How Small Steps Became One Of NZ’s Most Popular Mental Health Websites

Te Hiringa Hauora (Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand)
Website Sessions
Search & Display Clicks
CPC, NZ Average is $1.97


Currently, a government priority in Aotearoa is accessible mental wellbeing tools. There’s been a chronic increase in high levels of mental distress over the years.* We've always wanted to do something to help ease this.

In early 2021, Small Steps was created to offer just that:  a small step to take in life’s journey. This crucial mahi aided progress in maintaining wellness and finding relief.

Aro worked with Te Hiringa Hauora (now Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand) and Clearhead. Our shared goal was to provide Kiwis with free online tools, for improving hauora/wellbeing. We developed a digital strategy that prioritised young Māori and Pasifika. 

*Source: Survey results - Mental Health in Aotearoa.


We are always aiming to help increase mental wellbeing among rangatahi. For this campaign, we had three main purposes. 

Our Key Goals Were To:

1. Build brand awareness.

2. Increase Small Steps tool usage.

3. Grow engagement with Māori and Pasifika rangatahi.


Pre-campaign Work - Building Great Foundations

Launching Small Steps required a decent amount of time and effort. To make it happen we collaborated with a wide range of stakeholders, including:

 • Mental health professionals to enrich our clinical knowledge.

 • Cultural consultants, who helped us to reflect and embrace te ao Māori (the Māori worldview) in our strategy.

In our collaborative strategy workshop, we shared our qualitative and quantitative research and ideas. We worked with Te Hiringa Hauora and Clearhead to achieve positive impacts. In the process, we developed:

 • Great unity with our stakeholders.

 • Deeper understanding of the audience, 

 • Further knowledge of mental health.


Our strategy workshops focus on four key components:

1. Audience: Who are we making the campaign for? 

2. Approach: What are our ideas and concepts?

3. Ads: How do we creatively execute our approaches? 

4. Conversions: What impact and progress did we achieve? 

1. How To Effectively Prioritise An Audience

Aro Digital, Te Hiringa Hauora and Clearhead took a deep dive together. We started by identifying the tāngata (people) most likely to benefit from free mental wellbeing tools: Māori and Pasifika rangatahi (learn more). 

After our research, we wanted to reach young Māori and Pasifika. To be as intentional as possible with our budget, we used census data. We geotargeted areas with denser Māori and Pasifika populations. We also set up a conversion objective of users starting tools. By optimising our campaign delivery to achieve that objective and focusing on priority regions, we were able to get Small Steps in front of the right people.

An illustration of a Kiwi man of breathing in air deeply, and the words "Deep Breathing, Helping you to feel calmer and more relaxed" on the right, with a call-to-action button that says "Try our free tool". On the left, we can see the Small Steps logo.

Above: Small Steps Google Display Ad for Deep Breathing

What was the best utilisation of English and te reo for the campaign?

We discovered the answer to this question by testing out different ratios of te reo Māori to English. Google and Meta are yet to recognise te reo as an official language, which caused a speed bump for ads purely in te reo. Once ads featuring te reo were approved, we found that Google ads that included te reo had double the Click Through Rate (CTR) than those without.

 • 16.96% CTR with headlines that inc te reo

 • 8.86% CTR with headlines that don't include te reo

Cost-per-clicks were also $0.2 cheaper with headlines that included te reo.

What this meant is that beyond cultural value, there were performance improvements by integrating te reo into our strategy.

2. Figuring Out The Best Ad Approach

An approach is the idea, theme or concept. It is the specific way we communicate the core message.

To warm up, Aro presented a range of three high-performing tactics to Te Hiringa Hauora and Clearhead

 • Approach One: What is Small Steps? Introducing people to the platform.

 • Approach Two: Feeling All Good? Encouraging people to learn how to manage their emotional wellbeing.

 • Approach Three: How to Chill Out. Helping people by providing specific wellbeing tools.

Tone of Voice

We ran a vote between five Google Search ads. The tone of voice ranged from casual to clinical. The elected choice was a healthy middle ground, which best suits our target audience.

3. Creative Ads That Resonate

Aro’s advertising reflected the creative and interactive nature of the Small Steps website. Here’s how we:

‍ • Tested the waters, then transformed conceptual approaches into creative advertising.

‍ • Shared insights on how to make the website a great user experience.

‍ • Gave Small Steps more SEO juice, so that it could go the distance on Google search.

‍ • Advised on Google search advertising best practices.

The initial gauge of interest

On social media, we used poll ads to generate curiosity and engagement. We used data from the polls to get a feel for who was keen on the content. From there, we could see which mental health tools people preferred.

A screenshot of the Small Steps poll ad, asking New Zealanders "What Makes You Feel Calm", with the options of "Deep Breathing" or "Mindful Watching". The ad copy reads "What Small Step will you take first?"

Approach One: What is Small Steps?

We raised awareness that Small Steps exists to help ease distress.

An illustration of a footpath winding through native Aotearoa flora, in an Instagram ad that reads "The Small Steps to a Better Wellbeing". The caption reads "Give yourself a moment to check in with your oranga hinengaro. Try out our free tools to ease worries and manage stress" followed by a small emoji of scales, to express emotional balance.

Approach Two: Feeling All Good?

We engaged people with content that encouraged a better understanding of wellbeing

A Facebook Ad that reads "E hoa - are you feeling stressed? That's all good. Try taking a breather, check in with friends and whānau, and give these Small Steps a go". The illustration below shows a family having a picnic by a lake, and a couple of people flying a kite. The caption reads "Manage your stress".

Approach Three: How to Chill Out.

We motivated tāngata to use tangible tools for staying resilient.

An Instagram Ad by Aro Digital, for Small Steps NZ. The image is of a Kiwi woman listening to a tui bird singing, while it hangs out on a harakeke flax plant. The ad text reads "Try our active listening tool to practice being fully present when chatting with friends and whānau."

Small Steps’ User Experience

For the website, the team at Aro Digital advised on an intuitive UX design strategy. We assessed the number of people searching for problems versus solutions. We discovered more people search for solutions and tools. Prioritising our users' search intent, we ensured the information architecture featured useful tools. Here you can see the key issues addressed at the forefront of the homepage.

A screenshot of the Small Steps homepage, with the words Start Your Small Steps Journey, and the main topics Manage Your Stress, Calm Your Mind, and Lift Your Mood. The colour palette is natural and green, and the visuals are beautiful illustrations of New Zealand's flora and fauna, including a pūkeko.

Small Steps’ Search Engine Optimisation

We made it easy for people to find Small Steps, so that anyone searching for mental health tools can access them. Our process? SEO keyword research.

We expanded our understanding of people’s mindsets based on their search actions. And we discovered many people search for topics on “anxiety”, “depression”, and “stress”. So in the content, we blended keywords people were searching for frequently on Google with colloquial language our priority audience would resonate with.

Google Advertising Advice

We provided strategic and tactical advice on display and paid search advertising.

The biggest mistake many businesses make is targeting both search and display networks… with identical ads. The audience intent and mindset are very different between the two experiences.

‍ • Display ads appear on the websites people visit, like a newspaper ad next to the columns. This is better for generating interest.

A Small Steps Google Display Ad, by Aro Digital. The Small Steps logo is up the top, and the picture of a New Zealander breathing deeply in nature, and caring for his own mental health. Below, the words "Deep Breathing, helping you to feel calmer and more relaxed", and the call-to-action button "Try our free tool".

Search ads reach people who are actively Googling an answer or solution. This satisfies existing demand.

A Google Search Ad for Small Steps, by Aro Digital. The Ad reads "Explore ways to lift your mood, feel better with Small Steps, Kia Mauri Tau, Small Steps" and has the URL The description of the ad is "e raru ana koe? if you are feeling flat, give our tools a go. They're free, easy-to-use, & take only a couple of minutes. start your journey today". The ad is a mix of te reo Māori and English, to cater to an audience in Aotearoa.

Aro Digital also advised on keyword phrase match vs. exact match. Phrase match means serving ads to users anytime the target keywords are present. Exact match means only serving ads to users when they search for the exact target keyword or keywords. Here are a couple of examples with the target keyword “stress”

Phrase match: “how do I de-stress”

Exact match: “stress”

Keyword matching options can be adjusted to cater to different audience targeting. This improves ad relevance for the audience, and advertising cost efficiency.

4. Inspiring User Conversions

Search Insight: In this campaign, search ads converted an older audience. Display ads converted more Gen Z and Millennials.

Social Insight: For the second phase of the campaign, we tested the tool demo video. These were some of the most successful ads for achieving exercise-starts.

‍Overall Insight: Top 3 Small Steps tools used? Deep Breathing, Reframing Thoughts and Improving Sleep. 

We activated these insights to achieve traction and conversions for Small Steps:

‍ • 24.1k social ad conversions, including active engagement with tools, techniques and exercises.

‍ • Excellent exercise completion rate of 63%, with social ads. 

‍ • 36.5k conversions, including exercise completions, in search & display ads.

‍UX Dashboards & Reporting

We visualised real-time data with a UX dashboard. This gave the teams at THH and Clearhead clarity of user interactions on the Small Steps website. 

A screenshot of Aro Digital's Small Steps insights and reporting dashboard, for the website UX or User Experience. It's a colourful data visualisation with pie charts and bar graphs, and key metrics. The illustration in the background shows New Zealand's flora and nature. There's native plants, and a tui bird on harakeke, as well as nikau palm trees.

It's been worthwhile working with the teams at Te Hiringa Hauora and Clearhead. Together we’ve made positive impacts with Small Steps.

Our Impact

The Small Steps campaign reached many people, via search and social digital marketing. We had a strong foundation of subject matter experts. The mahi between clinicians, cultural consultants and our digital specialists made great waves.

This campaign ran from 19 April 2021 to 28 February 2022, and in that time we achieved:

‍ • 24 million impressions with Meta & Google marketing. 

‍ • Google Search & Display CPC is $0.60, 69.5% lower than the national average cost per click. 

‍ • 36.5k Google marketing conversions, including starting and finishing mental health exercises.

We’re glad our mahi with Small Steps made a real difference for tāngata.


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