Autoresponders — What They Are and How To Use Them

Autoresponder (image of a series of emails on a screen)

In this post I’m going to give you an introduction to autoresponders, and explain why you should be using them.

Read on to find out about…

  • what autoresponders are

  • the business benefits of using them

  • the apps you can use to send them

And we’ll finish off with top tips on how to make the most of automated email marketing.

Right, let’s start off with the key question: what is an autoresponder?


What is an autoresponder?

Autoresponders are e-newsletters that are sent automatically to your mailing list subscribers based on rules and 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

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

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

…and so on.


Why are autoresponders important?

When you use autoresponders, a lot of your email marketing gets automated – if you set things up correctly, subscribers receive key messages from your business without you having to worry about manually sending these messages out.

So the main benefit of autoresponders is clear: they save you time – a lot of it. 

Not only that however, autoresponder emails can generate a lot of income for your business — if you’re clever in how you use them.


Clever applications of autoresponders

The above example of sending out a series of timed promotional emails automatically after somebody signs up to a mailing list is an important one, but there are more sophisticated things you can do with autoresponders, based on what you know about your subscribers, or certain actions they take online:

For example, you can:

  • use autoresponders to send birthday greetings (and related offers) to people on your mailing list

  • move a subscriber from one cycle of communications to another after they buy a product (i.e., move them from a ‘prospect’ style series of emails to an ‘upsell’ cycle of communications)

  • switch a subscriber from one type of autoresponder cycle to another if he/she clicks on a particular link within an email

  • send people emails exactly one year after they bought a product (for example, to encourage them to renew a policy or guarantee etc.)

  • automatically send people emails about individual products based on the page of your website that they signed up to your list from.

Using autoresponders in these ways can generate significant income and maximise 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 out autoresponders, you need to use an email marketing app. There are loads available.

Well-known ones include Getresponse, Aweber, Mailchimp, Mad Mimi or Campaign Monitor – these are all dedicated solutions for building mailing lists and sending autoresponders to them.

Of the apps we’ve tested to date, we’d probably suggest trying out Getresponse if you need advanced autoresponder functionality (you can find out more about this product by reading our full Getresponse review). Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor are also very good when it comes to email automation, but they are both fairly expensive tools by comparison to their competition (Campaign Monitor especially so).

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 its autoresponder functionality is extremely basic by comparison to its competitors — you are basically limited to ‘drip’ campaigns that are triggered by the number of days between emails. You get what you pay for with this product, basically.


Does using autoresponders mean that I should stop ‘manually’ sending out e-newsletters?

No – 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 by sending out a ‘normal’ e-newsletter.

But used well, autoresponders will allow you to 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.


Top tips for sending out autoresponders

  • Don’t overdo it: keep the intervals between your email autoresponders reasonably long, unless there is a very good business reason to bombard your subscribers with emails. In most cases, it’s best to only send an automated email when you absolutely need to.

  • 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 they expressed interest in Product X, don’t add them to a cycle about Product Y.

  • Don’t just ‘drip’ - use marketing automation features: 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 triggers such as opens, clicks, web page visits and purchases to create really sophisticated user journeys that maximise profit.

  • Be mindful of data protection rules - in the era of GDPR, it’s more important than ever to stay on the right side of data protection laws. Ensure you always have explicit consent before sending any autoresponders, and allow users to unsubscribe easily from your cycles.

And that’s it!

If you’ve got any thoughts on or queries about autoresponders, please do share them in the comments section below.

(Note that if you’re reading this on a mobile device, you may need to read the standard version in order to post a comment.)


Related content: our reviews of autoresponder apps

Our email marketing reviews section contains a lot of useful, in-depth reviews and comparisons of the leading email marketing apps, including Aweber, Campaign Monitor, Getresponse, Mad Mimi and Mailchimp.