Auto responders, which we've been discussing throughout this book, are one of the most popular and (if done correctly) effective email marketing techniques available currently. But how do you "do" auto responders in a way that will optimize their return on investment? The following best practices should assist you in crafting a successful and robust auto responder email program.

Use Basic Email Design Best Practices!

The first thing you'll want to do is to design a great email template with great content that leads to a great landing page! This entire section of this book was designed in order to give you the tools to do exactly that. Auto responders are no different from any other type of email marketing when it comes to the application of best practices for content, design, landing pages, formatting, subject lines, and spam protection. If you've read and absorbed the parts of this book in this chapter prior to reading this list of best practices for auto responders, then you have all of the information that you need in order to design great email templates, develop great content, and optimize your deliverability, open rate, click-through, and landing page conversion rates.

Be Sure That Your Content is Timeless

You'll never be able to tell when and where a user may get your auto responder. For that reason, it's absolutely critical that you ensure that the content contained in your auto responder isn't time or date specific. Even if you haven't changed your auto responder text for two years, users should still feel as though your content may have been written that very day. Avoid references to trends, slang, current events, or pop culture references. Use events, references, language, and images in your auto responders that won't date the email content. Avoid images that include fashionable clothing that may trend out of style. Don't reference seasons or holidays. The basic rule of thumb is to create content that can be read on any time or date and will be relevant and important to the user.

Timeless Means No Offers with Expiration Dates!

Remember when you're developing your auto responders that you can't use offers and promotions that have expiration dates or that feature products that you have a limited amount of stock of or will not be carrying for the long term. It's easy to believe that you will regularly update your auto responder content, but the reality is that most email marketers turn their auto responders on and then forget about them (we'll give you a best practice on how to avoid that further down in this list). Any time an offer goes out that isn't actually available to users, you risk alienating customers as well as damaging your brand through press, viral, word-of-mouth, and social media. Only include offers, promotions, and products in your auto responders that will be available no matter when a user reads the email.

Don't Number Your Auto Responders by Issue Number

While you may see auto responder campaigns that list an issue number in the subject line or body of the email, this is actually considered to be a poor idea. It's always possible that somebody may not begin receiving your auto responders until partway into the series depending on their email list sign-up status or the potential that their auto responders may land in the spam folder initially. Many email marketing studies show that as issue numbers rise, subscribers start to realize for exactly how long they've been receiving an email and may be more prone to unsubscribe. Keep your content and subject lines timeless as discussed above. That certainly includes not using issue numbers.

Use Proven Content: FAQs and Popular User Articles

Your auto responder list will be users who are newly subscribed to your product or information list. However, you most likely have a great deal of data about what is useful to new users based on your existing website or email activity. A good place to start is to take content from frequently asked questions that your existing customers submit (or that exist in your website's knowledge base) as well as the most popular articles or products from your website. Even if your website is fairly new, you most likely have a good idea of what the best and most important things that a new user would want to know about are. Utilize that knowledge to ensure that your auto responders are highly relevant to your recipients.

Space Emails Out with a Tail

You'll also want to think about how you'll space your emails out. You'll want to consider putting emails closer together at the beginning of your auto responder cycle when your users are most engaged and most excited about receiving your information. A spacing of two to three days between emails is often considered ideal. However, as you go deeper into your auto responder list, you'll want to space emails out further so that you do not risk annoying subscribers with too much email, ultimately having them mark you as spam or unsubscribing from your email list entirely. As you reach the end of your auto responder list, five days to a week in between emails is enough to remain relevant in your subscribers' minds without actively creating a problem with unsubscribe requests or spam complaints.

How Many Auto Responders Should You Send?

There are many different thought processes on the appropriate number of auto responders. Some email marketing platforms will only allow you to have ten or less active at any one time in order to guard against potential spam complaints and deliverability issues. Some companies believe that up to twenty auto responders is the appropriate number. Most studies, however, come down in the middle that between twelve and fifteen auto responders are the ideal number to send. Ten may not be quite enough to build a significant brand relationship with your new users, but more than fifteen can exceed the limit of a user or subscriber's tolerance. In the end, you'll have to rely on that old marketing tool testing to figure out what's ideal for you. Your information may truly be so compelling that users want to receive twenty auto responders and react to them well. On the other hand, you may find that if users haven't acted on your offer or developed a relationship with you by as early as the third email, it isn't worth your time to continue to send to them and the decrease in positive email metrics isn't worth the low return on investment for follow-up emails. You'll have to do some testing to truly find your best solution. Starting with an even dozen auto responders is a great launch point.

Avoid Increasing Offer Quality

While it's tempting to believe that you should increase the incentive of offers with each auto responder, you may actually end up alienating customers by doing that. It's true that if customers have not acted upon your offer or completed your revenue generating event by the time the first several emails have been sent, the offer presented may not be sufficient for them. On the other hand, remember that the same subscribers who read your first email will also read your tenth email. If you offered 10% to new customers in the first email and 50% off to new customers in the tenth email, you may ultimately end up alienating the customers from the first email and they will not become loyal, repeat customers. You'll have to balance your business needs when making these decisions. However, building customer loyalty should always be a priority!

Pay Attention to Tracking Reports

There are few email programs where a tracking report can give you more valuable information than with auto responders. Why is that? Because you can make changes that have immediately tracked results since your auto responders are always being sent. Is there an auto responder where the open rate is particularly low? Chances are that the content of that auto responder isn't that important to your subscribers and you should change the content. Is there an auto responder where you unsubscribe request rate is incredibly high? If so, that content needs to be changed immediately. Are there auto responders where the click-through rate is very high? If so, that type of content or promotion should be emulated or repeated in other auto responders. Auto responders are a great opportunity to take real time email data and use it to immediately improve your email marketing program.

Schedule Content Reviews

The final best practice for auto responders is to not forget to audit and update your content occasionally. Because your auto responder program is always running in the background and isn't usually topical and, in fact, is such a popular marketing tool because it's low maintenance, you may forget to check in and "freshen up" content or images. What's the best way to avoid this? Take the time to actually schedule a day every six months or even once a quarter to review your current auto responder copy. Whether you use Outlook calendar reminders, project management software, or a smart phone app to send you task reminders, make sure something tells you that it's time to check in on your auto responder content and make sure that it's all still accurate and compelling.

great thing about auto responders is that, after you initially set them up, they require very little work while still offering a great return on investment. However, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't apply some basic thought and best practices to developing them. If you do, you'll have a completely optimized email marketing auto responder program that can deliver results even when you're not working!

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