Posted Tuesday, July 27, 2004
An autoresponder is useful for, well, responding to people who send you inquiries through email. They are actually more than just merely useful - they are an essential tool in any webmaster's toolbox. Used properly, they can enhance your visitors experience and virtually guarantee that they will come back time after time. Used improperly, they annoy people and push them away from ever coming back.
What distinguishes proper from improper use? People should receive messages when they would normally expect to receive messages. Here are some examples:
Proper: I expect to get a thank you message after signing a guestbook. I should only receive one message.
Improper: adding my email to your mailing list because I sign your guestbook.
Proper: I also expect to get a message if I use a form on a website to send a message to the webmaster. This verifies to me that it is indeed more than likely to get to the intended person.
Improper: again, adding my email address to your mailing list.
Proper: If I sign up for your newsletter I expect a thank you email and, of course, the newsletter.
Improper: Adding my email to anything other than the mailing list which I asked to be added to. Also, sending anything other than the newsletter is generally improper although an occasional status email is acceptable. Never send separate advertisements unless it is clearly spelled out on the newsletter signup page.
Proper: Including autoresponder links on your website to deliver articles and information to an email box.
Improper: Using these links to add email addresses to your mailing list.
Proper: If you make articles available for reprint, it is always a good idea to include autoresponder links to make it easy for publishers to get those articles in a suitable format.
Improper: Using these autoresponder links to add people to your mailing list.
Proper: Allow visitors to sign up for an email course using an autoresponder.
Improper: Adding email addresses obtained in this manner to your mailing list.
Proper: Follow up for an order or other communication. For example, a "did you receive your order okay?" message a few days after the order was taken is excellent customer service.
Improper: Sending more than an acknowledgement and follow up message. The person ordered something, he did not ask to be on your mailing, advertisement or nag list.
I am sure you see a major common thread in all of this - don't add people to your mailing list unless (a) you tell them you are doing to, (b) you give them the chance to say "no", and (c) they explicitly give their permission. NEVER assume your visitor wants to be added to your mailing list - make him explicitly ask by filling out a form, checking a box (off by default) or some other similar means.
Autoresponders have some excellent uses:
As an acknowledgement or thank you for something.
As a way to get something delivered in email form (reprint publishers love this method of obtaining articles).
As a way to deliver a series of something (like an email course) to someone.
One use of autoresponders that drives me crazy (and ensures that I will never return to that site) is common with contests. Let say I sign up to try and win a million dollars. I try and of course I don't win. Now I get these silly reminder messages for the rest of time, telling me in all manners that I've won, or almost won, or could win, or might win ... I usually hit delete a few times, then quickly unsubscribe.
All right, so now you know how to use and not to use autoresponders. So where do you get them? They are available all over the internet. If your site is hosted on a paid host (such as Addr.com), you may find that they offer unlimited autoresponders. If so, take advantage of them. These are generally single-message autoresponders.
GetResponse.com has an excellent autoresponder service. They offer a limited function free version, and one of the most functional paid versions that exist. Their prices are reasonable and the autoresponders always seem to work perfectly.
AWeber.Com has another excellent autoresponder service. Of course, any good guestbook package has the ability to send a customizable message to the signer. Good forms packages also include this ability.
Now, what do you put into an autoresponder messages? Whatever you said or implied you would, plus some ticklers to try and get your visitors to come back to your site.
Thus, if you send back a thank you message for signing a guestbook, you can also include a short list of some of the other features available on your website. Perhaps a small article or even a link to a "free gift" for signing the guestbook.
Remember, don't make the two mistakes of autoresponders. First, do not waste your opportunity. You are sending a person a message which he asked for or expects, so be sure to include more than just "thanks for signing my gustbook". At least put the URL of your site, and include a paragraph about it.
Second, do not abuse your opportunity, as that will just get the message deleted. I've found it is generally NOT a good idea to put blatant advertisements in these messages, especially for pay-to-surf, MLM or affiliates. Why not? I believe these things are best left to your website or to a newsletter or ezine specifically tailored for them. A major exception is in a newsletter itself, as, like magazines and newspapers, advertisements are expected in order to cover the costs of the publication.
In summary, autoresponders are an excellent tool which all webmasters would be wise to use to their advantage. Just be sure to use them properly.
About The Author
Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets. This website includes over 1,000 free articles to improve your internet profits, enjoyment and knowledge.
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Claudia Arevalo-Lowe is the webmistress of Internet Tips And Secrets and Surviving Asthma. Visit her site at (http://survivingasthma.com)