Autoresponders do as the word suggests: they automatically respond to emails. However, while that was their original function, they also do a lot more. In many cases, autoresponders can be programmed to run an entire online business. First, let’s look at the simplest use of an autoresponder.
Automate Simple Email Responses
If you are going on holiday and are either unable to or do not want to read your emails while away, you can set an autoresponder to reply to incoming emails. The reply could be similar to a voicemail message, telling the sender that you are not available until a stated date.
You could also ask the sender to forward the email to a different address. This is often done when business people are on vacation, but the email must be attended to. In such cases, the sender may then pass the email to another member of the recipient’s team to be dealt with, or the autoresponder can be set to forward the email automatically.
Many business email systems such as Outlook will offer this service under the reference of an ‘Out of Office Message.’ This is no more than the application of a simple autoresponder script, enabling people to inform contacts that they will be unavailable for a stated period of time.
Advanced Autoresponder Applications
More advanced autoresponders, such as those we are reviewing below, can carry out a much wider range of functions that relate to specific business tasks and to email marketing in general. Among these are:
- Generating subscription forms.
- Collecting opted in names and email addresses.
- Maintaining your subscriber mailing list and enabling subscribers to unsubscribe with each mailing.
- Executing double-optin processes requiring subscribers to confirm.
- Delivering products offered in exchange for contact details.
- Sending invoices and receiving payments.
- Sending emails to a defined list at pre-programmed times and dates.
- Emailing individuals at defined days after subscribing. This is useful for delivering the various parts of a course to individuals at specified intervals after they have subscribed.
- Notify you of percentage of emails delivered.
- Notify you of percentage emails opened.
- Notify you of clicks on internal links in emails.
As you can see from this list, an autoresponder can be a very important part of an online business, particularly one that relies on mailing lists as part its marketing strategy. Each autoresponder operates in a different way, although the general concept is similar between them all.
Very few internet businesses can operate successfully without using some type of autoresponder. Emails are still one of the easiest and most successful of online marketing techniques used to attract prospects and convert them to customers.
If a prospective client, customer or even a supplier emails you they may expect some notification that you have received their email. An autoresponder can do that. In fact, you can run several autoresponder programs, one attached to each type of form on your website.
One could be for a subscription form as explained earlier, another could be a form requesting a quotation, yet another for a specific catalog and so on. Each response can be tailored to the type of request being made according to the form completed.
Some responses may simply thank them and that their request will be answered quickly, while others may immediately send off the online catalog or quotation. This makes your business look more professional than if no response was received. Your prospects may then be left wondering if you had received the email or even opened it, and they may even decide to immediately do business with the first company that responded. Without the autoresponder you would never know this!
Build a Mailing List
When people visit your website or blog, most will quickly browse the landing page but go no further. They may get distracted and leave your site, then forget ever being on it. Others might click to another page if something interests them, or even find what they are searching for and make a note to return – but never do.
If you place a form right in front of their eyes, asking for their first name and email address so you can send them more information, then they may respond to that before carrying on. Otherwise, you would likely never hear from them again. Most people will give you their contact details if the inducement is good enough.
This may be a free report on their niche, an ebook relevant to them, a series of courses on the topic or a regular newsletter. By offering any of these, you can prove your knowledge of their niche, and demonstrate why they should listen to you and possibly learn from you. Once you have their email addresses you can maintain contact on a regular basis, all the time increasing their confidence in your ability to help them.
Once they click ‘submit’ they are sent an email asking them to confirm that they want you to send them the information – referred to as a ‘double opt-in’ so they cannot accuse you of spamming them. A good autoresponder can record their IP address that you can use to prove they contacted you.
Nurture Your List
Once they confirm, the autoresponder sends them the information and adds their details to your list of contact emails. You can then send their eBook or program their course to be delivered over a number of days or weeks.
You should nurture your list, emailing them whenever you have a new product to offer, or you could send emails explaining how to solve a specific problem and offering the products to help achieve that. All through your autoresponder. Keep sending interesting information, and do not try to sell with every mailing.
Some people visit the internet to find information and knowledge, while others are looking for help with their own online business. Either of these groups will be liable to purchase your product if it answers their question and if they are confident of your ability and knowledge.
However, it has been estimated that the average person needs somewhere between 6 and 8 views of a product before they decide to purchase. An autoresponder is the ideal way to ensure that they get that. Most won’t buy, but if even just 1% does, then that is 10 sales from a 1,000-strong email list.
There are several commercial autoresponders available for you to use. We shall review just five of these here: two free and three paid.
It must be stressed that you use free autoresponders at your own risk. Is it wise to put such an important asset as your email list in the hands of free service? Some think they will begin free, and then transfer their list once it has grown. It is not particularly easy to do this, and you could face a charge from the new autoresponder. You may also have to ask your subscribers to register all over again, and that can typically lose you up to 60% and more of your list!
Many take the view that the cost of an autoresponder is relative small, given the size of the list available to you for marketing purposes. You only pay $1 for your first month with AWeber and it is free with GetResponse, and then $19 and $15 monthly respectively. That’s a small price for such an important asset.
The choice is yours, and we shall first discuss the best totally free autoresponder on the planet: List Wire.
List Wire Review
List Wire makes it very easy for you set up and operate an autoresponder, and offers unlimited subscribers, emails and individual lists. This is unusual for a free autoresponder which normally severely restricts the number of subscribers it can hold and emails allowed. You have no need to understand HTML, CSS or even how to use an FTP program.
Easy forms: You can easily create subscription forms and add them to your blog or website. List Wire insists on a double opt-in, so that you have no issues with being accused of spam – each person on the list has agreed twice to join it.
Unsubscribing policy: The service also automatically unsubscribes anybody that sends your mail to spam or their junk box. It also immediately removes anyone from your lists that requests to be removed. This all combines to ensure that you meet the terms of spam laws and emailing best practice.
Message scheduling: You can schedule your emails and follow-up messages over any period time you choose, and you have no restriction on the number of such messages you can send to each subscriber. You can email your entire list in one go if you want. Such broadcast mailing is particularly useful if you have a special offer suited to all or most of your subscribers, or have a special event coming up.
Formatting: If emails are going to multiple lists, List Wire will make sure that members on multiple lists receive only one mailing. Your emails can be in text or HTML format, and List Wire will also specially format messages for your Twitter and Facebook accounts. Every message will show up on each prospect’s wall and inbox.
Rejection analysis: Finally, this free autoresponder will analyze your bounce rate and also the bounce code which explains why your email was rejected. This in turn enables you to reduce your rejection rate. The List Wire systems also fully authenticate your emails so that they pass the authentication systems of the major services such as AOL, Yahoo and Gmail.
For a free autoresponder, List Wire offers an exceptional service. It is regarded by many as being the best truly free autoresponder on the market, and the only one that we have found to truly compete with the better paid services.
We are looking at this from its free service angle – MailChimp is free for up to 2,000 subscribers with a maximum of 12,000 individual emails allowed per month: up to 6 per subscriber at the maximum 2,000.
However, the free version does not check the delivery aspects, such as if it is being regarded as spam. This is a serious omission for any autoresponder. Tracking is also poor. Neither List Wire nor MailChimp tracks your emails and how they are being used. Neither the free nor the paid versions identify when links have been clicked and opened, while AWeber and GetResponse identify which links in your emails are clicked on and opened.
However, the main issue with MailChimp for most people will be that, for both the free and paid versions, you are not permitted to put your affiliate links in your emails. This is a big negative for anybody involved in affiliate marketing; big enough to make MailChimp impossible to use for such people. Affiliate marketing is such a big part of internet marketing in general that it seems to be a strange decision to make.
Other than that, MailChimp offers most of what you would need from an autoresponder. Nevertheless, we must choose List Wire as the free autoresponder of choice, because you are able to promote your affiliate links in your emails and tracking and analysis of spam reports and trashing of your emails is better handled.
There are many good paid autoresponders available. However, it is generally accepted that the big three are GetResponse, MailChimp and AWeber. We are not including MailChimp here because it has serious issues with affiliate marketing, and many bloggers and website owners are involved with affiliate marketing as a means of monetizing their site. We shall focus on AWeber and GetResponse.
AWeber Vs. GetResponse
GetResponse and AWeber are widely recognized as the two main players. Each has its fans, and each fan will tell you why it uses one and not the other. If you are looking for a top class autoresponder that gives you great-looking opt-in forms and sends emails out on time as you want them, then AWeber does that.
AWeber is easy to use, and those that found it before GetResponse tend to stay with it. They find no reason to change from one to the other. The same is true of GetResponse users. Why change when you have no real need to? Each works perfectly well as a good autoresponder, with none of the issues that come with the free options. You can include affiliate links and you get good, adequate analytics.
It’s only when you are needing something specific that you would change from one to the other. So why should anybody change from AWeber to GetResponse?
Adding Other Lists
If you have another autoresponder and want to add your list to your AWeber account you can’t do it. You must ask every person on your list to confirm their email to address to satisfy AWeber. A large number will fail to do this, some because they are no longer responsive to your emails, but some also because they feel it an inconvenience. Yet others will miss the reconfirmation mailing for one reason or another, and then wonder why they no longer hear from you.
It is easy to import lists with GetResponse. This is one reason why so many people that previously used free autoresponders such as List Wire and the free version of MailChimp switch to GetResponse rather than to AWeber – it’s a lot easier to import their existing lists.
GetResponse enables you to program emails to be sent to people when they click a specific page on your website, when they read a certain blog post, when they open a previous email and even on their birthdays. It is all automated; you don’t get this with AWeber. This is a fabulous way to keep engaged with your prospects and let them know you care.
If you want to run a survey with your list using AWeber you must use a third-party poll application. GetResponse enables you to include a survey into your email without needing any other application. You can learn a lot by surveying your entire list.
iStock has thousands of stock images available for those that want to buy them. GetResponse has an arrangement with iStockPhoto so that you can use stock images in your emails. This can add pizzazz to your mailings and extract a better response and higher click and conversion rates.
AWeber offers easier integration with other sites such as PayPal and Amazon. Setting up the Zapier system to integrate them into GetResponse is not difficult, although it is a needless complication for those less technically mined. AWeber also has some excellent form templates that you customize.
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Sendy.com – A Cheaper Option to the Regular Autoresponders
Sendy is another option if you already have a list. It is less expensive that AWeber, but it offers no form templates and neither does it help you build a list of subscribers. You must do that yourself. If you already have a list, but want to save money on email delivery, Sendy charges no more than $0.1 for each 1,000 deliveries.
Sendy is a viable alternative if you are experienced in email marketing, but otherwise you might be best to stick with one of those above. One drawback with this service is that it is possible to copy and paste email addresses that have not opted in – let alone doubly so! It is unknown how this will pan out in the longer term, but Sendy does not appear to offer the security against spamming of other autoresponders.
You must also add your own unsubscribe link and business address to your emails. If you fail to do this you will be in breach of anti-spam rules, so you use Sendy at your own risk. Nevertheless, many people believe that its benefits are well worth this extra work.
It is not for newcomers to email marketing, but Sendy is certainly worth a try if you are looking for ways to cut your email marketing costs. You must pay an upfront $59 for each domain, after which your sending cost is very low: a mere 10 cents/1,000.
Autoresponder Reviews: Conclusions
For a free autoresponder your best bet is List Wire. MailChimp is an acceptable autoresponder, both free and paid versions, although leave it if you are involved in affiliate marketing, or likely to be in the future. List Wire has no such restrictions and is the best free autoresponder out there at the moment.
Of the paid systems, both GetResponse and AWeber are currently the best available with the paid version of MailChimp a close third. There are others available, although none seem to have yet reached the very high standard set by these first two. Purely on your ability to easily import other lists, we rate GetResponse first, although its superior scheduling options are also very attractive.