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PetPlace had a familiar problem last year. The pet information site had a popular newsletter that resonated well with advertisers and readers. Like every content creator, they wanted more viewers. But they didn't want to sacrifice engagement.

With over 1.1 million visitors a month according to Quantcast, Petplace consistently ranks in the top ten most popular pet related sites online. If you take out e-tail businesses like Petco and Purina, the company is among the top three. 

The site focuses on pet education, with over 15000 veterinarian approved articles that address pet health and tips for owners.

About five years ago, the company started its "pet crazy" newsletter series, segmented for cat and dog owners. 

The Petplace readers who subscribe to the newsletters are highly engaged. They click early and often and interact with much of the content they view.

Originally, the company was prompting site visitors to sign up for the newsletter. But they wanted to reach more pet owners on the web. According to Tim O'Hare, Petplace's director of ad sales:

"We always had this mantra, if we doubled our subscriber list, we could double our business."

Petplace weighed a few options. They could increase subscriptions by doubling their traffic or by securing quality opt-ins.

But most importantly, they wanted to maintain the high level of newsletter engagement that was important to advertisers and the quality of their product. Says O'Hare:

"We wanted to know where we were getting the leads from."

They decided to work with cost-per-lead marketplace Pontiflex on a targeted ad campaign. They mostly went for women between the ages of 25 and 54. As they found, web readers concerned about their own health were often interested in pet health as well.

Ads ran on pre-screened, pet friendly and health focused content sites. The creative showed a cat or a dog and asked "Are you dog crazy?" or "Are you cat crazy?"

The ad campaign started in August. Petplace tested the results over a period of four months and found that the open rates were no different than the rates of people coming directly from their site. Says O'Hare:

"We were skeptical. We didn't think that these kind of transparent CPL advertising would work all that well."

But that's not what the company found. Petplace's newsletter had about 275,000 subscribers before this campaign. They increased that number by 50,000 for the first phase of the campaign. It is still ongoing. The company's goal is to increase it by 200,000.

"We've always said that if we could double the newsletter we could double our business. But we didn't think that would happen," says O'Hare. "We were kind of looking at it from 'how much can we sacrifice in open rates.' In the end, we're not sacrificing the engagement at all."

Images: Petplace

Meghan Keane

Published 2 July, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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