As a small business, you know how important a first impression can be.

Whether it’s the first time someone walks into your store, the first time someone calls your office, or the first time someone looks up your business online — you work hard to make sure customers walk away thinking positively about your brand.

But how about the first impression a customer has with your brand’s email marketing?

Have you put any thought into the type of experience you’re giving your customers when they receive an email from your business for the first time?

The value of welcome emails

It’s easy to forget that each time a customer opens an email from your organization, they are actually having an experience that can impact the way they think of your business.

Like when someone decides to hop in their car and visit your store, when someone decides to sign up to receive your emails, they do so with certain expectations. More often than not, those expectations will come from the initial experience that reader had with your business­­.

That’s why it’s such a surprise that so many businesses pay so little attention to their Welcome Email.

What most businesses do wrong

Welcome emails are the automated messages subscribers receive when they sign up for your email newsletter.

Because welcome emails are automated and most email services provide stock content for businesses to put into them — many business owners don’t even know what the first experience they’re providing their readers looks like.

That’s a huge problem. Especially considering open rates for welcome emails are much higher than typical email correspondence. (The average open rate for a welcome email is between 50-60 percent.)

That’s a lot of people being served a less than optimal first impression. Even worse, that’s a lot of people setting low expectations for the emails they’re going to receive from your organization in the future.

Make sure your Welcome Email delivers a fantastic first impression. Here are four things your Welcome Email must do:

1. Reaffirm they made the right decision

The fact is, even customers who love your business can be reluctant to offer up their email address — especially if they are new to your business and haven’t built a strong relationship with you.

For the customers who do make the decision to subscribe, they’re going to want to know right from the start they made the right decision.

Here are three ways to do just that:

  1. Remember your subject line best practices: Just because Welcome Emails are automated, doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay attention to your best practices. A Welcome Email subject line should catch the reader’s attention, thank them for signing up, and give them a reason to open your email. Try something like “Thanks for signing up. Now what?”
  2. Let them know they’re part of a community: Don’t be afraid to showcase your success as an email marketer. Letting readers know just how many people are receiving your newsletter each month is a great way to reaffirm their decision to subscribe to your list.
  3. Make them feel safe: People are protective of their information online — and for good reason. Letting your customers know right from the start that you plan to protect their email address is a great way to make them feel safe and secure.

2. Tell them what to expect in the future

Once you’ve reaffirmed the reader’s decision to subscribe to your mailing list, offer some preview of what they can expect next.

It’s important that what you tell your reader in the Welcome Email is consistent with what you promised at the point of sign-up. You don’t want to offer coupons and deals to get people to sign up and then tell new readers that all they’re going to be getting is news updates.

Take the time to revisit what you’re offering people at the point of sign-up. Remember to include details about the type of content you plan to send, how frequently you plan to send it, and the expertise you plan to share.

3. Make sure future emails get through

Even the most experienced email marketers can sometimes fall victim to SPAM filters.

But you should also use your Welcome Email as a way to avoid getting flagged as spam, and to improve your chances of getting noticed in your readers’ inbox.

A great way to do that is by asking them to “whitelist” or add your business to their trusted contacts. That way, your emails will not only end up in the inbox (and out of the spam folder,) but will also be more likely to be recognized by the reader.

4. Fulfill on your offer

It’s likely you made an offer of a download or coupon in exchange for your contact’s email address. After all, special offers are one of the reasons why people sign up to email lists. The Welcome Email is where you should fulfill on that offer. Since the Welcome Email is typically sent immediately after a new contact joins your list, you’ll be able to provide instant gratification to your new contact.

Remember this is your Welcome Email

Personalizing your Welcome Email will not only improve the first impression you’re able to make on your readers, it will also help set you apart from your competition.

While most businesses are sending welcome emails with static and un-engaging messaging, you’ll be providing an experience that will shape the way customers and potential customers think of your brand.

Take the steps provided for you in this post and remember this is your welcome email. It’s your opportunity to introduce your email marketing and reintroduce your business to your target audience. Make sure it’s written in your words and that it reflects the personal experience you plan to provide your readers.

Make it memorable.

Author’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2012 and has been updated for relevancy and accuracy.