After a few months of development, it launched in closed beta in March 2010.
It took them 9 months to reach 10,000 users. Within a year and a half, Pinterest had grown to 12 million visitors per month.
After years of growth and several rounds of investment, Pinterest generated its first advertising revenue in 2014. It has since expanded its line of paid services with rich pins, business pages, and direct buy buttons.
As of October 2018, the site had over 250 million monthly active users.
Why an Email Marketing Teardown of Pinterest
Maybe it’s because Highlights is a SaaS platform, or maybe it ‘just happened’, but a reader was fair to point out that we’ve been almost exclusively tearing down the email programs of SaaS companies.
No matter the reason, we’ll try to re-balance that in the upcoming months.
So, why Pinterest specifically? Pinterest is a social network that’s been gaining a lot of ground in terms of content promotion; it’s actually a platform we’re actively evaluating at Highlights.
I had signed up for an account years ago. For a long time, Pinterest has been an example for good onboarding, great email marketing, and amazing user retention.
When I signed up again in early October, I was surprised to see that Pinterest had completely changed their onboarding sequence. When a service that’s doing great – in the eyes of many – makes big changes, it definitely catches our attention.
Pinterest’s team is clearly doing a lot of really good things on the product and marketing side, but did they just lose it? 🤪 Are they still good at email marketing? Let’s find out:
Pinterest’s Configuration & Welcome Email
It’s hard to review Pinterest’s email marketing program in isolation of the Pinterest website since they both work hand in hand.
With Pinterest, not only are user actions (e.g. pinning images or following users) used to inform email personalization, they’re are also doubled up by the website notification system to extend their impact:
Knowing this, it’s not too surprising to see the Pinterest experience start with configuration. To get started, users need to:
- Select their gender (Pinterest’s user base is >50% women);
- Pick their language and country;
- Select interests;
- Confirm their email address.
People have become accustomed to signup confirmation emails. Since so many services are sending them, they need no explanation, and thus should be kept simple.
Pinterest’s signup confirmation email is consistent with similar emails we’ve reviewed: it has a very functional subject line (“Please confirm your email”), little copy, and a big clear call-to-action.
It’s effective, but there are two challenges we see with beginning a site experience with configuration the way Pinterest does it:
- Striking the right balance between data capture and user effort to maximize profile completion;
- Managing exception flows and handling profiles with incomplete segmentation data (e.g. ✅ Confirmation email clicked, ❌ configuration skipped vs ❌ Confirmation email not clicked, ❌ configuration incomplete, etc.).
Let’s see how Pinterest uses this information to personalize their email sequences:
The Onboarding/Content Emails
What’s better than an effective email onboarding sequence?
Not. Needing. One.
It’s a testament to Pinterest’s simplicity (and stickiness!) that it needs little to no explanation and/or a traditional onboarding sequence.
Pinterest used to have a well-defined onboarding sequence (you can see it here). Maybe it’s because Pinterest is a visual product, but it now seems that they’re able to let the product value do the selling.
This allows users to dive straight into the content and simplifies overhead for Pinterest. That said, here are the first few content emails I got upon email confirmation:
- Day 0 – 📧 “📌 You’ve got 18 new ideas waiting for you!”
- Day 1 – 📧 “Hey, Francis! Don’t miss out on these Pins…”
- Day 4 – 📧 “You’ve got 18 new ideas waiting for you!”
- Day 5 – 📧 “18 most popular design Pins this week”
- Day 6 – 📧 “18 ideas in Design”
Maybe Pinterest doesn’t need an onboarding sequence, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not sending emails. They send a lot (53 emails in 6 weeks to be exact!).
With them sending this many emails, I would have expected more robust email preferences the way Product Hunt has it.
Although it’s great to allow users to reduce the number of emails they get, being able to control the types of emails is also important.
To help keep emails fresh (and perhaps reduce unsubscriptions), Pinterest varies the kinds of content they promote (popular pins, popular boards, category pins, etc). It’s very subtle, but it gives them various ways to engage their users with content.
Onboarding/Content Email Breakdown
Pinterest’s email marketing program is all about subtleties.
At a glance, if you were to quickly scroll through the rest of this post (Don’t 😬), you’d see a lot of emails that look the same because they have similar structures:
- A clear title creating context for the content;
- 3 columns with pins and labels;
- A call to action.
The model makes it easy to access content: attractive visuals, big click zones, and an easy way to browse through the content: by scrolling 🖱. It’s very effective.
Upon closer look though, there’s a bit more than meets the eye. For example, the above first email ☝️ shows home page pins, while the next shows pin recommendations 👇. Subtle, but different.
Pinterest’s subject lines are effective; they’re more on the functional than the creative side and sometimes use first name personalization.
Pinterest repeats subject lines, which is typically frowned upon. In their case however, since the objective is user engagement, it might not a bad thing as it might actually help create user expectations.
Although the content emails are good and the simple layout is easy to experiment with, there’s something to be said about breaking subscriber expectations…
Unless you’re opening their emails daily (I wasn’t), Pinterest’s content emails eventually all start to feel the same. Since 90%+ of their emails use the same template, it might be good idea to introduce a bit more variety in terms of templates. This could help keep the sequence fresh.
One thing that was surprisingly ineffective was their use of preview texts ☝️.
Seeing weird image urls in the inbox before even opening the emails sends the message that the templates might be broken. Preview text would be a good place to re-use pin labels to drive more opens.
The Behavioral Emails
Buried within the avalanche of emails are behavioral emails. Since I had pinned 1 illustration, I was sent the following emails:
It’s a great idea to leverage user actions and engagement to drive additional engagement.
The section ‘Inspired by the board’ at the bottom helps create context for the recommendations. It’s a subtle way to show that Pinterest’s content recommendations are smart and tailored to the user’s taste.
Sending a second behavioral email later during the same day is an interesting decision…
As I’ve not engaged with the first email, it felt a bit too much, but maybe Pinterest’s email engagement data paints a different picture.
Overall, Pinterest makes really good use of behavioral emails.
However, since behavioral emails are seemingly added on top of the regular content sequences, I’m a bit worried with the amount of emails I’d get if I were truly engaged with the platform.
It’s a good idea to prioritize behavioral emails above more generic emails. It’s also a good idea to monitor the number of emails users receive and match that information to email unsubscribes, especially when email preferences only have 3 modes: all, some, and just the about and privacy emails…
The Expansion Emails
Pinterest didn’t completely get rid of its onboarding sequence.
Occasionally, they send expansion emails designed to broaden the use of the platform, deepen engagement and… fuel Pinterest’s behavioral data.
On Day 5, Pinterest suggested alternate searches based on current interests. It’s a good way to engage and open doors while showcasing site search. For this sequence, they did use different email templates, which is good.
Generating subject lines with keywords (e.g. “poster layout, paper art and more ideas to search for”) can be surprisingly effective when it feels personalized.
Although open rates will fluctuate based on the keywords used, it creates new opportunities to hit a nerve with subscribers. In the end, with the volume of emails Pinterest sends, open rate fluctuations probably aren’t too much an issue.
With expansion emails, Pinterest manages to use the basic site functionalities (search, boards and follows) to both promote the feature and showcase new content. Their expansion emails help with onboarding and content discovery, which is very clever.
38 days after signup, it seems like Pinterest is finally running out of recommendations (I had shown little to no engagement after all); asking for new interests helps them restart the recommendation cycle.
To that end, it’s an effective email with clear images and one-click selections. I’m just not too sure why I would be interested in ‘paper quilling’, but maybe I just don’t know myself enough… 🤔
Email Marketing Teardown – Takeaways
No email marketing program is perfect. Let’s look at what Pinterest is doing well… and less well:
- ✅ Strong use of user-generated content to drive platform engagement;
- ✅ Effective behavioral emails;
- ✅ Email content is synced with website notifications to amplify messaging;
- ✅ Strong subject lines;
- ✅ Clean and simple email templates;
- ✅ Good link and performance tracking (even on the Pinterest logo!).
- ❌ Email sequence overlaps (with days receiving 2-3 emails);
- ❌ Lost opportunities to better handle email subscription preferences;
- ❌ Ineffective use of email preview texts;
- ❌ Email template repetition that makes the content feel more repetitive than it is.
Email Marketing Teardown – Score
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. – Clare Boothe Luce, Playwright
Pinterest is doing a lot of really good things with emails. They use their content to engage their user base and showcase the value of the product.
Although they make good use of data, personalization, and behavioral emails, they manage to keep their email marketing program simple.
They have some challenges in terms of sequence overlaps and subscription management, but the core mechanics are effective. The Pinterest team is clearly spending a lot of time refining their user segmentation and optimizing their emails.
Final score: 9.2/10 👍
Do you agree with us? Let us know in the comments below.👇
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