Autoresponders: What They Are and How To Use Them

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Autoresponder (image of multiple emails in an inbox).

In this post, you’ll find out all about autoresponders. Read on to get…

  • a simple overview of autoresponders
  • a list of the business benefits of using them
  • a list of the apps you can use to send them

And, at the end of this article, you’ll find some bonus content — our top tips for making the absolute most of autoresponders.

Let’s start with a key question — what is an autoresponder?


What is an autoresponder?

Autoresponders are e-newsletters that are sent automatically to your subscribers on your mailing list. They are triggered based on rules and time intervals that you define.

For example, you could design a programme of autoresponders so that:

  • when somebody signs up to your mailing list, they immediately receive a welcome message from your business

  • one week later they receive discount codes for some of your products

  • two weeks later they receive an invitation to follow you on social media…

…and so on.


Why are autoresponders important?

As their name suggests, with autoresponders, a lot of your email marketing gets automated.

If you set autoresponders up correctly, subscribers receive the right messages at the right time from your business — without you having to worry about sending these out manually.

A simple autoresponder sequence for a music project.

So the main benefit of autoresponders is clear — they save you a lot of time.

Not only that however, autoresponder emails can generate a lot of income for your business — so long as you are clever about how you use them.

So let’s take a look at how you use autoresponders in ‘smart’ ways.


Smart applications of autoresponders

The above example of sending out a series of timed emails after somebody signs up to a mailing list is an important one — but it’s also a fairly basic application of autoresponders.

There are much more sophisticated things you can do with autoresponders, based on what you know about your subscribers, or the actions they take online.

For example, you can:

  • switch subscribers from one autoresponder cycle to another if they click on a particular link in an email

  • move subscribers from one communications cycle to another after they buy a product (i.e., move them from a prospect-focused series of emails to an ‘upsell’ cycle of communications aimed at existing customers)

  • send emails based on subscription date — for example, you could send your customers a message precisely one year after they bought a product (for example, to encourage them to renew a policy or warranty)

  • send emails based on personal data you’ve captured — for example, you could use date of birth information to trigger emails on your subscribers’ birthdays
  • send an offer to subscribers if they visit (or subscribe to your list from) a particular page on your website

    .

Using autoresponders in these ways can generate significant income and maximize the value of your mailing list.

Using Getresponse to create a customer journey based on sophisticated use of autoresponders
Using GetResponse to create a customer journey based on sophisticated use of autoresponders

How do I send autoresponders?

To send autoresponders, you need to use an email marketing app. There are lots available.

Well-known ones include:

These are all well-established solutions for building mailing lists and sending autoresponders to them.

Additionally, some ecommerce platforms — like Squarespace and Shopify — now also include email marketing tools that include some autoresponder features.

The Squarespace Email Campaigns feature.
The Squarespace Email Campaigns feature lets you create basic ‘drip’ autoresponder campaigns.

(These tend to be rather basic in nature, however, by comparison to fully-fledged email marketing tools).

Of the above apps, we’d probably suggest trying out GetResponse if you need advanced autoresponder functionality — in addition to simple autoresponder cycles, you can use it to create sophisticated subscriber journeys. Like many email marketing tools, a free version of GetResponse is available, which you can access via this link.

(Campaign Monitor, AWeber and Mailchimp are also very good for creating autoresponder cycles — but in our tests we found them to be more expensive and less feature-rich in the autoresponder department than GetResponse.)

Using triggers in Campaign Monitor: a good tool, but very expensive by comparison to competing products
Using triggers in Campaign Monitor: a good tool, but very expensive by comparison to competing products.

If you are on a very low budget, Mad Mimi is worth a look as it allows you to host big lists very cheaply on the platform.

It’s worth noting however that Mad Mimi’s autoresponder functionality is extremely basic by comparison to its competitors — you are essentially limited to ‘drip campaigns’ that are triggered by the number of days between emails.


So, should I stop manually sending out e-newsletters?

No! Even if you use autoresponders, there will still be many occasions when it makes absolute sense to send out an e-newsletter manually — messages marking festive occasions, seasonal promotions, sale announcements and general news updates will often need to be covered off with a ‘normal’ newsletter.

Autoresponders are great, but there will still be times when you need to send out newsletters manually — think seasonal greetings, time-sensitive mailouts etc.
Autoresponders are great, but there will still be times when you need to send out newsletters manually — think seasonal greetings, time-sensitive mailouts etc.

But used well, autoresponders let you automate a lot of ‘nuts and bolts’ marketing activity — and tailor your messages to suit particular segments of your mailing list.

All while you’re in bed, or doing something more interesting, or both!

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Our top tips for sending autoresponders

  • Don’t overdo it


    Keep the intervals between your email autoresponders fairly long, unless there is a very good business reason to send your subscribers a lot of emails

    in quick succession.
  • Keep things relevant


    Use data supplied by your subscriber when they signed up to send content which they are most likely to be interested in. For example, if a subscriber expressed interest in Product X, think twice before adding them to a cycle about Very Different Product Y.

  • Always send valuable content
    When you’ve created an autoresponder campaign, go through each of the emails you’ve added to it and ensure that each one provides value to your subscribers (be that in terms of useful content, or a compelling offer). If it doesn’t, consider removing it from the cycle.
  • Don’t just ‘drip’ — use marketing automation


    Autoresponders have come a long way since the days of basic ‘drip campaigns

    triggered by time intervals. You can now use a whole host of marketing automation triggers such as opens, clicks, web page visits and purchases to create really sophisticated user journeys that maximize profit.

  • Ensure your mailing list sign-up forms capture the right data
    To make the most of autoresponders, you need the right data. Figure out what you need to create the best autoresponder cycle for your business — this might mean you need to capture location data, date of birth, interests etc. Always try to design your data capture forms with autoresponders firmly in mind!
  • Be aware of data protection rules


    In an era of GDPR and CCPA, it’s more important than ever to stay on the right side of data protection laws. Be very aware of your obligations on this front, make sure you always have explicit consent before adding any subscribers to autoresponder cycles and allow users to unsubscribe easily from your mailing list.

And that’s it!

Autoresponders FAQ

How do I send autoresponders?

To send autoresponders, you need to use a dedicated email marketing app. Examples of these include GetResponse, AWeber and Campaign Monitor.

What sort of triggers can I use in an autoresponder campaign?

Depending on the email marketing app you’re using, you can trigger autoresponders based on a wide range of criteria, including subscription to a mailing list, time interval, purchases, email opens, clicks on links within an email amongst others.

How often should I send autoresponders?

The key thing with autoresponders is to use them in a way that doesn’t annoy your subscribers! Ensure that every automated message you send contains valuable content, and that the time intervals between autoresponders are not too short.

Got any queries about autoresponders?

If you’ve got any questions about autoresponders, please do share them in the comments section below. We read all queries and will do our best to help you.

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