Portal Deals, Freebies Increase Web Site Traffic

Portal deals supported by content-driven marketing promotions and a decision to offer online greeting cards for free helped AmericanGreetings.com race past its competition and become the second-largest and fastest-growing greeting-cards Web site on the Internet.

The Cleveland-based subsidiary of American Greetings Corp. recorded 7.87 million unique visitors in April, up 2,524 percent from 300,000 unique visitors in the same month last year, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

By contrast, Bluemountainarts.com, the No. 1 greetings site owned by Excite Corp., posted a 13 percent increase in unique monthly traffic from April 1999 to April of this year, while egreetings.com rose 120 percent and Hallmark.com was up 33 percent.

The decision to sign multi-year deals with America Online Inc. for its AOL.com, CompuServe, Netscape and Digital Cities properties, Lycos Network and Yahoo was key to boosting traffic.

“We made a strategic decision [last year] that rather than invest a lot of money in offline advertising and branding and whatnot, we’d invest our money in strategic partnerships and they’re really paying out tremendously,” said Anne Everhart, senior vice president of marketing and communications at AmericanGreetings.com Inc.

In August, AmericanGreetings signed a contract to customize greeting-cards content for various channels across all AOL sites that reach nearly 23 million members. The five-and-a-half-year deal between the two is valued at $100 million.

A similar exclusive arrangement exists with Lycos, though AmericanGreetings is only one of the greeting cards content providers on Yahoo.

One of these content-driven marketing programs with partners allowed a consumer on AmericanGreetings, and the AOL and Lycos sites to write funny captions for quirky photographs. This program attracted 120,000 entries and those many visitors.

Another feature on AmericanGreetings, Lycos and AOL sites allowed consumers to send cards to 10 celebrities in music, movies, and sports. Consumers clicked on their favorite celebrity’s image – causing a kiss mark to appear. The celebrity with the most kisses gained from American Greetings a $25,000 donation to his or her favorite charity, and others got $10,000. Jewel got the most ‘kisses’.

Yet the most interesting result was the traffic: AOL sites alone accounted for 905,000 of the 1,132,769 visitors and participants in this program.

But just as important a traffic-building measure as the portals deal was a decision made this February to shed AmericanGreetings’s subscription-based model in favor of offering cards at no charge.

“As of late last year, we realized that Bluemountainarts was taking market share because it was all free,” Everhart said. “The number of focus groups and research we did about Bluemountainarts indicated that people were going there because the cards were free, not because they liked the content, not because they had any real loyalty to the brand.

“So we took a strategic step back and looked at our membership program and asked whether we were holding ourselves back and while we still are committed to some form of pay model, we changed the ratio of free and pay and basically we’re a free site now.”

AmericanGreetings.com will now rely on revenue from advertising across the site, an increasing business-to-business element and direct marketing programs using its database of online-card senders and recipients.

The online marketer is also testing a new e-commerce store with more retailers on board as part of a plan to become a one-stop gifting source for Internet consumers.

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