Supercharge Your Onboarding Emails: Webinar Recording + Q&A

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A great first impression is often the first crucial step to building a long-lasting relationship. It’s no different in email marketing. When new prospects enter the top of your funnel through a newsletter signup, free trial offer, or asset download, how do you best introduce them to your brand, set expectations, and plant the seeds for relationships that last?

In this webinar, onboarding email expert Val Geisler and the Litmus team review welcome emails from your peers and provide hands-on copywriting suggestions, design feedback, and strategic takeaways that you can apply to your own campaign.

Did you miss the live webinar? Don’t worry. You can access the full webinar recording here, and read the Q&A below:

Q&A

We didn’t have time to get to all of the questions during the live webinar, but we’ve answered them here on our blog. Have any additional questions? Please leave them in the comments.

When should welcome and onboarding emails be sent? For example, real time (immediately after sign up), in 24 hours, in 48 hours, etc.?

Chad S. White: In general, you will want to send welcome emails immediately, just like you would an order confirmation email if you were a retailer. The person just subscribed or created an account, so you want your welcome email to extend that interaction. If you delay, then you lose the momentum from the interaction that led to the email signup.

Val Geisler: Real time is best. If someone waves at you, you typically don’t wait an hour and then wave back. That would be awkward. Send that welcome email as soon as they sign up. The only distinction here would be if they’ve just become a new customer and there is sensitive account information to share. If you send that as a separate email (and it’s totally okay to do so), send that immediately and then send the official welcome email anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour later.

For a welcome series, what do you recommend in terms of number of emails, cadence, and frequency between messages?

Chad: It totally depends on your business goals and the behavior of your subscribers, although I find it very hard to recommend using a single welcome email anymore. The big question that should drive your welcome email strategy is: What actions can you encourage new subscribers to take that will make them much more valuable subscribers and customers?

Often times, that’s more than one action, such as:

  • Making their first purchase
  • Logging into their account for the first time
  • Completing their user profile
  • Indicating their email preferences
  • Downloading a report
  • Read your latest newsletter or browse your newsletter archive
  • Visiting your blog
  • Downloading your mobile app
  • Following your brand on Facebook or Twitter
  • Joining a loyalty program
  • Applying for your brand’s private label credit card
  • Referring a friend
  • And any number of other actions

Figure out what your brand’s high-value actions are and then use your welcome email series to encourage new subscribers to take those actions at a cadence that makes sense for subscribers.

Jason Rodriguez: I agree with Chad in that it depends on your individual business goals and subscriber behavior. I would add that—just like with everything in email—you should test your welcome series as much as you need to to figure out what resonates with subscribers. Take the time and put in the effort to experiment with single welcome emails versus longer drip series, and play around with the cadence between emails to see what works for new subscribers. It’s always going to be different for every company, so it’s hard to compare strategies side-by-side.

In many companies, the goal of email is to drive revenue. However, that is not always the best use of a welcome email. How can marketers show the value of a welcome email aside from direct and immediate revenue?

Val: I’d argue that email is an engagement tool as much as it is a revenue generating tool. You can use a welcome email (or any email in an onboarding sequence) to get them to:

  • hit reply and connect with your team
  • take a survey
  • take an action in your software
  • share on social media about your brand
  • join a referral/affiliate program

And there are plenty of other engagement-based communications you can test depending on your use case. The data you’d look at in this case is clicks, completed tasks, etc. Engagement is as valuable an indicator of brand health as revenue is and should always be considered as part of an overall email strategy.

Jason: Totally agree with Val here. Email does drive revenue, but it’s also excellent at building relationships, too. The better the relationship you build with subscribers, the more likely it is that you’ll see revenue from those subscribers. Getting subscribers engaging with a welcome email (using one of the tactics Val describes above) will get them more invested in your emails and your relationship, and you can use those engagement metrics to show the value of a non-revenue driven welcome email.

Where can I find benchmark open and click rates for welcome or onboarding emails?

Chad: Your ESP will likely have some benchmarks for you. Smart Insights also has email marketing benchmarks.

That said, external benchmarks are generally not very useful. Your individual circumstances, audience, goals, and other factors will affect performance. While your onboarding emails should generate decent open and click rates, you’re likely trying to drive actions that go well beyond those metrics, as I mentioned above. Stay focused on those deeper metrics.

We see a high volume of unsubscribes from our welcome email. We suspect that some of these unsubscribes were looking for a discount before purchase. How should marketers handle this?

Val: This sounds like an ecommerce company. It’s sad but true that the world of ecommerce has trained customers to sign up for that discount code. If you don’t offer one (and I’m not saying you should, I actually love that you don’t) you can still combat that problem.

I’d do a lot of testing here. Try various types of welcome emails against one another and see what gets the most traction/least unsubscribes. Story telling emails tend to work well for ecommerce brands that don’t want to offer a discount. It’s also worth looking at the wording on your opt-in forms and landing pages. Is there anything you can clear up there? Something that helps them know that you won’t be sending a discount code? Opt-in forms and landing pages can have as much to do with expectation setting as the welcome email itself.

What tips do you have for welcome email subject lines? Everyone expects a “Welcome” email after registration—do you think we should avoid using the word “welcome”?

Chad: As Val said during the webinar, “welcome” is a very common subject line keyword. Obviously some A/B testing can help you decide what your audience responds to best, but I don’t think there’s inherently anything wrong with using “welcome” in the subject line of your welcome email. This keyword helps recipients immediately recognize what the email is about. Playing to that expectation can be powerful.

The trouble with using this word is that it’s fairly passive. It doesn’t tell subscribers what they should do next. So if your welcome email subject line is simply “Welcome to [Brand or Name of Newsletter],” then your subject line—and likely your email—isn’t working hard enough for you. As I mentioned above, your welcome email should have a call-to-action. Your welcome email’s subject and preview text should clearly communicate what your new subscribers should do next.

What creative subject lines have you seen for welcome emails?


Val: Unfortunately, I don’t see many! There are so many good alternatives to “Welcome to X Brand” that I’m in the midst of compiling a big post for the Litmus blog all about welcome email subject lines.

That said, the most important thing to remember is that your subject lines should directly relate to the action you want them to take in the content of the email. So if your email is just there to say “welcome”, then you likely have a “Wecome to X Brand” subject line. (Pro tip: your welcome email should do more than simply say “welcome”). Are you asking them to get started using your app or click a link to help you know more about them? Reference that call to action in the subject line with something like “let’s get going!” or “help me help you”, something like that.