4 Ways to Drive Engagement with Email Content Recommendation

6 minute read

Upland Admin

In the old days, good recommendations were hard to come by. People who wanted to find, say, new music would turn to record store workers, raid their older siblings’ albums, or just scribble down the band names from the patches on some punk’s spiked vest.

Fortunately, those terrible times have gone the way of the 8-track.

Now, the internet thrives on recommendation. Spotify edges out other music services with its eerily great personalized playlists. Netflix keeps people down and out for hours with its suggested viewing material. And according to a 2016 Reuters Institute of Journalism report, email is pretty good at content recommendation too. How so?

When publishers create hundreds of pieces of content each day, they need a way to “surface” select content in a manageable way. Newsletters allow publishers to create a focused experience for readers to find content they like. They’re also pretty handy for pointing readers towards articles they might not have expressed interest in, prolonging their engagement with new kinds of content.

Our recommendation for you? Try incorporating content recommendation into your email newsletters to drive engagement. Here are a few ways that you can keep your audience entertained with great new content.

Curate content manually with editor-selected recommendations.

Content curation can be as easy as throwing a few links into your next email newsletter. You can point subscribers to your newest content, bring some older evergreen content to the reader’s attention, or even just spotlight an assortment of articles you’ve read recently and thought others would enjoy as well.

While it may seem simplistic, manually curating your own content through email can have significant benefits. Email is the best way to direct your audience back to your owned channels and keep them there. A site visitor from social media will rack up 2.3 lifetime page views on your site. Meanwhile, on average, visitors who subscribe to your email newsletter will view your content at least 40 times.

Even publishers who don’t always link to their own content benefit from curation. Rather than seeing their email program as merely a traffic generator, publishers like Vox and Quartz use their newsletters as a means of building trust with their readers. Their newsletters ensure that their smart, news-hungry audiences have the most complete information, even if it means sending them elsewhere. When audience relationships are everything for publishers, this approach pays off too.

Cross-promote your content across newsletters or verticals.

You don’t have to limit your content recommendation approach to individual articles. Instead, you can use curation to point readers towards entire sections of content. If you have multiple newsletter offerings or verticals on your site, you can reserve space in your newsletter for articles from other newsletters, or even show off another newsletter itself, inviting the reader to subscribe to that one too.

While growing your email list is crucial to publisher success, encouraging additional newsletter signups can increase engagement and nurture the subscribers you already have. The more newsletters an individual reader receives, the more chances you have to reach out to them. Publishers typically count their email subscribers among their most engaged audiences, and if you can coax these readers to check out different verticals or newsletters, they might carry this appetite for content to different areas of your site.

For premium publishers, this broadened engagement might affect your subscription revenue, particularly for publishers who saw a surge of subscriptions around the 2016 election. When it’s speculated that consuming a mix of political and non-political content correlates with increased likelihood of subscription retention, encouraging diverse content consumption might be what you need to ride out the Trump Bump.

Automate your content curation with RSS feeds and CMS integration.

But what if you don’t feel like curating content yourself? Well, if you automate your newsletter creation, your emails can curate themselves. With CMS integration or RSS automation capabilities, content curation can be as simple as adding a tag or two to your content. Your email newsletters can populate this tagged content for you, all without any extra work.

You can use tagging to build newsletters with content from a particular vertical or about a certain topic, all while making sure that certain articles of your choosing are automatically included or excluded.  Whether you automate a small section of a single newsletter or your entire newsletter arsenal, you’ll spend less time curating and more time creating the content that keeps your audiences coming back.

Ultimately, it’s important to find an email service provider that allows you to see the full benefits of email automation by integrating with your other technology. 77% of publishers surveyed in the Publishing Executive survey said the biggest deciding factor in evaluating new technology is seamless integration, and with the potential benefits at stake, it’s easy to see why. PostUp integrates directly with WordPress and Drupal, and publishers can use RSS feeds to interact with any other CMS.

Use audience data to personalize content recommendations in the inbox.

The internet is jampacked with content recommendation widgets, rewarding readers who finish one article with a slew of low-quality articles from across the web. These recommendations might generate a little revenue, but they don’t drive engagement with your own content. They don’t win over audiences either.

Instead, give your email subscribers the content they really want by incorporating 1:1 personalization into your email newsletter program. PostUp’s integration with Parse.ly allows publishers to populate their email newsletters with tailored content recommendations. If those readers have no engagement history, semantic analysis ensures that the recommendations are related to the current content. This integration can also suppress articles the subscriber has already read or use slotting algorithms to prioritize certain articles.

You could use personalization to provide a small section of tailored content in each newsletter, or you could even create a newsletter with nothing but personalized content recommendations. The Austin American-Statesman sent out a wholly personalized email and saw increased email engagement for that particular newsletter. Still, publishers who don’t have sufficient data may find more overall email success by encouraging readers to subscribe to multiple newsletters across verticals, using personalized sections as part of a broader email strategy.

If you have the audience data to make it work, 1:1 newsletter personalization can keep your known audiences engaged with great content recommendations. Like that cool record store worker or older sibling who knows about all the latest new content. Or the battle-jacketed punk, if that’s more your thing.

Email can drive engagement among your known audience, but how do you build that audience? Watch our free, on-demand webinar, “How Publishers Can Convert Unknown Visitors into Known Audiences.” We highly recommend it. 

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