Top 6 Elements of a great digest email

Obviously, here at Knowtify HQ, we spend the majority of our time studying, building and supporting the development of smart digest emails. Because of this, we get to see examples of digest emails that that work incredibly well - and some that fall flat. While there is no ‘one size fits all’ recipe for an effective digest email (much of it is dependent on the unique qualities of your application, your business & your users), there are certainly some common elements that help contribute to success. 

I’m sure this list will grow and evolve over time, here are our TOP SIX guidelines for building effective digest emails. 

1 - BE USER-CENTRIC

This is by far the most important guideline. As with any feature you develop, the digests that are designed/developed from a user-centric perspective are simply more effective. The digest that are created by answering the question, "what information can we deliver to our users that will make their experience with our app more convenient, more pleasurable and more valuable" are much more effective and successful than the digests that are created by answering the question "how can we manipulate our users to do things we want them to do"? (you know who you are)

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As you are probably aware, these digest emails are highly effective for driving user engagement - but that doesn’t mean it needs to be forced. The emails that try to ‘force’ engagement ultimately turn readers off. Design your digests in a user-centric fashion.

2 - BE HIGHLY PERSONAL & RELEVANT

Every user in your system is unique and your emails should treat them as such. There is nothing more off-putting to a user than receiving a generic, mass email that dismisses their unique usage of your app. A few quick suggestions for personalizing your digest emails (with more coming in a future post):

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  1. This may sound silly & obvious, but you use their name in the email. This is low-hanging fruit, but important. Want to take it to the next level? Include their picture in the email. 
  2. Use user-specific data in your email. By this, we mean, use information and/or data that is unique to each user. This is very obvious for some apps (YOUR tasks, changes in YOUR network, etc), but not for others. Don’t just show users “hot posts for today” - show them “hot posts from your network” instead. Fitbit’s digest email works so well because it focuses almost exclusively on on highlighting the personal data generated by their users. Every email is unique & relevant.
  3. Create different digest emails for different segments of your user base. The most obvious example for this is an app (such as a CRM or product management app) with different user-types (or user-levels). Admin-level users are interested in different data/information than are Manager-level users. And Manager-level users are interested in different data/information than are Team Member-level users. Trying to craft a single digest email that will appease the needs/wants of these different user-types is ill-advised. You can (and should) also think about ways to segment your user base using metrics more tied to specific usage patterns (active vs inactive users; users of one feature vs another; etc). As much as possible, your segmentation should be based on the unique value that each user segment derives from your app. Create your digest emails to reflect those values.
  4. Customize the language in your emails based on  user-specific data. For example, if a user has a positive data point (ie - new friend count up 75%!), use a congratulatory message. On the flip side, if they have a negative data point (ie - no new posts created), craft a message that points them to some tips for improvement. Getting down to this granular level will take your digests to a whole new level. 

3 - MAKE THEM ACTIONABLE

This is both good for you AND for your users. For your users, it is very frustrating to receive emails that contain good/interesting information - that they can’t take any action on it.

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The starting point for this is simply providing smart links in your email. If you are showing a blog post headline in your email, make sure the reader can link to the post. If you mention a person who commented on the post, make sure to link to his/her profile from your email. 

The next level is to provide actual ‘actions’ in your email. Include “share” or “mark as done” or “follow on twitter” buttons/links within your email. Let your user actually act on the data you are providing.

And all this works in your favor. Ultimately, you want your users to be more engaged with your app. Enabling action in your digest emails is a great way to drive that engagement. 

4 - TIME THEM WELL

By “Timing”, I mean both “how often” and “what time”.

"How often" refers to daily vs weekly vs monthly (or some variation of that). You need to be mindful to not over, or under, send these emails. If the information if valuable on a daily basis, create a daily digest. If the data is more useful on a weekly basis, create a weekly digest. Create one of each if it makes sense for your users.

"What time" refers to the time of day you want your users to receive your email. Obviously, you want to optimize your open rates, but in order to do so, you need to really understand your users ‘life flow’ (yes, I just made this term up) and determine when they would most likely want/need this information. If they need the data right before a morning scrum meeting, then deliver first thing in the morning. If they want it when they have some down time to really digest it, then send it to them during an afternoon ‘lull time.’ The best digest emails are sent at a time at which the recipients most value the information.  

5 - HAVE PERSONALITY

The tone and personality of your digest emails should be consistent with your brand. Just because these digest emails will be mostly automated doesn’t mean they have to be robotic. Add some flair. Add some personality. Help people look forward to opening your emails.

6 - BE DYNAMIC - DON’T GET STALE

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This is one of the big problems with digest emails today - they become incredibly stale. Keeping these digests fresh and ever-evolving is very important. Here are a few suggestions for making more dynamic digest emails:

  1. Add custom/unique commentary to your emails. This does require some manual work, but one of the best things about the Product Hunt daily emails is the commentary that the founder adds at the beginning of each email.
  2. Change up some of the design elements. Try changing an image or colored background to keep things fresh. If you are a weather app, send a gray digest for cloudy days and a yellow one for sunny days. Play and be creative.
  3. Send different emails with slightly different data during the week. For example, try sending an email with one type of information on Monday/Wednesday/Friday and a different set of information on Tuesday/Thursday. 
  4. Iterate over time. This is very important. As your users and their usage evolve, so should your digests. As you app evolves, so should your digests. Don’t get stuck with stale digest emails!

As I mentioned, this list of important elements will most definitely grow and change over time, but we hope this serves as a really good starting point. Let us know if you have any suggestions that we missed!