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Up, Up and Away: How to Create Email Sequences That Send Conversions Soaring

September 3, 2020
Erin Ryan
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Email: It’s a verb, it’s a noun, it’s an effective marketing tactic. 

So much so that the U.K. arm of the Data & Marketing Association found that for every pound spent in email marketing, the return on investment was about Ł42. In dollars, that’s about $55 for every $1.30-some spent. Not too shabby. 

So how can you ensure that your email sequences are effective and deliver results? We’ve got you covered. 

What Is an Email Sequence?

A sequence is a series of automated emails you send to specific segmented contacts on your email list. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase drip campaigns? Sequences and drips go hand in hand. Think of that old faucet you could never quite turn off: drip (email 1), drip (email 2), drip (email 3) ... you get the idea.

Once you set up a sequence, you could essentially set it and forget it. But you can certainly go back and tweak things here and there, too, whether you want to rewrite a subject line, change the order of emails or make another edit.

Types of Email Sequences

One type of email sequence is the autoresponder, or time-based email. With these, you begin sending your sequence after a certain amount of time passes (or remains). Think of the seemingly instantaneous email dropped into your inbox right after you opted in to a company’s email list or the renewal notification you received 30 days before your subscription was set to expire.

Trigger-based messages are another type of email series. They’re set up to be sent after a user completes a specific action, such as making a purchase, subscribing to your newsletter or downloading content.

You can create trigger- and time-based emails from scratch or use a template, and you establish the delivery frequency for each follow-up email within the sequence. 

How to Create an Email Sequence

Establish Your Goals 

Before you start down the path of creating email sequences, you’ll need to get an idea of what you’re hoping to achieve with each sequence and determine what action you want people to take.

What are you looking to accomplish?

  • Get referrals
  • Gain feedback
  • Request reviews
  • Prompt repeat purchases
  • Reduce customer service issues
  • Promote upgrades or cross-sells
  • Bolster your social media following
  • Encourage a prospect to schedule a meeting
  • Promote sign-ups for an event you’re hosting
  • Educate prospects on the benefits of your product or service

Once you decide on your goal, strategize how you’ll reach it. 

For example, if your intention is first-time customer acquisition, consider tripwire marketing. With this approach, instead of promoting a free offer, which users might consider too good to be true, market lower cost products and services. The hope is that if leads become paying customers, they're apt to spend more later on. 

While you’ll want to develop several sequences, prioritize creating ones that you’ll benefit from the most. Once you’ve created a sequence, tools such as split testing to see what combination of elements (e.g., subject line, “from” field, call to action, timing, etc.) works best toward achieving your goal.

Work Out the Details

Before you get to work planning sequences, find out if your email marketing software has limitations on the number of emails you can include in a sequence. If so, see if there are any workarounds. HubSpot, for example, has a limit of 5 automated emails per sequence, but will allow for additional manual emails. 

Once you have that information, determine how many emails your sequence will have. Also, decide how you’ll space out delivery of each. Once you start writing, be sure to use a reply-to email address so recipients can easily reach out if they need to. 

In terms of calls to action (CTAs), make sure they’re clear and well-placed. You don’t want to interrupt the flow of the email content and you don’t want to be too pushy. Be sure your CTAs mirror the tone and purpose of your email. 

Align Messaging With the Sales Funnel

Along the same lines, you want to make sure you’re writing the right type of messaging for the right audience at the right time in their buyer journey. They’ve given you their email address so they’re already aware of you. Now you want to nurture your relationship. Show them the value you offer in terms of benefits. Build trust by educating readers and demonstrating that you’re a resource for quality information. The final step is to call them to action.

Don’t Overlook Your Subject Lines

According to Invesp, subject line alone accounts for 47% of opened emails. You can have a great email body, but if nobody ever clicks into your email, what’s the point? 

In addition to eye-catching wording, keep length in mind. Subject lines should be below 60 characters, though around 45 is best to optimize for mobile. 

Research by Marketo found emails with subject lines consisting of only 4 words had the highest open rates. The highest click-through rates were found in emails with subject lines consisting of 7 words. These were also responsible for the highest engagement overall. The 7-word subject lines had an average of 41 characters.

Focus on the Opener

OK, you’ve got their attention. Your message has been opened. Don’t lose them now. Although you don’t have the full 30 seconds of an elevator pitch, you can think of it that way. 

A blink of an eye is all it takes to engage someone and keep them reading. Be compelling and stay focused on the reason for the email. Make your opener count. 

Use Evergreen Content

One of the benefits of email sequences is that they’re automated. This increases efficiency and reduces the need for manual sends. 

Avoid content that can be quickly outdated or that will need constant updates to stay timely. For example, don’t reference trends or current news or events. Also, prevent mentions of specific years or words such as “recently,” “this year” and “lately.” Create sequences that can stand the test of time (at least for a while). 

Segment and Personalize

To make your email marketing more impactful, implement segmentation to flag which users should receive which sequences. Segmented campaigns have an average 14.31% higher open rate and 100.95% click rate than non-segmented emails, according to Mailchimp.

Contacts can be segmented to receive certain email sequences pertaining to: 

  • Website behavior
  • Location
  • Personal interests
  • Demographics
  • Survey results
  • Email engagement 
  • Previous items purchased
  • Purchase amount 
  • Customer journey level

While segmentation can help you personalize emails, there are a few other things you can do in this respect. When you think of personalization, you might think of using dynamic tags to auto-fill user names, company name, location, etc. But there’s more to it than that. Personalize email offers and add relevant product recommendations. Email content also can be personalized based on a user’s history of interactions with your brand.

 Superwoman character with an envelope icon on her chest flies through the sky holding a laptop that has an email graphic on the screen.

5 Best Email Sequences You Should Start Using

Now let’s take a look at some of the best outreach sequences. Depending on your specific sequence and goal, consider including 3-8 emails over a certain span of time, which could be a week, a month or several months. 

Keep in mind that once a sequence is completed, you can move your contact into another type of sequence to continue the conversation. That said, if your email-tracking data shows little to no engagement on your contact’s part, it might be time to push pause on your follow-ups. The last thing you want to do is be seen as a nuisance. 

1. Welcome

Of all the email sequences, this one is a must-have. Welcome emails generate 4 times more opens and 5 times more clicks than other email campaigns, according to Invesp. What’s more, users expect them.

This is the drip campaign you start once someone opts-in to your mailing list, perhaps by creating an account or signing up for your newsletter. The goal isn’t to sell, but to build trust and educate users. Remember, they’re still making up their minds about you. 

Consider using 3-6 emails in this sequence. Dedicate at least one email to each of the following: introduction, resource sharing and the value you offer them. You might even use a final email to try to weave in a special promotion.

Best practice is to send the first welcome email right after a user signs up. Instantaneous welcome emails benefit from an 88.3% open rate, according to automation platform provider Zapier. 

2. Onboarding 

Once a prospect becomes a customer, signs up for a free trial or schedules an appointment, onboarding emails are a great way to continue nurturing them. They proactively provide answers to common questions and reduce a client’s need for customer support. These types of transactional emails provide relevant resources and let users know what to expect. 

Emails can include tips and social proof as well as links to relevant how-to guides, video tutorials or other helpful content. If the onboarding sequence is a result of a free trial sign-up, offer an incentive to purchase at the end.

3. Purchase Reminder

An abandoned cart email series is one of the most common types of purchase reminder sequences. 

A user debated whether to make a purchase or got distracted. Whatever the case, they didn’t buy. Don’t assume they won’t, though. Nudge them with a reminder using this popular sequence.

Use 3 emails at a minimum. Send a first “still interested?” email within 24 hours after cart abandonment. This should be short and sweet. Include an image and description of the item and a link to checkout.

If they don’t finalize their purchase after the first email, set up your sequence to send a follow-up within 48 hours. You might include content that addresses objections. 

Still hearing crickets? Send another email after 72 hours. Use this one to promote a discount or special offer or provide recommendations on other in-stock items that may be of interest. 

Other purchase reminder sequences can include notifying customers of price reductions to items they were interested in but never purchased, letting them in on a new sales event or marketing related products and services.

4. Repeat Customers

According to Invesp, it costs 5 times more to gain a new customer than it costs to retain a current one. 

With that in mind, market to the ones you already have. Sure, they might come back to you on their own, but don’t leave it to chance. Dangle that carrot with engagement emails that entice. Set up your sequence with a first email checking in a few days after their purchase. Then follow-up with another one a few days after that. 

Use the opportunity to recommend complementary products to enhance their purchase. Think of the last “you might also like these products” email you received. You also could use a follow-up email to provide helpful content that helps them make the most out of their purchase.

5. Re-Engagement

They liked you once. Remind them why. Let them know you’re still around and increase the chance they return to your brand. These email sequences can be set up to re-engage subscribers or customers who haven’t interacted with your brand or made a purchase within a certain time frame (e.g., 30 days).

Consider 4 emails for this sequence. Perhaps reintroduce yourself in the first one. Send personalized, high-quality content in a second. Deliver your value in the third. And promote a special offer or limited-time discount on top-rated products.

Email Sequence Examples

Onboarding Sequence for Free Trial

After signing up for a free trial with content tracker BuzzSumo, I was added to the following sequence:

Email 1

This email arrived in my inbox shortly after signup. The subject line read: “Welcome to BuzzSumo, (name)! Here are 4 simple ways to get started.” 

The email does a great job of offering a clear breakdown of how to do just that. And it includes links to several helpful resources to make the most of my trial. 

BuzzSumo onboarding email detailing 4 ways to get started, including discovering content ideas, monitoring alerts, conducting research and finding influencers.

Email 2 

Within 2 days of the first email, I received this second one. It has the subject line “How to choose the right keywords in 2 steps.” The purpose of the email is clear by the subject and body. 

Once I click into the email, there are 2 helpful animated videos (kudos for going that extra mile!) that pique interest and offer a brief presentation of how the company’s keyword tool works. The email includes a link to the tool as well as a closing CTA if I’m interested in learning more.

BuzzSumo’s second email in its onboarding campaign offering a tip for how to use their keyword research tool and a blue CTA button to learn more.

Email 3

The next day I saw this email subject line: “How to track media coverage and backlinks for your content.” 

The content offers a 3-step breakdown for setting up keyword and brand monitoring alerts. At the close, it includes 1 CTA button that I can click into to start building my alert.

BuzzSumo’s third email in their onboarding sequence shows how to create a new alert in monitoring and set up notifications. A blue CTA button is at the close.

Email 4

Halfway through my trial, I received a follow-up email with the subject line “Can I help you get the most out of your BuzzSumo trial?” 

The email does a great job of checking in and even goes so far to ask me to email in response if I have any questions. And when I hit the reply button, I’m able to send a message to It also includes a link at the end of the body asking me to register for an educational webinar or view past ones.

Fourth email in BuzzSumo’s sequence with a reminder that the free trial is halfway over. Email text reads “Are you finding what you need?”

Purchase Reminder Email Sequence

Maybe it was another birthday, a new desk, a new office chair or a combination thereof. Long story short, I’m hunching over a bit more than I’d like. So naturally, that led me to in search of a posture corrector. I found one, but wasn’t sure if I was ready to commit just yet. So I left the site. 

Wasn’t I surprised to see “Posture Corrector for Women” appear in my inbox shortly after. I clicked in and there it was, short and sweet: image, price and description. A CTA button to shop and a link to see more recommended items were there, too. 

Email 1

Amazon purchase reminder email with an image of a woman wearing a posture corrector and a “shop now” CTA button.

Email 2 

I didn’t bite just then. So I got a follow-up email a few days later with not only the item I looked at featured at the top, but several other selections Amazon chose for me. 

Each item was pictured with its own CTA to “shop now,” along with price and a brief description.

Amazon’s second purchase reminder in their sequence, offering images of similar posture correctors for sale with “shop now” CTAs and pricing next to each.

Email 3

Amazon really laid it on thick with the third email. Interestingly, it was sent nearly the same time as the previous, but from a different “from” address. The opening line was a bit different, too: “Looking for something in Medical Supplies & Equipment?” (with a hyperlink to their Medical Supplies & Equipment page). 

I received the same recommendations, item details and “shop now” CTAs as the other near-simultaneous email, along with several more recommendations. At the close, there was another link to Amazon’s medical items page.

At this point, while I thought it all a bit over the top, the online retailer got me. Not sure if my posture is any better, but Amazon’s email marketing speaks for itself.

 Amazon’s third follow-up email in a purchase reminder sequence, showing images and pricing for various posture corrector braces.

Email Sequence Templates

If you have an all-in-one customer relationship management (CRM) system or marketing automation system, such as HubSpot, Mailchimp or Omnisend, you’ll likely have access to email sequence templates you can use as a starting point. 

That said, here are a couple HubSpot templates for sequences we haven’t yet covered. As you’ll see, HubSpot’s email automation tool often integrates tasks for the internal team to complete in between emails. 

Demo or Product Request

This HubSpot template is set up to be completed over the course of 7 days. If a prospect books a meeting or replies to an email, the contact is removed from follow-up emails within the sequence. 

First customizable email in a HubSpot automated sequence template for product or demo requests.
Second customizable email in a HubSpot automated sequence template for product or demo requests.
Third customizable email in a HubSpot automated sequence template for product or demo request.

Prospecting Sequence

First customizable email in a HubSpot prospecting sequence template followed by a call task.
Second and third customizable emails in a HubSpot prospecting sequence template.
A to-do task at the end of HubSpot’s automated sequence template. The task is to place the contact in a remarketing email campaign.

Write Your Best Email Sequence Yet

Email marketing automation is a given for a lot of companies. It just makes sense, both from a business and a customer perspective. Not only does it generate leads, but it’s an efficient and a cost-effective way to reach prospects and existing customers. 

So what are you waiting for? Give your competitors a run for their money and start reaching more of your target audience today. 


Erin Ryan

A prolific and versatile wordsmith, Erin crafts persuasive copy that entices and converts. Her repertoire includes SEO-optimized content, including blog posts, guides, content refreshes and website copy, as well as marketing emails, video scripts and landing pages, to name a few. In her free time, Erin enjoys gardening, yoga and riding around on her rusty but reliable beach cruiser, "Old Faithful."

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