A no-stone-left-unturned guide to everything you've ever wanted to know about creating and using autoresponder email sequences
When I first sat down to write a guide on creating successful autoresponder sequences, I thought I could cover everything in a quick blog post.
But I soon realised one short post was nowhere near enough. I would have to create a mighty post if I wanted to create an autoresponder resource to be used my marketers for years to come.
Whether you're self-employed or in charge of a busy marketing department, whether you're new to autoresponders or you've sent dozens already, you're here because you have questions about automated email sequences.
You might be thinking about hiring a professional autoresponder copywriter, or you might be planning to create your email series yourself.
Either way, you want a guide that goes deep. A guide that gets into the nitty gritty of what an autoresponder is, how it works, how long it needs to be, what it should do and a whole load of other stuff.
If that's the case, you're in the right place.
So get comfortable, make yourself a cup of tea and read through this monster guide to the humble, heroic email autoresponder, every online marketer's best friend.
I. What is an autoresponder and how does it work?
What are autoresponder emails? Quite simply:
An autoresponder is a series of emails programmed to be sent out automatically at set intervals to your email subscribers.
The basic process is:
1. Intrigued prospect signs up to your list
2. Intrigued prospect, now a subscriber, starts receiving your emails on auto
3. You do nothing
It's that last part that makes them so appealing.
If you dream of a future where robots do everything and we sit about drinking Pimms and bingeing on Netflix, you'll like autoresponders.
They are the leave-it-and-do-nothing approach to emails.
And autoresponder email sequences are incredibly effective … if you do them properly.
With autoresponders, the work comes in setting them up. But once you've put in the hours, you can sit back, relax and watch as the money rolls in.
Or something like that.
The other reasons I love email autoresponder sequences
Apart from being the ideal marketing technique for lazy but smart marketers, autoresponder emails do a few other things that make them rather good in my books.
They build trust
Trust (as I've written about before) is a biggie in the world of e-commerce. If you want to sell stuff to people, you have to first gain their trust.
A good email series is designed to do just that. By sending out tips, including information about you and your business and helping your prospects solve their problems, you'll find that autoresponders are the ultimate way to nurture your prospects and win their trust.
They prevent you from being forgotten
Being forgotten is a bad thing. No one wants to be forgotten.
Autoresponders prevent this from happening by keeping your brand in front of the people on your list.
Half the battle of being in business is making people think of you and your products when they realise they are in need of said products. Your email series can help with that.
They build up good habits
Sending an email that gets a low open rate always feels like a slap in the face to me.
'What, you're not even going to open it?'
It's like sending that girl you really like a letter containing your true feelings for her … and watching her toss it into the fire.
Autoresponders help to reduce this traumatic experience because they get people into the habit of receiving and opening your emails.
By packing your first few emails full of valuable stuff, unless you seriously screw up in the future, your subscribers are far more likely to take a peek at each following email you send.
Because they will remember that you gave them something kind of cool and really useful for free.
They are super easy to set up
They really are. Autoresponders are easy to create. Anyone can do it, no technical knowledge required.
II. What are autoresponders used for?
There are plenty of excellent reasons to use an autoresponder sequence, whether you run a small business, provide a service or sell an info product.
What is the purpose of an email autoresponder?
To turn your curious subscribers, who may or may not be familiar with you and your brand, into enthusiastic fans and even brand champions.
To show off your personality. For a business, this could be the human personality behind the brand name. For a marketer, it is the perfect way to give near strangers a bit more insight into who you are and what makes you tick.
To build trust in you and your brand. The best autoresponder emails engage with the subscribers on a one-on-one basis.
To teach subscribers something new, something valuable and interesting, something that makes their lives better.
And, yes, to sell stuff. We'll look into this in more detail later on, but an autoresponder can be the perfect automatic sales funnel, as many a happy marketer has discovered over the years.
Loads of businesses are using emails
I'm not going to go into specific stats here, but loads of businesses use email marketing automation for all the reasons above.
If you do want some hard stats, check out the 'Ultimate Marketing Automation Statistics Overview' at Email Monday.
III. What to write in autoresponder emails
When it comes to how to write an email autoresponder and what to include in them, you have a huge range of possibilities to choose from.
Pre-written autoresponder emails are absolutely perfect for creating mini courses, and this is top of the list because it's my favourite.
As a professional autoresponder copywriter, it's the one I often recommend to my clients first of all if there is any way they can make it work.
An email course is nothing more than a short series of emails where each one contains a lesson. Each lesson can be as long as you like, and each should follow on from the next.
These are great because they are accessible, they provide immediate value and they get the subscriber into the habit of opening each email to find out something new.
An entire course in one go can seem like a bit much, but when you break it down into bite-sized chunks in email format, it becomes a lot more manageable.
Pro Tip: Create a small email course to market your much larger paid-for course. Don't be afraid to provide genuine value in your free course and give away too much – this will make your paid-for course look even more tempting.
High-value tips and advice
Emails are the perfect format for delivering quick-fire tips. And quick (but valuable) tips and advice make for great autoresponder messages.
People like quick wins, especially in email format. The sort of email they can open up while waiting at the bus stop rather than saving it for later.
Actionable tips that they can put to use immediately.
Answers to common problems
Every one of your potential customers has a problem (or multiple problems). They have questions, doubts and concerns.
And they want you to solve those for them.
That's why they are on your website in the first place.
You should already know what these are, and your autoresponder series is the perfect place to answer them.
There is a lot of crossover between this point and providing tips and advice (your tips and advice will often relate to the main problems your target customer faces).
Hit on the exact topics that they are interested in, the issues that frustrate them, and show them that you (and your product or service) is the answer.
Your very best content
Another brilliant use for an auto email sequence is to make it into a showcase of your best content.
The fact is that many people signing up to your list might not be regular visitors to your website. They might have landed on your site after clicking a link, enjoyed the first thing they read and signed up.
If so, your autoresponder series is the perfect opportunity to show them a carefully chosen selection of your best content.
With these subscribers, you do not have much of a relationship with them. They might have just been after your lead magnet (free ebook, discount, etc).
So hit them with your best content and make them aware that you provide real value.
It's all part of starting that all-important relationship building.
Teach them about your product
One specific type of autoresponder is the on-boarding sequence.
This is typically used when someone signs up for a free month's trial of your product. You then send them helpful emails to guide them through getting started, and the eventual goal is to encourage them to sign up for the paid version of your product.
This could take various forms, and you could even combine this with an email course providing a lesson each day on how to use a different feature of your product.
This prevents subscribers from forgetting about your product and helps them to make the most of it when they finally sign up.
I'm not such a fan of these, but you could well use your autoresponder to introduce subscribers to your company.
For example, you could introduce yourself, key members of staff, case studies, etc. You could tell them all about you and your business, how you started, the challenges you faced. You could provide subscribers with details of who to call when they have a question.
However, rather than just send out details about your company, try to work them in with something else, like value-packed tips, to get the most from your series.
IV. How to write a perfect marketing email
Now we've looked at what autoresponders are used for and what to write in them, let's move onto the elements that make up a perfect email.
When it comes to how to write a marketing email, there are a few best practices to keep in mind, whether for a newsletter, autoresponder or one-off broadcast to increase open rates and click-through rates (CTR).
Personalised 'from' line
This is the easiest part of any email, and it's also one of the most important things to get right.
It turns out that people really care who an email is coming from when they decide whether or not to open it.
And if it’s from a real human being, and a real human being whose name they recognise, they are more likely to see what's inside.
If you are self-employed, or if you write all or most of the content on your business website under your own name, the From line should be your name.
If you are writing from a larger company, make the emails from one person. It doesn't really matter who, as long as a real person is the sender.
Even better, add in a photo so subscribers can see who is writing to them.
Forget about writing from 'support' or 'sales'. That instantly stops it from being personal.
Emails are about building relationships, and real people with real names tend to be better at doing that.
Tell it straight
Subject lines are tricky to get right. So many factors go into it, and there is no 'right' as such.
You only find out what works well for you through testing.
However, sometimes it makes sense to just tell it straight. For example, if someone has signed up for an email course, you could make it very clear in the first email that this is the first lesson in said course because they will be expecting it.
Add some intrigue
You don't have to stick to telling it straight, and a bit of intrigue can go a long way.
Try to imply in the subject line that there is something of value inside, but don't say exactly what that is.
But don't make the mistake of tricking subscribers into opening the email. If you create curiosity in the subject line, satisfy that curiosity in the body.
Otherwise people will open the email to see what's going on, end up disappointed, and stop trusting you to deliver good emails.
Don't make subject lines too long
It's good practice to keep subject lines on the short site. But that's not essential (notice how there are very few unbreakable rules with email marketing?)
Short subject lines have always been a good idea, but these days fewer people are accessing their emails like this:
And more of them are accessing them like this:
People tend to skim through their inboxes anyway, so it makes sense to get in the most important words up front. About six words is ideal, but keep it to a maximum of about 10.
Play to their emotions
Try to inject some emotion into your subject lines and email bodies. By that I mean use words that create an emotional reaction and paint a picture.
Emotional language can make your emails (or any sales copy, for that matter) more engaging and prevent it from becoming boring.
Whatever you do, avoid sales and marketing blurb. Try to make your marketing emails not look like marketing emails.
Stories are at the heart of good copy, and emails are the perfect place to tell them.
Some of the best emails I receive from marketers start off with a story, a little anecdote that leads into the meat of the copy.
Usually, stories work best in one-off broadcast emails, but there's no reason you can't use them in your autoresponders.
Have one goal per email
Write every email with one specific goal in mind. Not two or three or four: just one.
It will make it so much easier for you to create the emails in the first place, and you'll be more likely to get better results.
The goal could be to:
Speaking of which, it's always a good idea to get subscribers into the habit of clicking on links. Then when you link to a sales page, your subscribers are used to being rewarded for clicking.
Use more than one CTA
Don't worry about sticking to one CTA in each email – as long as they are the same.
So, one link could be a naked URL, the other a hyperlink, but they both go to the same place.
I usually use two CTAs in my emails, one mid-way through and one near the end.
And be clear about what you want your subscribers to do, which means telling them to click on the link.
Call them to take whatever action it is you want them to take, and don't expect them to work it out for themselves.
Don't worry about the length
You'll hear a lot of opinions on whether short emails are better than long emails. Personally, I don't think it matters.
I receive (and I've written) many emails that stretch beyond 1,000 words. The rule is always the same: if it's good, I'll keep reading.
But do test yours – you may find that you get more clicks in shorter emails.
Use short sentences
Even if your emails are long, keep the individual elements short. So, use short sentences and short paragraphs.
If large blocks of text are off-putting on websites, they're even worse in emails. No one wants to read a novel in email format.
So break it up and make sure there is plenty of white space to make your emails more appealing.
Don't worry about images
Images are nice, and you can definitely use them in your emails. But you don't need to.
The best emails I receive are nearly always plain text and nothing else. I don't sign up to receive beautiful emails. I want information, entertainment and value.
By all means use a template and your logo. Make it look nice. (This is usually more important for larger businesses.)
But simple text will often work just fine because it's what you say that matters.
Whatever you do, be consistent. Use the same tone and the same format for all of your emails.
Subscribers will come to expect a certain style from your emails, a familiar voice. So let them become familiar with your style and don't suddenly change things up.
Make each email different
Having just said to make your emails consistent, you should still try to shake things up a bit.
For example, you might find that adding in each subscriber's name in the subject line increases opens – but don't go and do this every email.
Try new things, new subject line formulas, and mix up longer emails and shorter emails.
Don't follow the same formula for every email otherwise they'll end up dull.
Focus on the subscriber
If there is any golden rule of email marketing, it's to always focus on the subscriber's needs.
The worst email marketing mistake is using your email as a mouthpiece for your company and reiterating how great you are and all the wonderful things you do.
No one cares.
They don't. They care about how you can help them and how you can make their lives better. That's all.
Use a P.S.
Readers will often skim the body and read the P.S. because they don't want to miss out on something important at the end.
So it makes sense to use a P.S. from time to time, though you might not want to in every email.
Engage with your subscribers
One thing I recommend doing that many marketers fail to do is actively engage with your subscribers. The easiest way to do this is to ask them a question, perhaps in the P.S., to try and get a response.
The reason many people don't do this is because they don't want to get lots of emails from their subscribers – they want the autoresponder to work all on its own.
But they're missing a trick.
I ask questions in my emails from time to time because it's another way to build stronger relationships.
Especially with me being a freelance copywriter, it's great to make some initial contact with potential clients.
V. How long should an email autoresponder be?
One of the first questions clients ask me when they want to know how to write an email series is how long their autoresponder sequence should be.
And the short answer is: as long as you want.
(The longer answer is slightly more involved.)
Know your goal
When it comes to how to write a professional marketing email, you should always know your goal (see Section 3).
Know what your goal is? That will determine the length.
The main goal for most autoresponder sequences is moving subscribers further down your funnel. This may be to sell a product, sell your service, build a relationship or become a thought leader.
Whatever the goal, having a clear idea in your mind will help you to plan out the ideal series length.
Plan it out
Don't write a thing until you've planned the whole sequence. With your goal in mind, open up a spreadsheet and start planning each one.
For each email, write down a goal. That could be to build authority using a testimonial, to get clicks through to your blog, to encourage sign ups, to send a tip, to share a benefit of your product, to directly sell your product, to offer a discount or anything else.
Next to each goal, come up with an idea of how you will get that idea across. Write it down in the next column along.
Do this, and simply see what you come up with. You may find that you've covered everything in 10 emails, or 5.
Or you may be going strong at 20 or 30.
The other option is…
The everlasting email autoresponder series
You don't actually have to stop. I don't. My emails just keeps on running.
This won't work for everyone, of course. In my case, I provide short sales writing tips, and I can keep on going with it.
My aim, obviously, is to get more clients. People who sign up might hire me straight away, after a year or never. So I figure that it's so easy to keep on providing them with tips, I might as well do just that.
I repeat: this is not going to work for everyone.
But it does provide an alternative answer to the question 'How long should my email autoresponder sequence be?'
VI. How often should you send emails in your series?
A question even more common than how long should an autoresponder be is how often should you send the emails.
Again, the short answer is: it's up to you.
There are no hard and fast rules, and it depends somewhat on the length of your series. If you have 100 emails in your autoresponder, one a day is probably going to be too much.
But if you're sending a short course, you don't want to space the emails out too much, and closer together might work better.
From an entirely personal perspective, I find one a day to be too much. For me, it starts to be annoying.
That being said, it can still work very well. And if you are selling a course, for example, that is closing soon, even two or more emails in one day is fine.
It's all about providing value
Value is the name of the game with autoresponders, or any type of email for that matter.
But how do you know if you're providing value?
You'll get a good idea by the type of content you provide in each email. But to know for sure, check your open rates and click-through rates to make sure they are staying high.
It depends on your target customer as well
Is your target customer likely to be very busy? If so, one email a day might be too much.
I find with many of my copywriting clients that up to about three times a week is perfect (though personally I only send out emails about once a week).
As I mentioned earlier, my sequence goes on and on, and I think any more than once a week would be too much.
Also, my main goal is to stay top of mind. My 'conversion' is to get hired at some point, but I know that people can go many months without needing to hire a professional copywriter.
When they need one, hopefully they will think of me.
VII. An autoresponder sequence template you can use
As you've probably realised by now, there are a lot of variables with autoresponders. There are no rules about how many emails you include in your autoresponder sequence or how often you can send them.
So providing a set template for every autoresponder series wouldn't make sense.
But here is a sample template that you could use for your own autoresponder series.
Let's say you've tempted people to sign up to your email list by offering them a free ebook on your specialist area: online marketing.
It's called '7 online marketing techniques that will make you filthy rich.
Here's how you could plan it out:
Let's start at the beginning: the welcome email
Whenever anyone signs up for your email list and confirms their subscription, you should send out a welcome email immediately.
A few good rules to follow include:
The welcome email typically gets opened more than any other – partly for the freebies but partly because you are still fresh in your new subscribers' minds. They want to find out what you have to say.
So, your welcome autoresponder template message might look something like this:
Thanks so much for signing up to my list, it's great to have you with us!
You can now download your free ebook '7 online marketing techniques that will make you filthy rich’ by clicking on the following link:
I'll be in touch over the next few days with some actionable tips for getting the most out of the info in the book and other marketing techniques that can make you money.
Look out for my next email in your inbox!
Thanks again, and I'd love to hear feedback on the book when you get a chance.
Here's a real welcome email. This is from LeadFuze sharing a link to a template document for a cold sales email:
Short, sweet and effective – exactly how a welcome email should be.
Make your confirmation email stand out
While the welcome email is the first official email in the autoresponder, before that you'll usually send a confirmation email (if you're using a double opt-in, which you should).
You could just say 'Please opt in' or something along those lines. That's fine.
Or you could do what Jo from CopyHackers does and add in some personality, remind them about the free bonus, and even throw in another surprise bonus:
This sets the tone for future emails as well as providing additional value in what is essentially just a standard confirmation email, making it even more effective.
Your template for a standard email autoresponder
With the welcome email out of the way, it's time to get into the detail of the series.
Remember, every pre-written autoresponder series will be completely different. But I'm going to provide you with a template that will work in many cases.
It could look something like this:
Email #1 – Welcome email
Email #2 – Talk about the biggest problem your targets face, give them a solution, and tease them that you have something even better in the next email.
Email #3 – Provide them with your even better solution. Show them how to solve the problem. Link to a blog post on the topic.
Email #4 – Link to your product sales page and explain how it helps.
Email #5 – Share a customer success story to build credibility.
Email #6 – Talk about another big problem your customers face. Link to a blog with the answer.
Email #7 – Link to another product sales page that solves this problem.
Email #8 – Ask if you can help them in any way.
Email #9 – Wrap up the series.
As you can see, there are infinite possibilities for how you could mix this up. You'll also notice that we are linking to sales pages directly from the emails.
If you want to make money from your autoresponder, you're going to have to do some selling.
And by launching a series like this, you can sit back and let people go through the series … and hopefully rack up some sales on autopilot
This is one very specific scenario. This type of series could work well for information marketers selling a product like a course, but it might not work so well for a company selling high-end products.
How often should you sell?
This is one of the biggest questions surrounding autoresponders.
You know all the other stuff you can use in your series like blog posts, testimonials, case studies, tips and advice, etc.
But when should you directly ask for a sale?
Again, there are no set rules. But I would say it's best to err on the side of caution.
Notice how in the above series it took four emails to reach the first sales email? That's a good rule of thumb.
After that, if your aim is to continue selling (perhaps you have a selection of products), aim for one in every three or four emails:
Don't wear out your subscribers with constant sales emails. Don't make them feel like they are just there so you can make money from them.
They are more likely to buy if they receive constant value, so focus on building a relationship before you pitch.
Don't try to sell directly
And remember, don't sell inside your emails. Emails are amazing for driving sales, but no one is going to buy directly from within an email.
People are wary about getting ripped off.
Instead, send them to a dedicated landing page where they can sign up to a free trial and then buy with confidence.
The emails are the pre-sell to warm up subscribers. Link to a landing page or a product review to make the actual sale.
VIII. How to choose your email marketing software
In order to send autoresponder emails, you'll need some dedicated email software. You might already have a preferred product, but if not, here are a few of my favourites.
(These all have autoresponder functions.)
MailChimp is what I use, and I can't say I have any complains. I use it for ease of use and for its affordability, and I can highly recommend it.
But I've used many others, especially for my copywriting clients' campaigns, and some of the best include:
Take a look at what they provide and their prices, and try them out. Some have free trials to get you started.
They are all reasonably affordable if you don't yet have a large list, so it won't be too expensive to experiment.
IX. Now you know how to write an email sequence
Right, that's it, your detailed guide to autoresponder email sequences. Phew!
I'm pretty sure I've covered everything, but there is a very good chance that you still have questions. If so, feel free to fire off an email.
What to do you think? Do you feel more comfortable about writing an email marketing autoresponder sequence? What strategies bring you success?
Let me know in the comments! And if you'd be so kind to share this on Twitter, Facebook or whatever other social network you happen to use, I'd be much obliged.