5 retention emails that made me want to click

6 min

It’s one thing to get a new subscriber, but another thing to keep them. That’s what retention emails are for. They help you keep your subscribers – or your customers – engaged.

There are several strategies for keeping people interested in your emails, just as there are different ways people can become disengaged in the first place. You’ll get better results if you customize your messages based on each subscriber’s situation. For example, you’ll want to talk to someone who has never opened your emails in a different way than you’d talk to a frequent customer.

Email marketers have specific terms for these different types of emails. And while I don’t want to bury you in terminology, it helps to understand how each type of email can be used.

Welcome emails as retention emails

Brand new subscribers usually get “welcome emails”, sometimes known as “onboarding emails”. These do exactly what it sounds like they do. They welcome people to your list. The smartest welcome emails also prompt you to take an action – usually to take the next step toward becoming a customer. Marketers don’t want you to just sign up and then forget about them.

This welcome email from Klear is a good example. They sent me this email right after I signed up. It’s a nice friendly welcome, but it also gets right to the point: They want me to start using their service immediately. And they’ve conveniently included instructions for how to do that:


Re-engagement emails as retention emails

Here’s another common situation. Say someone used to interact with your emails but has stopped. The emails you would send to get them re-engaged are called … re-engagement emails. Not to hard to figure out, right? While we have all these different terms floating around, they’re pretty easy to figure out.

This example of a re-engagement email is from a retailer I once placed an order with. They want me to stay active with them as a customer. It’s meant to be both a reminder that I once liked them enough to place an order, and an incentive to place another order. They’ve even included a discount code to sweeten the deal.


Behavioral emails as retention emails

Up for yet another flavor of retention emails? This one would be called a “behavioral email”. It’s based on how your subscribers behave (we email marketers are not wildly inventive with how we name these things). By using marketing automation (i.e., the ability to choose which email messages to send, when to send them, and to whom to send them), we can send semi-customized messages (not sure what I’m getting at? Here are 30+ automated email examples) to different subscribers based on how they’ve behaved in the past.

The behavior to base the automation on can be pretty simple. For instance, did the subscriber open a particular email, or not? Many email marketers will resend an email message to non-openers. For some of them, just that one trick gets 30% more people to open.


This is a good example of an email that was re-sent to people who didn’t open it the first time. The only problem with it is the sender forgot to edit the subject line. His note to himself “(resend to unopened)” kind of blows his cover.

Can you guess another common switch for a behavioral email? …. Like whether people have clicked a link or not? Another play might be to send a follow-up email just to people who haven’t signed up for a webinar you emailed them about before.

I think you’re getting the picture. The point is that while “marketing automation with behavioral emails” sounds complex, it doesn’t have to be. Often, the most effective automation setups are very simple. You also don’t have to set up a series of 20 emails to have marketing automation. Just one or two will do.

List opt-out emails as retention emails

There’s one other type of email I’ve been seeing a lot of recently. It’s an email sent to people who haven’t been engaging with the sender’s messages, but with a twist. If you don’t respond the email, the sender will take you off their list.

Here’s an example of this from CampSaver:


Notice the two red calls to action in the lower part of the message. I’ve got two options here: Click “yes” to confirm I want to stay on the list or click “No thanks” to be removed from the list forever.

This might seem like a crazy thing to do at first. I mean, who asks their subscribers to leave? But doing this has several benefits:

  • It purges your list of people who really don’t want your emails anymore. That results in higher deliverability rates, because email service providers (places like Gmail and Yahoo) track how engaged people are with your list. If too many people aren’t engaging with your emails, those emails will start getting routed to the bulk folder.
  • It improves the quality of your email list. I know we all want the biggest list possible, but that can be a deceptive goal. What we really want – if we truly want results, not just bragging rights – is a responsive list. Letting people opt themselves out like this results in a far more responsive list.
  • It will reduce your spam reports. If you’ve been having trouble with people reporting your messages as spam, a campaign like this could help.
  • It gives people a more positive experience of your brand. If someone doesn’t want to be on your list, keeping them there doesn’t help with goodwill. It’s better to just let them go.

Here’s one other opt-out email like the one above. The design is simpler, with just text links:


Other ideas for retention emails

Those are the most common types of retention emails I see, but they’re not the only ones.

Here’s a great retention email from an SEO tool I registered for awhile back:


The tool gives you a free assessment of how the latest Google algorithm update has affected your site. Usually, you’d have to log in and do this yourself. But these guys have figured out a way to show each subscriber how the latest update has affected their site. There’s personalization that goes way beyond just using someone’s first name!

Notice the trick in this email? It’s kinda sneaky, but I have to give them credit. If I actually wanted to see the new algorithm information now, I’d have to upgrade to a paid version. They mention free accounts can’t access this information for 40 more days.

It was a highly useful email for me. I clicked through to see how my site had done.

These types of retention emails are so effective, some businesses build free tools just to be able to send them. It’s also a great way to build an email list. While the tool is free, it requires registration via email. Then once the person registers, you have their email address plus whatever information they enter into the tool. That’s all you need to send them regular, highly personalized emails.

The secret is to make the tool useful enough. Then people won’t resent these updates at all – they’ll open and click them immediately. And all the while, you’ll be training your subscribers to open and trust your emails. And that can be translated into sales.


Once you know how to recognize them, you’ll see retention emails all over your inbox. That’s because they work. Just note how they’re different from newsletters. Newsletters are usually sent on a regular schedule, regardless of how a subscriber behaves. Retention emails are sent intermittently, based on subscriber behavior.

Back to you

Are you using any retention emails in your email marketing? How well do they work for you? Or maybe you’re using Facebook or Google AdWords instead? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

Pam Neely
Pam Neely
Pam Neely has been marketing online for 15 years. She's a serial entrepreneur and an avid email and content marketing enthusiast with a background in publishing and journalism, including a New York Press Award. Her book "50 Ways to Build Your Email Marketing List" is available on Amazon.com. Pam holds a Master's Degree in Direct and Interactive Marketing from New York University. Follow her on Twitter @pamellaneely.