grow your email list

Have you set up your email autoresponder course yet?

We told you how to create an email autoresponder course. We gave you the details, the theories–everything to get started. Maybe you haven’t gotten around to it just yet because you haven’t had the time. Or maybe you’re wondering if it is even worth it.

Does an email autoresponder course even work?

That’s a fair question. How about a look at what we’re doing here with our own email autoresponder courses to see what is (and isn’t) working?

How We Chose Our Topics

When it comes to choosing the topic of an email autoresponder course, it’s simple: we choose topics that our readers want.

The trick is to understanding what readers want.

What do people want?

We all have different things that motivate us, but when it comes to those who have signed up for an email course, there’s a fair chance they are motivated by wanting to:

  1. Learn something new.
  2. Earn more money.
  3. Earn money quickly.
  4. Get better at what they are doing.
  5. Build a platform.
  6. Feed their identity.

Capitalize on identity.

The first five are relatively straightforward, but it is the last one that is tricky. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of “identity” and what identities people choose for themselves. We have identities in our families, different ones at work, and so on. We aren’t always aware of the identity we’ve latched onto and invested in, but that doesn’t make it any less important.

Identity is how people:

  • Find a place to belong while still being a “unique” individual.
  • Understand themselves in various settings and contexts.
  • Find purpose or direction.
  • Interpret and view the world around them.

Some people identify with luxury brands, and no matter how well you package your Dollar Store, they won’t be interested. In this way, identity plays a role in understanding what people want. This identity business is a subtle, tricky thing, but we wanted to find a way to give people the opportunity to latch onto their identity in what we had to offer. This creates a sense of truly belonging, and of being an individual.

Our solution?

We created a “6 Free Quick Tips” email course where readers were able to choose their own track and customize their email course by choosing their field of interest, their identity.

6 quick tips email

They could choose an email autoresponder for social media managers, marketers, editors, or writers. What did we think this would do for our readers, and for us? Well…

Personalized content is a win for everyone.

Personalized content is a win for the reader. It is not as easily ignored. Truly personalized content goes far beyond your email program inserting a first name in the “Hello ___” field; it needs to feed an identity.

Because readers were able to choose the content that they identified with, the content seem more personalized, less generic. It made them feel like part of a group. It helped assure them that their identity was legitimate, and that we wouldn’t be wasting their time with content that didn’t matter to them.

But hold on–personalized content was also a win for us, too.

Think about what we ended up with: email list segments where people have identified what kinds of content they are interested in. Should we ever have something of interest specifically for editors, we have a list of people who say that that’s who they are. We let our readers tell us what audience the belonged in.

How We Built Our Course

Building the actual course is the fun/work part.

You can read everything under the sun on what it takes to make an email autoresponder, but at some point, you have to build the thing. You have to decide what your course will have, how many emails it will contain, and what content you’ll actually include.

Same topic, different angle.

Let’s look at that “6 Free Quick Tips” email course again. With four different targeted reader segments, did we have to write four completely different courses?

Nope. Not exactly. We went with a flexible content model.

flexible content model

Flexible content is content that can be used in more than one place and still fit perfectly.

Despite the email course focusing on four different identities, the overall topic was the same: content marketing. One topic, four different approaches to it. Each of the four course variants had their own unique content geared towards them, but there was also some content that overlapped and could be used for multiple tracks. Choosing one topic but taking different approaches to it allows for flexible content.

The flexible content model in this case ended up being an exciting challenge to write, and made us think differently about content marketing according to these four different identities.

How we created each email.

I wrote the content for the course in a Google Doc, and shared it with the team to read over and make suggestions. Garrett designed it so that each email for each of the four course identities had the same layout, but a different color based on the track chosen.

email example

This idea of reuse–both of content and of layout–made creating essentially four different autoresponders much less onerous.

How long should each email be?

Again, what do you want your course to do for you?

With our “6 Free Quick Tips” email course, we wanted to create a course that gave our readers an easy commitment. The course was short, the emails were short and direct, and the selling point (“quick” in the title) was that this would be a painless email to receive. We wouldn’t ask much from them. That may explain the higher unsubscribe rate–this attracted a reader who wanted something very specific, and quickly. If they didn’t find what they expected, they unsubscribed.

We also had an email course at one point that was made up of 12 emails. Each email had fairly brief copy, but that was because it was only partial. They could click to read more elsewhere if they wanted the full content.

Here’s the guide we came up with:

  • For “continue reading” emails, include no more than three short paragraphs.
  • For emails with complete content in the body, keep them between 400 – 800 words.

We were acquiring a lot of new traffic at the time we created our “6 Free Quick Tips”, and our readers didn’t know us yet. We chose shorter content so that we didn’t demand too much of them in the introductory phase.

How We Chose Email Course Length

In addition to deciding how much content each email would have, we had to decide how long the email autoresponder course would actually run.

How often should I send emails?

How long an email course should run is always the big question, and we touched on it in our blog post about how to create an email autoresponder course.

This is the guide we came up with to use for our own emails:

  • A comprehensive all-encompassing guide should have at least 10 lessons.
  • An introductory or “crash course” guide should have at least four, but no more than nine.
  • A “boot camp” course could have up to five emails delivered over a very short time span (like one week total).
  • Send an email at least once a week.

We like to send our email lessons out once a week as you can see below, keeping in mind that our weekly content marketing update also goes out to these same readers.

weekly schedule

It’s much the same as when you have multiple blogs: you don’t want to bombard people with a pile of emails at the same time. At the same time, you don’t want to be forgotten, particularly if they really want your email. That’s the quandary you’re juggling (and a good thing to test with your specific audience!).

As your email course progresses, readers generally become less engaged.

Email open rates and click through rates gradually decline as the course progresses, which you can see in the previous graphic. The amount of readers who unsubscribe from our “6 Free Quick Tips” course, however, is fairly low.

unsubscribe rate

How long should the course run?

There’s no hard and fast answer. It depends on what you want from your email autoresponder course.

Some bloggers run perpetual email courses that they keep adding blog posts to. They know that not everyone will be with them to the end, but that isn’t a factor. They aren’t concerned about the fact that people will unsubscribe. They want to give them their best while they’re still on board.

But if you’re not running a perpetual autoresponder–what then? Let’s look at two real-life examples.

We had a 12-week course (one email per week) about content marketing. When I pitted it against the “6 Free Quick Tips” course (which ran for 6 weeks), the results were interesting.

Old content, link to read more.
The 12-week course was based on already-published blog posts. The email body copy consisted of brief summations and a “continue reading” link that took them back to our blog. We wanted this course to drive traffic to our blog.

New content, full content in the email.
The 6-week course was new content. The email body copy contained all of the content, and the only links were back to CoSchedule. We wanted this course to build awareness and trust in CoSchedule. The content was meant to be a help tool for the kind of users CoSchedule would attract.

Right away you can see that we had different goals in mind, which is why I made the annoying “it depends on what you want” comment. We had theorized that a shorter course would keep reader engagement higher all the way to the end.

winning email course

The customized, shorter course had better open rates, and engagement remained relatively steady for those who received the email for the duration of the course. The course’s click rate was very low, but that made sense. Readers could get all of the content without leaving their email.

The longer course had, over the course of twelve weeks, a dramatic drop in open rate engagement. Its much higher click rate was due to the partial content in the email requiring readers to click to get the full content. The surprise here is that the 12-part course had a lower unsubscribe rate over the duration of it than the shorter course.

Why wouldn’t we just put partial content in both email courses so we had lots of clicks and traffic from them?

Remember, the 6-part and 12-part courses had different goals. One was for an increase in traffic, while the other was about being personal, building trust, and engagement. We gave our 6-part course readers everything in their inbox, and our 12-part readers who wanted to keep reading the option to do so on our blog.

What Happens Next?

Once the email course was ready, we had to:

  1. Let people know about it. We’ve shared our email courses on our social media feeds periodically, listed it in our blog’s sidebar, and even shared it with specific readers who have questions about things that the email course would answer. You need to promote your course.
  2. Keep the content fresh. One of the reasons we no longer use the 12-part course was that it was time for a major content overhaul. We keep an eye on our courses to make sure what we have written is still relevant.

And let’s not forget the main thing that happened next: we watched our regular email list grow, grow, grow with the help of this simple little course.

Have you used an email autoresponder course to grow your mailing list? What did you learn from that experience?