The Art Of The Email Nag

In my quest to learn the spanish language, I have tried several online learning options. As with any learning experience, if you do not practice enough you will not progress in your learning. The problem most people have with online learning is remembering to practice. For some people, they just forget to do it and others just do not make the time. This is a problem for any startup, not just language learning. How do you keep your users engaged if you are not the next Facebook or Twitter?

In most cases, applications have email notifications built into their processing. So, in the case of Facebook, you receive email notifications when your friends have a birthday as well as some other notifications. However, Facebook already has plenty of people on their service. If you are a new service, you want people to come back to your site as often as possible. Repeat visits can be habit forming, and that is what you want to do in order to really gain loyal users. Make your application part of their daily routine. Obviously, your application needs to fit a real need in order to be truly habit forming. If your application is not a daily need, like language learning, how do you get people to come back to your site?

Email nagging is probably still the most effective approach, besides becoming an application that people use daily. People check their email constantly, so having your application’s email nag in their inbox is a great help. However, the art of the email nag is not as simple as sending an email every day asking the user to visit the site. If it was that simple, every application would be sending daily emails which would quickly be ignored.

How Often To Nag

The frequency of emails is highly dependent upon the type of application you have. There are a lot of sites competing for attention, so assuming your application will be used daily is just setting yourself up for disappointment. That being said, it does not mean that daily email nagging is not appropriate. If we go back to the language learning example, a daily reminder to login and learn something is a very powerful technique. In the case of Twitter, a daily reminder is probably not needed but maybe weekly or every other day is more appropriate. You can scale the level of nagging based on the perceived need of interaction.

One problem is being too consistent in your email notifications. If you get a daily email for 2 months, and you are not acting upon the email, you will likely just start deleting the notifications when they arrive. However, a daily email that switches to a weekly notification based on a lack of user activity makes the weekly email more noticeable. One application that I had started using actually did something even more complicated. The email nagging started daily. After a week of user inactivity, you would receive only weekly emails. After one month of inactivity, the emails would only appear monthly. If you became active on their site again, you would revert to daily emails and the cycle would start over again. Because this was a language learning site, this type of cycle was very appropriate and I did try to use the site again in the third month because of the monthly email reminder. How complicated you want to make your email nagging is obviously up to you, but giving some thought to how you want people to use the site as well as how easy it is to come back to the site after a month or two away is very important.

What To Put In The Email Reminder

Now that you have figured out how often to nag people appropriately through email, you need to know what the contents should look like. First, there obviously needs to be some action that the user should be able to take. Just having some “please come back” text is not really useful. The user needs to know why they should come back and how they would benefit. Another mistake that seems to be made quite often, and I have made it in my own applications, is sending too much information. Is your email so full of information that the user does not need to go back to your application? Even if you have a great call to action, if the information is in the email, there is no need to take action. This is almost as bad as not having any email notifications because the user still does not return to your application.

You must also understand who your users are as that affects what the content should look like. Just like a blog, the content of the email should not be too long. If a user needs to read the equivalent of 3 pages of text, they will just delete the email. Finding the right length and textual content is very important, and you could hire a copywriter if you feel that you are struggling.

One last detail on the content of the emails. Make sure you have the option for both text and HTML emails. Some people still prefer a text email, like myself, and many email clients tend to block images until a user requests them. So, while HTML is much nicer to look at, having both options will help you cater to both types of users.

You may think that email is antiquated in our highly mobile world, but everyone still uses email. If a simple email can keep a user coming to your site, doesn’t it make sense to try to get it right?

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