Email automation is a tricky thing. When done properly, it makes managing a mailing list virtually effortless. When done poorly, it dumps your messages into the spam folder and blacklists your domain in the common mail clients. Obviously, you’d prefer the first over the second.
First of all, you need to determine how much you want to automate. How often are you sending a mailing list newsletter? Are you intending to send an email each time a new post goes live? Do you want to send a campaign to new subscribers? These are all possible, and potentially good ideas.
Creating an automatic, regular newsletter is incredibly easy using any of the tools – MailChimp, AWeber, etc – designed for the task. Pick one and run with it as long as you like, switch if it’s not working, and have an easy time of things.
Sending a basic newsletter is perhaps the easiest automation task. You just need to make sure you’re coming up with creative copy and something of value for your users. If they don’t open it, they don’t do you any good.
How can you boost the open rates for your newsletters? The first step is to create a compelling subject line. Put yourself in the user’s shoes; if you received the email, would you open it? You need value. You also can’t get away with clickbait headlines; users have a lot less patience with junk in their inbox than they do with titles for blog posts.
You also need to avoid common spam words and phrases. Unfortunately, some phrases sound like good marketing but end up filtering your message. “Free” and “act now” are red flags, as are any mentions of common spam topics. There are whole lists you can find online; I recommend reading up on them before you write your copy.
Perhaps the biggest choice you have to make is how often to send these regular messages. Some newsletters deliver only once per month. With such rare messages, one left unopened can be quite harmful to delivery statistics. You can send messages once per week, but then you have the content concern. Do you have enough content to support that frequent a communication?
Very, very few sites can support daily newsletters or digests. Typically, only sites with multiple blogs or multiple posts per day can send these curated feeds.
On the subject of a daily feed, one thing you can do to notify your users when a new post is live is to run an RSS feed. It’s really easy to set up an RSS feed, and all you need to do is get users with a feed reader to subscribe. Firefox and other browsers have feed readers built in, though the user still has to check for a new post.
If getting users to subscribe to RSS isn’t your cup of tea, you can also use a process like MailChimp’s RSS to Email extension. It’s a simple extension that sends new messages to your subscribers each time your RSS updates, which happens automatically when you post a new blog update.
You can also customize the messages that go out. They don’t have to be posted automatically when your posts go live; they can sit and collect for a week or a month before sending, if you prefer. You can template it to include every post, or just specific posts. You can even include multiple RSS feeds, to curate several blogs in one newsletter.
A Workflow is a sort of basic programming feature for email marketing. You can set up a campaign, say six sequential emails, to trigger when a user signs up for your mailing list. These are sent in addition to your normal messages, but they seem more personal, more directed at the individual than at your entire audience.
These are best used as a sort of welcome and sales push. You might script out six messages to send. The first sends immediately upon the user opting in to your mailing list. The second sends a day or two later, giving them tips for using your site or service. The third sends a week later, reminding them of your service and mentioning various additional features they can buy. The fourth goes full-on tutorial mode and offers dedicated support if the user needs anything. The fifth goes on to bring up the upsells again, and the final message lays on the sales. Once those are complete, the user is left to their own devices throughout your normal newsletter.
There are a whole lot of similar workflows you can set up. You can set up follow-up messages after a product purchase, offering additional tutorials and instructions, support links, and a gentle poke for a review. Amazon even does this for product reviews.
Segmenting your audience into groups based on various criteria allows you to further refine messages. You can segment users by geographic location if you have it, but don’t worry if you don’t.
One of the most common segments to make is to put people who repeatedly fail to open your newsletters into a new mailing list of their own. Send them a special message with an extra-compelling subject line. You might say “ready to unsubscribe?” and give them reasons in the copy why they shouldn’t. You can solicit feedback, and even provide an actual unsubscribe link for those users who want to leave.
Don’t worry about losing subscribers. It’s actually a good thing! If they aren’t opening your messages, they aren’t providing you with any business value, so it does no good to keep sending them messages. Worse, when too many people fail to open your messages, you can end up earning a flag for spam and find your messages ending up in spam folders instead of inboxes.
Automation can be tricky, so take it one step at a time. Set up one newsletter or workflow, monitor how it works, and see how developing another can fit with your overall marketing. Always make sure to minimize the number of messages you send, as well, so you’re never flooding your users.