Email with Purpose: How your inbox can help you grow your blog

If you don’t get a lot of email right now, you will someday.

That might sound negative, but I’m predicting your future success. 🙂

Here’s how it’ll work: Your blog will continue to grow, and as your blog continues to grow so will the number of people you impact, and the more people you impact the more people will email you.

It’s a good problem to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

But it’s possible for emails to be a pleasure, not a pain, and to be helpful, not hurtful. You just need to make sure that you approach email with a purpose, and that purpose should be to help you grow your blog.

Graphic of computer with mail letters that reads 'Email with Purpose: How Your Inbox Can Help You Grow Your Blog'

There are two general types of emails:

  1. I want to say hi.
  2. I need some help.

The first type of email gives you a chance to connect with one of your readers. If you can, you should try and respond to these emails. Showing someone you heard what they said (and that you genuinely care) can go a long way.

The second type of email comes from someone that has a problem. The primary goal for this emailer is to solve their problem, not necessarily to connect or say hi.

These emails, the “I need some help emails,” are the type of emails I’d like to talk about in this post.

Why I need help emails are awesome

  1. They show you what’s broken.
  2. They show you what problems people have.

1. They show you what’s broken

When you’re building a blog you quickly learn that things are breaking all. the. time. Even when something isn’t actually broken there will be times when people think that it’s broken.

Here’s the thing though: Online, if someone thinks something is broken, then it is broken.

Example Email

I’m trying to find your peach green smoothie recipe but I can’t. I tried searching but it’s not coming up. Did you take the recipe down?

It doesn’t matter if the search feature on your blog actually works or not. If you hear from multiple people that it’s not working then something is wrong with your blog’s user experience. It might technically be working, but if your users can’t figure it out, then it’s as if it’s not working.

Here’s an example of how this recently played out with Food Blogger Pro:

After launching the Community Forum, FBP members started to send private messages. I received a few emails (and private messages, ironically enough) from members saying that it was really hard to find the private messages area.

I responded by saying this:

Hey there! Here’s how you can get to the Private Messages area:

  1. Click on Account
  2. Click on Update Your Profile
  3. Click on Inbox
  4. There you go! Private Messages.

What?!? That’s a terrible user experience. Who in their right mind would think to click on Update Your Profile in order to get to Private Messages?

After a few emails it occurred to me that the real issue wasn’t that users couldn’t find the private messages, the issue was that the website was poorly designed.

I quickly made an update to make the Private Messages page more prominent in the Account area.

Food Blogger Pro account page with 'Private Messages' highlighted in red

Action item: When you get a “I need help, something’s broken” email this week see if there’s something you can do to fix the root issue instead of just responding with a work around solution.

2. They show you what problems people have

One of the best ways to create an income from your blog is by creating a product that helps people solve a problem.

One of the best ways to figure out a problem you can help solve is by paying close attention to the I need help emails that you get.

Example Email

I love your blog! I was thinking of starting a blog but I have no idea where to start. Do you have any advice for me?

On Pinch of Yum (my wife Lindsay’s blog) I write a monthly report where I share the things we’re learning about building a blog and creating a profit from it. Once we got to the point where we were consistently making over $1,000 dollars a month we started to get quite a few “I need help” emails from readers.

These emails were like arrows pointing us in the direction of what would develop into Food Blogger Pro.

Action item: Create a “problem log” to keep track of the questions you get asked. Use this “problem log” as a guide for creating a product that you can eventually offer to your readers.

Why I need help emails are bad

Don’t get me wrong, I need help emails are not always rainbows and butterflies (or cute piglets prancing through the yard).

Bad emails are the ones that:

  1. Contain problems that people want to have solved as quickly as possible and
  2. Could have been solved without an email.

Example Emails:

I just purchased your eBook and was unable to download it. I tried to find the download email again but I couldn’t. Can you help me?

I’m having trouble logging into Food Blogger Pro. I have tried to reset the password to the account several times but it doesn’t work.

Is there something wrong with our account?

When it comes to emails like this, the best customer service is no customer service.

Let me explain.

It’s kind of like going into a really busy coffee shop to get a cup of coffee. The line is out the door, but you notice that there’s a self-service option where you can put money into a can, pour your coffee, and go on your merry way. Everyone wins! The coffee shop gets paid, the barista saves time, and you save time while still getting your coffee (there’s a great YouTube video from ZenDesk that helps paint the picture of that analogy).

In a case like this, the best customer service is no customer service. Said differently, the best customer service is a self-service line.

This can be something as simple as an FAQ page.

With an FAQ page, the customer doesn’t have to wait to get their problem solved and the blogger (that’s you!) doesn’t have to spend time replying to the question.

It’s a waste of everyone’s time if you’re getting I need help emails that could have been solved with an FAQ or dedicated support page. In cases like this you want to do whatever you can to build virtual self-service lines that will help people quickly get their question answered without having to get in touch with you.

Action item: Create an FAQ page or dedicated support page on your blog to cut down on the I need help emails that could be solved without an email.

So what does mean for me and my blog?

It depends on where you’re at with your blog.

Here are my suggestions based on your blog size and the number of emails you get:

1. Create a basic contact form (beginning blog w/ low email load)

When you’re just starting out, your email load will probably be pretty manageable. The main objective is creating a contact page that allows your readers to get in touch with you.

Create a new page in WordPress and call it “Contact.” Sign up for the free version of Wufoo and create a basic form with fields for (1) Name (2) Email and (3) Message/Question.

I like to use Wufoo because it’s not as buggy as the contact forms that integrate directly into WordPress. Wufoo will also store the form submissions so you can retrieve information in case you accidentally delete the email.

2. Create a “smart” contact page (midsized blog w/ medium email load)

The idea with a smart contact page is that it helps direct people to the right place before they hit submit. Pinch of Yum currently uses a smart contact page by utilizing some advanced features with Wufoo.

Here’s a video explaining how we set this form up on Pinch of Yum:

3. Setup a support ticket system (business blogger w/ high email load)

The support ticket system allows for a really high level of functionality. The other advantage with a support ticket system is that it allows you to delegate support tickets to a team of people.

You probably don’t need this type of support ticketing system unless you have a really high number of emails related to products or services that you offer.

We implemented a support ticket system for Food Blogger Pro for three reasons:

  1. We want Food Blogger Pro to feel like a business vs. a personal blog. The support ticket system helps to provide a professionalness to the site (the word professionalness, however, does not provide a professionalness to the site.)
  2. We found that there were some really common questions that people had about their membership subscription. The ticketing system made it really easy to create a system for the “self-service” type of customer service.
  3. We will eventually hire an employee to help with customer support, in which case we’ll need to have a ticket support system setup and ready to use.

We’re using ZenDesk for our support ticket system. Here are the features we’re using right now:

1. Support tab

The support tab allows us to put a little tab on the account page.

Food Blogger Pro support button indicated with red arrow

When people click on this a search window comes up where people can search for answers to their question.

Food Blogger Pro 'How can we help you?' popup

2. Request received emails

Before, when people would email the FBP support email address it would go straight to my inbox and the sender wouldn’t get a confirmation email. Occasionally we’d get people that would follow up and ask “Did that email get through?”

This problem doesn’t exist any more, as we now have a “request received” email that goes out after someone submits a support request.

Food Blogger Pro email

3. Dedicated support page

The dedicate support page allows us to build out a set of frequently asked questions.

Food Blogger Pro support page

These questions also loop into the search function on the support tab.

Food Blogger Pro common support questions

There you have it: emails with purpose!

Sometimes emails gets a bad rap. I get it…they can take up a lot of time. But if you work hard to eliminate the bad emails then you’ll be left with the helpful emails that will help you continue to grow your blog.

Speaking of growing your blog…

…we’d love to have you join Food Blogger Pro! You can learn more about FBP and this community of food bloggers by visiting the home page or reading through the forums.

What about you?

Do you have any tips for handling emails and interacting with readers? Do you respond to all of the emails you get? Just some? Do you have any customer service tips?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading!

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