What Is An Autoresponder?

Updated: May 9, 2018
by Ray Alexander

What is an autoresponder? By definition, it's an email server program that sends automatic responses. In internet marketing, an autoresponder refers to something a little more specific; a series of emails to a group of subscribers at a specific interval. It's a vital feature to keep in touch with your subscribers, therefore all major email marketing service providers have an autoresponder feature.

What is an autoresponder?


Because the word "autoresponder" email marketers use is not quite what it's supposed to mean originally (i.e. not automatically "responds" exactly), many service providers use different terminology such as "Marketing Automation", "Automation Emails", etc. AWeber calls it "Legacy Follow Up Series".

Autoresponder - Why Do You Need It?

AWeber Legacy Followup

"Legacy Follow Up" settings in AWeber

While a single email campaign (i.e. newsletter) is used in order to deliver a seasonal message or any timely content, for example "Sale starts tomorrow", autoresponder contents should be evergreen. You only have to write your series of emails and set the sequence once, so that everyone will receive the same messages as they subscribe to you, one after another at the specified interval in between.

So you'll see how powerful and convenient an autoresponder is. Regardless to the time of opt-in (time of the day, day of the week and throughout the year), all your subscribers will get the same information from you in a step-by-step manner.

An example of your autoresponder emails can be;

  1. (Day 1 - Immediately after the opt-in): Welcome email "Thank you for your subscribing!"
  2. (Day 2): Introducing subscribers-only discount offers
  3. (Day 5): Tips & advice from industry experts
  4. (Day 8): Ask the subscribers for their opinions/requests 
  5. (Day 10): Recommended products with a video link... and so on.

By default, each of your email template should have an "unsubscribe" link at the bottom. Your subscribers will receive all your emails according to this schedule until they hit this link to unsubscribe. 

Set Time to Send Your Autoresponder

Many service providers allow you to set a specific time or time window to send each email. You can set it either as per your local time, or each recipient's local time.

AWeber Followup Setting Send Window

This is a very useful feature because you'd rather want your emails to be delivered during general waking hours, preferably during lunchtime (12pm-2pm) or after work (5pm- ).

Considering not everyone's inbox is well-organised - some people receive 100's of emails a day, and they simply don't open them unless notified 'in their face'. So you may want to avoid setting it to "any time" and risk your email delivered when most people are asleep, 4am for example.

You can also specify the days of the week to send, because people tend to open emails at unusual times over the weekend. If you choose to avoid weekends (Saturday and Sunday), and the next autoresponder is due to go out on a Saturday, it will automatically delay by 2 days and go out on Monday instead.

This is from my personal experience but if I have a link to a product/service in my email that needs to be looked at more closely before purchasing (such as free demo), I make sure to send it over the weekend and normally see higher conversion rates.

How Often Should You Send?  

1-2 times a week, no more than 3 times a week is recommended. Having said that, many marketers send the first few emails daily, and reduce the frequency thereafter. It's best to clarify your intention with your new subscribers; tell them how often they're going to receive your emails and promise that they will not be spammed.

How Many Emails in a Series of Autoresponder?

You can set as many emails as you want. You can create 52+ emails to be sent every week, spread over a year, or more. But there are a couple of disadvantage of a long series;

Autoresponder Calendar
  1. The contents will have to be updated from time to time; it can be a messy job to monitor and make sure the information in each and every email is up-to-date.
  2. It's pointless; there will be different types of subscribers. Those who have clicked a link in your email and purchased products at earlier stage, those who click some links occasionally but never purchase, those who open your emails but never take action, etc.

For these reasons, the best way is to keep an autoresponder not too long. When it's been up & running smoothly for a few months, you could start segmenting your subscribers by their behaviour and create a new set of autoresponder for each group, although it would be a pretty huge task!

Use of Autoresponder in Conjunction with Single Campaigns

You can use an autoresponder as well as a single campaign feature ("newsletter" or "broadcast") at the same time. You can either;

  1. Only use an autoresponder to send the first 'welcome' email to newly registered subscribers, and send single campaigns whenever you decide to send,
  2. Use a single campaign feature only to send seasonal greetings or promote seasonal discounts, or
  3. Use both features fully.

Whichever method you take, use of the both features can cause a timing-clash on some subscribers; where your single campaign newsletter is sent out is the moment an autoresponder is gone out to some of your subscribers. Or there can be a very short time period between the two deliveries. So it's advisable not to use both the autoresponder and single campaigns too many times, too often.

What is an Autoresponder and How Can I Use it Most Effectively? 

Autoresponder allows you to engage with all your subscribers simultaneously. When creating a series of emails, try not to bombard your subscribers with too much information, and try thinking about entertaining them as well as helping them in order to reduce the number of unsubscribes.

It's very important to monitor the open rate of each email. If the rate of an email is lower than others, the reason can be (a) the subject line does not sound appealing (b) wrong delivery time of the day or (c) being delivered too soon after the previous email. You can change one of these factors and see the open rate improves.  

About the author 

Ray Alexander

ASD. Recovering alcoholic. LGBTQ+ advocate. Semi-retired. 15+ years of web-designing experience. 10+ years affiliate marketing. Ex-accountant. I'm nice and real. Ask me if you need any help in starting up your home business.

Thank you for your Comments!

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  1. Hello. Thank you. What is an autoresponder? I wasn’t sure about the
    auto responder. But I definitely want to learn various things through
    Affiliate marketing using email. First of all, I’m thinking of studying
    English, but I’m having a hard time. Especially today. Is there an
    explanation in another language? I want to study from scratch.

    1. Hi Li, thanks for your comment. If you are struggling to learn English, you can still learn and start affiliate marketing in your language at the same time though. Unfortunately I don’t know any training programs in other languages but, search for online marketing blogs in your language and find that out. You don’t have to know the jargon such as “autoresponder” at this time but start with the very basics. I wish you all the best!

  2. Hi, your content is very informative. Thank you for sharing your information. it’s very helpful

  3. This is really good with some amazing information for new internet marketers. Surprisingly not many people know the difference between autoresponders and broadcasts. This can definitely be useful for many people. Good job. Thanks

  4. Is the term exclusively used for email marketing? I’m in a similar industry but neither I nor any of my coworkers heard of this. Sounds to me as simple as an automatic reply service. But it’s not what you refer to.

  5. This is something that I should definitely has a crack at. I’d like to learn all about email marketing from the start. do you recommend any particular training course? I know if you get it right the results can be amazing.

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment! Easy Profits Makers is good to learn, primarily for email marketers in “make money online” niche but it applies to anyone who wishes to learn from scratch. If you’re interested and have any questions don’t hesitate to ask me any time 🙂

  6. I don’t use autoresponder because I have several different niches.
    It’s much more straight forward if I use broadcast instead.

  7. Thank you for the information. Basic but very easy to understand. Particularly between broadcasts and autoresponder everyone should know this. Your explanations all make sense.

  8. It’s very useful, Ray. I knew what autoresponder was but I had no idea what to write day by day. Your advice about writing different topics is something I can use of. Thank you so much.

  9. Hi can I ask a question, if you add a new email to autoresponder, what happens to your older subscribers. Do they receive it. example if someone joined 1 months ago and you have 10 emails in your autoresponder that person no longer receives emails from you. If you add 11th email will that person receive it and if so when? Thank you

    1. Hello, thanks for your question. It will be automatically sent to all the old subscribers. I can’t say for every email marketing service but for example with AWeber (I test it myself / I’m one of my ‘old subscribers’), if I add a brand new followup to the last email, I receive it within the next few hours. I hope it makes sense. If not, please don’t hesitate to get back to me any time. Thanks you.

  10. You seem to know very well about email marketing, Ray. How did you learn it and how long does it take to become an expert like you are now I’d very much like to know. Very good information about autoredponder. I’ve never heard of it before. And I’d love to use it one day. Some guidance please. Thank you.

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment. I’m not really an email marketing expert, but I am quite heavily involved with it. Like anything, you just get to learn as you go along. As I said in the post, autoreponder is an essential feature especially in order to retain new subscribers, so if you are starting or have just started an email marketing, it is the feature you should focus on first. If you have any specific questions don’t hesitate to get back to me. Thank you for your visit!

  11. I am a Aweber user and I only use the legacy followup now. In the past year my broadcast was marked and put on hold by admin so many times.

    I was so sick of it because the compliance team is scary, then can shut down my account at any time and also they can hold my account for 2, 3 days.

    That affected my deliverability, I had to refund money to some customers.

    The only downside is I can only send legacy followup autoresponder once a day but it’s better than worry to sick about being marked.

    1. Hi Enzo, thanks for your comment. In my opinion it’s not just AWeber but any email marketing service providers need to ensure that they’re protected from spammers (humans as well as bots) so it’s essential for any of them to routinely monitor the users’ activities.

      In terms of AWeber’s autoresponder (“legacy followup”), when you’ve set up a campaign, it will warn you if there’s a spammy content. Whereas with a broadcast you need to make sure to check the spam score before you send each one.

  12. Thank you for such a valuable information. I’m beginning to understand why some sales websites say “only 18 spots left” and when I get back 3 days later it still says “18 spots”. Maybe everyone’s looking at the same screen and when they subscribe to the autoresponder they are all told there would only be 17 more spots. Is that what autoresponders do?

    1. Hi Marianne, thanks for your comment. The “X spots left” message that you often see is called “scarcity marketing” it’s a little obvious and deceitful if the number of “spots” is left the same that way. No it’s not a part of an autoresponder, but the evergreen principle is the same I guess. Everyone receives the same information regardless of the time they opt in.

  13. Thank you Ray for your clear explanations. I see autoresponder is necessary for anyone who has leads. I am new to affiliate marketing so as soon as I have enough subscribers I want to start using autoresponder, I cannot wait.

  14. Thank you so much for the post, it’s truly educational. I’m going to use an autoresponder and definitely would like to expand my online business. One of my weaknesses is I cannot write very well. Do you know any writing technique tutorials?

    1. Hi Taku, not to worry about writing very well – the context that counts. If the information you’re providing is useful and trustworthy, that’s all it matters. You can try OpenRates Solved and learn the basic technique too. Any specific questions, don’t hesitate to contact me any time, I can take you through. Thanks for your comment!

  15. Is it possible to carry on affiliate marketing without email marketing? I use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Thank you.

    1. Hi Zak, yes it is possible, but as I explained in this post, email marketing is one of the most powerful ways to make money both in affiliate (niche) marketing as well as selling your own products. If you’re happy with social media marketing and you’re already successful, it’s all up to you whether you want to start building a list or not. Thanks for your visit, any more questions please don’t hesitate to get back to me any time 🙂

  16. Can you not use auto responder but just one off news letter or campaign? Reason why I’m asking is only I want to manage my subscribers on my good term. I don’t want to be interrupted by replies when I’m away or not available. When I send out a campaign then I know there’ll be some reactions so I can concentrate on customer service work. That’s just me but I’m not sure if it works that way. Can you please advice Ray, thanks. Seb

    1. Hi Seb, yes of course, you don’t have to use an autoresponder. This is just one of the most useful features as every subscriber receives the same information in the same time-delayed manner. Whereas many marketers choose not to use it, they send out a single campaign as and when instead, for all sorts of reasons including one just like yours. And it works, of course. Any more questions please don’t hesitate to get back to me. Thanks for your visit.

  17. I’ve never done an email marketing, I don’t know who’s selling my email address but every time I tell my email address when I do an online shop or whatever necessary, I seem to start receiving promotional emails from third parties. Before I know it my inbox is flowed with junk…as well as my junk mail folder. As a user I’m so not happy by the way email marketers conduct themselves so I dare not start email marketing. I feel it’s a wrong way to promote a business. But that’s just my opinion.

    1. Hi Justin, thanks for sharing your experience/thoughts. Yes some marketers do sell your email address, and the buyers will resell it without your consent. Totally wrong, spam, and they should be prosecuted. That’s not the case with most of the legit internet marketers. Trusted email marketing services don’t tolerate such a behaviour and they will shut down any spammy accounts.

      As long as users have opted in to receive your email campaigns, what you do will be totally legitimate, and in fact it’s much more effective (as I’ve written about it recently), so you shouldn’t be put off by what the minority spammers are doing. Thanks for your comment, I appreciate it.

  18. Hi can I use an autoresponder for any niches, I don’t do work from home niche. I have spiritual and also homeopathy remedy. I don’t have my website yet, social media marketing only. If I can use an autoreponder to increase more subscribers I consider a bigger marketing.

    1. Hi Marlene, yes you can use an autoresponder for any niches. But just to clarify; an autoresponder is a feature to send emails automatically to your existing subscribers. It does not collect leads (=subscribers). You still have to have a form where your visitors can fill in their email address and consent to receive your email campaign (i.e. autoresponder).

      If you don’t have your website, you can create one with an opt-in form at a low cost, take a look. Any questions don’t hesitate to contact me any time. Thanks for your comment!

  19. I see autoresponder absolutely essential. Without it it would make my email marketing too time consuming. I’ve used many services like Mad Mimi and SendLane but Weber is the best one so far. Mailchimp next perhaps.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Ashley. I agree AWeber offers a top class service for reasonable rates. Mailchimp is not suitable if you want to promote “work from home” category, Mad Mimi is a big “no” for any affiliates (I’ve been specifically told by their support desk). GetResponse is another popular one.

  20. Without autoresponder I wouldn’t know what to do with my subscribers, to be honest. It’s impossible to please everyone by sending single broadcast daily, or once a week, or whatever. With autoresponder I don’t have to repeat the same campaign and to be able to avoid duplicate campaigns. I use Aweber, it’s the best one I believe. Johannes

  21. Pretty good explanations Ray. I get asked by some newbies about the difference between autoresponder, newsletter and even the term “email campaign” so this post clarifies. Good job.

  22. I’d like to add you can only send 3 bc’s per day in Aweber. If you send more often than that your bc will risk admin hold. You must be careful.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes it’s true, AWeber only allows you to broadcast up to 3 times a day. But unless your list is segmented, broadcasting 3 times a day is far too spammy in my opinion. Anyway that’s not an autoresponder – it’s a single campaign you’re referring to. Thanks for your visit.

  23. Hello.

    I have had AWeber before and tried to use autoresponder and could not use it. Do you know why? I try to set up and it did not work.

    But now I am thinking about using another company. I have less than 100 subscribers. Please could you help?

    Thank you,

    1. Hi Yuka, unfortunately without looking at the detail I can’t say for sure why your autoresponder didn’t work, but AWeber has a great support including live chat, so you could have asked them for help. Maybe the first email was set to deliver late? Instead of delivering immediately after the opt-in, it was set to X days after the opt-in?

      I still recommend AWeber even if you have less than 100 subscribers for its best deliverability. I’d also recommend GetResponse. If you’re in a niche marketing but not ‘make money online – work from home’, Mailchimp is free up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. Be careful, there are some other niches that you’re not allowed to promote in your email.

      Thanks for leaving a comment, Yuka. If you have more questions don’t hesitate to get back any time.

  24. Hi Ray thank you for such a helpful information. I didn’t know anything about autoresponder. It sounds like a very good idea to use it. I hope I’ll have many subscribers in the future and use it one day.

    1. Hi Jimmy, thanks for your comment. Whichever email service provider you use, autoresponder is not as difficult to set up as anyone thinks. So if you have any problems or questions please don’t hesitate to ask!

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