The autoresponder is a tool which, by itself or as part of a complex online marketing service offers its customers the means to keep a relationship with a subscriber base, via email marketing.
Throughout this blog post I will not make any recommendation of one (or more) autoresponder service(s). I encourage you to compare and think in perspective and based on what YOUR expectations are, what you want to use email marketing for. I made my choice years back as a newbie (so don’t just copy my choice without thinking!) and I will most likely “update” it at the right time.
Why did I write this blog post? Because we see it all the time: people choose, especially at first, the autoresponder service based on the wrong reasons or putting the most value on non-essential features.
Below, I won’t list the essential features you’ll find in most professional autoresponders like “unlimited” lists and followup emails, personalization, support for html and text emails. Just a few sensitive points that make a difference in my opinion:
Essential Autoresponder Features
- High Deliverability
- Single Opt-in Subscribing or Both
- Integration with Other Applications
- Import and Export Subscribers
- Excellent Customer Support
- Tracking and Delivery Stats, Re-Targeting
- List Segmentation
This is not really a feature, but it speaks loud and clear about the quality of the service being offered and the ability of the autoresponder to perform its main function: to deliver emails to your subscribers’ inboxes.
The service provider has to have a good reputation with the major ESPs (email service providers) or the high deliverability is only a claim. Here’s one way you can check out the reputability of your autoresponder. Just enter the autoresponder’s URL in the input box and press Enter. On the next page choose one IP to see its reputation (counter-intuitively, a high number is bad) and details about how many recipients are good and bad, how many emails were ok, contained viruses, were spam, or suspicious. Most big autoresponders have multiple IPs, which is a very good thing, but the reputation and deliverability differs greatly between them too.
The best online marketing services (a fancy way to say “top autoresponder”), additionally offer a spam analysis tool to their clients, so they will know what issues their emails have regarding spam, and fix them before emails are broadcasted, to avoid being caught by spam filters.
The client should be allowed to choose between a single or a double subscribing opt-in process, or if only one is offered, then single opt-in is the right choice. For double opt-in, a click on a link in a confirmation email is needed for a subscriber to be added to the list. In the single opt-in case, once a subscriber hits submit (and the form submitted), he is added to the list.
In a single opt-in subscription, the process is streamlined and it still respects the anti-spam policies. The downside is some will enter bogus email addresses and they will bounce at the first email you send out to them.
When using double opt-in, a significant number of people who subscribed will not confirm their email and won’t end up on your list. At least 30% by my own tests, but can be higher.
Autoresponders don’t work in a vacuum. They interact or must be included in various applications. The wider acceptance an autoresponder has with renowned or popular platforms, the likelier it is you won’t come to a point in the future you will need to integrate it into a well-know platform and there is no support for it.
Your subscribers should really be yours. And the possibilities to come from and go to a different provider should be unrestricted. While every autoresponder service implements extensive methods to import your lists from a different source, it’s not always the case when it comes to giving you the option to move out.
A related potential feature (more of a wishful thinking on my part) is importing and exporting followup emails. This should be an essential feature of any serious autoresponder. Now, the entire process is mainly manual labor even for the most advanced autoresponders.
No, customer support options and helpfulness is not the same for different autoresponders, even if they are paid services. Excellent customer support should be a non-negotiable part when you look for an autoresponder service.
Is it important or essential to have
– open rates, CTR, A / B testing, clicking patterns
– the possibility to re-target subscribers who haven’t opened the first email, maybe with a different subject line?
Delivery stats are essential for everyone. You want to know if your emails are being delivered. In my opinion, so are open rates and CTR.
The importance of in-depth analysis and targeted actions of these features depend on the objective we have for our list. For marketers, sales and business people, in-depth is the choice and they are essential features. For someone else, maybe this information is not paramount, but it is useful to be there if it’s needed, at least in a basic form.
I don’t know for a fact, but probably all major autoresponders include some sort of list segmentation capabilities.
The distinction is on how easy to use it is and how well integrated with the previous point (for example, can you send an email only to subscribers who opened a previous email on a similar topic in, let’s say, at most 3 clicks?). Again, the fine differences are of interest to those who will use this feature.
Important but Unessential Autoresponder Features
- Affiliate Program
If you grow a list for a non-profit organization or to share cooking recipes, but as a hobby without making any money, price may be an important factor to consider. Also if you use it to stay in contact with your site’s members, most of them being free.
But if you grow a list of buyers, then price is not as important, if it reflects the quality of service you need. An investment is not judged by the price alone, but by the return on investment (ROI). Which is why clients of a progressive price model autoresponder service seem more determined marketers and more interested in keeping a clean list. Low price gives us a way out to not being profitable because we can afford to sustain the big unresponsive list on a low flat-fee autoresponder.
Many people first look at the affiliate program before they select the autoresponder. While I think it is important to make some money by referring new customers, this is in no way an essential feature of an autoresponder. In fact, it is not a feature of the autoresponder itself, just good marketing.
Of course, the fact an autoresponder is an ever green service that can produce residual commissions for the long term is an important aspect to factor in.
Other Autoresponder Features
Landing Page and Form Creation
These might be nice features, I wouldn’t know.
I prefer standalone services like Landing Page Monkey for building my landing pages, and therefore not create any unnecessary dependency between my landing page generator tool and my autoresponder.
Some will say: I have both tools at the same price. Not exactly at the same price. What you may gain in price, you lose in freedom.