connect subscribers and searches with cookies

LowFares' triggered email system had to recognize when a site visitor is an email subscriber, and it had to connect that visitor with an email address.

The team did this with cookies, Hettervik says (see useful links below). When a visitor signed up for LowFares' email newsletter, the website assigned his computer a unique code in a cookie that corresponded with a unique code in LowFares' database. The cookie is persistent and remains as long as the user does not delete it.

Cookie in place, the team was able to recognize email subscribers who visited the LowFares site and track their searches.

Tactic #3. Do not overwhelm subscribers

A poorly designed triggered email system can pummel subscribers' inboxes. Hettervik and his team realized that LowFares subscribers would receive these emails in addition to their weekly newsletter and other mailings, and did not want to overwhelm them.

"You may do five different searches for five different destinations within a ten-minute time period. What we don't want to do is send you five different emails," Hettervik says.

The team set up a system of rules to control the emails' timing and frequency:

- Pick one destination

At the end of each day, the team received a list of all the searches by subscribers. If a subscriber conducted more than one search, the triggered email was based on the destination of his or her last search.

- Wait 24 hours

Triggers were mailed 24 hours after a search.

- One per week maximum

After receiving a triggered email, subscribers did not receive any others for seven days regardless of their search activity. A subscriber who searched LowFares again after seven days received another triggered message.

Tactic #4. Start with a test program

LowFares tested this program with fewer than five of its top locations. It developed the content and emails, tweaked the frequency and monitored the results. Hettervik liked what he saw and wanted to expand the program to include more destinations.

"Once we knew how much time it took to create each city guide, it was a 'no-brainer' for the ROI," he says.

The team then selected LowFares' top 50 destinations, started adding to each destination's content on the site, and worked to included each in the program. Now Hettervik is looking to add even more triggered emails.

"That 50 is servicing a majority of our users," he says. "We definitely want to keep growing that tail out and get very, very granular and provide that same value to the user."

Useful links related to this article:

1. Mexico City triggered email
2. London triggered email
3. Las Vegas triggered email
4. Las Vegas restaurants landing page

Email Marketing: Finding the time to improve results

Increase the Strategic Value of Your Email Marketing Programs

Email Marketing: How your peers create an effective email message

What Are Computer Cookies?

StormPost -- LowFares' email marketing platform


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