General

Onboarding Emails: Best Practices for Increasing Initial App Retention

“Users try out a lot of apps but decide which ones they want to stop using within the first 3-7 days. The key to success is to get users hooked during that critical first 3-7 day period.”

– Ankit Jain, Head of Search and Discovery, Google Play

Downloads mean nothing if you can’t keep your users.

Mobile marketers get one shot to make a great first impression. You have an extremely narrow window to capture and keep a new user’s interest before they slip away forever — which makes your onboarding email campaign one of the most important tools in your user engagement arsenal.

With effective onboarding, you get higher retention rates, greater revenues, and up to a 500% increase in customer lifetime value.

Keep reading for onboarding email best practices, the anatomy of an effective welcome email sequence, plus onboarding welcome message examples from guided meditation app Headspace.

Why Email is an Essential Onboarding Channel

With media-rich push notifications and SMS marketing taking off, it’s tempting to see email as an outdated channel. But email marketing is the tried-and-true tool that continues to deliver. Want proof? Open rates for onboarding welcome emails stand at a staggering 57.8%.1

So why is email so effective as a customer onboarding channel?

For one, it’s expected. Users who add their email address on your app anticipate a welcome email within a few minutes, so they’re primed to engage with your onboarding messages. Plus, their interest in your app is at a high point. They’re sold on your value prop (they signed up, after all) and ready to explore your app.

Second, it’s an external channel. You can’t count on new users to take the initiative to open your app, which makes dropping reminders into their inbox an effective way to engage them and start building usage habits.

Beginner’s Guide To Data-Driven Email Marketing

Beginner’s Guide To Data-Driven Email Marketing

Get started with data-driven email marketing and supercharge conversions from the first email sent.

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Onboarding Email Best Practices

An effective welcome email increases engagement by 33% — and can generate 320% more revenue than regular emails.2

But to see that kind of ROI, you have to do onboarding emails right. For a successful strategy, build your welcome email flow on these onboarding email best practices.

  1. Set a goal for each email in your onboarding flow. Use cohorts to discover what key actions lead to long-term retention. With these insights, you can create clear, compelling CTAs for each email that effectively hook users on your app.
  2. Reaffirm your app’s core value. Remind users why they started using your app in the first place — and assure them that you’re able to deliver on your promises.
  3. Focus on benefits, not features. Just as you want to reinforce your app’s value, highlighting what users will ultimately gain from using your app is a powerful way to get them on board. After all, users are more interested in how your app will help them save time or money, feel or look better, or have more fun than they are about the mechanics of your app.
  4. Make it fun. Elicit positive emotions for higher engagement and positive brand recall. Messaging like “You’re in!”, “Let the fun begin,” or “Get the latest fashion — and help local charities” are all simple ways to make readers feel good about supporting your brand.
  5. Personalize. Not all user journeys are the same. Some will come to your app via a social media promotion, and others will discover you right on the app store. Some users will download your app, sign up, and immediately start poking around. Others will download and forget to ever open your app.

    By segmenting your new users and tailoring your welcome messages to their experience, you’ll see up to 100.95% higher click-through rates3 and 18x more revenue.4
  6. Provide incentives to act. Give readers a compelling reason to do what you want them to do. Offering a bonus can be the carrot that leads them to engage with your app and get to that “aha moment.”

    There are simple ways to nudge users to create a playlist, connect with a friend, upload a photo, search for a restaurant — whatever key action you want them to take in your app. Consider adding days to a free trial, offering a promo code, temporarily upgrading a subscription, or providing limited-time access to exclusive features or content.
  7. Keep it simple. Onboarding emails don’t have to be super short, but they should be easy to digest. Keep copy concise and include eye-catching visuals or GIFs to guide readers through the email and to your CTA.
  8. Optimize for mobile. 67% of all emails are opened on mobile. Knowing the ideal subject line length, button size, and CTA position is essential for creating emails that render well on mobile. For more, check out our infographic: 8 Tips for Making Email Campaigns Mobile-Friendly.
  9. Test and optimize. User expectations are always evolving. By continually A/B testing welcome messages, you’ll be able to see what’s working for each segment and what can be improved.

Creating Your Onboarding Email Sequence: Lessons from Headspace

What happens after the initial welcome email?

Effective onboarding takes more than a single message. You should have one set of emails to nurture active users, and a separate track to attract and engage inactive users.  

Email Onboarding Flow: Welcome Email Template

How the Headspace App Onboards New Users via Email

Headspace, a popular guided meditation app, has more than 11 million downloads. With over 2 million active users and 400,000 paying subscribers, it was recently valued at $250 million.5

One of their secrets to success is how well they convert new users into loyal customers. A key part of that is their email onboarding strategy. They’ve perfected their onboarding email flow to build new user habits, convert free users into paying subscribers, and build long-term engagement.

Email 1: Welcome message

Headspace sends personalized welcome messages to new users within minutes of signing up on the app. Fun, quirky illustrations immediately engage the eye and let users know: this isn’t some stuffy meditation app. Crisp copy focuses on the app’s key benefit: less stress and a happier life with just a few minutes of mindfulness.

Sequence A: Nurture Active Users

After the initial welcome message, Headspace tailors onboarding emails for both active and inactive users. This first flow focuses on leading active users farther down the customer path to build daily habits, purchase a subscription, and eventually become brand evangelists.

Nudge Users to Act

Depending on your app, this action could be trying out a central feature, conducting a search, consuming content, adding a friend, or creating a profile. In the case of Headspace, that key action is getting an active user to complete another meditation session and start building a daily habit.

Headspace cleverly sends a virtual high five to engaged users to build on their meditation streak, reinforce the benefits of daily practice, and foster a positive emotional connection with the company.

Highlight Key Features

Help new users get to know the special features that set your app apart. The faster they get to experience how cool your app is, the more likely they are to get hooked on its benefits.

Headspace sends a specific email to spotlight its subscription-only Singles feature, a series of one-off meditations that focus on a single topic like sports training, feeling overwhelmed, and creative writing.

Purchase a Subscription or Upgrade Your Account

From ads and in-app purchases to subscriptions, deciding which monetization strategy is right for your app is an important business decision. But no matter which model you choose, knowing how and when to monetize new users can be tricky.

Like many apps, Headspace has an always-free plan (no trial that runs out). So they focus on monetizing currently active users by offering an annual subscription with a hefty discount. This not only helps the company make money, it keeps Headspace users committed and engaged long-term.

Upsell Satisfied Customers

Upselling without being pushy can be tough to pull off. But by focusing your upsell strategies on the customers who will actually benefit from additional products or services, you can increase revenue and user satisfaction.

Headspace understands that many of its users are turning to the app to reduce stress and anxiety and improve their quality of life. And a big part of that is getting a good night’s sleep.

To help users get more value out of the app (and to upsell users who are already experiencing the benefits of their service), Headspace sends an email announcing free limited-time access to their sleep sounds and singles.   

Share or Refer a Friend

92% of people trust referrals from their friends.* Encouraging your champion users to spread the word can be a powerful way to grow your user base and provide compelling social proof to prospective users.

Headspace gives users who have a 30-day history of daily engagement a free month to share with a friend. And the line: “We all know someone who should treat their head right… right?” makes it sound like the user is really doing their friend a favor, not Headspace.

Sequence B: Engage Inactive Users

Not every new user is going to jump right in and engage with your app. In fact, most won’t. 24% of apps are only opened once.

Onboarding emails are an important tool to remind new users why they’re interested in your app, how it can improve their lives, and get them on track to become habitual users.

Reaffirm Your Value Prop and Nudge to Act

Headspace has a very clear understanding of its audience, and what gets in the way of their success: feeling intimidated by meditation, and not finding the time.

So they tailor onboarding emails for inactive new users to address these two specific issues. In the first, the message is simple: meditation is really easy. The second emphasizes how little time it truly takes to reap the benefits.

Incentivize Log In or Purchase

Headspace incentivizes subscription purchases, which makes sense for their business model of converting freemium users into paying subscribers. But sometimes the goal is simply to get inactive new users to open the app. To encourage inactive users to log in, Headspace could offer limited-time access to paid features like the Headspace Library or sleep sounds to encourage inactive users to explore the app and get hooked on premium features.

Offer Help

Whether it’s booking a trip, browsing for a new TV show to watch, or uploading a new photo, sometimes users just get stuck. They haven’t played around with your app enough to know how to find what they’re looking for, or they’re simply unaware of a feature or service you offer.

By offering help, quick tips, or reminders, you can help new users get value out of your app without taking the time to explore every feature. Sometimes, a simple word of encouragement, as Headspace provides below, is just as effective.

Re-engage Inactive Users with Useful Content

Done right, content marketing can be a powerful tool for user engagement. Sending inactive users a roundup of your most popular or latest blog posts, videos, and podcasts can show the value you provide to users and reignite their interest in your product.

Win Dormant Users Back

Deals and bonus offers are the #1 reason users say they return to an app after uninstalling.* Think of this email as your last-ditch attempt to get a new user to engage with your app. Most companies pull out all the stops and offer a really tempting discount or promotion to pique a dormant user’s interest.

This “Last Chance” email from Headspace offers a significant discount, creates a sense of urgency to act, and indicates to users that it will be the last time they hear from the company.

Measuring Onboarding Email Success

Once you’ve built your onboarding email flow, you’ll want to track performance. Here are three key metrics to keep an eye on so you can gauge your success:

  1. Open Rate. Average open rates for welcome emails stand at 57%.
  2. Click-Through Rate. Triggered welcome emails see an average 14.4% CTR.1
  3. Conversion Rate. Ultimately, opens and clicks don’t matter if users don’t complete the intended action. Current average conversion rates for real-time welcome emails are 4%.1

Take the Next Step with Omnichannel User Onboarding  

Go beyond email to provide new customers with a seamless user experience on the optimal channel. Use Journeys to build sophisticated onboarding campaigns that automatically offers one path for active users who open a welcome email, and can send fallback messages via push or SMS to those who don’t.

Beginner’s Guide To Data-Driven Email Marketing

Beginner’s Guide To Data-Driven Email Marketing

Get started with data-driven email marketing and supercharge conversions from the first email sent.

Download Now

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