21 min read

$1MM Email Sequences: how we write them, and how you can too

Two copywriters/marketing strategists share their process for creating million-dollar remail sequences.
$1MM Email Sequences: how we write them, and how you can too

Too many brands – regardless of industry – fail to get the kind of ROI they should from email marketing.

Truth is, email can be the highest ROI channel. But only if you’re using it well.

In this piece, we’re gonna explain what you need to know to ensure your email campaigns don’t just provide a positive ROI, but practically print money for you.

Who are we?

I’m Pete, and this is my esteemed colleague and fellow copywriter Dan.

Between us we’ve created email sequences responsible for;

  • A free trial to paid user conversion rate averaging ~26%
  • Creation and optimisation of an email sequence that was the main driver in growing a brand to over $220,000 in MRR within 18 months
  • An ecommerce campaign that’s driven over $2.5 million per month in the last 6 months.
  • Successful relaunch campaigns for two restaurants and two breweries. In each case, the businesses went from losing money to making a profit within 2 months.

We know our stuff.

And we want to help you turn your email campaigns into the conversion powerhouse of your business.

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Email Marketing Best Practices

OK, so just like our landing page copywriting guide, before we get into the process I want to outline a couple of high-level considerations that should inform your overall email marketing strategy.

Warning #1: Email is not a cure-all

Email is the ROI King, but that doesn’t mean it’s a cure-all for any issue.

It can help increase the core metrics your business should be focusing on –  sales, customer loyalty, and the almighty revenue.

But it’s no silver bullet.

If your product is crap. Email won’t help.

If you’re targeting the wrong audience. Email won’t help.

If you’re not taking the time to understand what it is your users want. Email won’t help.

Email is great at forming that 1:1 connection with users. Arguably still the best medium to do so.

But if the foundational elements of your business are sub-par, email won’t be able to save you.

So before you start thinking that email is the saviour to your issues, take a look at;

  • Product-market fit
  • Your audience, their needs, and your product
Email marketing is the most high revenue action for your business

Warning #2: Opens and clicks are (just) guiding metrics

I (Pete) have a testimonial that mentions how a cold outreach campaign I created achieved the highest open rate in the history of the company.

Best email copywriter

Which sounds great, right?

But all that really means is I can write a wicked subject line.

It doesn’t mean the emails themselves generated anything close to revenue or new customers.

I mean, they did, but the point is there’s an unhealthy focus on vanity metrics like opens and clicks.

Open rate is a terrible metric to base your optimisation on.

Why?

Because they’re inaccurate for a number of reasons;

  • Those opens require pixel to be displayed, which is often done through a hidden image. If the recipient’s settings disallow images, or they open in preview to read you won’t get accurate reads.
  • Services like Unroll.me can mark emails as read when they haven’t been opened
  • Different email clients across different devices track in different ways which can skew results

Opens are an incredibly inaccurate metric.

So what should you focus on?

Clicks and sales.

Clicks are an explicit action taken by the reader.

And sales, well, sales should be the only metric you optimise for.

I’d rather have fewer people click but more people buy than lots of people click with no one ponying up the cash.

Email marketing, sales and revenue are key metrics

Warning #3: One email = ONE purpose

In my article explaining my landing page copywriting audit process, I really hammered home the idea of one page, one purpose.

One purpose for each page helps keep your messaging tight.

It helps you really hone in on a particular pain point and highlight the single action that could help solve it.

And it’s no different in email.

Each sequence should have one goal.

Each email within that sequence should have its own goal (that build toward the final sequence goal).

And most often, that means a single CTA goal for each email.

Don’t make the mistake so many brands do by offering multiple conflicting CTAs within their email sequences.

It just serves to confuse and never builds towards the sale.

One email, one purpose. One email sequence, one purpose.

Warning #4: Use a solitary CTA multiple times

Don’t misunderstand.

I’m not going back on my word and saying that you should now diversify the goals of each email.

Far from it.

You should still keep to a singular goal. However, you should put multiple CTAs for that singular goal into each email.

If you think your copy is good enough to make everyone read to the end or scroll to the “buy now” button, you’ll miss out on sales.

The more opportunities you present to go from email > sales page, the more clicks you’ll get and thus the more sales opportunities you create.

Just don’t overdo it and piss off your readers.

Use multiple CTAs in every email within your sequence

Warning #5: Don’t over-design your emails

There’s a case for both highly designed HTML and plain text emails.

My personal preference is for plain text. Here’s why.

I sign up to email lists for fun and so get a tonne of emails.

And most of the time, they’re so overly designed they’re off-putting.

You know what I’m talking about.  Brands using;

  • Huge “branding” images of their logo in the header
  • High-quality images throughout
  • Gifs or video thumbnails
  • And multiple high

Thing is, all of those extra elements are a signal to your customers’ ESP that this is a promotional email.

Which means they have a higher chance of ending up in…

The promotions tab.

Which is basically the Bermuda Triangle for emails.

Email marketing promotions tab

Plain text emails might not be as sexy, but they have a much better chance of avoiding the promotions tab and getting read.

Not only are they less likely to end up in the promo tab but they feel more personal.

Kinda like someone has sat there and typed it out specifically for you. Not as a mass email blast to unashamedly promote their latest offer.

As mentioned, there’s a case for both.

But for a lot of the emails you’re sending, I’d recommend testing plain text as they often have a better impact on sales.

Plain text emails are better than HTML

Warning #6: There’s no magic number

When I first got started with email years ago, I believed the best welcome sequence had to be 9 emails long.

So I wrote all of my client email welcome sequences at 9 emails.

Which is ridiculous.

The length of any sequence depends on so many different factors including;

  • Your product price
  • Your audience
  • Your sales cycle
  • The customers’ position in the purchase funnel

And so much more.

There are no magic numbers.

Sometimes one email will do. Other times you’ll need 12.

All I can say is you need to be emailing frequently.

At least once per week.

If for no other reason than to get your customers used to seeing your name in their inbox.

Warning #7: Include a CTA in EVERY email

“This is a value build email so we’re not pushing anything”.

Wrong.

With email, you should always be selling.

Maybe not as a hard promo, but it should at least be mentioned.

You don’t know exactly what it is that’s going to make the user want to commit to spending some dosh. So don’t miss out on an easy opportunity to help them convert.

Email sequences should have a CTA in every email

Warning #8: Be very careful with segmentation

A lot of brands like to get super granular with their segmentation.

They think they need to know who each user is, their intended life goals, eye colour, favourite brand of shoes, and what their preferred TV programme is.

Most companies don’t have the resources to target all of these people efficiently or the products to serve each mini-segment – so it just serves to confuse their actions.

What I recommend is you break segments down by how it will affect your key product offerings.

For example, I run a site that aims to help freelance writers. Through it, I sell a number of digital products.

At one time, I tried to segment users by three different criteria.

  1. Their preferred writing deliverable (sales pages, email marketing, blog posts, white papers, eBooks etc)
  2. Their level of income (New writers not yet earning, consistent $1000 / month, $1000 – $5000 / month, $5000 month).
  3. Their location

Thing is, I didn’t have products to help US-based Case Study writers break through their $1000 / month ceiling.

So it was all for naught. And I ended up not building relationships with many of these people because I didn’t think I had anything to offer.

After stripping it down to the biggest problem they face (income) I was able to better segment the audience and offer something that could be of use to each segment.

There’s a product to get people from $0 – $1000 / month.

One to get from $1000 – a stable, comfortable income.

And consulting courses to help them grow to 6-figures.

Knowing this, I can automate the promotions for products that move people from one stage to the next.

The point is, be realistic about what level of segmentation you can handle.

If you’re not sure, segment by problems and tie your products to overcoming those problems.

Warning #9: You’ll never stop optimising and measuring these things

Even the best email sequences will need to be updated every so often.

Nothing remains as a top revenue driver forever.

You’ll need to set up detailed tracking on your email campaigns.

I’m not talking the in ESP stats on opens and clicks. But more detailed tracking linked to Google Analytics or whatever other analytic software you use to track sales.

At the very least, your campaigns should be tracked through from click to sale using something simple like UTMs.

If they’re not, you’re missing out on revenue.

Email sequence optimisation never stops

6 Steps to improve any email sequence

This audit process is a general overview.

And it works whether you’re trying to improve the effectiveness of;

  • eCommerce cart abandonment campaigns
  • Welcome sequences to warm new leads
  • Launch sequences for new products
  • Re-engaging lapsed users

Or anything else that would require an automated email sequence.

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However, as it’s a general overview, it’s not as detailed as it could be. We’ve tried to keep the steps actionable for any sequence.

If anything isn’t clear, feel free to drop a comment.

Audit Step 0 – Understand the customer journey

The whole concept of a good sequence is moving people from point A to point B.

  • New subscriber into a loyal reader
  • Casual reader into a rabid fan
  • Subscriber into a buyer
  • Single purchase customer into repeat buyer

It stands to reason that you’ve gotta know the stages of the journey you’re trying to move people through.

Most people reference the great Eugene Schwartz’s Stages of Awareness when talking about this.

Eugene Schwartz stages of awareness

But it’s a little too high level for many people to understand.

So I’m gonna break the email purchase journey down and offer a few actionable insights on how to apply it.

In essence, the general email stages can be broken down as the below.

  • STAGE 1 – Onboarding/welcome
  • STAGE 2 – Relationship building / nurture
  • STAGE 3 – Promotion
  • STAGE 4 – Sales
  • STAGE 5 – Re-engagement

Unlike Schwartz’s approach, there are overlaps between each consecutive stage. The lines are kinda fuzzy.

And once a sale is made the user isn’t then forgotten about. They’re simply put back to the nurture stage so you can continue to maintain a strong relationship with them.

EMail marketing and email sequences stages of awareness

Now, if we’re to break down the stages, we can say the kind of emails that should be sent include (but aren’t limited to)…

STAGE 1 – ONBOARDING/WELCOME

Goal – To get your customers off to a great start and establish your brand as a positive influence in their lives.

  • Welcome emails that explain who you are as a brand and what you’re helping the user to achieve/obtain
  • Introduction to your SaaS tool/guide on how to use certain features
  • Explanation of the best selling items
  • A few open-ended questions or emails with trigger links to learn more about the user and assist with proper segmentation (be careful with getting too complex)

STAGE 2 – RELATIONSHIP BUILDING

Goal – Build the relationship and get your users to trust your brand. Get them used to opening your emails and looking out for them for the value they provide.

  • Ongoing emails that…
  • Best content to help them solve a problem without your product
  • Free tips, tricks, and expert advice
  • Reinforce their beliefs and position yourself as someone who understands

STAGE 3 – PROMOTION

Goal – To introduce them to your products and get them to self identify if they want them.

  • Tease emails outlining an upcoming sale
  • Emotional driven emails that really hone in on a pain point with the CTA to opt-in to hear more about the product that will solve it
  • Information on new products
  • Information on coupons etc (be careful with coupons though – they shouldn’t be used as a default to sell)

STAGE 4 – SALES

Goal – To make the sale.

  • Focus on the transformation buying will bring
  • Testimonial emails outlining how it’s changed another customer’s life
  • Simple sale pushes and reminders
  • Offers and coupons

STAGE 5 – RE-ENGAGEMENT

Goal – Bring abandoners back or turn one time customers into repeat buyers.

  • Cart abandonment sequences
  • Up-sell / cross-sell sequences
  • Notification of add-on product to recent purchase
  • Loyalty offer for existing customers

However, this is a general overview of what you should be aiming for at each and every stage.

Presentation of email stages by Pete Boyle

Now, let’s get onto the actual process.

Audit Step 1 – What is the sequence trying to achieve?

Like with writing a landing page or any sales promotion, you start with the goal.

Before you do anything, you need to know what it is you’re trying to achieve.

That goal could be anything from…

Getting a user to look at X product pages or sign into your SaaS tool X times.

to…

Getting prior customers to purchase one of your new product lines.

You need to figure out what the goal of the sequence is.

The goal of any sequence should be singular and, generally speaking, should aim to move a person from the stage they’re currently in to the next.

But here’s where people get it wrong.

They look at an onboarding sequence’s goal as “onboarding the customer”.

Which doesn’t mean anything. It’s too vague. I mean, what even is onboarding?

You have to tie that to a real business goal.

That might be something like;

  • Getting the user to click through to your site X time
  • Ensuring the user sets up X campaign in your SaaS dashboard
  • Ensuring the user checks out X different products

Once that’s done, set yourself a short goal sentence that follows the below formula.

This [STAGE] sequence’s goal is to get X [CUSTOMER] to take Y [ACTION] within Z [TIME].

What is the goal of your email sequence?

For example.

This onboarding sequence’s goal is to get brand new users to set up a cart abandonment sequence within 7 days.

Or…

This welcome sequence’s goal is to ensure all new email subscribers check out our top selling products within 1 week of them signing up.

Now don’t think that’s it for your goals.

The above is for internal goal-setting only. The user doesn’t care what your goal is. Which brings us to step 2.

Audit Step 2 – How does your goal correspond to the user’s life?

So you’ve figured out your brand’s goal.

Thing is, your customers don’t care about your brand or the goals you’ve set.

People are pretty selfish.

They’re only interested in what your product or service can do for them.

So you need to figure out how your goal corresponds directly to improving the customer’s life.

One of the most famous examples of this is the old marketing story of selling a drill.

The idea is that a drill manufacturer doesn’t sell drills, but instead sells holes. Cause holes are what the customer really needs, right?

And it’s true. But it’s not the full story.

It’s an incomplete assessment of how to sell a product. And it lacks the emotional drivers that make people take action.

A simple way to figure out what the real benefit of your product is to ask why 3 times.

Asking why 3 times will get you to a point where you’ve found the real reason people buy what you’re selling.

Here’s how it breaks down with the drill analogy.

Your internal goal for the sequence is to sell X drills to existing customers within 2 weeks, right.

So step 1 is to figure out why your customers use drills.

To drill holes.

Now you start asking why.

So the progression might look like this.

Our customers buy drills.

Why?

→ Our customers buy drills to drill holes.

Why?

→ → They drill holes to securely hang shelves.

Why?

→ → → They hang shelves to display cherished family pictures/items securely.

That’s a much more compelling reason than “to drill holes” right?

3 Whys for effective copywriting messages

And it gives you far more emotional ammunition to use in your sequence.

You could;

  • Talk about the dangers of improperly secured shelves and how, if they fell, it could ruin that family heirloom
  • Explain how your drill allows for the drilling of holes in unusual spots so the user can display the picture of their great grandparents in that one spot they’ve always wanted but never could

There are far more angles than simply saying “make holes with our drill”.

Now, the final thing that takes the 3 whys to the next level is a booster.

You’ll want to look at how your product is different to the other competitor products on the market.

The easiest way to do this is to explain how your product outperforms the competition in one of the below areas.

  • Does it make achieving the goal easier or faster?
  • Is it cheaper than the competition (be careful with competing on price)
  • Is it something completely new and revolutionary that enables the user to do something they previously couldn’t (because it didn’t exist)

There are many ways to stand out from the competition. But these 3 are always a safe bet.

Product edge for high converting email copywriting

So, to recap this section. When you’re aligning your goal with the customer’s life, ask yourself why 3 times and then see what sort of emotional booster can be added to the message.

With this, you’ll have the basics of a compelling message.

Audit Step 3 – Where are your customers at email #1?

So the goal is to move customers from where they are now, to where you need them to be.

That end goal could be to make a purchase, check out your latest deals, leave a review or anything else.

But you first need to understand where your users are right now.

If you don’t know where they are right now, there’s no way for you to understand – and then obliterate – their objections.

And that’s what this comes down to. Removing the hurdles that stop users from taking the action you want them to.

Generally speaking the high-level objections for each stage of sequences is similar.

I’ve outlined what the objections you need to address are below.

Stages and objections by Pete Boyle

STAGE 1 – ONBOARDING/WELCOME

These people have no real idea who you are right now. It’s all about setting a positive first impression and outlining why they need to listen to you.

  • Who are these people and why should I listen?
  • Why should I trust them?
  • What makes this better than [competitor]?
  • What’s in this for me?
  • Why should I let them into my email inbox?

STAGE 2 – RELATIONSHIP BUILDING/NURTURE

These people know who you are and what you’re about. But they’re not yet trusting of you. Your job is to help them solve small issues for free and show them you understand their position.

  • Does this brand really understand me?
  • Is the information/advice they offer truly useful?
  • Have they overcome/helped others overcome my issues?
  • Do they care about me as a person and consumer? Or just want my money?
  • What’s in it for me?

STAGE 3 – PROMOTION

These people are beginning to trust you, but they don’t understand how you and your products differ from others on the market. Your job here is to outline those differences and build buzz about your offering.

  • I don’t understand how their products/services can help me.
  • Isn’t it just the same as [competitor X]?
  • Why should I send them my money?
  • I’m not sure the products will actually help me.
  • What’s in it for me?

STAGE 4 – SALES

You’ve hit the point where people know who you are, trust you, and know how your products are different. It’s now time to push the sale. People here just need that last-minute anxiety to be removed.

  • How can I reduce the risk of buying this product/service?
  • What if I don’t like it/it doesn’t work?
  • Can’t I find this cheaper elsewhere?
  • Do I need this now?
  • What’s in it for me?

STAGE 5 RE-ENGAGEMENT

You’ve either failed to convert the user on attempt one, or you’re bringing past users back for a second purchase.  You just need to highlight why this/this next purchase is worth it for them.

  • Why should I go back to this store/service provider?
  • What’s the benefit of me buying/buying from them again?
  • What was the benefit of my last purchase from them?
  • What’s in it for me?

It’s not an exhaustive list, but these are the main objections you’re trying to overcome with the emails at each and every stage.

Now, generally speaking, each user will enter into each stage with all of the above objections.

Your job is to systematically address them and obliterate them with the emails within the sequences at that stage.

Then, you can successfully move them on to the next stage where you remove the objections there.

Tackling the sequences individually allows you to address people wherever they enter?

Audit Step 4 – How will you get readers from where they are to the goal you’re trying to achieve?

You know where the user is in their journey.

And you know the objections they have at that stage.

Now you need to figure out how to get them from the start of the sequence – where they’re full of qualifying questions for you – to the end – where they’re ready to be moved to the next stage or make a purchase.

This is, unfortunately, different for every brand. So I can’t offer a one-size-fits-all solution.

The best I can offer is a quick breakdown of how this might work for, say, a welcome sequence.

Let’s imagine we’re writing a welcome sequence for one of my old websites, Have-a-Word.com.

The site helped freelance writers become more than just writers, it helps them become owners of profitable businesses.

I also have a number of products I sell to these users so I need to make a good impression and get them to like and trust me ASAP.

It’s a crowded space with a lot of competition.

As we’re focusing on a welcome sequence, let’s start with where the customer is and where we want them to end up.

For welcome and onboarding sequences, the goals are generally the same.

Moving someone from a position where they know very little about you to somewhere where they start to trust you.

Example email sequences for your brand

So this new welcome sequence should aim to build trust, establish a relationship, and help me stand out from the competition.

If we take the objections I outlined above as an example (you should do customer research to understand what you need to address instead of relying on my assumptions), we can assume they’ll have the below questions at this stage;

  • Who is this guy? Why should I listen to him?
  • Can he help me start/grow a successful writing business?
  • Why should I listen to him over [competitor X]?
  • What will I get from these emails?

These are questions a user will ask themselves when getting to know the brand.

Email sequences that increase ecommerce sales

And so, it’s my job as a copywriter to not only answer the questions, but do so in a way that makes them want to hear more from me.

If I can remove the above objections, then I’ll have successfully moved the user from the start of the stage to the end of the stage. Priming them for some good old relationship building.

Unfortunately, you can’t just explicitly answer the questions people are asking themselves.

Our brains don’t work that way.

We’re wired to be wary of obvious statements of greatness and ability.

So, your job as the creator of this email sequence is to answer the questions in a more subtle manner.

And that begins by understanding the emotions behind nearly every question email marketing will answer.

Generally, the emotional drivers fall into one of the below 5 buckets.

  • Belief – that you can help them achieve their goal
  • Understanding – of their issues and problems
  • Fear (removal of) – you’re not scamming them
  • Financial – what’s it gonna cost (can be non-monetary)
  • Excitement – that this is what they need
  • Trust – in you and your message

Or, BUFFET as I like to call it.

Emotions of email sequence copywriting

You need to reinforce the positive emotions and remove the negative emotions in your emails.

My job now is to analyse and understand the emotional reasoning behind each of the questions. Some will have multiple underlying emotions, and not all emotions will be relevant at every stage.

Who is this guy?

  • Trust
  • Understanding

Why should I listen to him?

  • Trust
  • Belief
  • Understanding

Can he help me start/grow a successful freelance business?

  • Belief
  • Fear
  • Trust

Why should I listen to him over [Competitor X]?

  • Belief
  • Understanding
  • Excitement
  • Fear

What will I get from these emails?

  • Financial
  • Trust
Create high converting email sequences

As it’s a welcome sequence, building trust and belief in your brand are going to feature prominently.

If we were to

For something like a sales sequence, it’s going to be more focused on fear and financial.

You need to address the emotions behind each question within your email sequence.

Which brings us to the next step.

Audit Step 5 – Assigning a goal to each email and map out the copy

The next step is to figure out how you can answer the questions and hit the emotional drivers with your emails.

Start by prioritizing the questions you’re going to answer.

In the welcome sequence example, we want to quickly build trust and differentiate ourselves.

So that might lead to the below prioritisation;

Who is this guy?

  1. Trust
  2. Understanding

Why should I listen to him?

  1. Trust
  2. Belief
  3. Understanding

What will I get from these emails?

  1. Financial
  2. Trust

Can he help me start/grow a successful freelance business?

  1. Belief
  2. Fear
  3. Trust

Why should I listen to him over [Competitor X]?

  1. Belief
  2. Understanding
  3. Excitement
  4. Fear
How to create a welcome email sequence

Now we’re going to create basic email ideas that answer the question and hit on the emotional driver.

We’re also going to assign a goal to each of these ideas.

For example;

  • Issue – Who is this guy? (Trust, understanding)
  • Goal – To introduce ourselves and let the user know we understand their struggle. We are one of them.
  • Description – Basic welcome email explaining what HaW is, who I am, and my ~10-year history as a freelance copywriter.

Do this for all of the questions and you’ll have the bones of your email sequence that always tie back to the emotional pillars people need to make a decision.

Below is a very quickly put together example.

A few things to note.

Some goals, like building trust, can’t be done in one email.

If I were doing this email sequence for real, I’d likely send between 8-10 to really ensure the users entered my regular broadcasts knowing everything they need and being full excited for what I have to say.

In short, the below is for demonstration purposes only.

Example welcome email sequence optimisation

Audit Step 6 – Double-check each email against goals and process

Before you sit down to write your emails, you need to make sure that everything builds towards the end goal.

I pull each and every email’s issue and goal out of the sequence and put them together in a single document in the order they’ll be sent.

So you’ll end up with something that looks like the below (I also use a spreadsheet because it easily lets me mess around with the sequence).

How to organise the creation of high converting email sequences

What you should be doing here is ensuring that each email in the sequence hits the below criteria.

  1. Does it address the issue that it’s supposed to?
  2. Does it create a seamless progression in their awareness of your brand and move them seamlessly toward the end of the stage they’re in?
  3. Does each email build towards the end goal of that sequence?

You’re basically ensuring not only that each email addresses a single issue, but that they’re moving people from A → B naturally.

If you follow this plan, then you should end up with a sequence that not only builds towards your primary business goal, but also turns readers into true fans of your business.

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