Andrea Johnson

Real-Time Marketing: How Publishers Clearing House increased engagement through testing

May 8th, 2015

Publishers Clearing House is winning the real-time marketing game. Their online brand,, currently gets 16 million unique visits per month, and those visitors spend an average of 17 minutes on the site. The marketing team achieved this by delivering a personalized message to every visitor  on the site — messages that were designed to be relevant to what visitors were doing on the site.

At MarketingSherpa MarketingExperiments Web Optimization Summit 2014, Michael Zane, Senior Director of Online Marketing, Publishers Clearing House, revealed how, in just under a year, the marketing team has increased:

  • Time spent on their site by 43%
  • Overall engagement by 46%
  • Revenues per 1,000 visitors by 12%


They achieved this by:

1. Identifying two personas with very simple audience segmentation:

  • Engaged visitors — customers who had played one or more instant-win or sweepstakes games
  • Unengaged visitor — customers who had visited at least twice but had not yet played a game or entered a sweepstakes

2. Determining what they wanted visitors to do as a result of real-time marketing. This involved:

  • Engaging the unengaged
  • Driving the somewhat-engaged visitors to go deeper into the site

3. Testing to learn what will drive engagement. The team set a testing baseline by gathering data for six weeks

  • They conducted A/B tests targeting their unengaged visitors. The control was the site without special messaging, and the treatment featured a very simple one-line header. The result achieved a 36% lift in engaged users.
  • The team tested again. They suspected that they were on the right track and were eager to try a pop up designed by their graphic artists. After all, Zane was certain a designed pop-up would get results. He was right, but not in the way he expected. However, what they learned was still very valuable and influenced future tests. Find out more in this below clip:


Hitting the Home Run

Ultimately, the team achieved a sustained 15% lift in unengaged visitor engagement with its banner messaging, which changes often.

“We are 100% confident we need to vary our messaging and our promotions,” Zane explained. “Our site never looks the same day after day, and our emails don’t repeat. And when they do, we tested it. It always hurts.”

When the team tried the same approach with engaged visitors, they achieved a 40% lift. By trying the pop-up approach, they saw an 18% lift. Most importantly, they developed  two different marketing approaches they could use with their engaged customers to increase involvement with the site.

“We’re big on testing, and to have something like this work was very validating,” Zane said. “We sell a lot of products … we have all these personas cued up and messages cued up, and to have lifts like this … that’s just a home run for us.”

Though this blog post only summarizes Publishers Clearing House’s approach, this video of Zane’s Web Optimization Summit 2014 presentation provides much more detail to help you improve your own marketing efforts: “How Publishers Clearing House Used Real-time Marketing to Increase Online Engagement by 46%


You can follow Andrea Johnson, Copywriter, MECLABS on Twitter @IdeastoWords.


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