Ancestry used an interactive surname widget and pre-filled registration forms in e-mail to engage its prospects and create a frictionless conversion path to subscription.









Ancestry brings together science and self-discovery to help everyone, everywhere, discover the genealogical story of how they came to be.

Founded in 1983 as a publishing house of genealogy records and family history magazines, it has grown into the largest source for personal genealogical research, with over 16 billion historical records and the technology to test and analyze an individual’s DNA.


“It was necessary for us to begin to identify the best content and tactics that would help to nurture, engage, and ultimately convert our non-member audience at the segment level. We were specifically looking to move the needle for email engagement, as prior campaigns had confirmed a high correlation between email activity and conversion.”

Kathryn Davidson,
Director of Marketing Operations at Ancestry



Ancestry’s primary business model is based on subscription. Historically, to engage prospects, they offered everyone a free trial followed by a discounted subscription.

The free access promotion via email worked well for prospects who were already familiar with Ancestry services, like those who had purchased a DNA test. For those who were less familiar with the product, such as non-member leads who came through Facebook ads or registered on the website, this strategy wasn’t as effective. “Registrants on our site are the largest and the least responsive segment of our base,” says Kathryn Davidson, Director of Marketing Operations at Ancestry. For these less-qualified prospects, Ancestry had to find a way to show the product’s value, create an incentive to try Ancestry’s services, and make it effortless to sign up for a trial.

Campaign Features

To engage prospects and showcase the value proposition of its products, Ancestry used a surname widget that allowed people to determine the meaning of their last name, the number of historical records associated with the surname in Ancestry’s databases, and other related facts. The hypothesis was that the surname widget would be more successful with less qualified users as compared to a Free Access campaign. “It’s easy to use, simple in its user experience, and has a clear tie-in to our product,” Robinson explains.

Using Selligent’s targeting and personalization tools, Ancestry identified the right segments, personalized the subject line with the user’s last name, and pre-populated registration forms to reduce friction and increase completion. “We tested the widget against our standard Free Access campaign and other tactics, and were able to gain great insight into how each segment responded to each tactic,” Robinson says.


The surname widget and personalized emails turned out to be much more effective than the broad-based free trial campaign for Ancestry’s less engaged prospects. Considering the large size of the previously disengaged “registrant” segment, each small lift in KPIs made a significant impact on the campaign’s performance. The interactive tool with pre-filled forms re-engaged users and made it easy for a wider population to begin learning about themselves – and ultimately subscribe to Ancestry. “The surname widget made the promised personalized content quickly available and introduced our product in a more easily digestible form,” Robinson says. “Essentially, it made taking the first step much easier.”


Ancestry’s surname widget emails outperformed every control tool, increasing its conversion rate by 28%. Open rates were up over 10%, and click rates were 3.5 higher. Selligent’s segmentation and personalization tools helped Ancestry send highly targeted messages and re-engage the least active customer segment. And with the reporting tools, Ancestry was able to analyze how each segment responded to tactics and optimize the campaign for email and other channels.

Key Insights:

  • 28% increase in subscriber conversion
  • 10% increase in open rates
  • 3.5x lift in click rates