E-Newsletter Matches Sites With Users

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ETour.com, an online tour guide of Web sites, last week rolled out two e-mail services under the banner eTour eXtra that find and present Web sites and special offers to subscribers.


The first service is HotPicks, which promotes Web sites and other online content to members who express interest in one or more of 15 categories. The company said it has already signed 1.5 million HotPicks subscribers from its database of 3.7 million eTour.com members.


The second service is a more traditional e-mail marketing vehicle called Members Only Specials that delivers e-mail offers according to the categories subscribers select. ETour, Atlanta, said 300,000 of its members have pre-registered for the e-mail special offers.


"HotPicks are basically cool sites matched to [the subscriber's] interest," said Jim Lanzone, vice president of marketing at eTour.com. "And the Members Only Specials are just that -- special offers targeted to a [subscriber's] interests."


ETour.com started sending its HotPicks e-mails in September, about a month after conducting several smaller-scale tests. The company is delivering two e-mails per month for each category and expects to send more than 11 million during the first month. The HotPicks consist of links, site descriptions and a photo of the editor who selects the content for that category's e-mails.


The concept is not far removed from the eTour.com service, which asks users to select one or more interest categories such as music and sports, and then flashes a series of lesser-known Web sites that match the category.


"ETour eXtra was created for the user who doesn't have time to surf, and is simply an extension of the original eTour model of matchmaking great Web sites with interested users," said Roger Barnette, co-founder/CEO of eTour.com.


The new programs provide an additional revenue stream for the company. ETour's core revenue comes from charging dot-coms a premium for better placement in its rotation of the Web sites it displays to subscribers. While the HotPicks content will remain editorially driven, advertisers can sponsor individual categories, Barnette said. The Members Only Specials e-mails follow the traditional opt-in e-mail marketing format. Barnette said both e-mail products operate on a cost-per-visit price structure.


One company, Half.com, a person-to-person online marketplace, has used the eTour site to acquire customers and plans to test the new e-mail products.


"HotPicks is a cost-effective way for us to introduce the Half.com marketplace to curious new users who've already opted to view sites like ours," said Clint Schmidt, senior manager of customer acquisitions at Half.com, Plymouth Meeting, PA.


Barnette said eTour members have been receptive so far to the new e-mail products. The opt-in rates for getting new eTour members to register for HotPicks and the special offers are 58 percent and 35 percent, respectively.


The company is promoting the e-mail services in conjunction with the eTour Web site. In the future, however, eTour may try to acquire e-mail registrants by themselves, Barnette said.


"It may be a cheaper and quicker way to ramp up," he said.
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