What are Email Autoresponders

What are Email Autoresponders and How To Use Them Effectively

The Autoresponder Email Series Explained

In this post we’ll take a deep dive into the value of using email autoresponders, explain exactly what they are, and how to use them. I’m going to get pretty detailed and hopefully answer any questions while generating new ones.

The Three Stage Email Marketing Evolution

The Three Stage Email Marketing Evolution

For most of us (bloggers and small online business), our email marketing strategy progresses in three somewhat separate stages.

Those stages go something like the following, assuming we’re already past the denial stage where we think email marketing is not important, out of our reach, not worth the time, or that email is almost dead anyway – let’s assume we’re past that sad stage.

While we’re at it, let’s get past the idea that everything should be free and we’re not choking any chance of life out of our business by nickel and diming our way into failure.

Going go down the rabbit hole… Good, we’re actually going to start off on the right foot and look at our blog as a business – if it is. If it is not a business and you just want to blog about your day, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, I wish more people would take that path.If that is you, then you might actually be right, you probably don’t need to worry about a list.

Unless, that is, you want to expand your reach, drive more traffic to your personal or hobby blog, or communicate directly to the masses that follow your posts and have a method as fast and as reliable as something like, lets say email?

See how that evolves? Over a decade of blogging and that seems to be the evolution of almost every blogger I’ve known that starts a “simple blog”, just to document something they assume no one else would be interested in. If they don’t quit first, that is.

So feel it, don’t fight it, go with the flow”
~ Def Leppard – Rock Of Ages

     Back on track 🙂

Stage One: Broadcast Emails

Okay, stage one, for most of us, is developing a list building strategy and sending helpful content to our subscribers via email. I’m using “helpful” very loosely here because there are a lot of factors to consider and testing for your particular audience is imperative. Dare I use the so “over-used” term, giving value? Yes, giving value fits but that should include the valuable offers you can provide, assuming you’ve done your homework and know your target market (Avatar – See: Define Your Avatar).


Sadly, for many the term “automation” has taken on a kind of negative connotation. Honestly, that’s an attitude that holds many well-deserving bloggers back. Automation, in my opinion, should be embraced, not avoided; assuming it is being implemented correctly and respectfully.

While I’m at it, the term “marketing” is in no way a bad word either. The same goes for “email marketing“. Don’t let these terms hold you back from success. Be honest, respectful, and never spam and email marketing is a win-win for everyone.

Note: Autoresponders work nicely along with broadcast emails and you’re not abandoning the consistent but timely contact that sending an email update provides. Autoresponders are the next step, not a replacement. By “next step“, I mean right away. Don’t make the mistake I made and let years pass by before implementing an effective automated email series.

So here’s how auto-responders work, at its most basic form.

Stage Two: Time Based Autoresponders

Email Autoresponder Series Example Schedule
Email Autoresponder Series Example Schedule
With Time Based autoresponders, which are the most basic and common, you set-up a series of emails that are automatically delivered to your subscribers based on how long ago they subscribed.

Stage Three: Action Based Autoresponders

I’ve made no secret about leaving AWeber (after many, many years) for GetResponse. One of the reasons I left had to do with the more advanced features I wanted to take advantage of, especially action-based (or event-based) autoresponders.

Action-based autoresponders are easier to use than to explain but, basically, you can setup specific autoresponder messages to be delivered based on actions your subscribers have taken such as:

✓ They clicked a specific link
✓ They opened up a particular email
✓ They have reached a certain goal you’ve setup
✓ They’ve made changes to their contact information
✓ They received another autoresponder email
✓ Or even if it’s their birthday

Can you see the power in using action-based autoresponders?

Say you offered a holiday special discount. You can setup a pre-written email to be delivered to only those that clicked that link. You can also decide how long after they clicked that link that they’ll receive the message. Pretty cool, right?

If I wanted to do something like this with AWeber, and I have, I had to send an email, then manually segment the subscribers that clicked a link (or any number of other actions/inactions), and mail to that segmented group. Like I said, automation is a good thing.

Action or event based autoresponders are one step closer to the more advanced marketing automation – CRM (customer relationship management). There are many other email management services that I’m not fluent in. I do believe MailChimp offers something similar but I don’t know (or remember) the details. I spent weeks researching all of the large email management companies before deciding to go with GetResponse. For my needs, they seemed like the best choice and I have no regrets.

Don’t misunderstand and think I’m hating on AWeber. I was a very happy customer of AWeber for a very long time and some of the biggest bloggers are still using the service VERY effectively. It was just time for me to up my game. Between GetResponse and LeadPages, I have been able to double the responsiveness of my email marketing efforts, and I haven’t even implemented everything in my current strategy yet. In fact, I will admit that, in my personal experience, AWeber is much better at customer service and social listening than GetResponse. Again, that’s just my opinion from my own experience.

Advanced: Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

The difference between CRM and basic auto-responders is like walking into a beautifully lit room compared to creeping around in the dark trying to avoid stubbing your toes.

I’m not at this stage yet myself (but that is what I’m striving for) so I won’t, or can’t, get too involved here. I don’t want to act like I know what I’m talking about when I’m barely into the learning stage of CRM myself. So here are the basics, as I understand CRM:

Imagine personalized (yet completely automated) messages delivered based on how your customer or prospect acts, what they just did, what they’ve purchased, where they just came from or any number of other factors, all with incredibly detailed analytics.

It’s like action-based autoresponders with superhero powers and not only limited to those that have subscribed.

CRM not only triggers certain actions based on where a prospect is within your funnel, it can actually determine which funnel they should be guided to. If that weren’t impressive (or complicated) enough, those funnels, actions, and messages are completely customized for that person.

This stage of marketing gets far more complicated and more expensive than what most bloggers use but you’d be hard pressed to find a large online business that isn’t utilizing either their own custom version or one of the customer relationship management services like Infusionsoft, HubSpot, Salesforce, or Marketo offers.

Self-hosted Autoresponders

We live in the beautiful world of WordPress that’s full of freedom and choices. List building, email management, and autoresponders are no exception. There are a number of tools and plugins that can help the DIY email marketing enthusiast.

With that said, I can think of more reasons not todo it yourself” than I can see benefits. If this is something you want to look into, Kim Castleberry put together a nice post, “3 Email Newsletter and Autoresponder Plugins For WordPress” that’s worth a look.

I do want to stress that no one should EVER use their personal email to mass email a list, whether they’ve opted in or not. We still see bloggers trying to use the “BCC” method to send blog updates and offers to everyone in their contact lists. This not only violates the terms of every legitimate email provider, it risks losing your email account, being blacklisted all over the net, or even worse than that, facing legal trouble.

A few autoresponder tips

Evergreen content only, please: One of the most important things, short of value, you need to consider as far as autoresponder content is staying relevant and evergreen. You will occasionally need to update autoresponder content but, for the most part, you want a set it and forget it system.

Your offers: You don’t want to overwhelm your subscribers with too many offers so you want the best possible reach, right? Hello autoresponder!  If you send a generic message out to your list for your consulting gig today, for example, those that subscribe tomorrow won’t get that message UNLESS every subscriber that enters that autoresponder series gets it.

Obviously, in order to stay relevant and current, you’ll want to only offer permanent offers and promotions. Leave special offers and deals for your broadcast emails.

An appropriate mix please: There’s not an exact science to delivering the right mix of helpful content and offers BUT I will say you should make your offers as helpful as the great content you’re providing for free. You have the best solutions, right? Show value in everything you do, free and paid.

Be consistent: I missed last week’s broadcast email. I got busy and, personally, I won’t send an email for the sake of sending an email. I want it to matter! So is that the end of the world, that I missed a week? Absolutely not. New subscribers are still receiving emails from my autoresponder series and older subscribers know me well enough to know I’m not going anywhere.

My autoresponder series has completely removed the pressure from those times I have nothing to say, as rare as that might be. lol

Not only are new subscribers going to receive consistent content, they’re going to get the best I have to offer – as planned.

Use short URLs/tracking links: Any email management service worth their salt will have better tracking than a WordPress plugin or one of the free short URL sites (without getting into advanced custom campaign parameters) BUT there’s a important reason to use tracking links – they’re editable.

I recently published a detailed post on Creating Shorter Vanity Tracking Links With A Custom Domain. If that’s too advanced, and I completely understand, at the very least use something like the Pretty Links WordPress plugin.

Hot TipHOT Ninja Tip (If I’m right): I recently started a conversation on Quora asking, “Are we increasing our bounce rates by using short URLs like the WordPress plugin Pretty Link?

My concern is, and has been for a while (one of the reasons I decided to go with a custom/dedicated domain for tracking links), is if all of these redirects, especially those outbound links coming in from ads and social media, are increasing our bounce rates and hurting our SEO.

My question is whether or not Google is smart enough or designed to understand that the quick stop (redirect) on our domain is not really a site visitor. In any event, I HAVE noticed a significant reduction in my overall bounce rate since using the method described in Creating Shorter Vanity Tracking Links With A Custom Domain.

Ways of using Autoresponders

Ask a question: At the risk of going on another tangent, have you noticed that everyone and their brother are asking, “What’s the one thing that you’re struggling with” or some version of that? It’s funny, whenever a very popular marketer offers a piece of advice like that we tend to take it so literally (and word for word), it becomes this lame message that makes us look like we’re as original as apple pie. Still ask questions, just not the exact same one you see on every other Twitter DM or Instagram image. </rant>

As I was saying, Pip (Where’s that from?), ask questions. There are a couple of reasons why this is SO IMPORTANT and I’m betting one of them might trigger a light bulb for you.

The first reason, and most obvious, is questions help us build relationships, let us get to know our audience (friends), and help keep us on the right path.

Another reason to ask questions, beyond the engagement, has to do with email deliverability. I like to ask a question on either the first (welcome letter) or second email in the series. And then ask more questions every now and then, appropriately spaced. Be sure to reply to these answers as well. It’s not easy, believe me, I know.

There are a million factors when it comes to email deliverability but when someone clicks the reply button and has an exchange with you (the sender), what message is that sending to their email service provider (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.)? That’s right, you just became a friendly in the war of unwanted email and spam.

Not only have you just helped separate yourself from the low lives of email spam, depending on their settings, you may have just been added to their contact list. Can you say whitelist?

There’s nothing deceptive about this, unless you’re misleading your subscribers by useless ploys and ulterior intentions. You want REAL interaction but I’d be remiss not to mention the side benefit you get from treating your list right.

Recapping Evergreen blog content: You have amazing content on your blog and you know much of it could be invaluable to your subscribers, many of which found you long after that content became buried beneath dozens, or even hundreds, of new blog posts. Not only do autoresponders help introduce new subscribers to that amazing content, and not only does it drive traffic back to your blog, it also allows you to hand-pick the very best.

Yes, you’ll look like a content producing genius and you’ll have people looking forward to seeing you in their inboxes.

One note on older content: Please don’t try to trick or deceive anyone into thinking a post is newer than it really is. Seriously, your influence is only as good as your reputation and that can be erased in the blink of an eye. Be honest and say it is an older post that you think will make a difference for them. Bloggers removing dates hoping people are stupid just don’t get it; and probably never will. Please don’t risk your reputation with silly deceptive tactics. On that note, you don’t want stupid readers or subscribers. Think about it.

Using an Auto Responder for email courses: One thing many of us have successfully used autoresponders for are online email courses. It’s a way to send weekly (or other timed email) lessons directly to subscribers. This can be a very effective list building technique.

You write out a series of emails that teaches something in your niche. Then offer the course in exchange for their email address, which is how they’ll receive that course. Once they have opted in, they’ll receive the course lessons via the series of emails that you have pre-written and setup to deliver at a set number of days for each email. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. 🙂

Recap and finishing up

I know you might not be quite as geeked about email marketing and autoresponder strategy as I am so I’ll just recap and ship this thing.

✓ Email autoresponders are a valuable email marketing tool that doesn’t have to sacrifice personalization or connection.
✓ Email marketing is not a necessary evil because it’s not evil at all. Guns don’t kill, people do? lol Sorry
✓ Get started right away with a structured list building strategy
✓ Setup autoresponders right away
✓ Work toward bigger and better but master what’s working first.
✓ Test your butt off and then get better at testing. Then test even more.
✓ Don’t use expense as a reason not to invest in your email marketing campaign. You don’t have to go into debt or sell a child to use a legitimate email service provider.
✓ Up your game with a tool like LeadPages.
✓ Don’t be afraid to offer your (or affiliate) products when it makes sense. If that is offensive to your subscriber, I’m afraid you’re targeting the wrong people.
✓ Targeting, marketing, selling, advertising, and any other business term are not bad words. Don’t get hung-up with a twisted view of commerce; it’s what makes the world go round.
✓ Don’t treat subscribers as anything less than real people that have entrusted you with their contact information. Treat them with respect and put them above all. Ask yourself this question BEFORE sending every single email, “What’s in it for them?”
✓ Don’t second guess the value you are capable of – you are awesome and amazing.

That’s a wrap

Like this post? Then share it, subscribe, love me. Needy enough? lol

That’s all I got for this post, without inviting you to dinner for an even deeper dive. Feel free to leave a comment or question below.

About Brian Hawkins

Blogging superhero by day and internet super villain by night. Blogger, future online millionaire and an all around great guy.


  1. I was already looking for something like this, my newsletter in the online shop sometimes fails so time to get started at seriously for readers. Thank you for your extensive and exhaustive article


  2. My pleasure @vapourireland:disqus, I appreciate you saying so. That means the world to me. I’m glad it helped.

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