An autoresponder is, as the term implies, simply a response that is sent automatically.

After that, it gets a little more complicated. Different newsletter services have different names for some of the same functionality, so first let me explain what the “functionality” of an autoresponder is.

Any time that signing up to a list in a newsletter service triggers the release of one or more emails, you have an autoresponder.

So, if I receive a welcome email when I sign up to your list, that is an autoresponder. (I prefer to call that a “welcome email.”)

If I sign up for an eCourse, and I receive a series of daily emails with the helpful information you have set up in advance, that is an autoresponder.

And if you set up a series of emails to go out at predesignated times after I sign up, just to keep in touch, that is an autoresponder, too.

So let’s say that you set up a new list and create a welcome email and three informational articles that are spaced two weeks apart… No matter when I sign up (today, tomorrow, the second Tuesday in next month, or on Christmas), I will get the same series of emails: the welcome email on the first day, and three other emails spaced two weeks apart.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, you are creating newsletters and sending them out regularly. I’ll never get the newsletters you sent before I signed up (although you might have them posted on your blog or something), but once I’ve signed up, I’ll get them when you send them.

A couple of things to remember about autoresponders…

  • They are not date-specific. So, if you make a reference to your “trip to the beach last week,” keep in mind that I might be getting it when there is snow on the ground — and I’ll either be puzzled, irritated, or think you are crazy. Just sayin’…
  • With most newsletter services, you cannot add an autoresponder series to an existing list because the emails are triggered based on when the contacts were added to the list.
    • Let’s say that your autoresponder series spans 60 days. If you add it to an existing list and somebody has been on the list for 70 days, some services will send ALL the emails out at once, and others won’ t send any of them.
    • If you have an existing list, and you want them to get your autoresponder series the way you intended it to be delivered, your best bet is to create a new list, install the autoresponder series, and then move or copy all the contacts from the other list into the new list.