How I built a 500 email, 4 Month Email Series for FindLectures.com

A few months ago, I launched a discovery engine for lectures, called FindLectures.com. To keep quality high, I manually select individual presentations, speakers, and video collections for inclusion — now over 125,000 talks.

Many people struggle to finish Coursera courses, so I prioritize standalone talks. Even so, a search engine full of options can be overwhelming, so I offer an email list where I send the best talks I’ve seen. I was initially was unsure if anyone would care, so I didn’t write any emails until a dozen people signed up.

As it turned out, once I launched the site over 500 people signed up. This isn’t a huge list, but it’s comparable in size to the email list of a typical church or small non-profit.

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I periodically get wonderful responses like this:

“I just love this newsletter! I usually find at least one of the lectures very interesting and watch it later.
Thank you so much for this =)”

Most people sign up through a pop-up in the lower right hand corner. One person wrote a blog post reviewing FindLectures.com, including a note about how this annoyed him. Another asked me to add a form so he could send a link to his coworkers and students.

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So far, 3% of people who visit the site request the emails — but a surprising number fail to confirm the subscription. I’m not sure why this is. I found that the meaning of “subscribe” varies by cultural background—one gentleman wrote in concerned that he had purchased something.

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I thought I might run out of material to send, but it hasn’t happened yet!

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Emails go out at 9:00 AM on a Monday, and “opens” spike around this time. I suspect a lot of people watch videos over their lunch break — you can some evidence in the spike around noon:

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Unsubscribes


Recommending that someone watch a half hour video is not a neutral act. The best videos seep into your mind and change how you think. It’s difficult to know if a talk will interest a global audience — depending on your perspective, a single lecture could be too technical, fluffy, or edgy. Many people also prefer the convenience of podcasts, especially for listening in the car or at jobs without wi-fi.

When people don’t get value from they emails, they eventually unsubscribe. Typically this is visible in their usage history, by either not opening emails or not clicking links.

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The email list is set up like a class — every person starts from the beginning, so these emails are still useful if I’m ever unable to continue. A nice benefit of this is that if there is spelling error in an email, it only goes out to a few people.

Occasionally someone unsubscribes and later returns, so for the time being they will resume where they left off.

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Email software removes an address if the recipient hits ‘report spam’ or the address bounces. For a list of this size, I only need 2–3 new emails per week to keep growing, at the rate people are unsubscribing.

Monetization


A few friends asked if I have plans to “monetize” this project. I did include Amazon affiliate links to speaker’s books — they get a few clicks, but on average each click is worth pennies. I imagine this would be more valuable if there was a call-to-action, or if I was selling an item directly.

The following screenshot shows the clicks for an individual email:

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Notice that I copied a marketing tactic from Cooper Press — URLs to talks include UTM parameters, which causes click-throughs to display in Google Analytics for the target website as an advertising campaign.

Marketing


If you read along this far, you might be interested to know where all these people came from — there was an initial spike from The Next Web and Life Hacker, followed by smaller traffic spikes from some smaller blogs and large Facebook pages.

Below, I’ve taken screenshots of each month of each month:

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Next Steps


This is still a fun project, so I’m going to keep writing the emails.

I moved the list to AWeber. This has allowed me to seamlessly add a Typeform survey on signup. Several people already filled out the survey, and I learned that there is huge demand for curated software development talks.

AWeber is big on ‘personalization’ of emails, so I’m looking forward to experimenting with this aspect of the product. I’m considering adding a personalized ‘track’ to the emails, which would give me more opportunities to promote speakers directly.

If you read this far and I’ve sold you on this project, sign up for my emails or follow @findlectures on twitter!