Though The Guardian declared 2015 “the year of the email newsletter,” newsletters are the email equivalent of oatmeal: comforting, nourishing, but not terribly flashy. They’re good at steadily building up a loyal user base, but sometimes, you need to break your routine to earn subscribers’ full attention.
Triggered campaigns spice things up by responding to specific behaviors. They’re the key to turning casual readers into fully engaged advocates — and, depending on how you play it, they can even make your site a bit addictive.
In the name of giving you new things to test, we’ve created a guide to the most compelling (and highest-ROI) campaigns, categorized by lifecycle stage.
If you’re sending someone email, that means they willingly shared their address (unless they didn’t, in which case… we need to talk). That inbox invitation means they don’t just like your content: they trust your brand. Think about it — the average internet user is already buried in email, so why would they sign up for yours unless they trusted you to send great stuff?
You can turn that trust into sustained brand loyalty by making a fantastic first impression. You can also turn it into a bump in page views by dropping breadcrumbs, e.g. nudging them to explore parts of the site you know they’ll love (because you’ve been gathering behavioral data, right?).
Welcome series: It’s the first date of email campaigns. Welcome your subscribers, let them know what to expect from you, and point them toward the actions that drive value for you. If a new subscriber has high engagement, keep the momentum going by automatically tailoring subsequent emails to their level of enthusiasm: link them to social accounts, forums, events, or other community-oriented opportunities. If you’ve got a new subscriber with low engagement, keep enticing them with content recommendations tailored to their behavior — and make sure to reference them in the subject line (e.g. “Thought you’d like this: 15 Amazing Pug Pics”). We’ve written more extensively about the power of the welcome series here.
Trigger: User subscribes.
Newsletter cross-promotion: Have a few different newsletters? Don’t expect your subscribers to sign up for them all at once! When your single-list subscribers browse another topic on your site, trigger an email invitation to join the corresponding newsletter. For example, if an Entertainment subscriber continually browses the Politics section of your site, you can trigger an email invitation (or on-site notification) to join the Politics newsletter.
Trigger: User clicks a page tagged Politics (or the topic of your choice) three times in the last two weeks.
It’s tempting to put most of your weight behind getting more traffic and subscribers. While this volume-based approach gets the job done, it’s not efficient in the long run. If you’re like most publishers, a small percentage of your readers — your power users — drive a huge chunk of your revenue. You should make sure you have a well-tested process in place for turning more and more newbies (and occasional readers) into loyal regulars.
Feature adoption: If your subscribers haven’t engaged with the best (read: stickiest) sections of your site yet, do them a favor and send them there: follow up with an email series containing specific calls to action. For example, CBSi’s Chowhound has a robust forum, with sub-forums that cover everything from restaurants to cookware to kosher food. You might have your own forum, great quizzes, or a thriving comment section; your best bet is to point people toward the parts that have already driven retention.
Trigger: User has been a subscriber for one week, but has not yet clicked on the sticky features.
Rewards for high-value actions: When your subscribers do start to engage, show them extra love by offering something in return — especially for the highest-value actions on your site. This technique, which falls under the umbrella of gamification, can increase conversions up to 7x. The key is to make the rewards gratifying (rather than slapping some badges on your site and calling it a day). For example, perhaps performing the desired action unlocks an easter egg? (One of my favorites: on BuzzFeed, pressing up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-b-a used to show you a page full of sloths.) A more serious suggestion: performing the desired action could unlock a relevant fun fact, or even premium content. If you want to encourage an active comment section, you could give each commenter points for participating or being up-voted.
Trigger: User comments a certain number of times; user shares an article on social media a certain number of times; it really depends on which behaviors you’re trying to encourage.
It takes a lot of work to earn your readers’ trust, so once you’ve earned it, make sure you leverage it. Encouraging your most loyal readers to share and keep engaging is the best way to turn one reader into 10.
Social share encouragement: Encourage your subscribers to become brand advocates by rewarding them for their social efforts. We recommend focusing on users who’ve shared before (it’s easier to get people to do something they’ve already done before). After two months, you could send an email with recommendations of articles to share. Those recommendations will have the most impact if they’re tailored to their behaviors and interests, but sharing the most popular articles could work as well — it’s worth testing.
Trigger: User who has previously shared an article has not done so for two months.
Anniversary thank you: Birthday emails are great, but what if you don’t want to burden your subscribers by asking for their birthdays? You can still show them you care by sending them a special note on their “opt-in-iversary.” Bonus points for including the number of articles they’ve read since you met; double points for showing them which sections or topics they focused on most.
Trigger: User has been subscribed for a year.