Auto Trader Newsletter Overhaul: A Mobile Redesign and Revamped Content Strategy

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Spurred by an increase in mobile subscribers, Auto Trader tasked full-service digital agency Chalk and Pixel with revamping their monthly newsletter. With a subscriber base of approximately 250,000 people, many of whom increasingly read on mobile devices, they sought to make their emails more mobile friendly. By rethinking both their email design and content strategy, Auto Trader looked to solidify their reputation as the go-to source of information for motoring enthusiasts and car owners.

Chalk and Pixel not only helped increase open and click rates, but also improved engagement by building a more accessible email template packed with relevant content for car lovers.



Desktop view (Before)


Mobile view (Before)

Before the redesign, Auto Trader’s existing newsletters were very impressive. For instance, they used large headlines and body copy of 14px to keep emails legible on both large and small screens. Other mobile-friendly elements of the email included large, touch-friendly buttons.

In addition, the old template was optimized for images-off viewing. The majority of the email was live text, which allowed the content to be read even when images were disabled.

Content hierarchy was used throughout to call attention to different sections of the email. The top of the email included the largest header, as well as a large green CTA button, for important information. Background colors were used throughout to differentiate sections. The black backgrounds of headers really helped them standout against the light gray and white backgrounds for the body copy!

Suggestions for Improvement

  • Add ALT text and bulletproof buttons to enhance images-off viewing.
  • Optimize the preheader! The current preheader content is the slogan of Auto Trader; it would be more effective if it was something directly related to the content of the email.
  • Make it more mobile friendly! Due to its multi-column design, it was a bit busy and difficult to read on the small screen of a mobile device.



Desktop view (After)


Mobile view (After)

With their redesigned template, Auto Trader takes their emails to a whole new level. Chalk and Pixel’s Andy Hunt explains:

The template utilizes several techniques to improve results all around, including preheader text…CSS based buttons/calls-to-action and styled ALT text. We also make use of Movable Ink’s suite of tools for device-specific targeting and analysis.

The addition of ALT text and bulletproof buttons, combined with the previously mentioned background colors and live text, ensures that Auto Trader’s message will be readable and usable even when images are disabled.


Images off view

The biggest improvement to their revamped template is that it’s responsive! Through the use of media queries, the template switches to a single column design when viewed on a mobile device. This enables text to expand to fill the entire width of the screen, making it easy to read. In addition, all buttons are touch-friendly—even the social sharing links. However, the text links towards the bottom of the email feel cramped and could lead to frustration for those of us with fat thumbs!


Along with the visual redesign, Auto Trader revamped their content strategy. Andy explains:

The strategy being was to increase the exposure of interesting third party content within the newsletter whilst maintaining a consistent and strong presence of Auto Trader’s own editorial content. We wanted to drive visits to our site whilst improving engagement with the brand and our reputation as a source of relevant motoring information.

It’s important to include relevant information in your newsletters, especially when 25% of readers unsubscribe because they find the content irrelevant. By paring down their own content with relevant third-party resources, Auto Trader is able to further their reputation as a go-to source of valuable information. Keeping their content first allows them to put the focus on their brand while still including interesting third-party content farther down in the email.


Auto Trader has seen some amazing results from their redesign and updated content strategy. Between June 2013 (old template) and July 2013 (new template), they saw an increase in opens, clicks and engagement!

  • 20% increase in open rate
  • 134% increase in click-through rate
  • 45% increase in engagement level (actually reading the email, compared to skimming or deleting it)

Even better news—these improvements have been steady since! Andy explained:

These improvements have been consistent and we continue to achieve better results month on month as we refine and improve the template design and newsletter content.

Between June 2013 (old template) and January 2014 (the latest and greatest template), they saw an even more impressive increase in open and clicks:

  • 89% increase in open rate
  • 391% increase in click-through rate

By providing valuable content in an easily accessible format, Auto Trader has seen amazing results.

Andy and his team aren’t content to sit still, though:

We’re constantly seeking to improve the newsletter through both content and design and we’re looking into the use of…hover effects and CSS animation for compatible clients.

We’re excited to keep an eye on their continued newsletter enhancements!


Before sending out their new campaigns, Auto Trader relied on Litmus to ensure that the redesign looked great and was usable across clients. Andy explains:

We utilize Litmus to test both via the web platform and also using the Alkaline desktop tool. This service is vital for us to ensure maximum visual consistency and the best possible experience for our users across the wide range of clients they use, desktop and mobile.

Needless to say, he made our day with that comment!

Are you in the process of a redesign? Have you tested your existing templates? Try Litmus free for 7-days to ensure that your emails look beautiful everywhere.

Free Litmus trial →

  • Heather

    391% increase in click-through rate, if that isn’t reason enough to make your emails responsive I don’t know what is! Adding this to my inspiration list, thank you very much for sharing.

  • Dan

    Very nice project delivered great results. Creative didn’t change that much. Could this be driven by mobile optimized version of email?

    • Lauren_Litmus

      Hi Dan! Thanks for the comment. You’re right—the creative didn’t change drastically, but between the mobile optimization and more relevant content in the redesign, subscribers had more of a reason to click. Mobile subscribers could actually read and interact with the updated version and the more targeted content would encourage users to click-thru. Hope that answers your question!

      • Dan

        It does, thanks. I don’t know what you’ve done to gain so much. When I redesigned my emails making them responsive, I haven’t noticed improvement to that degree. There were certain hours where click through rate improved. Especially Saturday 3am-6am but nothing significant. It will always work for some but not for all.

        • Justine, Litmus

          Responsive is just one piece of the puzzle, too! Try testing additional elements to push your results—content, subject line, preheader text, etc!

          • Dan

            I’ve tried them all with no learnings really but I will keep trying :)

  • chrissietsema

    Great case study, Lauren. Thanks. Just curious – I understand why click rate would improve, but why do you think the design improved open rate so dramatically?

    • Lauren_Litmus

      Thanks for the comment! I’m glad you liked the post.

      That’s a great question! It’s, clearly, not logical that making an email mobile friendly would lead to an increase in open rates since you can’t see the email before you open it. So, the increased open rate may be a result of inbox optimization (From name/subject line/preheader text).

      In this particular case, the preheader text in the old version was just the tagline of Auto Trader, so it didn’t pair well or further encourage the open, but in the newer emails, the preheader text is optimized. That may play a factor!

      Also, over time, after the redesign, Auto Trader may have trained their subscribers to expect a better post-inbox email experience.

      Hope that answers your question!

      • chrissietsema

        That makes sense. Thanks for your insight!