Email: The Easiest Way to Improve Retention

If you could boost conversion 30% for $50 a month, would you? Sending your users targeted, helpful emails is guaranteed to give you a significant conversion boost, so it's worth it to pay for an email service.

This week we'll show you three emails to increase your conversion and retention: the surprise personal email, the abandoned task email, and the last email you'll ever send.

People's first reaction is "but I don't know what to write!" Don't worry, getting started is easy. Colin's newsletter on writing great email copy introduces a super-simple email that you just can't mess up. And it pays off in droves:

The Surprise Personal Email

The first time you can possibly send an email is right after a user signs up. This is a sensitive period: they're exploring your product, and if they get confused they're likely to jump ship. Only a few users will bother to send a support request, praying for a reply.

This is the perfect time to reach out.

All it takes is a single-sentence email from a founder asking if they need any help getting set up. It's a magical experience for users: someone cares. And not just anyone, but the founder of the company!

Every company I've talked to has gotten a major boost from this super-simple email. Here's an example from James at Bugsnag:


Case Study: Bugsnag

Bugsnag captures errors from your web and mobile applications. The first email they send to new signups is very simple, but has been yielding great results.

32 minutes after someone signs up, they get a one-line email directly from James, the CEO of Bugsnag, asking if they need any help:

Hey #{ first_name },

I'm James, CEO of Bugsnag. I wanted to reach out to see if you need any help getting started.

Cheers, James

People reply to this email a whopping 22% of the time. Consider that for a second. With a simple email, James starts valuable conversations with one-fifth of his users. And in return he gets tons of helpful feedback like this:

Nope, pretty straightfoward (well done) to integrate into a javascript web app and node.js server side. Flowdock integration would be nice.

... or hints about how people find out about his product like this:

Hey, my buddy sent me here, looks good so far

By starting a dialogue with their users, Bugsnag has found they can convert people who would usually bounce. Users often get stuck without an answer to the questions they ask, they would have exited the on-boarding process and disappeared forever. But now they get a personal email from someone they can reach out to for help.

There are two important points here that you don't want to miss:

First, the email sets up a direct channel for support questions. The fact that you care about this customer is what gives the email it's mojo.

Second, by delaying the email 30 minutes, people who got distracted come back and finish setting up even if they never reply. The result is happier customers and better conversion.

This surprise personal email will take you 5 minutes to write, and 10 minutes to set up from scratch. I cannot recommend it enough.

What can you send next?

The Abandoned Task Email

The key to great emails is to ask "How can I help my users succeed?" When a user abandons your app right before they complete a task, that's an opportunity to help them succeed. Reach out to them and find out why they didn't complete the task (maybe you have a bug?), and remind them what they were trying to achieve.

Here's an example in action from Flightfox:


Case Study: Flight Fox

Flightfox helps their customers 'hack' the best flight itinerary using the power of the crowd.

The process has three steps: providing your itinerary details (e.g. SFO to LON), payment and ultimately, awarding the contest.

Flightfox had a hunch that many people were abandoning the process at the payment step. After confirming this was the case with their analytics they set up an automatic email in Vero that explains why customers should come back and complete their flight contest.

This single campaign lifted the conversions on their entire funnel by 1.5% and, after further A/B testing, has permanently lifted conversions by 3%.

With just a few hours' investment, Flightfox has made a massive improvement to their bottom line and helped their customers succeed.

Abandoned Task emails are really effective at increasing conversion for users who have fallen out of your funnel. But you can also send targeted emails to up-sell specific subsets of your users without spamming everyone. Here's a great example from the design firm Holstee.

The Last Email You'll Ever Send.

The ultimate type of abandonment is when a paid user churns. This is especially painful, because paid users are really expensive to acquire: 2% of your total visitors will sign up, maybe 30% of those users will activate, and even fewer will pay you. That means that every churned user costs you hundreds or thousands of new visitors.

That sucks! But targeted email can help.

The biggest mistake you can make is to send a lame "We miss you!" email begging the user to come back. Compare these two real emails. Which makes you want to come back?

We've missed you on CouchSurfing! It's been a long time since we've seen you around! The last time you logged into CouchSurfing was four months ago.


A lot has changed since you left – so we'd like to offer you another FREE trial!

Come back to Netflix and enjoy newly added TV shows & movies – for free. Now including Wii, PS3, Xbox 360, iPhone, iPad, Android and more.

Questions? 1-888-357-1516 / 24 hours a day

The email from CouchSurfing selfishly begs for it's own success. But the second email from NetFlix is trying to help the user. It gives solid reasons to trial again, and even offers a clear channel to talk to a human.

Do as Netflix does: keep churned users updated on your latest improvements, and give them ample opportunity to tell you why they churned.

Now it's your turn.

We've introduced you to three automated emails: the surprise personal email, the abandoned task email, and the last email you ever send. Each one is a great opportunity to learn more about your customers and improve your product.

As you write them up, just remember that successful emails help your users succeed.

We've put together a shortlist of email marketing tools that are well-designed, inexpensive and will have you sending great emails in no time. They're really a no-brainer:, Klaviyo and Vero let you send customized emails like the ones from this lesson. You can target users based on their behavior in your app or traits like "Subscription Plan Type". Klaviyo is particularly focused on e-commerce.

If you're a big business looking for heavy email power tools, are ready to invest in lots of email marketing automation, and need to hook into a CRM, you should investigate these tools (they come with a steep price tag):

Pardot lets you manage large email lists with complicated automation. HubSpot is a complete marketing suite that includes email marketing automation and integration with Salesforce. And Marketo has zillions of features bolted onto their email marketing tool, including Salesforce integration and even trade show management.

Your homework this week is to set up an email marketing product, and start sending your surprise personal email. Send us your plans for the next targeted email after that and one of our co-founders will give you critique to help you improve it.

PS. Looking for more email copy tips? Colin from has a great newsletter on writing great email copy, Chris from Vero analyzes great emails on their blog, and if you want to learn more about email tools available, check out our detailed comparison of marketing automation tools.