A term that confuses just about everyone new to Internet Marketing and home based business is “autoresponder”. When I mention the term to friends or associates, they almost always reply with a blank stare, “what the heck is that” or “I really don’t like those at all”. In all fairness, those same people said the same thing about e-mail 25 years ago. Even though the concept is very simple, autoresponders are very, very powerful if properly used.

Okay, here’s the short answer: an autoresponder is an automatic response mechanism for e-mail. More precisely, they are the mechanism that sends an automatic, relevant e-mail to someone in response to some specific action.

Still confused? Okay, in their simplest form an autoresponder is just an e-mail acknowledging a newsletter signup, a post to a forum or an explanation of a product that someone requested. I’m sure just about everyone who has been on the internet for any amount of time and done anything online has received quite a few of these. Anytime you make a purchase online, you receive a receipt via e-mail with all of the details of your purchase. An autoresponder sent that. It’s like robotic e-mail with a pretty good brain (logic.)

You can get much more complex with autoresponders. A good autoresponder package will allow you to send more than one e-mail at specific intervals to select recipients. They will even allow those e-mails to include custom information such as the recipients’ name, dates, time or a variety of other customized information. Specific responses can be sent for specific inquiries by autoresponders. Many are even smart enough to know not to send the same message to any recipient more than once, regardless of how many lists they may be subscribed to. However, the most common use is to respond to rote inquiries over and over and over, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with no human intervention.

Understand? Now, what the heck else are they good for?

Well, every webmaster wants to get people to not only visit his site, but to come back time and again. Repeat visitors are the most prized visitors. In addition, if you are marketing a product or service, the traditional wisdom is, it takes more than one exposure to an ad to produce a sale – usually the number agreed on is seven!

Those simple thank you messages for subscribing to a newsletter are, in fact, critically significant. You see, a visitor has stopped by your site and left you a message. Not only are you thanking him, but you are doing so later, after he has left your site. This means he will be reminded of his visit, and conceivably visit again. He may save the e-mail because he wants to remember the URL or some other information. If you advertise something in this thank you message, your visitor gets to see it.

Of course, sending a series of messages after the fact, over a period of time, is even better. If you can send, say, a message immediately, one a day later, one a week later and perhaps one a month later, you are reaching out to that individual maybe four times in a month which is great. Don’t overwhelm them though, just send them something useful and valuable and remind them of your site or product or service. After three or four well timed and value-added messages, that person is likely to remember you and your product. If done correctly, they will remember you in a good light. If not, they’ll opt-out of your list and possibly even blacklist you. That would be a bad thing.

Oh yeah, always, ALWAYS give your recipient a way to opt-out of the stream of messages in every single e-mail (unless you are only sending a single message, of course). Most good autoresponder packages will do this for you.

Autoresponders come in a variety of flavors, though they all perform the same basic task. You can buy an autoresponder package to run on your own web site or you can subscribe to one of the good autoresponder services available on the Internet. They differ slightly in cost, features and limits, but they all perform the basic tasks.

Some web hosting providers even provide some autoresponder functionality as part of their monthly charge. That can be a good way to get your feet wet, but eventually, you’ll want to subscribe to a full-featured autoresponder that you have maximum control of.

Whatever you do, never lose sight of the fact that you owe a high degree of privacy to your list members. Never abuse your privilege to communicate with them, always offer an easy, one-click unsubscribe function in every message you send and never share your list with anybody. If you want to joint venture with another business, you mail their offer to your list. Never give them access to your list.

Make sure you are aware of, and understand, the anti-spamming laws that are in place. Violating any anti-spam measure can get you blacklisted, shut down by your ISP or worse. Just practice the Golden Rule – Never do anything unto your e-mail list that you would not want done unto you.

A final note: this is the critical part so listen closely. All this neat autoresponder magic is done AUTOMATICALLY. This means you, the webmaster, are communicating constantly with your customers, prospects and visitors without lifting a finger. Whatever message you are attempting to deliver is made a hundred times more powerful when you apply the timing and personalization features found in these simple techniques. But that doesn’t relieve you of your customer care responsibilities. Always maintain the highest level of support and your list will never be aware that most of their e-mail messages are automated.

Don Resh is CEO of WebForce, Inc. A more detailed bio is available at:


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