4 fundamental uses of email in user onboarding process

26.2.2018, 5 minutes read

Email messages are a must for each onboarding process. If you’re not sure when to use them or what structure they should have, we’ve summed up fundamental types of email messages to welcome your users, surprise them, and guide them on the way through your product. Some of them even have the power to make the passive users of your app active again.

Remember that a beneficial onboarding system does not rely on chance and feelings. Emailing must be coherent and well planned. Otherwise, you may annoy the recipients rather than help them.

But what is the anatomy of a useful email onboarding?  The infographics of SparkPage can be a great source of inspiration. Email onboarding process can be, in fact, divided into 4 following categories:

1. Welcome messages

You can welcome new users just with simple “Hi” or “Welcome”. Initial messages, however, deserve more attention. Their goal is not only to welcome the user or say hello, but also involve them in the onboarding, drive them to perform the desired action via CTA button, and, last but not least, show them the added value.

Keep in mind that CTA elements in welcome emails must be simple and understandable. The best choice is to use a single CTA button.

Welcome messages are intended to inform the users of the benefits of your products or services, encourage them to complete the profile, or download extras for free. Do not forget that sent message must be of benefit for the user.

Source: Really Good Emails

As you can see on the picture, Deezer’s welcome messages contain only one button.

Single CTA avoids descending into chaos. On the contrary, the user has only one way to perform desired action.

A/B test results of Optimizely are tangible evidence. The single CTA emails garnered increase of 13.3% in click-troughs compared to multiple CTA message.

2. Hints and how-to guides

You can be almost certain that users finding themselves in new environment are not only interested in what you have to offer but also feel confused and are eager for answers. It is advisable to answer these questions during the onboarding in the app.

Good icebreakers are also email messages with detailed tips, tricks, and guides.

Great example of how to break the ice between the app and new users via emails is the onboarding messaging of Asana.

Source: Really Good Emails

Email content is aimed at informing the users of the new guide. Instead of brusque request to try it out, email describes specific features of the new guide.

Users can also find the answers on their further questions, such as “What can the guide teach me?” or “Why is this guide better than the previous one?”, directly in the message.

The goal of the messages is to remind the user of your existence and stir him into action. In this case, the outcome of the action is to teach the user something new in terms of the app usage.

At this onboarding stage, don’t forget to take the sequence of steps and user level into consideration. Not sure what we meant?

In a nutshell: do not send guides which require certain level of skills to the newcomers, and vice versa - basic tips are irrelevant to more experienced user.

3. Unexpected gift

The goal of onboarding emails with unexpected gift is to strengthen your relationship with users or rather customers. The best way how to do this is to give them a gift. Unexpected gifts have an enormous power to earn customers’ loyalty.

Imagine that an app provider extends the trail version by additional 14 days. A travel agency offering you 10% discount on the vacation of your dreams? That would make everyone happy.

In the words of Seth Godin, an imbalance is created when someone receives a gift and that this is something the recipient (i.e. your user or customer) usually seeks to resolve. This favor could (and should) be returned in form of a purchase.

The case study published by SparkPage shows that customers, who received a small email gift, later on returned the favor by buying twice as much. The gifts do not have to be something ravishing. A nice gift can include the extension of the trial version, discount coupon for full version, or a free eBook.

Source: Really Good Emails

4. Reminders

The name speaks for itself. The job of these messages is to remind the user of your app based on their previous activity. This is when the email personalization comes on the scene.

Example: if the user hasn’t logged in for 5 days, send him an automatic email to investigate why he or she stopped to use the app. Another strategy suggests sending the user an email with content which motivates him or her to use the app again (e.g. above mentioned gifts).

Groove’s autoresponder is designed to send a message to the inactive user after some time not only to remind him or her of the app, but also to ask for feedback which can help you discover the source of the inactivity.

Source: Groove

Reminders as a part of onboarding process do not have to be necessarily sent only to inactive users. You can use them to remind the active users of yourself as well.

Groove also decided for this strategy. Autoresponder sends a message to active user, letting him or her know that the free version has expired, and offers the upgrade to full version.

Source: Groove

If you do not use the autoreminders, you are wasting the potential to address your users. Even though they abandoned your app, they might not have done so due to its complexity, difficult user interface, or high price.

There are more possible reasons: maybe they were just not ready for it yet, they wanted only to try it out, or they just forgot it, as the time passes.

Reminders represent a great opportunity to make inactive users active again. The process is not even complicated; you have their email addresses and you know that they have experience with your service. All you have to do is to remind them that you are still here, the same way as Groove did. Thanks to the email onboarding, it found out that majority of their users abandoned the app only because it was not right for them at the time.

So it came up with new onboarding strategy, reminding inactive user of itself after the period of 7, 21, and 90 days from the last activity.

Results: 90-day emails messages have converted 2%. That’s not impressively high but taken into consideration that almost no money was spent on the win-back emails, it is a fine outcome.

Proper timing of onboarding messages

Appropriate timing is crucial for onboarding emails. There’s no ideal frequency which would guarantee the highest open rate.

We highly recommend to follow Groove's example: to test and monitor the time period with highest open rate.


Email user onboarding is a multilevel strategy. The first step is to welcome the users in the app and in the onboarding process at the same time.

Messages to follow can be rather educative and provide users relevant hints and useful guides based on their previous experience with your product.

As in the real world, unexpected gifts can perform miracles also in online world. They can win your new users’ favor who will recompense in the future by buying from you.

Are there some users whose free trial version of your app is about to expire? Let them know! You can address the inactive users through emails as well and bring them back to your app.

Now, we've demonstrated the fundamental methods of successful email onboarding. Our user onboarding platform, YesElf, is here to put them into practice.

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