How to write the perfect welcome email

Let's say you got a new subscriber to your email list today. Do you know what happens next? Do you know what is in the welcome email that your new subscriber receives as a result of signing up? Do they even receive a welcome email?

If you use email to market your business, you should be maintaining a list of subscribers - people who may already be clients or who at least are interested prospects or curious contacts.

And hopefully you are adding to that list consistently by encouraging people who visit your website or social media accounts.

What is a welcome email?

If you are, then this article about optimising your welcome email is for you. Your welcome email is the first email that someone receives after subscribing to your email list or newsletter. It’s usually sent automatically by whichever email marketing platform you use so it’s something you set up once and leave to run as required.

Depending on what your business does, it could also be the email that someone receives after they make their first purchase, start their subscription or a free trial or enter their email address to get something for free from your website.

OK, so why all the fuss?

As Ryan Deiss of Digital Marketer points out, it's at this point that your subscriber is as excited about you and your business as they're ever likely to be. It's also the point at which they've just demonstrated that they're prepared to trust you. (Note: every link in this article will open in a new tab so feel free to click away: this page will still be here when you want to come back to it.)

Your welcome email is make or break. 

As they say, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Get it right and, according to research conducted by ReturnPath, you may have a high value subscriber who will spend more with you, engage more with your brand and read more of your content.

But get it wrong and your new subscriber may well unsubscribe and never be seen again.

Remember that most of us are constantly bombarded with emails. So, if someone consciously decides to let you have their email address, that’s no small thing. In fact it’s a big glaring neon sign telling you that they feel you have something to offer and that they may well honour you with their custom in the near future. Perhaps it’s best not to let them down then, hey?

The 10 essential ingredients for the perfect welcome email

The best way to understand exactly how to construct your welcome email, what to include and what to leave out is to look at other great welcome emails and see how they've done it.

Fortunately, a lot of the best marketing brains on the planet have already written on this subject. So I've scoured the Web to round up the most essential ingredients and best advice. Here are the 10 essential elements you need to include in your welcome email.

1. Set the tone

Whatever you send in your welcome email sets the tone for future emails. Whether they know it consciously or subconsciously, your prospects believe that other emails that they receive will be of a similar tone. And as those clever people at marketing company Wishpond point out, choosing the right tone can make the difference between opening your email and taking action or consigning it straight to trash.

Vertical Response, in their article 10 examples of highly effective welcome emails also stress the importance of setting the tone, advising us all to use a friendly greeting in our welcome emails (see the example from David's Bridal).

It's essential, no matter what tone you set, that your welcome email is personal. As GetVero point out, make your new subscriber feel like they’re a person to you and not just another, well, new subscriber,

2. Be prepared to test

As with all things marketing, be prepared to test. Test, test and test again. In other words, your work isn't over when you've created your first optimised welcome email. Create a second version and a third. Be prepared to test each one.

Even if you are sure that you have crafted the perfect email after just one attempt, have the discipline to try different versions. Testing is still the cornerstone of all great marketing and make no mistake, your welcome email is a marketing email.

3. Make sure you have a clear call-to-action

GetVero, customer.io, Hubspot and many other experts say that it's essential that your welcome email is actionable.

Every communication should have a point. An objective. A reason for existing. Your welcome email (or any other email for that matter) is no different. You want everyone that receives one to do something, to take action. The crucial part is that whatever you ask them to do, it must have value (to your subscribers). In other words, it has to be worth their time and effort to do it.

Ideally it also shouldn’t involve any risk. Make that action non-committal. So if, for example you run an ecommerce site, don’t add a big button asking your new subscribers to go straight to your website and buy something. Invite them to browse instead. More examples of appropriate calls-to-action (that’s what we call these in marketing-speak) follow later in this post.

Most email marketing success is measured by how many people open the email and click through to some web page. But, as GetVero tells us, these are not the right metrics to measure success for welcome emails.

Instead, the true test for a welcome email is conversion rate. In other words, it’s simply how many people take the action you ask them to take. I would add that it’s also important to measure how many and for how long people remain subscribed to your emails.

It's essential also to make sure that your call to action is clear and stands out and, if you can, has a sense of urgency.

4. Show that you're grateful

In this article, HubSpot offer 7 superb examples from large and small brands each of which “showcase different tactics and strategies for engaging new… subscribers”. 

The article has lots of great advice. The first nugget seems obvious but so many businesses forget to do this: say thank you and make it clear that you are grateful that the person took the time to subscribe.

Click through to the HubSpot article who also use the Kate Spade welcome email example and read their critique. In short, show your gratitude.

5. Introduce the things that make your business and your brand unique

HubSpot use an example of a welcome email from Virgin America to highlight copy that positions the company as a "hip, fun-loving brand". If you haven't yet developed your core brand messages, this can be difficult so think about how you want to come across. How do you normally communicate to your clients and what is it about the way that you do that, that they love? Whatever that is for you, ensure that you weave that into your welcome email.

6. Remind people why they subscribed

The welcome email from Michaels in the HubSpot article nails this in one short paragraph:

"We're going to send fun stuff like DIY tips and tricks, invites to in-store events, and exclusive deals and coupons."

Short, sweet and to the point. 

Vertical Response also make the same point, using example emails from:

  • Nasty Girl who use a quick "perks list",
  • NFL who use a bullet-pointed list and
  • Birchbox (my personal favourite) who incorporate graphics and 3 simple catchy headings ("Try", "Learn" and "Buy")

Similarly, GetVero cite examples from Goodreads and JustUnFollow who each use just 3 points in a clear, simple easy-to-read manner that hits the mark perfectly. (So much so, in fact, that I stopped writing at this point and went and subscribed to Goodreads and joined JustUnfollow!)

7. Make it easy for people to set their preferences

Do you segment your email list so that you can personalise the information that you are sending out? If not, you should be but that's the subject of a separate post.

If you do, look again at the Michaels email and how they position that action. The section in the middle of the email stands out due to the contrasting background colour and has the title "What Do You Love to Make?". Questions are irresistible. When we read them, we answer them. We can't help it. Even if we don't vocalise it or are even aware of it, at some level, our brains answer the question. Make no mistake, questions are engaging. You should use them more in all of your copy, don't you agree?

The rest of that small section contains just 2 short sentences with a request and a compelling reason for fulfilling that request and then a simple call-to-action

8. Use meaningful preview text

The Food52 email example cleverly uses the preview text to give a cute, intriguing and click-enticing element directly into their new subscribers' inboxes. 

9. Include links to your social media

Add social media buttons that link through to your pages and company profiles on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. As Vertical Response say, people who subscribe are "curious" about your business. They must be or they wouldn't have signed up. You should "fuel that engagement" by sharing the social media sites that your business is on.

10. Make sure your email is mobile friendly

According to Vertical Response, the Adobe Digital Publishing Report (I haven't read it) says that 79% of smartphone owners use their phones for email. Many of the modern email marketing platforms produce emails that automatically adapt to the device that it is being read on. So if you're using one of these, you probably don't need to worry but please test your emails before taking them live.

Some additional useful tips

Whilst doing my research for this article, I read a lot of material and have compiled the following list of tips from a number of other sources. One of those is GetVero's own article “21 Welcome Emails to Inspire Your Lifecycle Marketing” which I love - and not just because they’re clearly fans of The Walking Dead. 

I love the way that they practice what they preach. At the foot of the article you can download a zip file with all the examples… but only if you sign up for their weekly newsletter. 

In particular, I took away the following couple of points that may be useful to you if you already run a sizeable email list:

  • Basecamp example: If you already have a lot of subscribers, use that as social proof to assure your new subscriber that they’re in good company, e.g., “1.5 million other organisations are using Basecamp”.
  • Inbox by Gmail example: Use the FAQ approach if you need to explain an unfamiliar concept that people might not quite understand.

In these 16 great examples from MailMunch, I noted these outstanding tips:

  • The animated gif in the Wistia email. In the same email, also note the “Tell us about yourself” section, another example of a great way to get people to provide their preferences. I also love the phrase they use: “We’re so excited to be in your inbox!”,
  • TruConversion and Heidi Cohen both of which show exactly how to get personal with your subscribers. Heidi even goes so far as to ask you to email her. I subscribe to Heidi’s blog myself (highly recommended) through Feedly and she is as good as her word, providing exactly what she promises: “useful actionable marketing advice”.

And last but not least in this great article, the venerable Campaign  Monitor talk about the importance of choosing carefully how much time you let elapse before you actually send your welcome emails. According to them, the best time to send the welcome email is on the same day that someone subscribes.

I agree but would like to go a step further: send your emails immediately. I prefer to have my welcome emails hit the inboxes of my new subscribers before they’ve even closed the website if possible so that it's definitely there the moment they switch over to their emails.

Some other great tips from Campaign Monitor include:

  • Choose a clear engaging subject line.
  • Ask subscribers to add you to their “safe senders” list. It can be difficult to do this succinctly but CampaignMonitor shows a great straightforward example from farnamstreetblog.com.
  • Include an unsubscribe link. Most email marketing platforms like MailChimp will handle this for you automatically.
  • Ask subscribers to refer a friend.
  • Find out what your subscribers really want. One great way to do this is to include a link to a survey or just to ask for feedback by reply (see Heidi Cohen above).

Need a welcome email template?

If the idea of writing makes you feel nauseous and you need a little extra help with coming up with the right words, then take a look at the 5 templates offered by Customer.io. These will help you get started and will be helpful if writing is not your strong point. They offer templates for:

  • General product / service
  • Newsletter subscription
  • Personal outreach
  • Free Sample welcome
  • Invitation

Additionally, the ecommerce platform Shopify offers 3 ecommerce templates in this article and the lovely folks at Wishpond offer 6 tone-based templates here, one friendly and one professional for each of the following:

  • People who subscribe to your blog
  • People who sign up for a free trial
  • People who have bought your product

Final tips

Finally here are a handful of final tips to bear in mind:

Use a real email address

Rather than sending emails from info@yourcompany.com or any of a number of other generic, soulless email addresses, send them from a real person at your business with a real first and last name. 

Yes, this means that any unsubscribes, bounces and out-of-office replies land in the inbox of  that unfortunate person but the upside is that your subscribers will know that they’re dealing with a real person.

If you’re thinking, ‘Hang on, won’t using info@ make my business appear larger’, the answer is ‘Maybe’ but ask yourself: is it more important to appear like bigger than you are (and get found out later) or to appear approachable and genuine?

Personalise your subject line

Try using the recipients name in the subject line. Most of the email platforms allow you to do this through the use of merge tags. The subject line is visible when people scan their inboxes and our own name is one of the easiest words for each of us to spot.

A simple formula to follow

Again customer.io offers some great advice in this amusing post and a simple formula to follow in your welcome emails:

  • Greet them
  • Tell them who you are and why you exist
  • Tell them what happens next
  • Tell them what to do if they need help

Do a final check before sending

It always pays to reread anything you write: you’ll make fewer typing mistakes and errors. So check your welcome email before you set it running. Read every sentence out loud and ask yourself if it serves your ultimate purpose.

You can also copy and paste your welcome email into the Comments section below this article. I will personally offer constructive criticism on each and every email posted and, I’m sure you’ll also get some great feedback from others who read this article too.

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Nov 29, 2016 By Patrick Nelson

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