The Art of...the Digest Email

In this installment of our "The Art of..." series, we will be diving into one of the most important and engaging emails you can send your users - the Digest email.

Our other "The Art of..." posts include The Art of the Welcome Email and The Art of the Notification Email.

What is a Digest email anyway?

A Digest email can come in many forms, but at it's most basic, a digest email is a summary email sent from an application on a regular schedule - usually daily or weekly.

These emails are borne from the idea of a "digest" or short summary of information presented in a form that is easily "digestable" (ie - Readers Digest).

Some of the most successful web companies make very effective uses of these types of emails. You see them every day - literally.

The Digest email that you are probably most very familiar with is the LinkedIn Daily Update digest.

-- One of the most successful digest emails ever - it has been absolutely essential for driving LinkedIn's engagement and growth. If there were an engagement email Hall-of-Fame, this would be the first inductee! --

The point of this email is to keep LinkedIn users up-to-date on the activities of their network without requiring them to log-in and discover these activities themselves (which they wouldn't do). With a single email, LinkedIn is able to show it's users the value of using LinkedIn - more specifically, the value of building out a network on LinkedIn.

You want to know what's happening to people in your real-life network? Well, connect with them on LinkedIn and we'll send you updates on a daily basis.

Brilliant. The actual value that this email has created for LinkedIn is very difficult to estimate, but it's safe to say that LinkedIn wouldn't have driven nearly the participation and engagement it has without this email.

Why Digest emails?

Digest emails are the Kings of the engagement emails for a few reasons:

  1. They are the most courteous of all emails.

Good digest emails (a) summarize important information in a way that makes it very easy for a reader to get value; and (b) delivers it right to...their inbox (where they are already spending most of their time).

Sending good digest emails to your users is like saying:

I care about your time. I want you to be able to get value out of our product without having to login and look for the important/relevant stuff. Here you go, here's what you need - all wrapped up in a nice little package and delivered to your doorstep.

-- Another Hall-of-Fame digest - the Mint Digest. As far as their users were concerned, this one little email became, essentially, the Mint product. After setting up a Mint account, a user can capture 90% of the value of the Mint service without ever having to login again - thanks to this email (and others). --

2. They drive great awareness

Because Digest emails are generally delivered on a regular schedule - typically daily or weekly, they are incredibly effective at keeping your brand top of mind with your users.

-- Another Hall-of-Fame digest - the Quora digest. A quick, easy summary of the best, most relevant posts from your network. --

3. They are highly personalized
Generally, Digest emails are hyper personalized - containing information about your personal activity with a product. This makes them incredibly helpful and a is a major reason why they have such high engagement rates.

-- Very helpful weekly digest for any writers on Medium. Great to know how your stories are doing without having to visit your dashboard. --

Five tips for good Digest emails

As mentioned earlier, smart, well conceived Digest emails can easily become your most important touch point with your users. But they also represent a bit of a risk. If your Digests don't provide good value to your users, their repetitive nature could become overbearing and lead to frustration (or unsubscribes).

In order to avoid this, we will offer the following tips for your Digest emails.

1. Think about your user first

This is by far the most important guideline. As with any feature you develop, digests that are designed/developed from a user-centric perspective are simply more effective. The Digest emails 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 successful emails.

-- This is a very helpful weekly email from Docsend. --

2. Be highly personal and relevant.

This is essential for Digest emails. A regular, recurring email simply must be personalized - right down to the user level when possible. These emails should use data from your product as content of the message. YOUR activity from the week, posts for YOU, YOUR connections, etc.

-- Super thoughtful and data-driven digest from Grammarly. --

Think about the dashboard of your app (if you have one) - items that you would put on the dashboard are good candidates for a Digest email. In fact, before building out a dashboard for your app, think about sending this data in a Digest email first.

-- Many applications base their entire service on a smart, Digest emails. UpHex is one such business that delivers smart, social & web metrics via email. --

3. Time them well

By “Timing”, we mean both “how often” and "at 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.

4. Have personality

The tone, personality and design 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.

5. Don't let it go stale

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:

Add custom/unique commentary to your emails. This does add more work, but it can have a great impact. One of the best things about the Product Hunt daily emails is the commentary that the founder adds at the beginning of each email.

-- The Product Hunt Digest and its custom commentary. --

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

In Conclusion...

Digest emails are one of the most, if not the most, engaging email you could send - the King of the engagement email. Whether you are a content business, or a B2B SaaS application, don't overlook the power they can have for your product and business. If you aren't already sending them, we suggest you get started. If you need more help putting this together, let us know - we'd be happy to help!