Email series best practices: How to school your audience in a good way

The Discourse breaks down how an email series can grow and win over subscribers.
A woman in a white dress shirt using a laptop. Email series.
Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.

Readers ask the best questions. That’s the driving force behind The Discourse’s journalism, an independent community news outlet serving two regions of Vancouver Island. With help from Indiegraf, The Discourse created two email series, also known as mini-courses, which responded to questions about local history—for example, Curious in Nanaimo and History in Cowichan as well as high-demand news topics such as Food for Thought and The Reconciliation Discourse

Each course was packaged as a free, usually six-part series delivered weekly or daily, and each grew our community’s subscriber base by about 30 percent. Here’s how to do it and what we’ve learned.

Listen to readers

“Lean into content that your audience responds to,” advises managing editor Jacqueline Ronson. Through audience surveys, The Discourse learned readers have a ton of questions about local history. 

The six stories shared in our history series were direct answers to reader questions. Was there really an exotic zoo near Long Lake Park, or was it an urban legend? Why did so many Sikh immigrants gravitate to Paldi? What happened to the Cowichan wool carding machine

If history isn’t your audience’s jam, consider any form of evergreen content you know your readers care about and that you cover well. Since the goal is get new subscribers to stay and engage with ongoing work, choose a series that reflects what your target audience cares about. 

No survey? No problem. Use Google Trends or Reddit to find out what your target audience wants to know.

Anti-Racism Daily runs the email series, 28 days of Black History. The Tyee reporter Christopher Cheung produced a series Under the White Gaze in which he explored the erasure of minorities in Canadian media.

As Indiegraf senior manager of publisher success Joe Lanane wrote previously for Indie Publisher, email courses can also help inform voters or explore complex questions like Passage’s How The Car Conquered The World.

Make what’s old new again

“If something exists that you’ve already done, that’s always a great opportunity to show to folks that haven’t seen it yet,” says Jacqueline.

Most readers don’t open every single email or read every story. If your audience has been consistently growing, there’s a good chance newer readers have not seen older content. 

Once you have a set of existing evergreen stories in mind, it’s just a matter of organizing the content in a compelling and logical way, with a short welcome email that sets the tone of the series.

As you piece everything together, be sure to consider newsletter best practices. You may want to edit the stories into a more conversational style, use shorter sentences or make them shorter overall. 

If you do keep each story in the series long (more than 1,000 words), consider adding a “read more” link that either drives people to the website (if it’s posted there) or asks people to expand the email in their inbox. (Email service providers sometimes cut emails for length.)

In some cases, you may be able to break a longer feature story into smaller parts better suited for email.

While repurposing existing content has many benefits, creating unique content that’s exclusive to the email series and not posted on the website is also a great way to encourage people to sign up.

Make it shine and promote away 

Give the series a name, a tag line and a brief description. Consider using a landing page as a home base. Be sure to let subscribers know they will also be signed up for the publication’s regular emails. Next, design a logo and banner for the newsletter.

By promoting the course through lead ads, you can bring in new readers—and potential fans and future customers—by helping them find exactly the kind of reporting they really want to read. 

Indiegraf senior manager of audience strategy Rachel Chen helped The Discourse build paid lead ads on all of our email series. In the case of Cowichan and others, they helped grow our subscriber base by about 30 percent. The open rates were upwards of 50 percent, from start to finish.

Don’t forget to cross-promote. Let people know on social media channels and in the regular emails what you’re working on to create some advance interest before the series is live.

For example: “Hey Nanaimo! We’re launching a Curious in Nanaimo email course soon. Anything you’re burning with curiosity about that you’d like to see us investigate? Let us know in the comments.”

Is there an email series or course you love? Send it our way. If you want to know more about crafting the perfect email series, get in touch! Our audience team has the expertise to help execute and launch a course to help you reach new subscribers. 

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