Great onboarding emails don’t need to have impressive design. They should provide a clear path for new users to follow to get as much value from your product and as quickly as possible. While creating Palabra’s onboarding, we went through our favorite plain text emails. Here’s what we learned.
Plain text is the way to go 🚀
Writing HTML emails takes a lot of time, even with image based builders. As an early stage company, we simply didn’t have enough time to design and mark our emails.
We also have a lot of reasons to go with plain text instead of image-based. It helps deliverability, accesibility and looks much more real and important than ad-looking emails.
That’s why we decided to go with plain text emails all the way. We explored different email sequences that used plain text (or simple styling) to understand what they did best. And where better to start than our very own inbox?
We noticed a few of the onboarding email sequences we got were really helpful for us as users. They kept simple a simple design and used mostly text to share their best features.
And we found some awesome examples of onboarding sequences that use little to no HTML styling:
- Notion’s awesome and personal onboarding (simple styling).
- Superhuman’s daily bits of information on its greatest features (only text and images).
- Zest.is drips using only plain text and images or gifs (our personal favorite).
Here’s what we discovered.
Welcome emails are more than a confirmation
Every SaaS company must start their onboarding sequences with a welcome message that is sent when a user joins the platform. This is a must by now, since everyone who signs up will expect some sort of confirmation of their transaction.
I mean, it is essentially a welcome message, but it can be so much more.
For example, SuperHuman sends you a warm welcome message that immediately teaches you how to use their Command.
Another excellent example of welcome email is from Zest:
We love these simple but catchy lines. They nail the exact effect that plain text should achieve: make you feel among friends.
Both Superhuman and Zest suggest a next step you should follow after receiving that first email. This gives a clear path for people to follow if they want to get value from their products. And that’s the best thing you can do with a welcome message.
A name and a face
This is a great tip to increase engagement. I always feel awkward when I don’t know who is writing on the other side. Is it the CEO? Someone from Sales? Is it a super intelligent baby? Who knows.
We can see this information clearly in Notion’s emails. Ivan is not only a name, he is Notion’s Co-founder. It’s flattering to receive a direct message from a co-founder, it also gives the impression of commitment from the very roots of the company.
At Palabra we do the very same thing. Our emails are sent by Paula or Karen, who are the founders (and the heart) of this project.
A photo is not a requirement in itself, yet, the clearer the image we have of the person who sends and receives the emails, the more engagement we can generate.
Even if you have hundreds of people working in your business, you can create an identity to address your users.
Emojis in the subject (use with caution)
This point is more to talk about email subjects, a very important topic that sometimes is forgotten.
If every email is a gift to your users, the subject is the wrapping paper. You want it to be shining, flashy, stunning so the reader has no other option than to open the email.
Definitely, most of the plain text onboarding sequences than we observed have emojis (at some stage) in their subjects.
Remember: emojis are important, but they have to reinforce the idea of the text in the subject. Otherwise you’re gonna look cu-cu or, even worse, desperate.
Zest win the contest of better subjects seding thing like:
- you here -> 💗
- make yourself at home 🍋
You can also include them in the body of the email to generate a greater visual impact and a neatear appearance.
Email ’til you make it
Yes, we received tons of emails per week. In fact, Superhuman mentioned it in their onboarding email sequence.
(this is simply genius)
But preciscely for that reason you have to be present. The first days are critical to impress your users.
Zest has the strategy of sending an email the first day a user joins. And then three more during the second day, another 4 days after and another one 10 days after.
Imagine someone you’re dating sends you 4 emails in 10 days (well, in that case, you’re probably Meg Ryan, so maybe it’s not so bad).
This could sound excessive, but it can take a while until people understand your value. Just make sure the value you’re providing is clear, and that each email you send has a reason to be in people’s inbox.
Thank yous matter
Far from recommending you stalk your users, we want to encourage you to use emails as a tool for a meaningful exchange of information. You can learn one thing or two about your own service or product.
The Superhuman sequence puts feedback as a priority, using sentences like:
“We love hearing your feedback: please reply to this email and say hello :)”
“We love hearing from you! Please reply and let us know what you think 😃”
In the email sequence that we mentioned from Zest, at the 10 day after the user joins, they ask for the thoughts and feelings about the platform and for the likes and dislikes.
A “thank you” at the end of every email leaves a good impression. Of course. It’s also a good idea to make a special thanking email. When a business is growing, every user is something to thank, so let them know that in your own words (or emojis!).
If you read this far, ping us at Twitter and tell us who sent you your favorite onboarding emails.
People are signing up? YEY! 😍 But then they drop out? OUCH 😭
Early retention is a big issue while growing a SaaS business, and one of the most common strategies to reduce churn for new signups is onboarding sequences. The thing is, creating a good onboarding sequence isn’t as easy as it seems.
To onboard new customers you need to have a very clear value proposition to show them, and a message that resonates with a particular audience’s needs. Here’s the questions we had to answer about Palabra‘s value and users when we worked on our onboarding sequences.
We think asking yourself these questions first will help you create great onboarding flows and save some time.
What are onboarding sequences?
Before we share our journey, here’s a quick definition of what an onboarding sequence is.
An onboarding sequence is a series of messages sent (generally by email) to new users or customers, with the purpose of generating a relationship with the people that receive them.
So, it’s the first action we can take to approach our users. It’s applied the very first days after a user signs up to a platform or service. And it’s oriented to retain the customers by starting a relationship with them.
The first two days after a user joins a service or starts to use a product are critical to reinforce the relationship. In some industries, up to 90% of users abandon the service a few days after they joined.
That ‘s A LOT 😧.
A great onboarding helps build loyalty to your brand and your product. Starting long term relationships reduce churn, as long as you’re getting to the right people.
The basic messages of onboarding sequences
There are some initial actions that are essential no matter what your onboarding sequence is for:
After submitting their email to a site, people expect to receive some sort of confirmation. Specially if they’re signing up for a product, or have committed to paying for it. But confirmations don’t have to be simple transactional messages, it should make newcomers feel part of something. Sending a simple welcoming message, true and personal, is what we chose for Palabra.
💌 Start a conversation
Most conversations with users begin when they have a problem and come to you for support. But with an automated onboarding sequence you can start talking to users before they have a problem. Just asking how they’re using your product, or giving them information about how to reach you when they need to, will be enough.
5 questions to help you build an email onboarding sequence 💥
At Palabra we’ve had those two simple messages since we launched, but when we started offering free trials for our paid plans, we thought of improving our onboarding so people would get a hang of our tool in 14 days.
Turns out, it was much harder than we thought. Creating an onboarding sequence meant having a really clear message to send to a very specific audience, and we didn’t have the answers to those questions yet.
So we sat down with the team and asked ourselves a series of questions in order to build a better onboarding sequence for the new users.
Here are those 5 questions. We want to make it clear that there could be as many questions as you need to ask yourself, and that this questionnaire is just to guide you on your personal journey.
1. Who are you gonna talk to?
This is probably an obvious question, but at the same time we usually lose focus about the person that we’d like to talk to.
It’s important that you think about who your user is, what they want, what they like.
A useful tool for this purpose could be to create a User persona. The User persona is a model of your ideal user, it allows you to put a name, and even a (fictional) face. We oriented our job better when feeling that we are talking to a real human being. It puts things in perspective.
Your user persona can be created from your initial hypothesis, but we strongly recommend using as much real evidence as possible. If you have a few users or prospects, try talking to them and asking as much as you can about their needs and use of your product.
At Palabra we had 10 active users when we started this process, and 5 of them agreed to have a conversation with us. We asked them about their automations, why they were using them for, and what they were lacking. If you’ve never done interviews before, here are a few lessons we learned to have real conversations with users.
2. What are they going to use your product for?
Maybe this is more like a 1.2 step, but this point is essential to design a copy that shows the benefits of your services.
For example, even if your user persona is someone who likes outdoors and your service is to rent bicycles, not everyone who likes outdoors could use that service.
Frequently, onboarding emails promote the “value” of the product or service to the users. But they do so in terms of describing the features, the pricing, the plans, etc.
That’s not bad, however is sooo generic. It reminds the reader that they’re a target and not a human with feelings, thoughts and desires 🙍♀️.
You want to propose to them your value, but do it in a way that the person who is reading the email says “oh, this is what I need for my project” or “this makes it easy to deploy this task in my life”.
3. What do you want the user to do when they join?
Once you have your user persona, and how they could benefit from your service. You could design a path that they ideally must follow to achieve the use of your product.
⚡A tool: Draw a User Flow!⚡
A User Flow is a map that’s used to design the structure from a web site or an app. Probably you already have a clue about this thing. Whimsical is a good website to draw one.
Put yourself in the shoes of the customer. Make it easy for them to find your features, that will encourage the use of your service and the engagement.
This question is also easier to answer once you’ve talked to your users or even seen them interact with your product. We use Fullstory and Cohere.so to understand what people are actually doing in Palabra, and create our ideal user flows trying to make them as realistic as possible.
4. What level of engagement does the user have?
The previous step should be your starting point, but every person is different.
We usually think of the ideal user and the ideal path for that ideal user. Now it’s time to think in different levels of engagement and to think of something we like to call “the anti-user”.
Meditate which are the points that could drive away the users or make them inactive. Why would they stop using your service? 🤔
Use that knowledge to create different onboarding sequences to connect with different levels of engagement. For example, you can trigger an email if a user is inactive or never answered your emails.
You don’t need to do this right away, you can develop this step over the time. The previous steps should work to connect with people and encourage feedback from the active users.
5. In what tone do you want to address your readers?
This is more of a copywriting and graphic design question, but since we’re planning an email strategy it’s kinda the whole point.
This is the stage where you can personalize the message that you deliver. And that’s why it is important to resolve the first four questions. Otherwise, how could you personalize something you don’t know anything about?
Have you thought about whether you want to address your customers informally or formally? or if you want to use plain text or HTML emails? 🤷♀️
Our personal choice was to deliver plain text emails with an informal tone. Because to our users this gives a familiar or friendly vibe💖 rather than a corporate one👔. And plain text helps to achieve that goal.
Each question is hard in its own way, but they are all worth answering. The result will be an unique and authentic email onboarding sequence. And that’s something people value.