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Creating Smarter Email Sequences (That Actually Get Read…)

Since you are reading this, you are probably already well aware of how important email lists are to developing relationships, cultivating trust, and generating revenue.

If you are not quite yet sold on its importance, consider the fact that some of the industry’s biggest and brightest experts continually advocate for email lists to serve as a priority.

Consider what SumoMe founder Noah Kagan says when talking about his business’ revenue streams:

 “AppSumo is a 7 figure business and 90%+ of our revenue comes from emails.”

Or what Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi says about his early regrets as a business owner:

“If I have one regret as a business owner, it’s not focusing on building our email list earlier in the process.”

But while the importance of building an email list is clear, the actually process that needs to be undertaken in order to build and maintain that list can be a bit confusing.

As far as the initial process of building a list, there have been dozens of books and hundreds of thousands of emails written about the topic.

If you want a quick guide on how to build an email list, Social Triggers founder Derek Halpern has put together some solid content on the topic.

A quick Google search or browsing of books on Amazon can yield you plenty more information on the topic.

The less talked about aspect of email lists, however, is how to actually go about effectively maintaining that list to ensure that the individuals subscribing are reading the emails being sent.

Once they are interested, the obvious hope is that they will eventually turn into paying customers.

In order to make all of this happen, strong email sequences need to be created and improved upon.

Thus is the purpose of this guide; to show you how you can create smarter email sequences that actually get read by your subscribers.

Let’s get started:

Step #1 – Identify and Understand Your Objective

Before you even think about actually creating your content, you must first identify and understand the objective of your email sequence.

As Web Marketing Today contributor Phil Frost suggests, you need to ask yourself questions like:

“What do you want your autoresponder sequence to accomplish? Do you want to promote products or services, or perhaps those of an affiliate? Would you like to educate your customers in some way? Are you trying to establish yourself as an expert in a particular field, or are you seeking feedback about your products?”

Frost goes on to say that, while it may be tempting to have more than one objective, it is essential that you build your email sequence around a single objective that enables you to link your content together.

Sheila Hibbard of the Marketing Bit points out in her article about autoresponders that:

 “You can create any number of customized autoresponder campaigns to serve a variety of goals.”

Some of the potential objectives that she talks about include:

  • To stimulate engagement and/or build rapport with subscribers
  • Educate subscribers and develop a reputation as an industry expert
  • To nurture leads
  • To produce quality leads
  • To serve as a marketing campaign for a specific product or service
  • As an avenue for gaining interest surrounding the launch of a product or service

Obviously these are just a few of the things that you can use your email sequence for.

At the end of the day, it is not what your goal is that is important. Identifying and understanding the goal is the important part.

One of the biggest benefits of email lists is that you can segment them into separate lists and then identify an objective for each list.

From there, you can create an email sequence that is designed for the specific subscriber that you are targeting.

This is important because, as Hubspot contributor Pamela Vaughan says, your buyers aren’t all the same:


“Here’s the reality: most businesses, whether B2B or B2C, don’t cater to just one type of customer, even if they do sell one product or service. There is no one-size-fits-all customer, and there are usually several ideal customers for any given business.”

She goes on to say that, while segmenting may cause additional work, doing so will significantly improve your email reputation. At the same time, it will also help you to achieve better results.

Once you have identified and developed an understanding of the objective for your email sequence, the next step is to determine the frequency at which you will deliver content to your subscribers.

Step #2 – Determine Email Frequency and Sequence Length

Once you have identified your objective, the next step in the process is something that is debated about frequently by email marketing experts.

Some say that the next step should be to determine the type of content that you will be using in your emails while others recommend that you should determine the length of your email sequence.

At the end of the day, either one works; although it should be noted that the type of content that you will be using is, for the most part, already determined by what your goal is.

For the purpose of clarity with this guide, the next step in the process is to determine how long your email sequence will be.

One of the most often debated about topics when it comes to the frequency of emails sent via autoresponders is whether it is better to send a low number or high number of emails.

While many people will tell you that sending a high number of emails is a death sentence, Tommy Walker of Conversion XL mentions:

“Research supports that people read most or half of their emails, respond to passion, hate being pitched, HATE irrelevance, and won’t mind frequent emails as long as that email is relevant, interesting, and specific to their needs.”

So, in order to determine email frequency, it may be best to first determine how much relevant content you can come up with.


Convince and Convert contributor Angie Schottmuller advocates using the ‘Triangle of Relevance’ to ensure that your email content is magnetic, interesting, and relevant.

The triangle, as would be expected, includes three key angles. They include:

  1. Business objective. You will have already determined the objective of your email content in the initial phase of creating your email sequence.
  1. User interest. This angle requires that you develop an understanding of the goals, aspirations, objectives, hobbies, values, etc. of your target audience. Hopefully this is something that you already have a solid grasp on as it is essential to business success.
  1. Time significance. This involves figuring out how to make the content you are delivering relevant now. If you do not present urgency and relevancy now, your readers have no reason to take action on what you are delivering.

Using the triangle of relevance, you should be able to gain a better grasp of the type and amount of relevant content that you will be able to create for your email sequence.

From there, you can determine how long your email sequence should be while also determining how often emails will be sent.

Step #3 – Create Email Content

Once you have completed the first two steps, you can now move on to creating the actual email content.

This, as would be expected, is the most important and time consuming aspect of creating smarter email sequences.

While there are many different ways that you can go about creating this content, it becomes much easier when you already know your objective and how much content you will be creating.

Before you begin creating content that you intend to be relevant and engaging, there are a few things that you should be aware of.

The first thing that you should be aware of, as Comm 100 founder Kevin Gao points out, is that the goal is not to produce content that you would want.

As he says in his article about creating email content:

“One of the most common content generation mistakes that often happens in crafting email content is that the person in charge of creating the email centers the content around what he or she would want to read or see rather than using data to determine what actual readers and subscribers would enjoy.”

This is an important point to understand as it is essential that you are using actual data and reliable resources to determine what your subscribers actually want.

Gao goes on to say that you can do this in a number of different ways. Some of them include:

  • Asking around. There are quite a few tools available throughout the web that enable you to survey or poll consumers about their desires. You can also use social media to get a better idea of what users are looking for.
  • Competitor research. Take a look at the type of content that your competitors are delivering to their readers. While it is probably not a good idea to create repeat content of what they are offering, this can give you a better idea of the types of topics that readers are interested in.
  • Test. Without testing content it will be very difficult for you to know exactly what your readers want. Take a look at analytics of past content and use this data to identify the content that has proven to be most relevant and useful o your target market.

Once you go through this process, you can then get started with putting the content together.

The content creation process generally differs for everybody.

This is especially true because the goals that influence the content being created by websites and businesses will also vary greatly.

At the end of the day, however, there are some absolutes no matter what type of content you are creating.

As Forbes contributor Jayson DeMers says:

“While the definition of ‘quality’ changes depending on niche, industry, type, or target audience, there are many common elements that are reliable, consistent indicators of quality.”

DeMers outlined those absolutes in his article about the 12 Essential Elements of High-Quality Content.

It should be noted that it is not always a good idea to include all of your content in the space of an email.

In most cases, it is actually better to provide a summary or introduction to content that can be accessed on your website.

By including a link and building both urgency and intrigue, you can then guide your subscribers to your website to read further about the content.

Step #4 – Create a Strong Subject Line

One of the most often overlooked aspects of creating smarter email sequences is the creation of the subject line.

The creation of a strong subject line is perhaps even more important than the content that is within the email.

The Content Marketing Institute outlines some of the more staggering statistics associated with subject lines. Some of them include:

  • 35% of email recipients open email based on the subject line alone
  • 69% of email recipients report email as Spam based solely on the subject line

As HubSpot contributor Anum Hussain points out:

“Whether we’re trying to connect with an executive, sell a prospect, or simply get a friend’s attention, our subject lines influence whether or not those emails get opened.”

But, as someone that reads email yourself, you are probably already aware of the impact that subject lines have on email open rates.

What you may not know, however, is how to create strong subject lines.

While there are various ways to do so, the team at Unbounce put together a great infographic about How to Write the Perfect Email Subject Line.

It should be noted that, while creating a strong subject line that intrigues the reader is important, you want to stay far away from using manipulative tactics.

When you create your subject line and content, the two need to work in unison.

At the end of the day, the only thing that manipulative subject lines are good for is to increase the number of readers that unsubscribe; and it is safe to say that you do not need help with that.

Step #5 – Optimize Content to Be Read on Multiple Devices

One of the realities of modern email marketing is that the majority of consumers today are no longer checking their email through their desktop.

Instead, most are utilizing the convenience of their mobile devices to do so.

The team at Email Monday put together an overview about The Ultimate Mobile Email Statistics.

Some of the more interesting statistics that they point out in the overview include:

  • 45% of emails opens occur on mobile – Adestra (March 2015)
  • 67% of consumers use a smartphone to check their email – BlueHornet (2015)
  • Webmail and desktop email opens steadily declined throughout 2015, dropping 13% from January to November – Litmus (Nov 2015)

With the rise of mobile users throughout the world and the fact that they are a more convenient option for checking email, it is certainly expected that these trends will only continue.

If you are unsure of how to optimize your emails for mobile devices, Niti Shah of HubSpot put together some simple tips for doing so.


Some of them include:

  • Reduce the file size of images. Having large image file sizes increases the time it takes for your emails to open. Even a one second delay in loading time can lead to an over 7% drop in conversions.
  • Resize images and content to proportion of screen. Having email content that forces readers to scroll left to right on mobile devices is highly annoying. It is also another factor that can lead to a decrease in conversions.
  • Increase link size. If you want your mobile readers to click on a link that guides them to your website, make sure you make it as easy as possible. This is once again about convenience, as nobody wants to have to zoom in to click a link.

The Final Word

Hopefully this guide will serve as a resource for helping you create smarter email sequences. As you can see from the steps listed above, creating these sequences is a fairly intensive process.

But, when that process is done well, the results that come with are can be massive.

Lastly, let me know your thoughts and what other tips for creating smarter email sequences that have worked for you. Leave a comment below and I look forward to hearing from you.

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About Sean Donahoe

Sean is one of the most recognized industry leaders in business and marketing. As a popular speaker, author, consultant he has helped over 50,000 students world wide find success in their businesses and has consulted with Fortune 500 companies and businesses of every size grow and thrive...

One comment

  1. Good article. As we all are so well aware of smart email sequences is a major medium a marketer has to build a solid email list. In some cases a very simple subject line (and content as well) that will be an unexpected attraction to boost your email open rate (an experience I´ve made).
    Thank you for this useful article

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