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What is email automation and why you’ll love it

Imagine writing a set of emails just once that is sent to different people at different times when they need it most.

Email automation is one of the most powerful and useful features of email marketing. You set it up once, and it will run by itself. From then on, you magically send triggered emails without lifting a finger. While it sounds technical, it's actually quite easy to set up.

Let's go through email automation step-by-step, and then we'll show you tons of examples to help you get started.

Email automation is when emails are sent automatically, without the sender having to do anything. These emails are activated to send by certain “triggers”, such as by something a subscriber does (a behavioral trigger), or by a certain date or time frame (a time-sensitive trigger). Automations like these allow you to send targeted emails at just the right moment.

For instance, instead of manually sending out a welcome email to everyone who signs up for your service, you can set up a trigger that automatically sends a welcome email every time a new person signs up.

You write the email once, but it continues to work hard and reach all your subscribers exactly when they need it.

Creating your own email automation

To get an overview of how these automated emails work, take a look at this video tutorial from Marcin.

Or if you’re more the book-ish type and you prefer reading, check out this help article on creating an automation workflow.

Entrepreneurs, small businesses and corporations alike can work wonders with automated emails. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • You can send more personalized emails: Beyond taking the manual work off your plate, automated emails let you personalize your messages in a way that is timely and relevant

  • The ROI (return on investment) for automatic emails is exceptionally high: People are receiving your message when it is top of mind, which satisfies their desire for instant feedback. The world's most high-performing companies like Amazon and Netflix have embraced automation resulting in huge revenue increases

  • Automated emails are opened more often: According to Epsilon, triggered emails get 199% higher click-through rates than mass emails

Graphic with the caption 'automated emails get 199% higher click rates than traditional broadcast emails' dark background - mailerlite

MailerLite makes it easy for you to automate your emails in the same way that those huge companies like Amazon personalize their emails to reach their customers.

Using email automation for your business is a great opportunity to engage your customers, deliver a better experience and increase your conversion rate.

While the possibilities of what you can do with email automation are endless, we want to share nine email automation use cases that you can apply to your business today.

1. Automate welcome emails

Make a strong first impression with your new leads. The first email automation every business should implement is a welcome response for a new subscriber (check out these top welcome email examples for inspiration)!

When someone signs up to receive content, an automated email message is the best way to acknowledge them, make a positive first impression and extend the engagement by offering additional value.

Automated welcome emails can have long-term implications that impact your bottom line:

  • 74.4% of people expect a welcome email when they subscribe

  • Delivers 33% more long-term engagement with the brand.

  • Generates 4x the open rates and 5x the click rates compared to other bulk promotions.

  • Provides 3x the transactions and revenue per email compared to regular promotional emails.

When done right, welcome emails can significantly ramp up your engagement metrics. Just remember—first-time impressions are powerful, so be thoughtful about what you want to say.

How to write a welcome email

The secret to a great first impression is to be human and authentic. Pretend you are meeting the customer in-person and then create an email that shares your gratitude and sets expectations.

Example: Welcome Email

This welcome email example below contains several elements that are worth pointing out:

  • Uses an authentic welcome message

  • Informs the reader what to expect

  • Sends a personalized message to the reader

  • Shares upcoming special offers

  • Includes a clear call to action (CTA) at the end of the email

automated welcome email example from Michaels

In addition to communicating their gratitude, Michaels uses the email to showcase their personality and offer some unique extras including personal preferences and a coupon.

You have one opportunity to WOW your first-time subscribers right from the start with an automated welcome email that makes a lasting first impression.

Automate an onboarding email sequence

With MailerLite, you can create automated sequences where different emails are sent in a series. By sending a set of triggered emails, you break up your messages and feed people information in a way that is timely and based on their actions.

Example: Onboarding Sequence
  • Step 1 - A new subscriber receives a welcome email.

  • Step 2 - Two days later an email is automatically sent with a product tour video.

  • Step 3A - If the subscriber watches the video, they receive an email one week later with a coupon.

  • Step 3B - If they don’t watch the video, they receive a different email sequence to re-engage them.

These sequences are automatically delivered to every new customer. If you find that part of a sequence is not effective, it’s easy to change different parts without having to build a new sequence.

Here's an example of an automated email series from an e-commerce store:

onboarding email sequence workflow when subscriber joins a group - mailerlite

2. Automate lead magnet sequences

The lifeblood of your email marketing is your healthy list of subscribers. While you are sending out newsletters and building relationships with them, you also need to keep an eye on attracting more people. Email automation will help you get more subscribers.

If you want tips on growing your email list, take a look at this guide on how to build an email list from scratch. In it, we share how to offer people incentives when they sign up for your list (also, an email magnet).

Exchanging something of value like a report, ebook, event or gift card for their email address is effective (check out this guide on how to create the perfect email marketing content). When someone signs up, you want the transaction to be quick and smooth, which requires automation.

A lead magnet email sequence using automation enables you to deliver your incentive immediately after a subscriber joins your list. Here’s a workflow example to get you started, using MailerLite as your email automation tool. Click here for a more detailed example with all the steps.

lead magnet automation simple automated survey workflow when subscriber joins a group - mailerlite

3. Automate audience segmentation

Let your customers self-segment. Audience segmentation is a way to divide up your customer base into smaller groups based on what they like about your products and services.

Segmentation is an important step to improve the relevance of your email marketing. When relevance increases, your campaign performance improves.

Instead of sending everyone the same message, segmentation helps you target the right message to the right audience.

The current practice of creating segments based on personas or other data points doesn't always lead to the right groups. With email marketing automation, you can create extremely effective groups through self-segmentation.

segmentation graphic audience and segments compared- mailerlite

What is self-segmenting?

Self-segmentation occurs when people take specific actions online that triggers MailerLite to place them into a segment based on their behavior automatically.

Let's say a subscriber clicks a link in your newsletter for an upcoming sales webinar. MailerLite automatically segments that subscriber into a group labeled “Sales Webinar”.

In this example, the subscriber's interest in sales led to their segmentation. Now, you can send them email content tailored to sales topics, which you know they care about.

The best email automations will separate subscribers into groups and segments, so that they receive more targeted and personalized campaigns. Check out our ultimate guide below for more insights about email segmentation.

4. Automate lead nurturing

Guide prospects down the sales funnel. You can set up automated sequences based on your subscribers’ actions and lead them to purchase.

When potential customers come to you, they are rarely ready to buy on the spot. In fact, 96% of website visitors aren’t ready to make a purchase—they’re just browsing, or they stumbled across your site by accident, or they’re curious about your business! Nurturing subscribers to become customers is an integral part of the sales process.

Build a relationship with subscribers with an automated nurturing email campaign.

Automated lead nurturing allows you to track each subscriber's engagement with your content and website. You can automatically send the right email at the right time when they interact with your content.

Here are some examples of different content you could share, depending on which stage of the sales funnel they're at.

Graphic showing the awareness, consideration and decision stages green blocks - mailerlite

When website visitors download a piece of content or click on a link, you can program your email to activate the next phase of the nurture campaign. This allows you to leverage every opportunity to push your subscribers towards a conversion.

Link triggers extend engagement

Once someone becomes a subscriber, you can continue an email dialogue with them based on their interactions with your different digital marketing channels.

Link triggers enable you to use any link as a trigger to activate a corresponding email. The automated email can be triggered by any type of link that you control.

Just like having a normal conversation offline, the email is focused on the individual's personal interests.​

Example: Link Trigger to download a PDF

Behavior: A subscriber clicks to download a free PDF chapter from an author newsletter

Response: You can segment subscribers into a group, based on those who clicked on the link, then wait a few days and send a follow-up email with the next chapter.

Here is how you could set it up in your MailerLite builder:

Link trigger automation example workflow download chapter author book example - mailerlite

Link Triggers are a great way to engage your subscribers in a way that feels natural and adds value. Not to mention they drive a 5x click-to-open rate versus an untargeted email.

5. Automate retention

Keep customers engaged. Everyone loves acquiring new customers, but a business can't survive on new sales alone — you need to retain the customers you already have to stay profitable.

One of the most effective ways to keep customers is by building a relationship through automated email marketing campaigns.

In fact, email is proven to be the greatest driver of customer retention. The second best channel is social media.

Retention marketing is most powerful when you deliver value in a way that keeps customers engaged. Automated emails play a critical role in a retention campaign. 

By programming triggers that send customers emails at key points in your customer lifecycle, you can maintain relationships with thousands of customers.

Example of customer retention email you appreciate recent order mobile phone icon
Example: How Grammarly uses automation

Grammarly is a subscription-based business, so they must be aware of when their millions of subscribers are close to expiration. The problem is that different people signed up and different times.

By using automation for retention, they can send an email a few days before each subscription ends. The email adds value by reminding the customer that their service is about to end, and it's also an opportunity to send a discount offer to retain them.

Effective retention campaigns identify when your customers need to hear from you and deliver the value when they least expect it.

6. Automate re-engagement emails

People won’t engage with every email you send—and that’s totally fine and normal. 

But if you notice that someone hasn’t opened or clicked in a while (6 months is the usual benchmark), then it might be time to fire off a re-engagement campaign. This is a series of emails you can send to “win back” your subscribers!

Here are the main components of highly effective re-engagement emails:

  • Write an eye-catching subject line: Something that will tempt your subscribers to open

  • Offer free shipping or a discount that will expire soon: This creates a sense of urgency and encourages them to re-engage 

  • Remind them why they signed up: Reiterate what you’re all about (they might have signed up during a busy time, and forgotten)

  • Create FOMO (fear of missing out): Mention upcoming offers, events and promotions that they’ll want to stick around for

Setting up re-engagement campaigns with MailerLite is nice and straightforward, because your inactive subscribers are grouped automatically under the Subscribers tab. 

When you create your win-back automation, use the trigger ‘When subscriber joins a group’, and then select the inactive subscribers group. From there, you can create an email win-back series which will be sent to anyone who gets labelled as an inactive subscriber. Easy peasy! 

Win-back campaign example reengagement emails newsletter - mailerlite

7. Automate educational content/online courses

The great thing about online courses is that you make them once, and then people can sign up whenever they want. Your work is done!

When someone signs up for your course, an automated workflow can deliver the courses at the right times. You can be the teacher at any given time and date! Your virtual classes will be sent out automatically. 

Click here for a detailed workflow example for an online course automation with all the steps.

8. Automate abandoned cart emails

All e-commerce sites experience cart abandonment. Basically, a customer leaves before finalizing their purchase. While this is unfortunate, there is still hope. You can trigger emails automatically to re-engage them, resulting in win backs of 12-15% of your shoppers!

Subscribers can be triggered more than once, every time when they abandon their cart. You can try different strategies to bring your customers back including:

  • Giving discount codes

  • Recommending best-selling products

  • Using customer reviews

Learn how to create these workflows in this article. If you want step-by-step video instructions, we’ve got you!

Abandoned cart workflow example ecommerce - mailerlite

9. Automate transactional emails

Transactional emails are those messages you get when you make a purchase or some other type of transaction with a company. Examples include:

  • Thank you emails

  • Subscription confirmation emails

  • Account activation emails

  • Password reset emails

  • Trial expiration emails

You can check out the full list of transactional email examples here, but for now, you get the idea! Whenever someone buys a product (or takes similar action), a transactional email will pop up in their inbox.

The magic of these emails is that they generate eight times higher open rates, compared to other marketing emails. They’re usually pretty important, so people are much keener to take a look. 

To learn the what’s, the why’s and the how’s, take a look at this ultimate guide to transactional emails.

While we covered five examples in detail, there are dozens of automation workflows that you can implement depending on your business. Here is a quick list of more ideas worth exploring.

Collect customer feedback

Email Surveys are a great way to learn what your customers really think about your services. You can use automation to trigger a survey email after a key event, such as a purchase or account signup.

Promote blog posts

Our RSS-to-email feature enables you to schedule an automated email that inserts your recent blogs into the email to inform your subscribers.

Birthdays or other special occasions

People love anniversaries and special occasions. Surprise and delight your subscribers by automatically triggering an email on their birthday or send them a discount on their anniversary of becoming a subscriber.

Transaction emails

Automate confirmation or thank you emails. Whenever someone buys a product or takes certain actions that warrant a response.

Ongoing educational series

Once an email subscriber is familiar with your company, you can create email sequences that aim to educate the subscriber in a deeper way. For example, send a blog series on a specific subject that will add value and strengthen your relationship.

Share onboarding emails

Similar to a welcome email, these emails give people a breakdown of what they can expect, once they’ve signed up for something. For example, if they’ve started a new music downloads subscription, you could send an email showing how it works, how often they get new downloads, and the most popular hits.


If someone has signed up to an event, you can add them to a group and send them an automated series of reminders, plus a ‘thank you’ message after they’ve attended. You could even include a recap or a recording, if they want to revisit their favorite moments.

Product usage metrics

Track how customers are using your product, and send them weekly progress updates (e.g. how many workouts they completed, the number of words they’ve written, how close they are to winning a badge etc).

Invite people to join your community

Subscribers who are particularly engaged in your campaigns could be offered automatic VIP access to online communities.

Email automation is very simple to implement, and it’ll make your business processes and email results much stronger in the long run! You’ll notice higher open rates and conversion rates, because your emails are hitting those inboxes at the perfect moment. 

Here are the 5 things to remember when thinking about email automation: 

  • Set up a welcome email: These set the tone for your customer relationship straight away, and they deliver 33% more long-term engagement with your brand

  • Entice new subscribers with lead magnets: Free ebooks, PDF downloads or e-courses are a great way to grow your email list

  • Set up segments: Divide your audience into smaller groups, so that you can send more targeted automated campaigns

  • Win back your shoppers: Automated abandoned cart emails can bring back 12-15% of your customers

  • Use re-engagement campaigns: Get your subscribers back on board with a targeted series of emails

Whether you’re completely new to automations, or whether you’re looking to improve your current campaigns, these ideas will help you take your emails (and your revenue) to the next level!

And if you need an automated email template to get started, then check out the section below.

Where to start? 

Visit our Automation examples gallery to see some of the most effective email automation workflows you can start creating in MailerLite.