Every new email subscriber or customer is an opportunity to connect…or to annoy.

You want your welcome emails to be on the right side of the excited vs. overbearing, or personalized vs. just plain creepy spectrum. But there are so many use cases for welcome emails.  How do you know what to send, to whom, and when?

We’ve tried just about every welcome and onboarding email idea you can think of in the six years I’ve been at Litmus. Here are some of the most important aspects that contribute to an impactful welcome journey, based on what I’ve learned first-hand.

What is a welcome email journey?

A welcome email journey, also called an onboarding series or welcome emails, supports new subscribers or customers.

The details of your welcome emails vary based on who’s receiving them. For example, a new newsletter subscriber and a free trial customer have different expectations and goals when they open an email from you. For example, a product demo GIF would seem random to someone who thought they would see your best blog posts.

The most common ways to use a welcome journey are to:

  • Share your best content with new newsletter subscribers to increase engagement and nurture leads
  • Teach free trial customers about your product to help them reach the ‘aha’ moment and upgrade to a paid account
  • Introduce new paid customers to your brand and product line

The welcome emails you’ll use depend on what type of organization you’re at, like a SaaS vs. an e-commerce company. Here at Litmus, we have two primary email welcome journeys. The first is a lead nurture series for new subscribers that we use to introduce Litmus and our content. The second is a customer onboarding series for new free trial users.

8 welcome email tips I’ve learned from six years at Litmus

During my time at Litmus, we’ve experimented with our welcome and onboarding emails countless times, and we learn something new each time.

Here are eight tips and best practices for welcome emails that I hope can help you and your team.

1. Create visually distinct welcome emails

Our welcome emails are visually distinct from our monthly Litmus newsletter templates. We choose to use different designs for these emails for two main reasons:

  1. It helps new subscribers differentiate the emails, since they obviously don’t know the mechanics of our email sequences.

Litmus Newsletter subscribers receive a welcome email right away with links to top content.

Newsletter subscribers receive a welcome email right away with links to top content.

2. Visually unique designs help keep subscribers from feeling overwhelmed by emails.

The first welcome email is sent immediately after signup. Then, they get a weekly nurture email in addition to the monthly Litmus News newsletter. If all of these emails look the same, it might set the expectation that we’ll send multiple emails a week all the time (which we don’t).

2. Acknowledge trial signups immediately (in case people forget)

Raise your hand if you’ve ever signed up for a free trial or newsletter and immediately got distracted by another task. I know I’m guilty. Sometimes people who sign up for free trials aren’t ready to jump in, so we ensure they have a reminder in their inbox. The transactional email acknowledges their free trial so they can log in later. Then, we send five onboarding emails over the seven-day free trial. We also like to give folks a heads-up in the initial email about what types of emails we’ll send in the coming days.

The first free trial email lets customers know their account is ready. 

3. Introduce content and features based on previous actions

I once received an onboarding email with a screenshot from deep within a feature I hadn’t touched yet. It was a bit confusing to jump into what felt like the middle of a story in progress.

Incremental growth and exploration are much less intimidating than big leaps forward. If you can, use action-based triggers to send welcome emails. When introducing a new feature or use case during onboarding emails, try to tie it into something the customer has already interacted with.

For example, we wouldn’t want to introduce Litmus Email Analytics to someone who hasn’t created a single email yet. Instead, we could wait to send an email about analyzing engagement after someone created, tested, and sent an email during their free trial. One of the first actions we introduce during a free trial is seeing how your current emails look across more than 300,000 potential renderings.

Each free trial welcome email has one action for folks to explore.

4. Collect customer data to customize time-based emails

Action-based email triggers are great, but only some teams can access that data. That doesn’t mean you’re stuck with cookie-cutter messages that look the same for every new subscriber or customer, though. With just a little bit of customer information, you can customize the contents of the email even if everyone receives the same type of message on the same schedule.

I’ll use our series as an example. Suppose we know a free trial user is an email developer. In that case, we recommend our Email Builder since it relates to their role. Similarly, we can ask newsletter subscribers what ESP they use and then nurture them as leads based on their responses.

Dynamic email content lets you automatically personalize emails instead of creating multiple versions. For example, PrettyLittleThing uses Litmus Personalize to automatically update zodiac messaging based on when subscribers open their birthday message.

PrettyLittleThing’s birthday message automatically adjusts imagery when a subscriber opens the email.

5. Use clicks to learn about subscribers

If you can’t trigger emails based on app engagement, and you don’t collect customer information at sign up–you’ve still got options! You can use link clicks to help you personalize your welcome emails. Imagine you work for an e-commerce brand that sells specialty food products. Your welcome email could link to different product categories, and you could send subsequent emails based on what a person interacted with.

Just beware that some companies have bots that click every email link to check for security issues. So, if a subscriber opens your email at work, you might get inaccurate data. Before you hinge your welcome email strategy on link clicks, consider using a ‘fake link’ not visible to human readers, or monitoring your link clicks over a few months to see if these bots are prevalent in your list.

6. Don’t expect the same email performance between onboarding and newsletters

Let’s talk about benchmarks. While you might expect email metrics like click-through rates to be high as people first interact with your company, that might not  be the case. We’ve learned that onboarding emails tend to underperform compared to newsletters or promotional emails.

Like I mentioned earlier, sometimes people sign up for your email list or free trial and then forget. Just because someone kicked off a free trial doesn’t always mean they’re ready to start immediately.

I recommend benchmarking your welcome journeys separately from other types of campaigns.

7. Send a welcome journey to everyone

We don’t use holdout groups that A/B test welcome or onboarding emails against no emails at all. For starters, you need a very high send volume to get statistically significant results. Plus, what if you don’t send a welcome email to someone who really needs it? While we still A/B test and experiment with our welcome emails, everyone gets some version.

8. Assess and experiment

Speaking of experimenting, people sometimes wonder how often they should update their welcome or onboarding emails. Barring any major changes, like substantial product updates, sudden drops in engagement, or discounts, we don’t touch our welcome email journey all that often.

Each subscriber only receives the series once, as opposed to a weekly newsletter template, so we assess performance at the end of every quarter. Then, we can decide at the end of the year if we want to make a change.

Some of the experiments we’ve run in the past include:

  • Sending emails ‘from’ the brand vs. text-based emails ‘from’ an individual
  • Updating template design
  • Changing the series cadence
  • Pausing other types of emails while someone is on a welcome journey

What’s next for your onboarding emails?

Email marketing is always changing, and it’s exciting to wonder what we’ll try in the new year. I’ll be paying attention to evolving email engagement trends and getting inspired by the email community—what about you?




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