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Lessons learned from great onboarding emails with no HTML styling

Email, Engagement, Onboarding4 min read

By Abril Taker - Content Creator at Palabra

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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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(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.


Hope you enjoyed this post! If you are curious about what you can do with Palabra or would just like to try it go ahead and create an account here.

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