Meet the Lazy Marketer’s Best Friend: The Email Autoresponder

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No one loves blogs more than I do. They’re a great way to build your authority, attract an engaged audience, develop trust and rapport, attract links, and stake your claim in search engines.

I love blogs. But like babies and kittens, two other things I love, they’re also a lot of responsibility.

Blogs take time. You’ve got to write terrific content that stands out from the general noise, promote it intelligently, and cultivate reader relationships. And that’s in addition to everything else you do in your business, from producing your product to getting your taxes filed.

That’s why there’s another content marketing tool that I always recommend having in place — ideally before you write your first blog post.

It’s the email autoresponder.

What is an email autoresponder and why do I want one?

An autoresponder is just a sequence of email marketing messages that gets sent to subscribers in the order and frequency that you decide.

Let’s say you have a seven-part autoresponder that delivers a great tutorial for your potential customers — something that they’ll find beneficial and valuable, and that lays the groundwork for you to make a sale.

That autoresponder creates a great experience for your first subscriber. And it creates the same great experience for your 100,000th subscriber.

It never gets tired. It never needs the weekend off for Father’s Day or Mother’s Day (or Email Autoresponder’s Day).

It never gets bored with your marketing message. It never gets snarky. It never gets sick of newbies.

It delivers your best content, in the best possible order and frequency, to every new reader who finds you. Forever.

That’s why I say it’s the lazy marketer’s friend. Whether you want a day off to head to the beach or a month off for a life-changing adventure, your autoresponder is back home taking care of business.

What goes into a really good autoresponder?

Most autoresponder sequences aren’t all that good, because most of them are about the marketer.

Your autoresponder needs to be about the reader.

The autoresponder’s most important function is to take people who are curious about what you do and turn them into raving fans.

That means an autoresponder needs your best content — the kind of content that makes readers glad every time they click through.

It doesn’t have to be funny, witty, charming, or poetically written.

It has to be damned useful.

It has to solve problems your readers need to solve. It has to give them small, quick wins toward what they want to achieve. And if it can show you’re a nice, relatable, trustworthy person — not just an expert but a likable expert — that’s even better.

Autoresponders make your case for you

You can use autoresponders for anything you need to educate prospects about before they buy.

Explore the pain and problems they’re facing today. Paint the picture of what their life will look like with that problem solved. Address and overcome objections, build trust, outline features and benefits, and create intense desire for what you have to offer.

And if your prospect isn’t ready to buy right now, great email content will keep her “parked” until she is ready … whether that takes her six months, a year, or ten years. As long as you keep adding to the sequence, you can keep prospects engaged and interested until the time is right for them.

Build it first

There’s no such thing as free traffic.

You either pay for web traffic with money — with advertising or affiliate commissions — or you pay with time and creativity.

Blogging is particularly demanding of that time and creativity. So you want to make sure you capture each and every true fan you attract, from the very first days of your blog.

That’s why if you’re starting from zero in a new topic, I recommend you build your autoresponder first, before you start blogging or doing any other social media marketing.

And if you already have a blog going, the second best time to build your autoresponder is today.

How about it?

  • Do you have an autoresponder in place right now?
  • If so, does it have the kind of content that’s going to turn your readers into raving fans?
  • Are you happy with the number of messages in your sequence, or do you think you could extend it a little and deliver even more value?

If the answer to any of these is No, let us know in the comments when you’re going to fix that. You have my permission to be as lazy as you like after you get it done. :)

About the Author: Sonia Simone is co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on twitter.

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  1. When it comes to email autoresponders, I’m of two minds.

    I don’t currently have content populated in an autoresponder with my main list, but I do have a nice welcome email that asks people “What are you struggling with,” and almost always, people respond (it’s market research at its best).

    However, for sub lists, which I automate into my main list, I use autoresponders. That way I can pull email subscribers, and develop highly targeted email segments.

    As a warning though, if you’re a blogger who updates regularly, and sends your blog posts to your list, make sure your autoresponder sends on certain days… and blog posts on other days. You don’t want to overwhelm people with too much mail. (I’m sure Ben Settle will disagree with me on that, though :-D)

    • You’d think some people’s goal was to dump their list, they ping it so much. A 1-2% unsubscribe rate per whack means you need it to be good enough for new dudes to jump on board just to break even…

      2 emails in one day? You just lost 4%.

      haha

      I’m with you on this one, Derek.

      • I’m not saying it’s bad to mail regularly :-P. I’m saying you have to be careful about autoresponder sequences, when you do mail regularly. And if you’re going to use an AR, differentiate it by days or times. For example, regular mail can go out in the morning, and autoresponders in the evening. Or on set days.

        Oh, and, when you mail your list daily, the unsubscribes slow down because the people who were on the fence, already left. And then, your list is filled with those that are fiercely loyal.

        • I’m laughing here. You’ve just shown me that half my list is on the fence.

          All it takes is one little nudge from me and they fall off.

          Clearly, the tribe is in the list, but the list is not the tribe.

          Being edgy doesn’t help the stats.

          But this is the funniest game I’ve ever played.

        • Yes, because of that, I don’t worry about unsubscribes. Unsubscribes are just the list purging itself of people who shouldn’t have been there.

          I usually set ARs to start at twice a week, then go to once a week after an initial honeymoon period, and eventually to every other week. Combined with 6 blog posts a week at CB, we almost never see a complaint, and unsubscribes are modest.

      • Interestingly, with a 1-2% unsub rate, service providers like MailChimp will consider you a spammer, no?

        • No, if that many people mark you as spam then you’re considered a spammer.

          • Not from what I read: http://kb.mailchimp.com/article/about-unsubscribe-warnings/

            “Once the unsubscribe rate exceeds our threshold of 1% (1.01% is over the limit), you will receive a warning notice. If the unsubscribe rate is far beyond that threshold, a suspension notice will arrive in your inbox from our compliance team.”

          • Oh yeah, I was thinking of Aweber. I think that’s a fairly poor metric from Mail Chimp. I know they know the email business, but warnings like that suggest they’re not living in the real world.

          • I’m with Brian here. Its the complaint rate that’s truly important, and (like Aweber) FeedBlitz takes notice (and action) if the complaint rate rises above 0.1%.

            Unlike Aweber, we don’t require subscribers to opt in again simply because you want to switch services. We send an opt OUT message to importees from which we garner our first set of deliverability metrics.

            if you’re contemplating a change, please consider FeedBlitz, the premium FeedBurner alternative. We have RSS powered mailings, autoresponders and RSS stats and whole lot more.

            http://kb.feedblitz.com/article/AA-00444

          • This is what happens when I start talking to the founder of Feedbliz! Lol.

            No seriously, I’m have a sinking feeling I’m going to have to quit using Mailchimp. This has been a fascinating discussion.

        • That’s one aspect of MailChimp I find annoying. Unsubscribes are just a normal part of having a list — people move on to different interests.

          Spam complaints are obviously a totally different matter.

          • Couldn’t agree more. Guess it is time for a system change!

            Thanks for the great info guys.

          • Oh snap. I’m currently getting a juicy 1% unsubscribe rate. Haven’t got any evil warnings from Mailchimp, but if so… I ain’t going to be happy.

            I’ve been using Aweber with clients, but the UI doesn’t seem as seamless as Mailchimp. From a design standpoint, the markup for emails and opt-in forms is really bloated and unwieldy.

            Honestly, I don’t see how you folks manage to get your elagent-looking emails in Aweber without a TON of frustrating editing…

          • @Sonia – I replied to an earlier thread. If you’re considering a switch, please add FeedBlitz to your short list. We won’t make your subscribers opt in again.

            http://kb.feedblitz.com/article/AA-00444

      • Great Discussion,

        I write a creative seven sentence blog each day and I use Feedblitz (thanks Phil). I am also going to keep this comment to seven sentences too, bummer I just used another one.

        The auto-responder is a great tool for us, I think of it has a welcome mat, inviting other creatives into our community. It’s also important to change it regularly, especially if the vision, tone or focus of your blog has moved at all.

        As far as unsubscribes go, I used to worry but so long as the list growing I figure that it is all okay. In fact I like it when it is as easy as possible for someone to unsubscribe; it reflects an openhandedness with your readers or customers.

        Thanks again for the blog Sonia

        Geoff
        sevensentences

    • I doubt whether there is any good reason on sending your blog posts to your list. It becomes too pushy. If I want to read the post I can visit the blog, or better subscribe to the RSS.

      We jump into the list when we feel to get a deeper connect with the host. When we want to listen the behind the scenes story. And ye if that happens, an occassional mail highlighting your recent successful post doesnt bite. It rather gets tweeted, shared and liked…

    • Very good point – I’m careful not to blog on days when my autoresponder lessons are scheduled to go out.

  2. I have to say I’m so insanely jaded by autoresponders since I’ve been in the web marketing business that I snub the thought of using them personally…but isn’t that the temptation we can so easily fall into…especially since we forget that most people are UNDER exposed to them and see them for the fresh content, authority-inducing mechanism they are.

    Thanks for the reminder and the square kick in the pants, Sonia. ;-)

  3. I have never used an autoresponder before, but you make a compelling argument on its behalf. Derek had a good point though, about making sure blog posts and autoresponder emails don’t overlap to heavily. My blog has a new post every day, and our company newsletter goes out twice a week. One more email might be a little much.

  4. No, I don’t currently use an autoresponder. Yes, i know I should. Just add it to the list of the many, many, many things I know I should be doing and just haven’t had the time to do yet. And I’m an organized person! How does everyone else keep up?

  5. Autoresponders are pretty much an essential tool to optimizing your Internet marketing efforts.

    I say you can never have enough autoresponders being shot out and in my experience, most of them should be a concoction of:

    – educational emails only
    – half and half (half educational, half sales)
    – hard sell

    The hard sell obviously not used as often.

    The question that goes around in a small group I’m in is do you hit the email subscriber up with a hard sell immediately after they sign up for your newsletter (and presumably get a free ebook download or mini course), or do you hit them up with educational for the first few emails in order to build a little more trust in you and what you can do for someone.

    The idea behind the hard sell is that when someone hits that “sign me up” button, that’s when they are most interested in hearing from you. They are eager at that moment to hear what you have to say and what you’re offering.

    Also, all this talk about autoresponders and pretty soon that little red line under the word (spell check) will have to start recognizing the spelling by default.

  6. Autoresponders definitely take a lot off the to-do list. You need to be careful with your quanitity though. Too much to certain people and your content is seen as spam rather than useful content.

    This usually takes time and testing to see the appropriate amount of content sent in a week, month, year. Before people start heading for the unsubscribe button.

  7. Autoresponders are a MUST if you’re using email marketing. It’s like a great hostess or maitre d in a restaurant, the first person visitors come in contact with and what people will base their first impressions off.

    This is why I agree with Sonia when she says you’re autoresponders need to be your best content. You should always put your best foot forward.

    I also agree with Derek, in that marketers need to create some sort of schedule so they don’t overwhelm new subscribers.

    Great Post!

  8. Hey Sonia – Admittedly, I don’t have an autoresponder. I do have a welcome message for folks, but not an ongoing drip-drip-drip autoresponder series like you mentioned. Although I think it’s a fantastic idea, I’m not sure how to best integrate it into the other emails they’re receiving from me (blog posts and/or monthly e-letter) without overwhelming them as others have mentioned. Any thoughts?

    Also, what happens once the autoresponder messages have stopped? You mentioned to just keep adding to them. I suppose if you do that, then perhaps you should eliminate the other content you’re delivering?

    I’m curious to hear what you think. This is definitely an area I need to spend some time testing out!

    • Focus on the people who are most loyal to you, and serve them rather than trying to please the ones who are lukewarm. That means if you don’t go totally bananas on frequency (a daily autoresponder + a daily blog post might be pushing it), don’t get too hung up worrying about overwhelm.

      Also, I’d suggest that like we do at Copyblogger, have your autoresponder be a separate opt-in from your blog subscription. That way people can select how much information they want coming in.

      A weekly email for 7 or 10 weeks isn’t going to overwhelm anyone who’s really interested in what you have to say, even if you blog daily (which most of us don’t).

      I’m a fan of continuing to add an autoresponder message when you can. Maybe once a month or so.

      I’d still send your monthly e-letter — that’s where you will put material that has an expiration date, anything tied to the news, current events, or to special offers that expire. Autoresponder content should be as evergreen as you can make it.

      • This is really helpful, Sonia. Thanks. So, maybe the idea would be to add the autoresponder to the monthly e-letter subscription. I think that could work. I already wondered if once a month was too little for those that only signed up for that list.

        Many folks still opt to sign up for both the blog & the e-letter, but if it’s too much, they can always opt out of one or the other.

        I think this is the trickiest part of email – it’s like a tangled web that you really have to think through in terms of timing, delivery and most importantly, content! I know with your Internet Marketing for Smart People list, you promote the series at the sign-up. If you’re offering a cookie (i.e. ebook) for sign-ups, does it muddy the water too much to talk about the series as well?

        Thanks for helping me think this through. You’ve got my wheels turning today, Sonia!

        • I always think it’s good to set the expectation up front about what folks will get, so if you offer an ebook and the series, I’d let folks know that right on the email opt-in page.

          Another nice thing about a series is it prevents people from downloading your ebook and then immediately unsubscribing.

          • Agreed. Thanks for helping me think through this. It’s always great when you can talk things through like this – especially when you’re a solopreneur. I think I’ve crystalized what I’d like to do now. Thanks again!

  9. I have had to use autoresponders but I remark that I have not been adding a lot of messages to the sequences. I guess it is something that could help the subscriber have more trust in you and not forget about you. on the other hand i have been receiving mails from a marketer who does not send a lot of messages and I think that it could make the messages sent to me valuable.

  10. The IMfSP page is like the Matrix Autoresponder Study Guide for anybody willing to deconstruct it. The name of the autoresponder, the title of the page, super-relevant page graphic, 2nd person “you” point of view, clear call to action—repeated, social proof call-outs, bullet points using the rule-of-three, what-to-expect-next clarifications, clearly defined autoresponder frequency, etc.

    You could rename IMfSP to AfSP – Autosresonders for Smart People, because that’s what the course is by default.

    • Now I get it!!

      When I saw “OK, how about an example?” I was initially disappointed. “Where’s the autoresponder stuff??” I wondered, without realizing I was reading the “autoresponder stuff”!!

      DUH!!

      (It was exactly what I was looking for . . . thanks!!)

  11. Thanks Sonia! Working on my autoresponders is one of my TO DO tasks this week, so this came at just the right time. In the past, I didn’t utilize them like I should. But now I intend to use them to my full advantage.

    Best,
    Jennifer

  12. I totally agree. I’ve had success and failures with auto responders. The ones that have been successful have been all about providing something extremely useful to the subscriber. Mediocre or fluff just doesn’t cut it.

    • Exactly — it’s just too easy to unsubscribe or mark as spam. You have to earn their attention, and keep re-earning it.

      The good thing about an autoresponder, though, is you get to keep re-using the content, as opposed to a blog, where you can write something of dazzling brilliance that gets forgotten six days later. :)

      • Autoresponders are also great if you don’t run regular mailings that much; it keeps you in in the inbox and makes it less liekly you’ll get a complaint when you do get around to running a mailing. With email, mailing too little is also a way to get nasty complaint and unsubscribe rates.

  13. Do you guys/gals read my mind or what? LOL!

    Seriously. Great stuff (that’s the one thing I need help on now). :)

    *J

  14. What is the big deal with these lists and auto responders. If I am going to make money online via adverts, does it really matter?

    • Eddie, given the topic of your site, you’re going to have a really hard time making money with ads. Give it a shot, but you may find you’ll make much more with email marketing and affiliate offers until you can develop your own products and services.

      • Alright, I guess I will take your word for it and get right away and start putting things together to set up an opt-in form. Thanks for your advise Brian. Much appreciated.

  15. I love the idea of autoresponders. But no one has addressed the technicality of it. How do most people handle the ‘how’ of autoresponders?

    • The “how” is really easy with a service like Aweber or Mail Chimp.

      • I just switched from MailChimp to AWeber and being someone who has used both, my recommendation is AWeber.

        • Thanks Dewane… AWeber it is!

        • I personally prefer Aweber. MailChimp is very easy to use, though … both definitely have their fans.

          • I’ve got AWeber too and like it for many, many reasons.

            However, like one of the previous commenters noted, it’s kind of horrific when it comes to actually formatting a broadcast message. I’ve had it change fonts on me and do all kinds of other strange things.

            I’ve got the same question as the other commenter — how do you guys at Copyblogger get your AWeber autoresponder messages to look so good? Not only content-wise, but formatting?

          • The secret is to have a good web designer (who knows email formatting, because it can be a little hinky) do an HTML template, and then edit messages in an HTML editor. Once you get the hang of it, it’s very easy — I just use a text editor.

            Most people I’ve talked with don’t like Aweber’s WYSIWG editor, while MailChimp’s editor is quite good. I don’t like working in any web-based editor, as you’re only a connection glitch away from losing your changes, but MC does save really often, so it doesn’t seem to be a big problem.

            You’ll also have really awful things happen if you try to paste from Microsoft Word into Aweber unless you’re doing it in code view.

            That’s all obviously only if you go with HTML — we’re thinking of switching to plain text, as deliverability is noticeably better.

      • Thanks Brian… that is exactly what I needed to know!

      • Or *cough* FeedBlitz *cough* – see this area of our knowledge base:

        http://kb.feedblitz.com/category/20/0/10/Autoresponders/

  16. Ha ha, Sonia. “It never gets tired.” – :) It’ll keep going and going even when I’m 80, provided I still have the website up, right?

    I was actually thinking about this during the past week. I have to breakup with my current autoresponder series. It’s just not good, informative, compelling or conversational enough. It looks too much like marketing.

    Now the autoresponder series is going to need a date with Stewart Smalley. And I have to set aside some time to work on it.

  17. The other great part of an autoresponder is that you can build it as slowly as you want. You can build a seven part series, writing one message per month. The people who join after you finish the series can get a message once per week, as if you’re highly reliable with your content!

    I have a 7 part autresponder, but I plan to put almost my entire blog into the series. Why? Because I have some posts that get rave reviews, but new people DO NOT go back and read the archives. Why not recycle my best stuff?

    • THAT is an excellent idea, Hashim!! I have one blog over a year old, and another less than a month old; BOTH could use this approach.

      Thank you!!

    • Totally agree, Hashim!

    • Hashim, thanks for this great point on helping new subscribers find your best content.

      As yet I have not set up an autoresponder (newbie blogger), I personally find it puzzling when I get an autoresponder email. I find most of them spam-like and depersonalized. You have helped me think about how I can actually use one to help my new readers find my top and most useful posts.

      And thanks, Copyblogger for consistently useful posts. I’ve searched for practical advice in books and on the web, only to find that you are “the Top, you’re the Mona Lisa.” When it comes to topics and advice on internet smarts.

  18. I used to have a 5 part auto-responder. 6 months in, I decided to delete it. I re-read it and just didn’t feel comfortable with the content – really, I just felt it needed a refresh.

    Now, I have an ebook download and one email (similar to what Derek mentioned in the first comment to this post). The ebook is an 53 page interview series with 8 real estate bloggers on how they built they’re blogs and their ongoing marketing strategy.

    Then, I send emails once a week hi-lighting: 1.) A Case Study featuring someone who’s doing something unique, or 2.) a tool or tip (the last one was on how to get your blog published on the Kindle).

    So far, so good. And the ebook continues to be a reasonable incentive that converts new subscribers.

    Still, I know that I want to sit down and add some more…

  19. Nice post Sonia. I don’t use auto responders personally because I’ve never received any auto responses that impressed me (actually, Hubspot are really good at it). This post is making me think twice though, maybe I need to stop being lazy and give it a try!

    Cheers
    Dan

  20. Funny timing that this post was put up today. I just had a meeting with a marketing consultant who was trying to sell my law firm on a whole new marketing package, including a new website, a social media strategy, etc. This person also said they had 10 years of experience in internet marketing. I told this person I thought each of the lawyers at my firm (who each have very different practice areas) should have an autoresponder set up. I said ideally each lawyer would have a “report” in the form of a PDF (available on their bio page) that would entice subscribers to download the report and sign up for the autoresponder.

    This marketing consultant first said “what’s an autoresponder?” And then they said they thought I was using the term “autoresponder” incorrectly.

    Maybe I should send them this article? ; )

  21. I snaffled this idea from Sonia last year when she talked about it in Third Tribe. I built a 26-week creative career guide delivered via autoresponder.

    It took me months to write it, but now it’s done and running automatically. And it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for my business.

  22. The first thing I did with my blog was to make sure to get a theme with auto responder integration capabilities easily integrated into it.

    I don’t exactly have an auto responder sequence as such. I have a book they can download immediately. I am planning for some weekly ideas mail. Just set one auto responder regarding this.

  23. Good article, I’ve given it a couple of bookmarks.

    If you are selling information products, auto-responders are a great way to get the item to your customer instantly upon payment. However, they are also great for providing after-sale support such as a thank-you message, a testimonial request, or to introduce some related products they may be interested in.

    These are formats where I a non-personal auto-response can work really well…

    • One thing I should have mentioned in the post — make sure the email is sent from a person with a real email address, who can answer when people email you. That gives even more “automated” messages a chance to create one-to-one connections, which are great for reputation and building a loyal customer/fan base.

  24. @Mark: That’s what I’m working on, too. Glad to see it’s working so well for you!

  25. Great article, I think that any website now days need an auto responder, even if its just a simple one from a customer submitting a contact form, or getting more complex and sending out a series of emails automatically from when a customer signed up.

    @the_Cybergate

  26. Critical things w/ autoresponder e-mails:

    1. As online marketers we tend to tune them out. This is natural ’cause we’re overexposed. Don’t worry about that. “Regular” visitors pay attention to them if they’re concise and well written.

    2. Subscribers will read them more if they solve a specific, burning problem. This is why you see some sites like http://ittybiz.com/free-marketing-courses/ have multiple responders. Each responder makes sense to a specific audience.

    3. The responder should lead the reader to take ACTION! Sonia says “Paint the picture of what their life will look like with that problem solved” It’s not just about educating somebody! Don’t make your responder like a boring classroom lecture!!! Tell them a story. If you can use real stories from happy customers of your business, that’s outstanding.

    • I really liked the way Ittybiz did those courses — readers self-segmented by their type of business, and she just took the message sequences and tweaked them slightly for each group.

  27. Super comments here. It just may have been better than watching a webinar. I picked up a number of great ideas to tweak and implement. Thanks for such a great post everyone!

  28. I heard awebar was definately the best and worth paying for. When I get my next blog up and running up am going to use it. Thanks for the article.

  29. Sonia, to me, over a year ago: “My secret ninja weapon is the email autoresponder. It’s something everyone says they’ve heard of and know they should do, but never do.”

    Me: “I’ve heard of them and know I should do it, but haven’t done it. But now I will.”

    Sonia: “Sure you will.”

    Me: “I WILL!”

    — time passes —

    Long story short, I’m writing an epic autoresponder series that is chock full of my very best stuff and is performing wonderfully. It’s the main opt-in thingy on johnnybtruant.com now. Sonia was right. But more importantly, I did it. IN YOUR FACE!

    Obligatory closing smiley –> :)

    • In case it’s not abundantly clear from the above, it took me over a year to take this advice.

      That above is a self-effacing comment.

      Like: “Look how awesome I am, totally ignoring advice for a year.”

      You get the idea.

  30. I’ve gotten IMFSP and a few other autoresponders sent to me, and they can definitely come in handy. I never thought to do tutorials via autoresponder, so this is definitely an idea I’m going to think about.

  31. Auto-responders are an excellent offer or follow-up when someone gives up their email address. A short, topical sequence of 3-6 emails that deliver value to the reader are particularly effective. Linking back to your website or blog for ‘read-more’ achieves good tracking opportunities too. There are many email systems that will support and deliver this. The challenge is to identify the trigger event, and create engaging messages. Great discussion. Good luck.