By Michele Linn published October 7, 2010

Content Marketing Group Therapy: How Minor Design Changes Impacted an eNewsletter

A few weeks ago, I introduced you to Graham Kilshaw from Interference Technology. If you recall, Graham had recently launched an eNewsletter targeted at advertisers and prospects of his publication. He was having some success but he was certain he could improve what he was doing. I shared his story, you shared your suggestions (thank you!), and I promised to keep you updated on his progress so we can all learn from his experience.

Last we left off, Graham had made the big change of focusing the content in each eNewlsetter on one topic instead of six. This way, readers would be better able to see his key point, and it would save Graham a substantial amount of time putting each newsletter together. Results were positive: clicks on the main report increased dramatically and Graham attributes 12 requests for proposals to this new approach.

So, what did the CMI community suggest that Graham do next? Ideas fell into a few categories.


  • Add some “eye candy” – from Billy Mitchell (@billymitchell1)
  • Have the headline stand out more; the logo and Top News headline are competing for space  –  from Barry Gleeson
  • “Consider moving the ‘Top News’ from what looks like an image to something text based. In this case the image doesn’t gain you much, but using something text based will just look a lot nicer for his audience.” – from Kristina Stiffler (@k_Stiffler)
  • Move the editorial box to the right and include additional “resources” – from Barry Gleeson
  • Add good alt tags to images – from Kristina Stiffler (@k_Stiffler)


  • “Headline could do a better job of delivering value” – from Laurie Dunlop (@lauriedunlop)

A/B Testing

  • Add a Twitter handle under Graham’s phone number – from Mark McClure (@samuraiwriter99)
  • Personalize in the subject line or body – from Barry Gleeson
  • Split test subject lines and headlines – from Kristina Stiffler (@k_Stiffler)
  • Test different subject lines – from Amanda Maksymiw (@amandamaksymiw)


  • Review landing page and unsubscribe rates – from Brian Massey (@bmassey)
  • Increase the frequency – from Brian Massey (@bmassey)
  • Consider the mailing list – who is this going to and could there be list fatigue?

For the next issue, Graham decided to tackle the design. He made these changes:

  • Removed the “Top News” headline as this was adding little value, and he wanted to instead promote the headline of the story.
  • Moved the Interference Technology logo to the bottom of the email. Again, the logo was doing little to add value above the fold.
  • Added his picture in the editorial box to provide a personalized touch (For many of Graham’s customers and prospects, they consider him to be the “face” of his company, and for some people he is seen as knowledgeable about building business in this marketplace.) Graham wasn’t sure how much of an impact this would have, so he created two versions and did an A/B test. Version A has his picture at the top, and version B includes it after the story.

We also talked about adding more visual appeal to the EMC Bulletin headline, but Graham decided to leave it as is. His audience is “marketing engineers”, so he wanted the bulletin to have a simple, no-nonsense, non-marketing feel.

(Version A)

(Version B)

Here are the results:

June edition
Opens: 1550
Unique Opens: 684
Clicks on Europe Report (the main thing they are trying to drive traffic to): 32

July edition
Opens: 943
Unique Opens: 520
Clicks on Europe Report: NA

August edition
Opens: 1231
Unique Opens: 705
Clicks on Europe Report: 138

September edition
Version A:
Opens: 574 (33.6%)
Unique Opens: 314 (17.9%)
Clicks on report: 14 (0.8%)

Version B:
Opens: 523 (30.5%)
Unique Opens: 306 (17.5%)
Clicks on report: 24 (1.4%)

While the response rates for both versions were not that different, it was interesting that Version A had a higher open rate whereas Version B has a higher click-though rate on the report.

All in all, Graham is optimistic about the progress. Going forward he feels he can push the click-through rate by not telling the whole story in the Bulletin itself. He has also realized the importance of featuring strong content (in retrospect, he’s not sure if the catalog case study he promoted in the issue was a particularly exciting topic), so this is something he will continue to work on.

Additionally, there were internal issues that delayed this newsletter. His goal is to send the Bulletin twice a month, and once he is able to maintain consistency, it will be interesting to see how the open and click-through rates are impacted.

For the next issue, Graham is planning to A/B different subject lines and headlines. What do you think of that plan? Is there something else you would change or test instead?

Author: Michele Linn

Michele Linn is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research, a consultancy focused on helping brands create and amplify original research they can use in their marketing. Before starting Mantis, Michele was head of editorial at Content Marketing Institute, where she led the company's strategic editorial direction, co-developed its annual research studies, wrote hundreds of articles, spoke at industry events and was instrumental in building the platform to 200,000 subscribers. In 2015, she was named one of Folio's Top Women in Media (Corporate Visionary). You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

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  • Connect Lanc

    If the goal is to have readers click-through to a website, featuring an excerpt of the article in the email would work best. Also, I find all the copy in the email newsletter isn’t very friendly on the eyes. It’s a bit too wide. If you could chunk it or bullet point key features in the article within the newsletter, that could get better results.

    • Graham Kilshaw

      Thanks for the suggestions “Lanc”. Next issue, I think we have to think though more clearly how the presentation meets our goals (or doesn’t). The goal is not simply web traffic but to engage this audience of prospective advertisers in a way that builds credibility for us. I think w ecan measure that aprtly by how many people read the whole article, and by how many click the download. Your suggestions about text layout are valid, we will revisit and incorporate some changes next issue. Thanks.

    • Michele Linn

      Great ideas. I think those changes would definitely help! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Tamara Gielen

    If the goal is to increase click-throughs then I’d recommend testing the call to action text. Try for example “click here to read the case study” vs “read more” or “continue reading”.

    Another good thing to test would be the approach you take with the title of the article. Eg. ask a question vs state a fact.

    I would also make the text more readable. Max 3 lines per paragraph, short sentences, use subheaders and bolded text to facilitate scanning.

    Good luck!
    Tamara Gielen
    Email marketing consultant, speaker & trainer

    • Michele Linn

      Tamara – Great (and easy) suggestions! These are things I think to do in blog posts, and they are equally as important in newsletters. Really appreciate your thoughts!

    • Graham Kilshaw

      Tamara, many thanks. I’m taking your points, and others, and now creating a checklist of things to watch / test as we create the next post. It’s all in the detail! Graham