Autoresponders… What Are They Good For?

January 6, 2011 , 11 Comments

“The money is in the list” is an oft-encountered phrase in online marketing circles. Pretty much everyone who does e-mail marketing is a big fan of e-mail marketing and there are many reasons for that. But when you’re just starting out, sending e-mails, creating follow-up sequences and paying monthly fees for an autoresponder service doesn’t seem all that attractive. Plus, there are a lot of misconceptions about e-mail marketing and autoresponders in particular floating around.

In this post, let me explain what autoresponders are really for and why you should avoid free ones.

List-Building, the Basics

Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario: You’ve set up a website and through whatever means of traffic generation, 100 people are coming to your website every day. Some of these people might leave again immediately, some might look around, some might make a purchase or click on an ad or affiliate link (depending on how the site is monetized). What all of those 100 visitors do, every day, without exception, is leave. They leave your website and for all intents and purposes, they leave it forever.

The reason building a mailing list is so popular is that you can build a continually growing asset: take the same website but instead of hoping for clicks and purchases, invite them to join your mailing list. Now, some people will still just leave and not join your list. But some will join; let’s say 10 a day (and believe me, you can do far better out of 100 visitors a day). Once they sign up to your list, you can still send them the link to your product or affiliate offer.

The difference to the first scenario is that now, you have 10 people you can reach again today, 20 people tomorrow, 70 people next week and so on.

Plus, you can send everyone who signs up an automatic sequence of follow-up e-mails, explaining some of the benefits of a product, before you promote it, sharing some valuable info with them, asking them for their feedback etc.

Are you starting to see how this is a lot more awesome than an ever-perishing stream of visitors to a website?

So, with that established, where do autoresponders come in?

Autoresponders, the Basics

An autoresponder handles the sign-ups to your list, makes sure that people who unsubscribe from your list don’t get any further e-mails and sends out e-mails that you pre-define automatically. One of the best known autoresponder services is Aweber. Chances are, it’s been recommended to you, you took a look at the price list and decided this wasn’t for you.

And you know what? You can get autoresponders for free. Plenty of them out there. In fact, if you log in to your webhost’s control panel, you’ll probably find an autoresponder feature in there.

So why bother paying monthly fees for a service like Aweber?

Autoresponder services aren’t really about sending e-mails automatically. That’s one of their features. And good services come with a lot of other fancy features like detailed stats, sales- and conversion tracking and so on.

But the real reason for autoresponder services are spam and blacklists.

It’s All Spam, You See…

Of all the e-mails sent every day, all around the world, about 90-95% of them are spam e-mails.

Yes, you read that right: Almost all e-mails that get sent, globally, are spam e-mails. And I don’t mean e-mails from people who are sending you too many promo-messages after you signed up for a freebie. That’s technically not spam. I mean the “male enhancement” and “Nigerian prince” type of spam. E-mails from people you don’t know, that you never agreed to receive messages from.

Why so much spam? Because spammers are making good money. They send out billions upon billions of e-mails and even if just a fraction of a percent of those ever get through to an inbox, that’s enough for them to profit.

Check your inbox. It doesn’t consist of 95% spam-messages, right?. Chances are, the spam-percentage in your inbox is somewhere between 0% and 1%. And that’s only thanks to very, very strict anti-spam measures implemented by Internet service providers.

E-mail would be a completely useless medium if even a fraction of spam-messages got through to your inbox. So anti-spam measures have to be extremely tough and they’d rather err on the safe side and can a legitimate e-mail here and there, than let through one too many spam mails.

If you have a mailing list of a few hundred or a few thousand people and you send them all a message, this automatically looks like spam. After all, if 95% of all emails are spam and spam e-mail are always sent in bulk, then any large amount of e-mails being sent anytime is very likely to be spam.

But, ISPs and spam filters are friendly with you, to begin with. You send out a few hundred or a few thousand e-mails and most of them won’t get flagged. However, if a few of your recipients report your e-mail as spam, you’ll quickly find yourself in trouble. If this happens too often (the margin is said to be around 0.1%, meaning one spam complaint out of 1000 e-mails is ok), your IP address will get blacklisted and that’s pretty much the end of sending e-mail, for you.

What a good autoresponder service does is make sure that all the e-mails sent are compliant to the so-called CAN SPAM rules. In other words, they make sure that the e-mails are clean and that the mailing lists are clean (i.e. consisting of people who agreed to receive e-mail from the sender). They also make sure that the IP addresses that they send e-mail from are clean and in good standing with ISPs and anti-spam software.

Basically, they have a deal with the gatekeepers to the inboxes of the world: You let our e-mails through and we make sure that the e-mails are never spam.

This means that autoresponder services must enforce strict rules and kick out anyone who seems to be sending unsolicited messages to people.

To make a long story short: the autoresponder service’s job is to make sure your e-mails reach inboxes. That’s their main purpose and it’s a big, nasty, complicated task. One you don’t want to have to do. And that’s why you don’t want to use free autoresponders that you install and manage yourself and it’s why e-mail marketers and companies worldwide are more than happy to pony up monthly fees for mailing services.


The reason I wrote this post is that there seem to be quite a few misconceptions about e-mail marketing and autoresponders out there. I certainly haven’t addressed all of them yet, but hopefully, this post helps clarify some important points.

As for the practice and profitability of e-mail marketing: Yes, I recommend you do it and yes, it’s highly profitable. Even better, it seems that many marketers and companies have no clue what they’re doing, in terms of e-mail marketing. This translates to great opportunity for anyone willing to invest themselves enough to become an expert in this field. Just saying…

All the best,

About ​Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

​Related Articles

  • Hi Shane,

    Your comment:

    “Even better, it seems that many marketers and companies have no clue what they’re doing, in terms of e-mail marketing. This translates to great opportunity for anyone willing to invest themselves enough to become an expert in this field. Just saying…”

    in the final paragraph is very true.

    Like most people, I subscribed to the lists of most of the so called IM Gurus, but I very soon got sick to death of my inbox being bombarded with offer after offer. End result – I unsubscribed from lots of these lists.

    I can’t believe that so many of these gurus just don’t get it – provide value to your subscribers, only recommend products that you believe in and which offer value, provide more value to your subscribers – it’s the relationship with a list that is key. You obviously get this, which is why I always look forward to information from you.

    Keep up the good work ;0)

    Cheers, Gary.

    • Thanks!
      Many “big” marketers just rely on the churn and burn. They’d rather just copy-paste promotional e-mails three days a week and make some money than actually engage with their subscribers. Especially the ones that (sometimes inexplicably) have some kind of superstart status. They may be getting 1000 new subscribers a day and don’t care if a couple hundred unsubscribe every day because they only send promotional stuff.
      Of course, the other factor is that I bet many of the gurus don’t have very responsive lists. They may have tons of names on the list, but how many of those people actually open e-mails and follow recommendations?
      It definitely takes some work to “do it right”, but I don’t see the point in e-mail marketing if you do it any other way.
      Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

  • Hey Shane,

    A few weeks ago you sent out an email about a software program you were developing that masked affiliate links in emails and made them more visually friendly. I have a wordpress plugin that does this but need something for a static stand-alone site. I can’t seem to find this product on your site and deleted the email. Can you send me this info again? Thanks.

    • Hi Will,
      You must be talking about Ghost URL. Here’s the link to the special offer we’ve got for that: Ghost URL WSO

      And yes, that also comes with a standalone script that you can use on any web-page.

  • Thanks Shane

    — so is Aweber what you recommend?


    • Not really. Aweber have two things going for them:

      1. They have a very nice and very user-friendly interface. They’re not the only AR service to have a great user interface, but it’s worth mentioning.
      2. They are compatible with everything. If you get a list-building plugin, a membership site script, a product delivery system, an affiliate management software – you name it – it almost certainly comes with some way of integrating with Aweber, so that you customers, members, affiliates, whatever get signed up to your Aweber list.

      At the same time, they also have some disadvantages that can become really annoying. Like the fact that it’s forced confirmed-opt-in when someone gets added to a list through a third-party integration. This can cause problems with membership sign-ups, among other things.

      They also have the problem that they are list-based and this is not ideal if you really want to go deep with e-mail marketing. Unfortunately, almost all autoresponder services are list-based, so there are hardly any alternatives there.

      I know that a lot of this probably doesn’t make much sense. I’ll have to make a bunch of videos to explain all this.

      Bottom line: I wish I could recommend a “best” autoresponder service, but I really can’t.

      • Thanks Shane

        I’ve been looking at getting an opt-in page/list building strategy going for quite a while. I still need to focus on current projects for now, but email marketing is certainly one of my goals for this year.


      • Well, while I can’t make a definitive recommendation for an autoresponder service, I can certainly recommend e-mail marketing itself. :)

  • Hey Shane,

    I looked at Ghost URL and just had a couple of questions regarding non-Wordpress use. Will I need to ftp any files? The site I’d like to add this script to is hosted by SBI and they don’t allow ftp access. Also I plan on using Ghost URL for masking in emails sent via Aweber autoresponders. Will it work appropriately given these parameters?

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

    ​Develop the Ultimate Entrepreneurial Superpower: Productivity!

    ​Countless "wantrepreneurs" fail to achieve their business goals - not because of a lack of knowledge, but because of a lack of productive, effective implementation. Don't be one of them.