Autoresponders: What They Are and How To Use Them

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Autoresponder (image of multiple emails in an inbox).

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

Read on to find out about what autoresponders are, the business benefits of using them, the apps you can use to send them and our top tips for making the most of them.

Right, let’s start with the 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

  • 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 about how you use them.

A simple autoresponder sequence for a music project.

Sophisticated applications of autoresponders

The above example of sending out a series of timed emails automatically 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 them, based on what you know about your subscribers — or certain actions they take online.

For example, you can:

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

  • 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)

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

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

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

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

Well-known ones include:

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

Additionally, some e-commerce platforms — like Squarespace, Shopify and Wix — now also include autoresponder tools (these tend to be rather basic in nature, however, by comparison to fully-fledged email marketing tools).

Of the apps we’ve tested to date, 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 very sophisticated subscriber journeys.

(You can find out more about this product by reading our full Getresponse review.)

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Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor are also very good when it comes to email automation, but they are both fairly expensive tools by comparison to the 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 Mad Mimi’s 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).

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 by sending out a ‘normal’ e-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 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!

Our top tips for sending 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. Be 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!

Over to you!

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

Related resources

  • 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.

  • You might also find our guide to automating your business helpful.

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