If you’ve read my article on the importance of building an email list then you are probably already convinced that you absolutely need email as part of your marketing strategy. Email is still one of the most powerful methods for instilling trust and building a rapport with your clients – no matter what business you are in. Plus, it consistently provides a greater ROI than other forms of paid advertising such as PPC, and CTA.
Now that you know you need email it’s time to decide on your autoresponder service, as there is simply no way you can run an effective campaign without one. I would even go so far as to say that an autoresponder is perhaps one of the most important investments you can make for your business, given the power of email to transform a bottom line into something shiny and sparkly that is a joy to behold.
Fortunately, as an email marketer, an autoresponder is also going to be the only investment you need for running your campaigns, apart from the content you are going to be sending out of course. You can write this all yourself, but if you are strapped for time and need quality content then it just so happens I know someone who can help.
It used to be easy to choose an autoresponder service but in recent years they’ve been popping up every which way. Some of them are just crap and not the worth the free subscription service, while others can be installed on your own PC to supposedly save you a small fortune in monthly autoresponder bills. This is a silly idea and comes with more caveats than you can comfortably fit in your trouser pockets.
Sending out a few hundred emails can take a paddock full of horsepower, so if you don’t want your nice and friendly internet provider sending you a nasty cease and desist letter then I highly recommend you steer clear of self-managed self-installed autoresponder software – unless you’re spending a few hundred each month on your very own dedicated server, and are tech savvy enough to provide your own support.
Most autoresponders come with a monthly fee. Conceivably, you could spend more on coffee and donuts every month with the amount you need to shell out at the start. A few good ones have free services when you join (so you don’t have to cut back on donuts just yet), and all will start charging you as you scale up – but you should be making enough from your campaigns by now to buy as many donuts as you can possibly scoff down.
Be sure to take this into account when choosing an autoresponder. Free is great and all but you don’t want to be paying more than you should when your requirements ramp up. I say this because most (if not all) autoresponders charge based on the number of email addresses you have on your list. The bigger the list, the bigger the monthly commitment.
This makes it rather important to carefully consider your options in the beginning, as changing your provider after you have built up a rather large list can be a massive pain in the bum. Read on to find out the various features on a few of the top providers to see which ones may fit your marketing style and budget.
What is an Autoresponder?
Just so we are all on the same page I’ll explain what an autoresponder is, and what it can do for your email marketing campaign.
Your autoresponder is a tool that not only gives you features to craft opt-in forms but also manages new subscribers and their email addresses so you can keep tabs on what is happening with your campaigns. The autoresponder part is the software which sends out your emails to the subscribers on your list. It will also handle the unsubscribe process for anybody who no longer wishes to receive your emails.
Most autoresponders build on these basic features and offer a few more powerful options that allow you to extend your marketing reach even further.
Once it’s all setup an autoresponder can save you a lot of time by automating many of the tasks associated with managing an email list. You can see how beneficial this could be to a company with a list that has many thousands of subscribers, as a list this large would need a team of corporate drones to handle all the daily minutiae. With your trusty autoresponder chuffing away you’ll have a few spare moments to practice your swing, or throw down a few at the pub while you wait for the inevitable orders to come flooding in.
Keeping tabs on statistics is one feature most autoresponders do particularly well. This allows you to carefully examine the results of your campaign to see if it made the splash you were hoping for. You will be able to see metrics on how many readers opened your email (open rate), and how many clicked through to an offer.
Likewise, you will also be able to see how many of your subscribers thought ‘ain’t nobody got time for this’ and hit the delete button. Seeing as you are paying depending on how many subscribers you have on your list this is a great cost cutting measure as you can delete non-responsive readers from the service. You can then pay more attention to the subscribers who are engaged and target them more often with valuable offers and incentives.
One aspect of autoresponders (and the one that gives it their name) is the ability to set up a series of emails that are designed to be read in order – such as an online course. These emails, which are sent out automatically, will engage your audience and work for you in building up trust.
Once you have gained their trust and built up your authority the final email in the series is then designed to motivate them towards a sale. All things being equal, and provided you didn’t bombard them with rubbish emails, you should enjoy a greater response rate now that you have a legion of dedicated fans poring over your every word.
Choosing an Autoresponder
So, with all that in mind, one of the key factors to be aware of when choosing an autoresponder is knowing what type of marketing you will be doing. This will tell you what features you will need.
There are four big contenders in the autoresponder market that most people will come across in their search: Aweber (www.aweber.com), Infusionsoft (www.infusionsoft.com), GetResponse (www.getresponse.com), and MailChimp (www.mailchimp.com). They all have their legions of adoring fans, as well as those who will take great delight in telling you how rubbish they are.
The good news is that most users will have everything they need with any one of these services. All will handle new subscribers, remove unsubscribes, and send out autoresponder emails. The areas they differ are in price, special services, and additional features. This is what we will explore so you can make an informed choice.
For example, Infusionsoft is designed to work around a sales page – which is great for businesses selling a digital product and would like to market that product through their email list. It works well with this type of marketing because the mailing list is linked directly to a sales platform. Therefore, Infusionsoft may not work so well if you are a purveyor of fine arts in the physical realm, but it would be the ‘bomb’ for internet marketers selling a downloadable eBook.
You will be able to tell at a glance who is a repeat visitor to the page, as well as who has purchased previously. On the flipside, Aweber, GetResponse, and MailChimp are more in line with being used as a conventional autoresponder. Where they differ is in their advanced features, and the support you can get from third parties.
For instance, when designing a WordPress site, you will come across various plugins that will only work with certain autoresponders. If you are using a variety of plugins then you will want to ensure you sign up for a service that is compatible with all of them. As mentioned previously, the price can also vary greatly depending on which service you choose.
The reality of the situation is that it can be difficult to determine a service based on price as they all have different tier structures and subscriber levels. It can be a little confusing at first, but it’s as good a reason as any for choosing your autoresponder based on features rather than price.
Please Note: If budget is a major concern and you want to reduce your costs as much as possible it is feasible to change providers later down the track.
You will need to transfer your contacts but this can result in a loss of service for some members. You may also lose a few subscribers in the process as some autoresponder services require your subscribers to re-confirm their membership to your list.
Many members just won’t be bothered to re-sign so you’ll have to weigh up the savings against the cost of losing a good chunk of your subscriber base. It’s not an ideal situation but if you are struggling to commit it’s something to keep in mind.
Comparing the Big Four Autoresponder Services
If a marketing dollar is hard to come by then MailChimp could be the solution you need. To establish itself in the marketplace as a major player MailChimp started its life offering a free for life service up to 2,000 subscribers. It used to be a complete service which included an autoresponder.
Sadly, that feature has since been removed for non-paying customers. You still get plenty of bang for free though so, don’t let that stop you from having a look see. MailChimp goes for the cutesy look in all their marketing with a lot of character in the lingo to create a very down to earth ‘we’re hip’ vibe.
The website is also constantly updated to keep up with the latest trends in design. It seems that every time I visit, there is a completely different look and feel to the site. They also enjoy giving the interface a regular shine and sparkle, which can be a bit disconcerting if you don’t visit regularly and some features have been shifted or morphed.
At least you know they’re always trying to improve – even if sometimes it ends up giving you the complete shits while you try to complete a task you thought you knew how to do. Just so you know, MailChimp is the service I use and for the most part, I love ‘em (but sometimes don’t).
You’ll also have to put up with that smiley faced chimp on all your emails unless you fork out some moolah for the privilege of having it removed. It’s reasonably unobtrusive, so shouldn’t detract from your brand too much while you build up your subscriber base.
Some say using the MailChimp interface is comparable to wading through molasses but I have had no such problems, with everything working as expected. Maybe I’m just used to slow, as my internet speed down here in ‘Stralia maxes out at 5Mbps. I know! Crappy speed, right? Hanging out for the NBN to roll out to my house.
The community support around MailChimp is freakin’ awesome. Every time I have had a problem I have been able to find a solution very quickly. I can’t speak for the premium paid support services as I have never had to use them. Other than those small roadblocks MailChimp has everything the aspiring email marketer needs. You get opt-in forms, check-ins, performance analytics, bulk emails, welcome emails for free, and autoresponder sequences if you give them real money every month.
I used GetResponse with their 30-day trial and I have to say it was really good. I rather enjoyed their nifty landing page builder as you can do some funky things to entice your visitors to sign up. Apparently, all their designs have been road tested to ensure their effectiveness out in the wild.
As well, they provided oodles of templates for the design challenged. That was a while ago now and their feature set has grown considerably since then. You won’t get any of the cool dude vibes like with MailChimp, as GetResponse see themselves in a more serious light. There’s heaps of high end features for new users to scratch their heads over, and a fantastic interface that is intuitive once you’re suitably acclimated.
GetResponse autoresponders are a doddle to organize as you simply need to drag and drop to change the order. With GetResponse marketing automation, you have an if-then-else interface which can either add a new layer of complexity that will confuse the crap out of you or make your campaigns more powerful than ever. With a bit of practice, you’ll be doing more of the latter than the former.
Using this interface, you can setup emails that will only trigger on certain events from your users, and even at certain times based on those events.
So, if your email isn’t opened you can send a ‘hey, what’s up,’ email 1 day later that may resonate with readers who declined to open the day before. If they do open your email in the first instance you can set up the campaign to send a follow-up email that expands on the message and has a CTA, and it’s all as simple as dragging and dropping.
Once you are heavily invested into email marketing you’ll want to start split testing your messages, and GetResponse is the perfect service for this powerful marketing strategy. Split testing is marketing speak for sending out two distinct messages to equally sized segments of your list.
The two messages sent are almost the same, but not quite, with the aim being to see which one comes back with the best response rate. Constantly having messages working against each other will see them evolve to the point where you are getting the most engagement for your marketing dollar, and you can cut any strategies that go out with a fizzle rather than a bang.
Aweber is the elite powerhouse of email autoresponders according to many users. It can also be the most expensive, but the price isn’t earth shattering and you do get a lot of power under the hood for your money. As far as branding goes it’s probably the most efficient at giving you the tools for getting the perfect look and feel for your campaigns.
At the time of writing, there are over 600 templates to start your newsletter and email designs from, to create a campaign which oozes professionalism.
As far as support goes there are heaps of third parties to choose from at varying price points should you run into trouble or need help with the more technical aspects of running a campaign. Aweber has also put their software through the ringer to ensure that your email has the best chance of getting seen by staying out of the spam folder; whether your subscribers use Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo (or anything else for that matter).
There are also plenty of reporting tools so you can analyze the data and use the info to craft and mold your campaigns into a sales making machine (although they’re probably not quite up to GetResponse’s standard, but close).
As we mentioned previously, InfusionSoft does things a little differently from the other autoresponders we’ve examined. This is mainly because their focus is targeted towards making sales from a sales page integrated into its email service.
However, this gives you more analytical power to search through the cookies and find the emails with the best response rate, and also who among your visitors has an itchy left-click finger, ready to hit that buy button. If you’re planning on selling a digital product, and don’t have plans on moving away from that model – such as into eCommerce – then InfusionSoft may be the perfect solution for you.
There’s no better interface than the one you get with InfusionSoft for significantly streamlining the entire marketing process. However, if you are after a more flexible mailing list then one of the other options may be more suited. InfusionSoft pack in a lot of power with tons of features, so you can expect to pay a little more for the service. All the extra power can also make InfusionSoft a little more difficult to get to grips with.
In the end, it will come down to which direction you want to go with your email marketing as to whether InfusionSoft is the right choice for your business. Are the sacrifices in cost and usability worth the extra power and monthly spend.
For building a list and sending out emails automatically any autoresponder service mentioned above will do you proud, with all of them offering plenty of features to keep you busy. Each one is also large enough to have gained a big enough support community that most problems can be answered with a quick search.
Small start-ups with tight budgets can’t go wrong with a service like MailChimp, while those who like a little extra horsepower and more options would do well with GetResponse. Aweber fits the bill for a professional all-round service. Those who are focusing their business in the digital realm should seriously consider InfusionSoft as their provider.
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