Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt

by Etienne Garbugli 2 comments.

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Product Hunt was started in 2013 by Ryan Hoover.

What started as an experiment running through a Linkydink newsletter soon became a website, a community, and, eventually, turned into the best place to launch a product.

After years growing the community, Product Hunt was acquired by investment platform AngelList in 2016.

Today, Product Hunt has more than 1.3M users. It’s been a launching ground for Station, Carrd and Nomad List, but also Amazon Go, Slack and Stripe Atlas.

Why an Email Marketing Teardown of Product Hunt

We’ve been debating for months whether or not we should be launching Highlights on Product Hunt.

On the plus side, it can drive a lot of traffic to the site. The traffic is high-quality with a lot of early adopters willing to try different kinds of products.

On the down side, we want to remain focused on inbound marketing. Signing up all types of users can distract us from our vision.

That said, we ❤️ the discoveries, the community, and the Product Hunt brand. Miaow. ?

The Product Hunt team is doing a lot of really good things on the community and marketing side, but how good are they really at email marketing? Let’s find out:

The Welcome Email

Signup on Product Hunt is either done through Twitter, Facebook or AngelList. This means that, on signup, they receive an email address, an avatar and a full name; they make good use of this data.

As Dale Carnegie once wrote, people love to hear their own name. That’s why an email with my full name in the subject line (and an emoji! ?) – something most businesses don’t do – catches my attention.

Welcome Email – Subject Line: “Hi, Etienne Garbugli! ?” (Sent Immediately After Signup)

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt's Welcome Email

The email sent from Jake does a good job of explaining the value of Product Hunt. It’s just a shame that we don’t ever hear from him again after this email. ?

Although we typically recommend having one call-to-action (CTA) per email, community users are in full exploration mode. For a site like Product Hunt, it can be a good idea to introduce the different functionality groups in the Welcome email.

That said, the email copy could be made a lot more scannable and actionable with better formatting. We all receive several emails per day. A block of text is not the most appealing email format.

Email Confirmation Email – Subject Line: “Please confirm your email ??” (Sent on Day 1)

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt's Email Confirmation

Surprisingly, the next day, I received an email asking me to confirm my email address.

Product Hunt could have relied on the authentication service’s (Twitter, Facebook or AngelList) email verification or look at bounces from the Welcome email, but they still chose to send this email…

My suspicion ? is that this email is not even needed. They use this email as an opportunity for engagement (note the P.S. linking to their latest product, Ship…).

Subscribers react differently to obvious system (or transactional) emails than they do to emails from brands or personal senders. Depending on the situation, one (or the other) might work best for you. This can be worth exploring for your organization.

The Nurturing Emails (a.k.a. The Product Hunt Newsletter)

Product Hunt started as a newsletter; they clearly mastered the art of the content emails.

On the day of signup, they send the first Product Hunt newsletter. The one I received had a really strong subject line (“Is this the next Robinhood? ??”), and delivered on the core value (product discovery) of the service.

With emails this long (3 to 5 screens), it’s a good idea to give readers an option to view the content in a browser. It’s also an opportunity to create a sharing loop to grow the subscription list:

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt's View Online Option
Product Hunt – View Online (With Sharing and Subscription Options)

The core content (the Top Hunts) is at the bottom of the email. This forces subscribers to scroll to the bottom of the email, and perhaps read the post and the ads on the way.

These emails have a lot of different links increasing the likelihood that the reader will visit the Product Hunt website.

Daily Hunt Email 1 – Subject Line: “Is this the next Robinhood? ??” (Sent Immediately After Signup)

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt's Daily Hunt

Daily Hunt Email 2 – Subject Line: “Make OS X Great Again ?✨” (Sent on Day 1)

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt's Daily Hunt

The next day – and everyday, five days a week – I received high-quality content emails.

One thing that quickly stood out is how much Product Hunt’s team loves emojis. Almost all of their emails use emojis in the subject lines.

Emojis attract the eye in the inbox, but as we talked about before with P.S. at the bottom of emails, abusing certain hacks ultimately leads to fatigue… emoji fatigue?!

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt's Love for Emojis
Product Hunt ❤️s Emojis

It takes good processes and/or a big operation to put out this quality of emails everyday:

  1. Ideas;
  2. Curation;
  3. Writing;
  4. Design;
  5. Integration;
  6. Tests;
  7. Repeat.

We can only assume how important the Product Hunt newsletter is to the growth and engagement of their community.

An informal rule with email marketing is to send more often than you’re comfortable. If the emails are (and remain) relevant, it won’t necessarily lead to more unsubscribes.

Perhaps to ward off unsubscribes, or because they had problems before, Product Hunt has fairly advanced email subscription options (frequency and type of emails). This helps reduce the number of complete unsubscribes, and gives their team different ways to reengage and upsell subscribers:

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt's Email Notification Checklist
Product Hunt – Email Subscription Options

If recipients prefer to receive weekly digests, they receive the Monday email. The only real difference is the date range of the top hunts:

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt's Dynamic Content
Product Hunt – Weekly Digest Hunts

For subscribers receiving emails daily, the Monday email includes the best products from the weekend.

The email content assembly is done dynamically through their email automation platform (MailerLite). As we’ll see below, they also use Intercom.

The Behavioral Emails

Another core part of the community site’s email program is the behavioral emails that they send when users follow each other, or when a new product gets posted.

These types of behavioral emails are great opportunities to drive engagement and promote certain community behaviors.

New Follower Email – Subject Line: “Yay! New friend. {Follower’s Full Name} just followed you ?” (Sent Immediately After the Follow)

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt's New Follower Email

As with the Welcome email, the new follower email leverages familiarity. Because I was connected through another social network with someone, using their name catches my attention and makes me want to open the email.

The email is clean and to the point. It reinforces the community aspect by pointing out Davis’s tastes and previous creation.

New Product Email – Subject Line: “{Follower’s Full Name} just posted “{Product Name}” on Product Hunt” (Sent Immediately After Publishing)

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt New Product Email

The new product email is just as effective. It makes good use of social proof by using Hiten’s name and photo. It also frames it as a personal message by adding a quote. It has a single, extremely-actionable CTA that drives a core behavior (upvoting a product).

More so, it points the blame to the person posting the product if I don’t like the recommendation in the email (e.g. “unfollow Hiten Shah”). It’s a good way to force self-regulation on the site and improve hunt quality.

The Onboarding Emails

As a way to help the community and monetize the website, Product Hunt released Ship in September 2017. Ship is a suite of tools to help makers generate demand for the products they create.

To launch the product, they created an invite-only waiting list – they had also done this with the original launch of Product Hunt – to create scarcity.

It took a few months, but I eventually got an invite:

Ship Invitation Email – Subject Line: “Your invite to Ship by Product Hunt ⛵️” (Sent After Pre-Approval)

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt's Ship Invitation Email

They used Intercom to send this email and the ensuing onboarding sequence.

Although it probably helps them create email and in-app message interactions (a good way to get results), it makes it hard to track the full email program when it’s scattered across different tools. Note: You can get a cross-tool view of an email marketing program’s performance with Highlights.

Part of the issue with their Intercom setup is that they don’t use proper link tracking. In other words, they get a single click rate even when their emails have multiple links and call-to-actions. This makes it particularly challenging to tie intent with the behaviors on-site.

It took me 3 months to have a project to use Ship with. When I set up the page, this is the onboarding sequence I received:

The use of the same emoji ⛵️ from one subject line to another is a nice touch. It helps group visually the emails under one product. It’s also a ship… as in Ship

Onboarding Email Breakdown

Ship’s onboarding follows SaaS best practices. The objective of the emails is to bring the user back to the Ship dashboard while expanding their perception of the value of the product:

Onboarding Email #1 – Subject Line: “Can we help with your product? ⛵” (Sent Immediately After Getting Started with Ship)

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt's Onboarding Email #1

The onboarding sequence is sent from Nick (Words at Product Hunt & AngelList). Sending from a personal account opens the door to responses, which is generally a good idea when launching new products.

The copy is focused on helping users find success with the product.

Onboarding Email #2 – Subject Line: “How to get more subscribers for your product ⛵” (Sent on Day 4)

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt's Onboarding Email #2

The second email of the series tackles how to get traffic to a Ship (Upcoming) page. It’s encouraging, uses cat humor and provides high-level advices to find success with the product.

Onboarding Email #3 – Subject Line: “Your subscribers want to hear from you! ⛵” (Sent on Day 8)

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt's Onboarding Email #3

The third email of the series expands on the value of the product hinting at premium features like surveys.

The email fails to utilize the user’s on-site actions and works with assumptions when the data is most likely available (“If you haven’t already…”). This leads to an unfocused list of suggestions, a generic link to the dashboard, and disengagement towards the rest of the emails in this sequence if the user has already completed those tasks.

A better approach to this is to look at the features the user has already engaged with and make specific recommendations based on key features they haven’t tried. This helps increase engagement and reduces subscriber disengagement.

Onboarding Email #3 – Subject Line: “The secret to getting more email subscribers ⛵” (Sent on Day 12)

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt's Onboarding Email #4

The fourth and final email of the sequence introduces another value of the product by leveraging good social proof pointing to respected makers and investors. It does however makes similar assumptions and fails to provide a clear reason to access the Ship dashboard (“…here’s a link to your Ship dashboard.”).

With better targeting, Product Hunt could increase the length of its onboarding sequence to showcase more of the unique functionalities of the product.

Although Product Hunt is not focused on revenue, I would have expected some kind of direct upsell at the end of the email sequence.

The Feature Update Email

Although a community site like Product Hunt, does not have the same pressure to release new features as SaaS platforms like Hotjar or Drift, they do release and advertise new functionalities:

Privacy Policy Update Email – Subject Line: “Privacy Policy update ?” (Sent on Day 3)

Email Marketing Teardown – Product Hunt's Privacy Policy Update

Other than Ship, the only ‘feature’ email I received was their privacy policy update. Since I received the email in July (not May), my understanding is that it was included in their automation sequence.

This can be reassuring and get some engagement from users, but again, it does not make good use of their subscribers’ data (e.g. “If you use Ship…”).

As a rule of thumb, if you find yourself using ‘if’ in your email copy, you might be in a position to further segment your email campaign targeting.

Email Marketing Teardown – Takeaways

No email marketing program is perfect. Let’s look at what Product Hunt is doing well… and less well:

The Good

  • ✅ Strong subject lines. Good use of emojis. They’re clearly having fun with the copy;
  • ✅ Good use of behavior emails to engage the community;
  • ✅ Flexible options to manage email subscriptions;
  • ✅ Engaging email copy;
  • ✅ Good use of name personalization.

The Bad

  • ❌ Some of the emails are fairly lengthy and could use a bit of tightening;
  • ❌ Product Hunt could better segment its email sequences (especially Ship’s onboarding);
  • ❌ No attempt to upsell Ship users;
  • ❌ Inconsistent link tracking from one email marketing platform to the other.

Email Marketing Teardown – Score


Interested in building an email program like Product Hunt?

We just launched a SaaS Email Masterclass ? to help increase trial conversions with email.

Product Hunt is doing a lot of really good things with emails. The Product Hunt newsletter has solid copy, their behaviorial emails are engaging, and Ship’s onboarding sequence hits a lot of good points.

They’ve shown a willingness to invest in email, but could make better use of automation and the data at their disposal.

The operation part of their email strategy is really impressive as they’re able to churn high-quality emails five days a week. Considering the quality of their subject lines, you can tell that they test and optimize their emails, what Highlights is all about.

Overall, Product Hunt shows it has a few areas to improve, but their investment in email marketing is clearly paying off:

Final score: 8.5/10 ?

Do you agree with us? Let us know in the comments below.?

P.S. Enjoying our email teardowns? Sign up to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss any.

Etienne Garbugli
Étienne is a three-time startup founder (Flagback, HireVoice and Highlights), and the author of Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want. At Highlights, Étienne is responsible for customer success.


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