Welcome Email Best Practices for News Publishers

We asked our team of audience pros for tips & tricks for a great welcome email.
Cenital photo of a person standing next to a welcome mat
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash.

You’re about to attend a local fair to spread the word about your community news outlet. Maybe you even prepared a couple of swag items to make your introductions more memorable. But before you get a bunch of people signed up for your newsletter, you should be prepared to properly welcome them. 

A welcome email is the first email your new subscribers will read — it’s the message that welcomes them to your community. As with all first impressions, you should be mindful and intentional about what you’re presenting in that first newsletter. It can be the difference between a steadily growing email list and an above-average churn rate.

Here are six tips to welcome readers in a spectacular way: 

1. Set yourself up for success

First off, be sure to reference our newsletter best practices resource, which covers the essential elements to strong email marketing: Include your logo in the header and a passive donation button in the footer. Add links to your social media channels so people can follow you everywhere. And be mindful of accessibility with each and every email you send. You should also personalize as much as possible by including a personal note or sign off so readers know who’s behind the emails they just signed up for (find more tips for newsletter personalization here).

2. Give readers ownership over their subscription

Spam filters are a newsletter editor’s worst nightmare. The good thing is, you can fight that battle right from the start by using merge tags in your subject lines and asking readers to add you to their contact list. Some email service providers (ESPs) even offer the option to enable double opt-in, which is basically a way to verify each subscription by asking readers to confirm they want to receive your emails. Whether or not you enable double opt-in, always provide readers the option to change how they’d like to receive your emails and include a link to your privacy policy so readers know that you respect their preferences above all else.

3. Get ‘em reading from day one

Welcome emails are a good way to give people a taste of what to expect. Be sure to include links to relevant investigative pieces or evergreen content — for example, that list of must-try food trucks in town. This helps introduce new readers to your unique storytelling they will soon come to love.  

Use a skimmable template with different content formats, and make sure the design is consistent with the rest of your emails. This will also help provide audience insights and improve your overall email strategy as you go. Consider: Are people mostly clicking on images, or linked text? Are they more likely to read an entire story on the newsletter, or click to read on your website? Playing with different layouts in your welcome email is a good way to learn what appeals to your audience the most.

4. Highlight other ways to connect

Use your welcome email to highlight your community-building efforts and help people feel a part of what you’re building. Sometimes that means crafting a heartfelt welcome note or examples of prior community events you hosted. Give people an idea of the community they have just joined and offer up options for getting involved. Do you have a local Facebook group? Invite people to join! Do you regularly host live panels? Invite people to follow you! Let people know you are always available for news tips and pitches, because nobody knows what’s happening in their community better than themselves. 

5. Build a welcome series

Some ESPs enable publishers to build their own automated email series, or “customer journeys.” At Indiegraf, we like to build a three-part welcome series for network partners whenever possible. This allows us to move readers down the audience funnel by adding passive donate buttons into the welcome series. 

Be mindful of cadence when building a welcome series. It’s not a good idea to spam your readers, especially when the relationship is still fresh —so be sure to spread out the emails. Send a collection of your biggest stories right when they sign up, and a week later follow up with a list of ways to connect with you. Two months down the line, then consider sending a fundraising email. 

Feeling inspired? You can also build an entire email series on a specific topic. There are some really good examples available, such as Peterborough Currents’ “Creek Week” series or IndigiNews’ email course on nehiyaw historian Alphonse Little Poplar’s memoirs. As a plus, you can build entire campaigns around your email series to help drive subscriptions! 

6. Include a short survey

Surveying your subscribers is important because it allows publishers to understand their audience: who they are, their needs & interests and what they’re expecting from your coverage. Why survey readers who are just joining your mailing list? First off, that’s when they are attentive and more likely to engage, and second, because it’ll allow you to tag and segment your audience as necessary — for example, if you’re covering three neighboring counties, it helps to know where each subscriber is based. 

Figure out who has subscribed and how best to serve them. With that in mind, ask readers what drew them to subscribe and what topics they’re interested in reading about. Keep the survey short (3-5 questions), and embed it in the email whenever possible to ensure a seamless experience. If your ESP has built-in survey capabilities, all the better! That’ll ensure the data is stored right where you need it.

Newsletters are an essential part of your digital presence. If you have any other newsletter-related topics you’d like us to tackle, let us know!

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