The Ultimate Guide to Email Sequences

Email is everything in digital marketing. It's the oldest, most personal, and effective digital marketing tool that a business can use. 

In 2017 alone, global email users amounted to 3.7 billion users. This figure is set to grow to 4.1 billion users in 2021. By the end of 2018, worldwide mobile email users are expected to total over 2.2 billion.

Not to mention that the ROI for email averages 124% (DMA’s Response Rate Report) which far exceeds other marketing channels.

That all adds up to the most profitable channel you can use for your business. But building effective email sequences is a daunting task for someone new to email marketing and something that is hard to master.

That's why we've put together this comprehensive guide to give you a strong understanding of how to leverage email sequences and autoresponder emails in your business. We've also pulled together examples of the best email sequences from ​two of the top copywriters to inspire your email marketing.

Sales Funnels and the Customer Journey

Before we dive into email sequences you should first understand basic consumer psychology and the concept of a sales funnels.

As savvy marketers and business owners you should be concerned with both short-term and long-term value of your customers. This is more commonly referred to as the customer life cycle and LTV (lifetime value) of your customers.

customer lifecycle

This guide mainly focuses on the last three stages of the life cycle. But how do you utilize this life cycle in a practical sense? That's where sales funnels come into play. Sales funnels serve as a practical outline of your email messaging and customer interactions. 

For the best results you'll have multiple sequences based on your lead or customer's most recent actions.

Traditionally, a sales funnel was shown as just one funnel converting less and less people as they move further towards becoming a customer. But realistically, the most effective funnels will actually look more like an hourglass:

new marketing funnel

The hour glass funnel represents the continuing relationships that consumers have with the brands they use. Knowing which step that each segment of your list is at is crucial for the maximum conversions.

Think about the last time you bought a car. First you decide that you should get or replace your car. Then you have to figure out what type of vehicle you want to purchase.

Now imagine walking into a dealership to get an idea if you want a sedan, truck, or van. If the sales person tries to push something very specific like a Ford Mustang, you're unlikely to be receptive and may never return to that dealership ever again.

That's because, like a lot of businesses, they aren't thinking about the customer's awareness level and where they are in the buying cycle. This leads to your conversions tanking because you're skipping important steps.

Eugene Schwartz  recognized this and broke it down into the customer awareness lifecycle:

five levels of awareness

Each stage has specific messaging needs and skipping steps will usually cause a disconnect with the customer resulting in a loss.

The good news is that with email marketing, you know their latest actions and can gauge where they are in their lifecycle based on that information. Then you can use the technology of email automation to move people to various segments and automatically send them the appropriate messaging. 

The Basic Anatomy of An Email

Now that you have an understanding of the customer lifecycle, it’s a good time to take a look at the anatomy of an email.

From Name

Use a name that your audience recognizes and trusts. If they've followed you for awhile, sometimes this is all they need to see in order to open the email.

From Email Address

Avoid generic emails like "[email protected], or [email protected]" In general that should be saved for system messages. By using a name in your email it's less likely they'll ignore you.

Subject Line

This is the first thing your audience will see, followed shortly by the preview text. That means you have to create catchy "must open" subject lines to get the most people reading your email.

One quick fast test of subject lines is to see if it passes the four U's test. Is it urgent, unique, useful, and ultra-specific? 

Preview Text

Some ESPs (email service providers) allow you to create unique preview text that is separate from your body copy.

infusionsoft preview text

A screenshot of Infusionsoft's Preview Text feature.

Otherwise your readers will see a snippet of the body that gives them an idea of what the message is about. Make sure this supports your subject line, shows the main benefit, and intrigues the reader into clicking.


It's best to say hello before diving into any subject, otherwise your emails can come off as impersonal and create dissonance between your audience and your brand.


This is the main message for your emails and should have hyperlinks to your one CTA. There are a few easy to follow formulas for writing email body copy, including PAS and AIDA format.

TIP: To help engage your readers try to use you, your, and you're as much as possible. That way the messaging feels more personal and focuses on giving value to the reader. 

Calls To Action

The general rule of email is to have one focused action and goal per email. This is your first step in writing any email because a clear CTA (call to action) gives you a goal that will reflect in your messaging.

A good CTA:

  • Helps you keep the messaging simple.
  • Increases the conversion rate of your emails.
  • Makes planning your sequence much easier by knowing the goal of each email.

TIP: For an extra punch, you should add a little scarcity by using words like 'today' and 'now'.

The main exceptions to this would be newsletters and article roundups, where the goal is to give value and engage your reader. Inside these types of email are different links, essentially turning the email into a mini-landing page.

CTAs can come in a few forms including a hero image before the copy, hyperlinks, pasted urls, and buttons. The copy associated with CTAs should push the reader to click with pain avoidance or benefits.

​Button CTA:
call to action
​Text CTA:
call to action example

This is the sign off and a chance to build authority and familiarity. Name and title is the standard for this section, but you can also add a picture of yourself or your signature for a personal touch.


It's well documented that people first fast scan their emails looking from the top to the bottom. That means what you have at the beginning and end of your emails is the most important messaging. At times you'll want to take advantage of this by using a P.S.

With a good P.S., you can remind them of your main CTA and add urgency. You can also use this section to objection squash (Like putting your 30-day guarantee there).

Email Sequences

Email sequences are a series of emails that move the reader from one customer stage to another and if done properly, the reader should have a seamless experience.

The first thing you should know about email sequences is that each one is drastically different. That's because each sequence should have a unique purpose.

It's also important to note that you'll be using an email autoresponder or drip automation technology to deliver each sequence. With automation, you'll be able to deliver emails based on when your leads joined each segment, instead of sending an email manually to your whole list. 

Here's a breakdown of the most common email sequences.

Welcome Email Sequence

Welcome emails help with both converting your audience in the short-term and increasing the lifetime value of your customers overall.

They set the tone for all future communications and the relation that the reader has with your company.

Here is a 3 ​Welcome Email Sequence from Syed Balkhi at OptinMonster:
  • ​Email 1
  • ​Email 2
  • ​Email 3
optin monster email 3

Activation Sequence

Activation sequences are all about delivering value and informing your readers. A lot of emails in this series will be content such as free PDFs, videos, and articles. Every new lead should go through this sequence making it one of your most evergreen funnels.

Towards the end of this sequence you can go for small priced products, but only if they are engaging with these emails.

In this activation series by CoSchedule, you can see that they offer a few different areas of specialty. By opting in you would be put into a segmentation series.

Here are the first three emails of their activation autoresponder:
  • ​Email 1
  • ​Email 2
  • ​Email 3
coschedule email sequence

Segmentation Sequence

After your leads make it to the end of the customer awareness track, they will have likely taken a bunch of actions. Depending on what they engaged with, you can create a series of emails that speaks to them and their apparent desires. Then you'll take those desires and connect them with your main offer.

The majority of your leads will spend most of their time in these sequences. Included in these series are most sales sequences. You'll also use other sequences at this stage including webinar and event series if the content is relevant to that segment.

Here is a segmentation email sequence that we used for our brand, Membership Site Masters, the audience was problem aware and with the added value we pushed into a re-opening sales series:
  • ​Email 1
  • ​Email 2
  • ​Email 3
  • ​Email 4
  • ​Email 5
  • ​email 6
  • ​Email 7
  • ​Email 8
  • ​Email 9
  • ​Email 10
  • ​Email 11

Reactivation Sequence

A lot of marketers will ignore the leads that don't convert. Cutting off any value emails and only sending emails when they're blasting holiday sales. But like any relationship, only talking to someone when you want something is NOT a great way to treat someone.

That's where the reactivation series comes in. Emails in this autoresponder email sequence can be value adds, surveys, and messages asking if they want to stay on your email list. If successful, these sequences should activate the lead and put them back into a segmentation series.

The people of this segment that still refuse to open your emails can be trimmed from your list to lower your cost and increase the overall effectiveness of your email marketing.

Here is a keep subscribed email from AWeber and a special return discount from Keurig:
  • ​Aweber
  • ​Keurig
email service provider

Upsell Sequence

One of the cornerstones of lead value optimization (getting the most from each lead) is the upsell sequence. This is for the most aware people that have already purchased something from you. The offer could be a tripwire or your main product.

Upsells, in general, are some of the easiest sells you'll make because you'll be offering complimentary products to what your customers have already purchased.

Here is an upsell email sequence for Digital Marketer that also incorporates flash sale elements:
  • ​Email 1
  • ​Email 2
  • ​Email 3
  • ​Email 4
  • ​email 5
  • ​email 6
  • ​email 7

Advocate Sequence

These email sequences are often overlooked because they usually don't have immediate tangible results. The idea here is to empower loyal customers to spread the word of your product or service. This can both be a paid or free effort (why not build both).

Asking for testimonials, affiliate programs, customer loyalty rewards, and referral programs are good examples of this. Pretty much any series of email that is exclusive to members and makes them want to tell your friends about it fits in this category.

Here are some examples of emails in advocate sequences by Casper Mattresses, Dropbox, and Ubereats:
  • ​Casper
  • ​Dropbox 2
  • ​UberEats
email sequences

Abandoned Cart Sequence

One of the most amazing and best autoresponder available to every business is the ability to send emails to people that abandoned their cart before purchasing. Usually these sequences are used with social retargeting for the biggest impact.

Ideally you'll want to send a message within 2 hours of the cart abandon, then follow up 24 hours after that, then offer a discount or bonus 4 days after purchase. That way you are at first reminding them, then taking their interest and giving them a deal to add urgency so they actually purchase.

Here is a abandoned cart sequence created by Russell Brunson:
  • ​Email 1
  • ​Email 2
  • ​Email 3
  • ​Email 4

Event and Webinar Email Sequences

One of the most powerful selling channels are events like webinars and in-person masterminds. They are highly engaging and bring the customer through the awareness stages very quickly. With these events you have two email autoresponder series to write. 

First you need an invite autoresponder series to get them to register for your event. Then you need a follow up email sequence that gives them a replay and reminds them the value they just gained. Finally you should include sales emails in your follow up, reminding them of the deal you offered on the webinar.

Here is a webinar sequence from Brian Moran of SamCart:
  • ​Email 1
  • ​Email 2
  • ​Email 3
  • ​Email 4
  • ​Email 5
  • ​email 6
  • ​Email 7
  • ​Email 8

​Favorite Email Sequences from Top Copywriters

If you want great ​autoresponder emails you are going to need great email copy. That's why we reached out to some of the best copywriters alive and asked them to share with us one of their favorite sequences  and why they are so impactful.

These excellent examples hopefully inspire you to create some amazing email sequences of your own. 

Email Service Providers

To build an email sequence you're going to need an email service provider. These services range in price and complexity start from $0 to $10,000+ a month depending mostly on how many contacts you have in the system.

The most popular ESPs are:

email service providers

If you are interested in trying out email autoresponders and email, Mailchimp is a good place to start. It has a lot of the same features as the pricier ESPs and is free for under 2,000 contacts. It is also more simplistic, so you'll likely switch to something like Infusionsoft or Hubspot when you want to up your automation game.

Optimizing Your Email Sequences

You may notice as your build your list that your open rates and clicks will slip. This is usually a sign that you have to start using email segmentation, personalization, and A/B testing.

List Segmentation 

One of the most powerful tools in an email marketers arsenal is list segmentation. So much so that I already mentioned it as a unique sequence! But it's worth mentioning that you should be using an ESP that allows you to build lists based on user's actions. That way you can trigger messaging that is proactive to what they're doing.  

Find out all about list segmentation here.


Another way to get more clicks and conversions is by customizing your autoresponder messaging to the individual reader. This is easy to do in most ESPs

Try these personalization strategies:

  • Create customer avatars: Through conversations with your community and surveys you should discover who your customers are. Build up a few key customer avatars that represent the bulk of your audience. From there you can develop messaging that resonates with each separate group.
  • Ask your community: Occasionally you'll want to poll your community about what types of content they want. You can put this in a newsletter, on an exit popup, or as a user poll on social. It's amazing how quickly most communities will tell you exactly what they want.
  • Use first names: Generic greetings are a quick way to turn off your readers, that's why a simple use of their name can boost engagement in any email. But don't worry, most ESPs have this built into their service, just make sure that you ask for a first name when they're signing up for your list.
A/B Testing

You should always be tracking your open rates, clicks, and conversions. That way you can test various elements in your emails to boost overall performance. Some things to test are subject lines, images, copy length, and buttons.

You'll find that most ESPs make this pretty painless, which means you should be testing as much as possible to optimize your emails.

Which email sequence impressed you the most? 

If you want to learn how to write and combine the most effective email sequences and autoresponder emails for your business, then keep your eyes out for our comprehensive email marketing course coming out soon. It combines the best strategies and proven templates, sequences, autoresponders, and  techniques that will give you much higher conversions. 

For now, you can get more insights on email marketing:

Have any questions? Ask them below and let's start a conversation.

Bryan Culver

Bryan is the Copywriter at Performance Marketer. He has years of marketing experience with a heavy focus on content creation. He lives to create, entertain, and share valuable insight.


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