When your email list is reasonably small you probably won’t be doing much except for sending out a weekly newsletter. However, as your list grows the advanced tools that certain email providers like ConvertKit offer start to become extremely valuable.
In this article, I am going to talk specifically about how I use ConvertKit’s automations to engage with my email list more. The automations that I use create more value for my audience, and in turn, generates more sales for my business.
The concepts I am going to cover in this article are reasonably basic – there are people out there who are doing way cooler automations (like Brennan Dunn). You don’t need some crazy sick automations to get started, though, you can get a great deal of value from just some basic automations. I’m not going to cover the specifics of how to create automations in ConvertKit, as the interface is reasonably straight-forward and they do have their own documentation (these concepts apply more broadly than just to ConverKit as well).
What is an Automation?
Before I get into some specific strategies that I use, I should first cover what an “automation” is. In the context of email marketing, and more specifically ConvertKit, an automation is an action or actions that are triggered in response to some event. In ConvertKit, you might trigger an automation when:
- A reader subscribes to your “Get my eBook” form
- A reader is tagged with the “INTERESTED-IN-X” tag
- A reader has their information is updated
Then in response to those triggers, you might then trigger some other action like:
- Subscribe that reader to some other form
- Send the reader an email
- Subscribe the reader to a specific sequence
These resulting actions can also be triggers for further automations, so you can end up creating these chains of extremely complex automations if you like.
The primary way in which I make use of automations is to help onboard users. I have a lot of content on my main site that has been generated over years, and somebody who has just discovered my site will not have been exposed to any of that. The difficulty is that I don’t know who they are, I don’t know what they are interested in, and so I don’t know what to send them.
To combat this, I have an onboarding automation. I have a generic onboarding form that triggers an automation when a reader subscribes to it:
But also just about every way you can sign up to my email list will trigger the Onboarding Welcome email sequence. This is just a single email that gives a brief introduction to my content and what is available, but within that, I have a few Link Triggers. These are links that when clicked will trigger some action in ConvertKit, like adding a tag to a user. In the initial onboarding email, there are three links that can be clicked that will add a tag to that reader:
- “Click here to receive an email update EVERY time a new tutorial is released”
- “Send me the BEGINNER Ionic email course”
- “Send me the ADVANCED Ionic email course”
The first link will add a tag to the user that indicates they want to be notified about every tutorial I release. I then have a segment set up so that I can just email new tutorials to those people rather than to my entire list.
The second and third tags indicate that they are interested in one or both of the free email courses that I am offering. These will trigger further automations:
This automation will trigger sending the reader a sequence of emails that contain educational content about Ionic. This goes even further because at the end of each sequence there is the option to click links that will add additional tags to the reader, which will trigger further email sequences:
If the reader finishes the “basic” email course, they can progress on to the “advanced” one. If they finish the “advanced” one they can then choose between multiple different specialisations like “design” or “performance”.
These automations allow me to send content to the reader that they are most interested in, and it also helps paint a better picture for me of who the reader is and what they are interested in.
I also use the tagging ability of links to allow people to specify some preferences. I’ve mostly covered this in the last section where I mentioned that I have a segment for people who are interested in receiving updates for all of the tutorial I release. The general idea is that I ask the reader a question, and give them a link to click. This will tag their account with that “preference” and then I can use that communicate with them appropriately. As well as controlling the number of emails that I send someone, I have also used this to determine the types of content they will receive (i.e. I might allow them to set a preference that they are not interested in receiving any content about Phaser).
Since you can customise sections of an email in ConvertKit based on tags that people have, you could even use this to emit content from within a specific email that certain readers would not be interested in.
Automations are also a good way to correctly tag readers who have purchased products from you. I use SendOwl to handle payment processing, and they have an integration with ConvertKit that allows you to add the customer’s email address to a ConvertKit form.
This allows me to set up an automation so that when the customer is added to that form, they will be tagged with the product that they just purchased:
The rule that I have set up above adds the tags BAWI (Building Mobile Apps with Ionic) and BAWI-EXPERT when a user is added to the BAWI-EXPERT form. So, when a customer purchases the product they get added to the form by SendOwl, and because they get added to that form they will automatically be tagged.
This allows for greater customisation/segmentation but I will give a couple of examples of exactly how this can be useful. For example, when evaluating the usefulness of my signup modal (as I discussed in this article) I was able to easily create a segment for subscribers who had signed up using my popup modal and who also had any of the tags that indicated they had purchased a product from me.
Another example is that I could easily create a segment for people who have purchased Building Mobile Apps with Ionic, but who have not purchased the top “Expert” tier. The range of things you could do is just about limitless if you make it a point to accurately tag readers.
NOTE: You should always make sure that a reader knows they are subscribing to an email list and that they agree to receive the emails that you want to send them. You could set up this automation so that existing subscribers are tagged appropriately when they purchase a product from you, but if a customer purchases a product from you it does not count as explicit permission to send them your email newsletter.
As your email list grows it can be hard to maintain a sense of understanding of what your audience is interested in. You might have some back and forth emails with people from time to time, but those people are only going to represent a very small portion of your overall list. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just assuming you know what your readers want.
To combat this, I used to just prompt people at the end of some emails:
“Let me know if you’d like to see more content on X”
which works reasonably well, but it requires effort on the reader’s behalf and usually the response rate is pretty low. What I do now is use some of those link triggers to run a kind of “pseudo-poll”. Here’s an example of some tags I set up recently:
- SURVEY-20171123-NODE-DONT-CARE 33 SUBSCRIBERS
- SURVEY-20171123-NODE-SOMETIMES 92 SUBSCRIBERS
- SURVEY-20171123-NODE-LOTS 288 SUBSCRIBERS
I had recently started writing about NodeJS on my blog, and I wanted to see if my readers were actually enjoying that content. After sending out a few tutorials on NodeJS, I added a note to the end of an email that asked if they were enjoying the NodeJS content and if they wanted to see more of it. I included three link triggers that would add a specific tag to that user to guage their interest: Do they not care about NodeJS? Do they want a little NodeJS content? Do they want lots of NodeJS content?
All the reader has to do is click the link and their account will be tagged appropriately. This is much easier for them then having to manually respond to an email. It is also better for me because I get accurate statistics on how much interest there is, and now I know in the future which subscribers are super interested in NodeJS content.
List Clean Up
Every so often I will “clean up” my email list by removing cold subscribers (i.e. people who no longer open my emails). There is no point to keeping a bunch of inactive subscribers just for the sake of keeping your numbers high. If you are sending emails to people who aren’t interested, you will have lower open rates/engagement and increase your likelihood of people marking your emails as spam. Also, as your subscriber count climbs, it becomes quite expensive to keep thousands of inactive subscribers.
However, the “Cold Subscribers” as reported by your email provider is probably quite inaccurate. Open rates cannot always be accurately tracked, and so people who do open your emails will end up on this list.
In order to deal with this, I just have another simple automation rule set up. I send everybody on this “Cold Subscribers” list an email letting them know that I will be removing them from the email list. If they want to remain on the list, they can click a link that will automatically tag them with NEVER-DELETE. After a period of time, I delete everybody who is on the “Cold Subscribers” list and that does not have that tag. In future, I also exclude anybody who has the NEVER-DELETE tag from ever receiving another one of these emails.
These are just some reasonably basic automations, but they do provide a lot of value both to my audience and to me. This is something that I want to continue experimenting with and improving on in the future. If you have your own email list, I would recommend starting to play around with these kinds of automations right away even if you do have a small list. It will set your list up well for the future and you can start to learn what kinds of automations will work best for you.