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Autoresponders: What, Why and How

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Autoresponders offer a different way of making your blog’s list more valuable. Autoresponders – mailings that send predefined content on a schedule – allow you to interact with your list beyond the traditional content-driven approach bloggers typically used. You end up with more opportunities to interact with, sell to and learn from your audience.

With a little imagination and a look through your archives, autoresponders are a great way to get closer to your subscribers and increase their financial value to you.

In this issue of List Building for Bloggers you will learn
  • What is an autoresponder
  • How subscribers can join an autoresponder
  • Planning your autoresponder content
  • Delivering Incentives
  • Multi-Step Autoresponders
  • Using Autoresponders to Sell: Drip Marketing
  • Serializing eBooks
  • Testing
As usual, at the end of the article is a set of action items for you to put into practice right now.

[This is the eighth article in the List Building for Bloggers series – Click here to read all the #LBB posts]

What is an Autoresponder?

As mentioned above, an autoresponder is merely a fixed sequence of one or more emails that is sent to a subscriber once she joins the autoresponder’s mailing list. Once the sequence has been sent to the recipient, they no longer receive further mailings from that list. There’s a detailed explanation, with examples, of how an autoresponder differs from a typical blog-powered mailing list here at the FeedBlitz Knowledge Base.

Autoresponders are called “autoresponders” because they’re most often started automatically in response to an event, such as a subscriber joining your main mailing list. In a sense, when an autoresponder starts up for a new subscriber, their single activation adds them to two distinct lists: the mailing list they’re opting in to, and the autoresponder that is spawned as a result of that activation.

Autoresponders can be single emails (e.g. “thank you for subscribing”) or complex multi-step sequences, such as email courses. They’re often used for what’s called “drip marketing.” No matter what you use an autoresponder for, you must treat it like your main blog’s mailings. Content should be relevant, calls to action direct, subject lines compelling etc. Having got your subscriber onto the autoresponder, don’t flub it!

How Subscribers Join an Autoresponder

The majority of autoresponders are event-based; subscribers are added to the responder after some other automated action takes place. These events could be:
  • Activating a subscription
  • Completing a registration form (e.g. for a product, site, webcast, contest, survey or download)
  • Buying a product or service from you.
Don’t just think online: An “event” can also be a real-world event, such as attending a seminar, conference or course. As long as you have explicit permission from offline event attendees, an autoresponder is a great way to thank them for showing up.

More sophisticated marketers can also use the lack of an event to trigger targeted autoresponders. So the lack of the desired event taking place, such as abandoning a shopping cart, not completing a payment form, failing to download the software, not making that donation, can trigger an autoresponder to encourage the visitor to finish the play.

Finally, subscribers can join an autoresponder just like they do your mailing list: via an online form. This is ideal if you’re promoting a serialized email-based course, for example. The subscriber simply signs up and receives lesson one immediately!

Planning your Autoresponder Content

Since there are many different uses for autoresponders, the content can vary greatly. Remember, though, no matter what, each mailing should feature these two items:
  • Relevant content
  • Direct call to action
Even if your autoresponder is a simple, single “thank you for subscribing” message, make it work for you. Tell the recipient to visit your list of most popular posts, or follow you on Twitter, or friend you on Facebook. Got an app? Tell them to download it. You get the idea!

Delivering Incentives

In an earlier List Building for Bloggers article I discussed using incentives as a way to help grow your list faster. An autoresponder is the way to deliver that sign up reward to new subscribers. Place the incentive, such as your coupon, discount code or link to a download, into the autoresponder’s first article and you deliver instant gratification to your new subscriber, proving you can be trusted. Don’t forget to add a call to action!

Multi-Step Autoresponders

Autoresponders can have more than one email in their sequence. So once they start, they keep sending to the recipient until the sequence completes. As you plan your sequence, make sure that it matches your subscriber’s expectations. If they are signing up for a 13-week email course on (say) becoming a better photographer, send them their next lesson once a week. Daily would be overwhelming. On the other hand, if your pitch is “ten days to be a better rose gardener” then a daily mailing is clearly appropriate.

If your multi-step autoresponder isn’t directly signed up for but is instead triggered by an external event, a daily send might be too much (leading to higher than necessary unsubscribe rates) if you are also sending a more-or-less daily mailing from your blog. Pace the autoresponder appropriately based on the other mailings you’d typically expect to send during the autoresponder’s sequence.

For bloggers, a great way to set up a multi-step responder is to mix and match content once every 3-7 days as the sequence unfolds. You might, for example:
  1. Start with a “thank you” and send the incentive to the new subscriber
  2. Send a list of your most popular posts and invite them to browse
  3. Send the outline of your eBook and invite them to download / buy the whole thing
  4. Send a survey about your site and offerings – how can you improve?
  5. Send a hints and tips article from the archives on a relevant subject
  6. Got other sites or more than one mailing list? Invite them to take a look.
  7. Any archived videos, webcasts? These are great for autoresponders
  8. Send an affiliate link to a relevant product or vendor
  9. Another survey – would they recommend you to a friend? Why? Why not?
  10. Testimonials and recommendations
  11. Useful third party resources
  12. ... etc.
If you have strong content (and you do – you’re a blogger), multi-step autoresponders are great ways to repurpose older editorial as long as it’s still relevant.

Finally, here’s a great multi-step tip: Reward someone for sticking with the sequence. So every mailing might have a post script hinting that there’s an even better reward for staying with the program – and then, in the last mailing in the sequence, you deliver it.

Using Autoresponders to Sell

In the above example sequence we presented two direct opportunities to sell directly from the autoresponder itself – an eBook and an affiliate link.

You can also use them for “Drip Marketing” – a term beloved by internet marketers everywhere. Basically, the idea is that it takes about 7 interactions (say 3 to 10) with a new contact before they’ll buy from you. So having got them onto a list, you can use your autoresponder to repeatedly market to them and ask them to buy.

Use your responder to displace competitors and promote your self with a buying tips guide, for example. If you’re more a consumer-based sale, consider offering an increasing discount the further into the sequence you get to see if you can push them over the edge and get them to buy. This last approach – increasingly powerful offers as time goes by, along with other incentives such as free shipping – works particularly well if your autoresponder is being initiated by an “event” such as shopping cart abandonment.

Ideal content for drip marketing autoresponders includes:
  • Sample videos and other collateral
  • Testimonials and case studies
  • Getting started tips
  • Links to user groups
  • Sample products
  • Increasing discounts
  • Bundling products
  • Price beaks on shipping etc.
The great thing about using drip marketing for sales is that your autoresponder can start to function as a mini-ATM machine, giving you cash 24x7 while all you do is blog. It's doing the heavy lifting for you!

Author, Author!

Finally, a great use for autoresponders is content serialization. If you have an eBook –and they’re increasingly popular these days – deliver a section a day or a chapter a week (hmm, just like List Building for Bloggers!) – to reward new subscribers. Or, send the first three chapters as part of your drip marketing campaign to get the recipient to buy the whole book.

Testing the Results

Not sure what’s going to work best? Test. For incentive autoresponders, mix up your offer every week or every month and see what happens. For multi-step drip marketing autoresponders, try mixing up the order of your offers and see if that affects take up. Examine the results, optimize, and reap the rewards.

Your Action Items

  • Establish a simple “Thank You Autoresponder” NOW
  • Create a reward for subscribing and deliver it on your autoresponder
  • Build a multi-step autoresponder from repurposed content / eBooks
  • If you use a shopping cart see if you can implement abandonment mailings
  • Measure, optimize, repeat!

For FeedBlitz Users

  • Create a simple one-step “Thank You for Subscribing” autoresponder for your mailing at Newsletters | Settings | Content Settings | Autoresponder and Subscriber Activation Settings
  • For all other autoresponder needs, use the Responders tab, where you can create multi-step autoresponders, define branding, import subscribers, link them to mailing lists and more.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you're a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or "Like" on Facebook using the buttons below. Don't forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Jef Menguin said...

I appreciate everything you've written here. I need to go back to the first seven for I failed to read them.

I am thinking of starting my autoresponder next year.

7:04 PM, December 23, 2010  
Anonymous Autoresponder said...

Very good contribution, is essential to implement an autoresponder service, as this helps to keep in touch with your customers 24 hours, so you save the tiresome task of doing it yourself, time is money, automation is vanguard.

3:51 PM, January 03, 2011  
Anonymous Autoresponder said...

Muy buen aporte, es esencial implementar un servicio de autorespuesta, ya que este ayuda a mantener en contacto a tus clientes las 24 horas, asi te ahorras el engorroso trabajo de hacerlo tu mismo, el tiempo es oro y la automatización la vanguardia.

12:00 AM, January 14, 2011  

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