Second step of email: The Flow

We talked about the personas and how you plan to bring them from BEFORE to AFTER.

Now we have to talk about their full journey.

The steps that they need to take to get where you want them to be.

They enter your sphere of influence in point A. They take steps towards point Z, which is where you want them to be.

How they make those steps is what distinguishes two kinds of products:

  • the journey
  • the commodity.

For some reason, many people mix up these two completely different approaches.

Let’s start from the commodity.

They exactly know what they’re looking for. They know the shape, the price, the perks of having it and how to consume it. They’re just looking to get it as efficiently as possible.

That’s a commodity. Everybody knows what a lemon is and how much does it cost. No need to sell them on the hidden benefits and inner meanings of eating a lemon a day.

Here’s a little graphical representation on how this process looks like:

What they want vs what you offer.

If you’re selling a commodity, your business revolves around serving the expectations as efficiently as possible and trying to upsell them to something related and useful. That’s probably the business model of the vast majority of companies in the world right now.

If this is your case, what you need to do is identify all the touchpoints that will make the delivery of X more efficient, better client-serving and meaningful. Without bloat and unnecessary “amazing deals” and “did-you-knows”.

But, if you aren’t selling a commodity, then you’re selling a solution. To the problem they either know or don’t know they have. That’s when they, the customers, need to embark on a journey.

You can learn more about the Hero’s journey model in this Wikipedia page or watch this great video from TedEd instead.

But here’s an important thing that I’d like to point out:

Users will have to embark on a journey into the unknown in order to do something they never did before. In order to trust you, they sort of need to jump off a cliff into darkness.

But the good thing is that this Darkness is unknown only to them because you know exactly what’s going to happen if they stay on the journey. You know which steps and what decisions they’re going to have to make. It’s like you’re writing their story.

But they’re alive, breathing people, so don’t go all Stephen King on them!

Here’s a nifty little illustration of this:

What they see vs what you know.

While they stand at the edge of a precipice as far as they know, your point of view is completely different.

That’s why you need to frame their position on each of the steps so that they can build a belief that the next step is the most logical to make.

They need to believe in and agree with what you’re saying at every step of the way.

While I can’t really teach you this, the good part is that that’s just good salesmanship – building a story to “pull” your prospects towards point Z – the desired destination.

Not “push” them from A to Z.

You should design these steps in reverse chronological order:

  • They reached point Z and they’re in the AFTER phase.
  • They reached point Y
  • They reached point X
  • etc.

You need to build beliefs around each of the steps, where each step should build up the belief that they should proceed to the next one, and that this is the best possible option for them.

This is best achieved by answering the question at each step:

What do they have to believe in and agree to in advance, in order to move forward?

As you can imagine, every business model is different, but to go back to Jay Abraham, you need to be their most trusted advisor in your particular area, and you need to keep their interested in the highest of regards.

This is why they absolutely need to follow the steps because that’s the only way to get through the journey and reach the desired destination.

If your business is like this, then your Flow needs to be a set of guiding steps that will inspire, bolden and comfort when needed.

“Enough blabber, let’s talk email!”

Couldn’t agree more. But I needed to get it out of the way.

There are three stages that are essential for the Flow:

  • Opt-in (acquisition)
  • User flows and conversion points
  • Opt-out (list churn)

We already talked about the second. Let’s focus on the first now.

When you acquire users/subscribers, you need to take special care about your

List hygiene

Entry points are very important.

When you acquire new users, it’s essential to set up your metrics right. Often times I see vanity metrics like “registrations” or “profiles”, which is nothing else but a DB entry.

There’s is, however, a huge difference between a user who confirmed their email address and is real and a bot.


Let me explain.

Say you’re a SaaS. You have a registration form that asks for an email address. Once users submit it, the system sends a confirmation email, but you allow them to enter your application in the meanwhile.

There you’ve spent huge resources trying to engage the user and show him your amazing feature palette, expecting that these initial actions are what matters for your customer’s LTV.

“So far so good,” thinks you.

But, you’re no lazy-ass and you measure your KPIs.

You go into your email confirmation stats and realize that only around 50% of registered users confirmed their email address.

“Hm,” thinks you, “let’s add a confirmation reminder! They must have forgotten to check their emails because they were busy with the app. ”


But the numbers don’t rise significantly. You look closer to the stats and see that your open rate isn’t bad (let’s say 40%), but that’s lower than you expected.

You look at clicks to opens, 80%.
(Number of clicks / number of opens ==> this shows you how engaging your email is)

So, people who do open the email are definitively interested in confirming, it’s just that not a lot of people open it.

“My confirmation emails must be going to Spam,” you conclude.

That’s a mistake right there, grasshopper.

If your emails were really being filtered to Spam, you wouldn’t have such a good open rate in the first place.

Plus, 40% is actually a pretty good open rate and combined with the 80% in-email engagement that you’re seeing, ISPs definitively don’t think of your email as Spam.

If they did, or you had some other technical problem that renders you to Spam, you’d see much lower open rates.

So, what’s the problem?

If you had an advanced inbox monitoring tool like ReturnPath or 250OK, you’d probably see a lot of missing and unknown users on your transactional IP address.

Because you've separated your transactional and marketing IP addresses, of course. 

And because you're using dedicated IPs.

You're not? Oh boy, what are you doing here...

Your problem: fake email addresses are being entered into your registration form.

People making simple mistakes out of laziness or on purpose. Or worse.

There are 2 kinds of fake emails:

  • fake local-parts (the thing before the @)
  • fake domains.

Fake local parts bounce because they don’t exist on the ISP (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc.). They increase your bounce rate and can hurt your sending IP and domain reputation.

Fake domains don’t bounce and sometimes they’re actually spam traps called black holes, like They create problems you can’t measure, like tell on you to Spamhaus, SpamCop, and the others, also hurting your sending reputation.

Also, and this is no conspiracy theory, a competitor can purposely infect your list with pristine spam traps. Unfortunately, this isn’t unheard of.

Once you hit one of those bad boys, your sending reputation is going down. Way down.

How to get protected?

If you’re using MailChimp or similar self-cleansing ESPs, don’t worry, they’ll do it for you.

If you’re using an ESP that doesn’t self-cleanse but assigns you with a set of IPs and let you make it on your own, then you have to protect yourself.

There is a couple of ways to spot a self-cleansing ESP:

  • newly added, unconfirmed emails don’t appear on your list
  • they don’t give you a dedicated IP by default
  • they have a low hard bounce and abuse percent threshold

Also, if you’re using a home-grown sending infrastructure or a hybrid between your own application hooked up to SMTP services like SendGrid, you have to protect yourself.

So let’s talk about solutions, shall we?

There are three layers of protection.

1. Syntax-checking JS script that’s hooked up to your forms.

There’s a lot of them on GitHub.

It basically reads entered emails and finds problems with syntax, suggesting that

should actually be

Important note: you should never automatically correct misspelled email addresses.


That’s solution number one.

2. List hygiene service.

They basically keep lists of known spam traps and provide you with an API and bulk cleaning so you can “clean up” your database.

Not a 100% accurate solution, but very cheap. If you suspect you might be having issues with spam traps, you should probably do this.

3. Email-validation service.

What they do is essentially keep a list of validated email addresses and re-validate them every now and then. Validation is done mostly through SMTP ping, which is almost the same as sending an email to that address.

You should never attempt to do it on your own. Doing it without getting blocked by the ISPs is actually very complicated. Plus you’ll ruin your domain or IP reputation.

I suggest Great service, decent prices, very fast API.

There’s plenty of other ones out there like NeverBounce, Blaze Verify, Zerobounce etc, but I’ve been working with the Kickbox guys since 2016 and I’ve had nothing but a great experience.

Single VS Double opt-in

Let’s talk about single vs double opt-in.

There’s been a debate for a good part of two decades now between the two camps.

In case you don’t know what single VS double opt-ins are, let me explain.

Double opt-in refers to users having to click through a link in the confirmation email after they’ve subscribed or registered, in order to be eligible to receive emails from the sender.

Single opt-in doesn’t require that. Just enter your email address and you’re in.

Double-opt in is safer. Single is better for conversion.

Double opt-in increases the LTV of users because they’ve invested more energy. Single opt-in makes the UX better.

Personally, I’ve never been a part of each of the camps, because I believed that each flow is good for different business models.

If your business model relies on a slow funnel, meaning that it has a lot of steps before them coming to point Z we talked about before, then you can go with the double opt-in. It’s safer and one small step among many other steps won’t make a huge difference.

If your business is, however, relying on a quick turnover and a short funnel, then it depends.

If your margin is very small and you can’t afford the list hygiene and email verification services, use the double opt-in.

If you can afford them, use the single opt-in + the email verification service like through API.

However, there’s a third approach…

A new approach

More and more services and ESPs (like MailChimp) are pushing towards using a single opt-in + a reCaptcha-like system to prevent bots from subscribing.

An additional layer of security is having an email verification service checking every new entry into the system.

However, know that this isn’t a 100% secure approach because I can still put your email address and, because it’s valid, it’ll go through.

What will happen is that you’ll start receiving emails because I signed you up.

Not a huge deal, I’d say, but still.

If you’re legally required to get explicit consent, you can still use this approach by adding an unchecked box that the users will have to check before they can submit.

Take this with a grain of salt, though, because I’m no lawyer.

I also don’t know what to do with a small box of fringe cases where people will actually subscribe to your service with other people’s emails, just to prank them.

If you’re running a…khm… content-sensitive portal or service, you might still want to do double opt-in because of GDPR and CASL. But you don’t have to if you’re in the States.

Not yet, anyway.

But then again, I’m no lawyer… You should first make sure you get your legals straight, after which you can decide on a system based on your funnel and your business model.

Another thing I’d like to mention is…

The Pop-ups

Everybody hates them.

Especially now when you can’t open a single site without having to agree with the cookies, the privacy policy, to reject their newsletter subscribe pop-up and, finally, a friggin’ ad pop-up.

Ugh… heavy, right?

But, as a marketer, I have to comply with the fact that they work.

At least with the fact that they still work. People are growing tired of them, I’m sure of it.

However, that said, there are some popups that are actually quite useful, even for end-users. For example, exit pop-ups on travel sites.

There, I’ve said it!

Joking aside, exist pop-ups in the e-comm and travel industries can actually be beneficial to me as a user.

Everybody knows that users tend to shop around and have 10 tabs opened, looking at the best price or simply reading reviews.

In a high-intensity, low markup markets like e-comm and travel, every single little thing matters.

So when they present me with an exit pop-up giving me a special deal, just so I would stay, I find it useful.

Fine, think of me as you like, but everybody does this.


How about saying goodbye?

What if someone just wants to bid thee farwell? Unsubscribe from your list. Not be bothered with the likes of you anymore.

You don’t want this to happen, so you’ll make the unsubscribe link as small as possible.

If they really want to unsubscribe, well, let them then. But you should never make it easy. Right?


Very wrong, actually. People who can’t easily unsubscribe will simply report your email as Spam.

Many ISPs have a feedback loop system where they’ll let you know that this person reported you as spam, so you can remove them from the list.

Nice of them.

But Gmail doesn’t. And Gmail is big. Like, really big.

You probably have at least 1/3 of Gmail emails on your list. And it’s growing.

So, you don’t know if someone really hates you. But Gmail does.

And what Gmail does is start filtering your emails to Spam.

I mean, so do all others, but at least they tell you who reported you.

Long story short, you better put that unsubscribe link up and high for everyone to see and easily click if they want to.

If they want to unsubscribe, let them. An unsubscribed user is much less costly than one who reports you as a Spammer.

Make the opt-out process easy as a breeze. One click does it all.

Don’t ask them to login in order to unsubscribe.

Don’t ask them to enter their email address to unsubscribe.

One-click unsubscribe is the only way to go.

Make if funny

You might want to google “best unsubscribe pages” where you’ll see a lot of cool examples from brands like HubSpot, Groupon and others. I didn’t want to litter the Internet with yet another “Top X Unsubscribe pages” content, so I leave it to you to discover it. But it can be very useful in reducing your list churn.

And it’s fun.


  • Are you selling a commodity or a journey?
  • Define your BEFORE and AFTER points. The A and Z points.
  • Define the steps in between.
  • For each of the steps, think of what they need to believe in and agreed to in advance, in order to move forward?
  • Figure out what method will you use for opting them in. Sort out your legals first, then decide on the UX.
  • How will they unsubscribe from your list? Let them, never stop them. It’s better for you that way.