How to supercharge your (swiped) onboarding sequences with the power of copy

Kalo Yankulov

Kalo Yankulov

Co-founder and marketer at Encharge.

From “best practices” to “just right for you”: make your sequence relevant to your new users, and find the right words to make them open your emails and act on them

Are you assuming that all of your new users are going to jump into action and start using your SaaS product the second they create their accounts?

The reality is quite different.

HubSpot cites a number of stats that show that after a new user signs up, the battle for their attention is far from won.

Here are some of the scarier numbers mentioned in the post:


Fortunately for all of us, there are many, many resources with templates, best practices, examples of great SaaS copy, onboarding drip examples to steal, and swipe files.

Templates + best practice = “Yes, and…” (why swiping is not going to fuel your growth)

As an email copywriter and strategist, I have nothing but respect for templates. In fact, I use them every day.

There’s absolutely no reason to keep reinventing the same wheel all over and over again.

But here’s the tricky part: if you google “onboarding sequence SaaS templates,” you’ll get about 4,160,000 results.

So, unless you are into online research and learning by doing, you’re going to hit the first 3-5 results on the first SERP and run with it.

Because, let’s be real: who’s got the time?!

The templates are an amazing point for jumping off and getting the thing done.

I’ve seen Drift’s emails reused in the wild, and, to be fair, they were published to be reused. So if you really just need to get something out of the door NOW and start collecting data – go with it!

The problem with templates and ready-to-plug-in workflows is:

  1. They are not customized for your product, your business model, your goals, and your users (aka the strategy part), and
  2. They sound like everybody else and/or are so boring they get overlooked in an overflowing inbox (aka the copy part)

To put this in a Science-y-Looking Fancy FormulaTM format, this is what you’ll be missing out on:

Strategy([your goals] + [user goals] + [timing]) + Copy([distinctive brand voice] + [great emails]) = Everybody Wins (🎉💸🙌)

Here’s a quick breakdown of the Science-y-Looking Fancy FormulaTM:

  • Your goals -> clearly, you want something to happen – otherwise, why put in the effort to develop a drip?
  • User goals -> your new users didn’t sign up for fun (except for copywriters, who sign up for fun + swipe files)
  • Timing -> there’s a reason email marketers focus on the right recipient + right message + right time trifecta (if I forgot to use your product in the first place, am I likely to care about the fact that my free trial is about to expire?)
  • Distinctive brand voice -> remember these 2 words: “overflowing inbox”
  • Great emails -> not about adding scarcity or emojis. Rather, it’s about getting your customers (and knowing what to say to get them to convert)

Strategy: help your new users achieve their goals, go “aha!” and stay with you (forever)

Your goal for the onboarding drip: help your new users achieve *their* goals

Let’s take a step back for a high-level look at the reasons why your onboarding sequence matters – and who it is for.

Even though your business goals are to reduce churn, increase activation rates and free to paid or trial to paid conversion rates, what matters most is helping your users to see the point in using your product.

From the reason they’ve signed up for your product  to the next step they need to take to go “Ooooh” (or possibly “Aha!”) – your onboarding drip’s job is to be there for them and cheer them on… without coming across as annoying, needy, or selfish, and without “trying to badger subscribers into submission” (as Aaron Orendorff puts it here).

Most importantly, it’s not only about things that your users do – it’s also about things that they don’t do.

Either because they’re too busy…

Or because they forgot to log in….

Or because they got confused….

…or for an entirely different reason.

For products that help teams collaborate better, no “Aha!” moment is ever going to be possible if a new user doesn’t bring their team along.

In which case, you *need* your new users to get their team on board and get them to sign up as well.

If you’re helping your users figure out what’s going on on their website and how to optimize it for conversions, you need your new users to install the tracking code – or the “Aha!’ moment will never arrive. is not needy, greedy, or badgering, but they are pretty relentless about making sure I do get value out their product

And, speaking of greedy & needy, if you only remind about the end of a free trial the day before – whether your new users have been logging in and using your product or not – this isn’t going to reduce churn either.

Why timing is everything for onboarding drips, too

There are some cases when you can totally get away with a time-based drip. For example, “best of…” for newsletter subscribers (if that’s your jam).

But for an onboarding sequence – even for a launch sequence – you can’t set something on autopilot and hope that this works.

The reason being: this’ll make your email drip irrelevant for most of the recipients.

What if they haven’t opened your previous email?

What if they’re one of the 40 to 60% of users who’ve only tried your product once?

This means that for them the context of your next email’s going to be completely different from the context of a new user who’s already using your product every day.

Right timing means that you’re not sending power user tips to someone who hasn’t logged in since the day of the signup… or re-sending an email with a reminder to invite friends to someone who’s already spreading the word.

Right timing also means that you’re guiding each of your new users towards the most important next step *for them*, helping them achieve their goals – step by step. So that you can achieve your conversion + retention goals, too.

To time your emails right, you need to know what a win looks like for them (which is why it’s worth considering personalizing drips for different user segments).

You also need to be aware of the fact that your email’s hitting an exploding inbox and is competing with all. the. things. Here’s an (incomplete) list of all the things:

  • To-dos
  • Facebook
  • Slack
  • Getting work done
  • Lunch

…and an additional list of all the ways our human minds make us procrastinate:

  • “This sounds like too much work”
  • “Did I sign up for this?”
  • “Which of the links am I supposed to click on?”
  • “Ooooh, they’re on Twitter. Time to check my Twitter feed”
  • “I’ll do it tomorrow”
  • “I don’t have time this week”
  • ‘I have no idea how to do this. Where’s the support request form again?”

We humans are good at being distracted, aren’t we?

So to cut through the noise, you need some superpowers.

Copywriting as a superpower: from “get to open” to “get to click” to “convert”

You might be thinking: yeah, whatever. What does copy have to do with getting my new users to convert?

If you’ve already figured out your onboarding strategy, then:

  • You know what your users need to do to get the value out of your product.
  • You know where and when they might get stuck and have triggers set up to do that.
  • You have the onboarding drip flow set up.
  • The next step is: getting your users to:
    • a) open your emails, and
    • b) act on them.

This is when you’ll need copy skills to get your users to open, click, act – and, most importantly, be delighted to do so.

If you think that a “distinctive brand voice” is something for huge companies with ginormous marcom departments, read this

“Thank you for signing up” as a welcome email is not quite living up to “convert and delight”, is it? Same for “confirm your subscription” or even “Welcome to [X], [new user first name]”.

So this is why brand voice matters.

Use the templates. But make them your own.

It’s not creative writing. It’s talking human (listen to Alaura Weaver, she knows what it’s all about: “frame your relationship with your customer as a shared story, with the customer as the hero of that story”).

Your brand doesn’t have to be all sunshine and rainbows. See for yourself ->

Shanelle Mullin’s grumpy welcome email is one of my faves, because it is so different. How can you make your subject lines and email copy stand out?

Great emails: what does that *actually* mean (and how to write one)?

Before you click away to google “how to write great copy” (about 1,130,000,000 results 😱)… a disclaimer: it would be nice to think that updating your email subject lines to make them more “you”  is going to eliminate % of the churn and get 120% of your new users to sign up for your paid plan.

If only it were that simple.

“Copy that converts” is based on understanding your customers, knowing what they care about, and helping them focus on achieving that goal throughout your onboarding sequence (like getting back 2 hours every day, or being constantly frustrated by too. many. tabs.).

That’s not something that a snappy subject line’s going to fix for you.

The good news is that doing customer research, both for users who convert and for users who ghost you after signing up, you’ll be able to better understand their motivations, speak their language (which is just as important, if not more important, than having the most-recognizable-brand-voice-ever), and guide them through the onboarding more effectively and more converting-ly (that’s a word now).

Final tip: how to think about designing your email drip so that you don’t feel overwhelmed

Each email is there for a reason (even if that reason is to give your new customers a virtual high five).

As you’re working on your highly personable, amazingly you, and laser-focused drip flow to guide your new users through the onboarding process and help them get their first “Aha!” and first win, keep asking yourself “Do I need this email?”

With that question, you’ll be able to give it all to fewer emails,and gradually build out your email sequence based on how your users react to it.

Screenshot 2020 06 23 at 2.45.25 PM 1 2

Right message, right time, right recipient Segmentation does that.


Ekaterina Howard is a web and email copywriter and strategist, using the power of customer research to write targeted email drips that are opened and acted upon. She publishes “Onboarding lessons” from different SaaS companies on her blog. Check them out and subscribe here.

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