A well-done, automated email sequence is what makes your revenue look good.

Get that paper (from a digital marketing channel!).

What’s an automated email sequence? We’ll get there in a moment, but for now…

Imagine if you could keep all of your customers interested without lifting so much as a finger.

Well ok, maybe one finger. But only once in a while.

That’s automated email marketing in a nutshell. It works hard to send out an email sequence (or several) so you have time to focus on more fun things than hitting “Send” on repeat.

Email marketing produces the highest ROI out of most digital outlets – in fact, the average order value of a purchase from email is at least three times higher than one from social media, according to McKinsey.

In this post you’ll learn:

  • What is an email sequence?
  • 5 most important types of email sequences and how to handle them
  • How to set automation goals for your autoresponder emails

What is an email sequence?

An email sequence is a series of emails automatically sent to specific segments of people on your email list. An email sequence can be trigger-based or time-based.

When an email sequence is trigger-based, it is sent based on actions such as:

  • Browsing behavior
  • Subscribing to your list
  • Shopping cart abandonment
  • Reading or downloading content
  • Buying a product.

A time-based email sequence (sometimes called an email autoresponder) sends emails at predetermined time intervals, like…

  • Right after opt-in
  • 30 days after purchase
  • On the anniversary of subscribing

You only have to set them up once. And then they work for you.

Email sequences are automated. They can take people from not knowing your company to becoming full-fledged, enthusiastic customers (who just love to recommend your brand).

The 5 most important types of email sequences are…

  1. Welcome email sequence
  2. Onboarding email sequence
  3. Abandon cart email sequence
  4. Repeat customer email sequence
  5. Re-engagement email sequence

1. Welcome email sequence

When you go to someone’s house, would you just walk in? Hopefully not Of course not. They need to welcome you.

According to Omnisend, welcome emails have an average open rate of 45%.

Awesome! So how do you make your welcome emails get those results?

Do you make them personal? Do you try to start selling right away?

Expert insight: Tarzan Kay on selling with welcome sequences

Tarzan Kay, a conversion copywriter

“A lot of people think that welcome emails can’t sell something. I was even told once that you should send at least 12 nurture emails before selling something. I totally disagree.

What I teach my students is, before you write that welcome sequence, think about what you’re going to sell on the tail end of it.


  • Send a couple of nurture emails
  • Slowly introduce them to who you are and what you do
  • Share one or two of your core stories (make them emotional and really engaging)
  • Start thinking about getting them to buy whatever thing you want them to buy

Ideally it’s connected to the thing that they opted in to get—because very few people will join a newsletter just to get a newsletter. For the most part they’re only signing up because you gave them a reason and they wanted to get your free thing.”

– Tarzan Kay is a conversion copywriter who specializes in launches and email sales funnels.

Saying “BUY THIS” in the first email is not going to go over as well. But a few emails later in the autoresponder sequence could be just right.

We recommend sending 4–6 emails as part of your welcome email series. You need to have enough emails to build trust and help your contacts out before you push for the sale—five emails gives you space to devote each email to a specific topic.

Conversion copywriter Val Geisler also recommends a 4-email welcome sequence strategy. She outlines it like this:

  • Email 1: The Dinner Party Strategy (a warm welcome and some simple expectation-setting)
  • Email 2: The Expertise Setter (show them the value)
  • Email 3: The I-Make-Genius-Look-Easy Lesson (i.e., teach them to do what you do for your clients)
  • Email 4: The Self-Segmenter (segment your subscribers and send them relevant emails)

Let’s take a look at the one that sets off the chain reaction – The Dinner Party welcome email.

Set expectations early (like Ben Settle)

When you’re walking into a new experience (like a dinner party with people you don’t know), you always feel a lot better if you know what you’re in for.

This welcome email example from email marketer Ben Settle does a great job of setting expectations.

If you are planning to send daily emails, let them in on it.

They subscribed. They want to hear from you. But if you show up in their inbox repeatedly without warning (like a rude dinner party non-guest), that’s less fun.

2. Onboarding email sequence

You’ve welcomed them. Now don’t forget about them! It’s time to onboard.

When you onboard someone, you give them the information they need, keep them interacting with you – and ultimately get them to buy from you (or stick around for more)

This could mean having someone…

  • Start a trial
  • Use a product
  • Book an appointment

To do that, an onboarding email sequence should include:

  • Personalization
  • Benefits over features
  • The customer journey stage

Onboarding messages make sure your new customers understand how to use your products.

Actual instructions with this would be nice.

Here are a few tips we recommend for onboarding emails.

  1. Focus on the value, not just the features. People don’t buy your product for its shiny features – they buy to solve a problem. So the way to convert your new friends into new customers is to emphasize what benefits your product will bring to them. Your product can still be pretty and shiny, but that’s not your selling point.
  2. Give social proof. In Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence: The Phsychology of Persuasion, he writes “we view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.”People decide what to do based on what other people are doing.

    It’s social proof, and using it in marketing can be extremely effective. Include relatable customer stories and product testimonials to encourage new subscribers to buy.

  3. Don’t just ask – incentivize. A welcome email series is not the time to be hard selling your customers, but you can be more creative in your onboarding series. Offering a first-time purchase discount can be all the push a customer needs to convert.

The number of onboarding emails you send will vary on your business and customer type. But as a jumping off point, listen to this example from one of our ActiveCampaign customers, Legacy Physical Therapy.

Show people exactly what they need to do (like Legacy Physical Therapy)

Brooke Kalisiak, a specialist in pelvic health, knows that taking the first step for physical therapy can make you nervous.

You might also be uncertain – because you aren’t quite sure what kind of progress is possible and you’ve never met your physical therapist.

So Brooke’s welcome series specifically addresses patient fears and builds trust.

Here’s what she puts in her onboarding email sequence.

  1. Basic appointment information. Step one is to make sure patients have everything they need for their appointment. That means a reminder of the date and time, (and the clinic’s location).
  2. An intro to their therapist. Just knowing who will treat you is a big comfort. This email has a picture of the patient’s therapist, along with some info about their qualifications.
  3. Pictures of the clinic from the outside. It sounds small, but everyone is a bit nervous about getting lost when they go somewhere new? Finding it. A picture of the clinic eases that fear.
  4. Testimonials based on their condition. By using tags to segment her contacts, Brooke can send testimonials from past patients—who were treated for the same condition as the new patient.

It’s reassuring to know who you’re going to work with

This automation isn’t complicated. But at each step, it addresses the anxieties that all new patients come in with—even ones as small as knowing what the clinic looks like.

Move people from questioning to sold (like Wistia)

(Source: Copy Hackers)

The biggest takeaway from this onboarding email is that guides people from problem aware to most aware.

A paid conversion happens once you’ve moved a prospect through the 5 primary stages of awareness, all the way to Most Aware.

By the time a trial user started to receive the emails in the Wistia sequence, there was good reason to believe they had strong Product Awareness and were moving toward Most Aware. So the goal of the Wistia email sequence was to move the prospect from Product Aware to the far end of Most Aware, where closing happens.

Optimizing your email sequence to get a paid conversion may just mean reordering your existing emails along the stages of awareness spectrum.

One other takeaway? The length.

What’s great about this longer email is that it takes time to develop a good argument, make the case, and close the deal. It looks like a lot to read, but what you’re reading is quality information.

True, longer emails can be a risk because it could take longer for people to see your CTA (or they might not bother looking for it at all). But if your email is really good, they will (the 3.5x improvement to Wistia’s conversion rate is proof).

3. Abandoned cart email sequence

Why do 77% of carts get abandoned?

People can visit your site, browse around, fill a cart – then get hungry, close their laptop, go make a sandwich, and forget everything.

Or they could abandon their cart because:

  • Your payment process doesn’t look secure
  • There are too many steps to the checkout process
  • They were just browsing and filling their ideal shopping cart for fun (I totally do this)
  • Their cart is too expensive

Whatever the reason, you need a way to get at least some of those customers back.

Business Insider said that online retailers will lose as much as $4 trillion to cart abandonment.

That’s trillion. With a “T.”

But good news – those retailers can recover about 63% of that lost revenue. Hallelujah for the abandoned cart email sequence.

A good abandoned cart email sequence uses at least 3 emails.

  • Email 1: The first reminder – sent after 24 hours
  • Email 2: Addressing possible objections – sent after 48 hours
  • Email 3: Incentivize them with a discount – sent after 72 hours

If you think you need more emails, go for it! Just be careful not to be too pushy.

Here are a few abandoned cart email examples we love.

Appealing to emotions (like Dote)

No wants to be abandone