This post is based on episode 70 of the ProBlogger podcast.
Last week I talked about creating an opt-in incentive to increase your email subscriber numbers. I also mentioned that one of those incentives could be a series you deliver over a number of weeks.
Well, this week I want to talk about how you can deliver that series using an autoresponder.
What is an autoresponder?
In its simplest form, an autoresponder is a series of emails you set up for new subscribers. Then whenever someone subscribes, they receive the emails over time at predetermined intervals – once a week, once a month, or even with specific delays between each email.
Setting up an autoresponder can take a bit of time and effort. You need to write all the emails, and then set up the queue that distributes them all. But once you do, the emails get sent out automatically without you needing to lift a finger.
How you can use an autoresponder
An autoresponder is a great way to tell your new subscribers (who may not know much about you) who you are and what your blog is about. It’s also an opportunity to show them you’ve got something valuable to say, and to build some credibility with them.
You can also use one to keep your list warm. As I said a couple of weeks ago, there’s no point having an email list unless you stay in touch with your subscribers. If you don’t, they may forget they subscribed and wonder why you’re sending them emails. An autoresponder can take the pressure off needing to create regular emails.
Of course, what they’re really good for is driving traffic to your blog, which in turn can drive sales. If you’ve got a product or service to sell, an autoresponder can help you make the sale and ultimately build your brand.
How to set up your autoresponder
So how should you set up your autoresponder? That will largely depend on your goals, and what you want to achieve with your blog. But here are some examples of what you can do with one.
For starters, you could use one to send subscribers a series of welcome emails that take them through different parts of your site. As I said earlier, you can use these emails to talk about who you are and what your blog is about, and show that you’ve got something valuable to say. Putting all this information in a single email could overwhelm some people But spreading the information out over a series of emails makes it easier to build a relationship with your readers.
As an example, the autoresponder I use on Digital Photography School takes my readers through the site, introduces them to our forum and social media accounts, and talks about what they’ll get for subscribing. You could create a similar one to let your subscribers know about the social media channels you use.
It’s worth letting them know about your email schedule. Saying something like, “You’ll be hearing from us once a week” (or however often you’ll be sending them emails) tells how often they’ll be receiving them, and helps to build anticipation.
You might also want to include some of your evergreen content. Our Digital Photography School autoresponder sends out a series of emails once a month or that introduce our subscribers to some of our archive content they may have otherwise missed. This not only drives traffic to your site but also demonstrates the wealth of information you’ve got in your archives.
Another thing you can do is include one of your best posts somewhere in the sequence. Not a link, but rather the full post.
One of our autoresponder emails on DPS invites those subscribers who’ve been with us for a few months to participate in a survey. As well as demographic information, we use it to find out where they are and what level of photography they’re at. We also ask them what their problems are, what their questions are, and what they’d like us to write about.
This information is gold for us. If we ever run out of things to write about we can just look at everyone’s answers to those questions to come up with fresh topics.
Another option is to create some sort of community activity. You can direct your subscribers to a blog post or forum topic that created a great discussion thread. It’s a great way to build social proof and show you have other readers.
Other types of emails that you might want to send would be more sales-related ones. If you have a product that you sell, an ebook or a course, or a physical product, you could actually build into your autoresponder sequence an email that offers that product at a discount or that promotes that product in some way. This is effectively like doing a little mini launch of your product every day forever. Just say you have that set up 60 days after someone becomes a subscriber, it might be the fifth email that they get in the sequence. They’re warmed up, they’ve been seeing some of your evergreen content, they feel welcomed, they’ve engaged in the community on your blog, and then you send them a coupon code to your ebook and they get that sort of 60 days in.
If you’re getting subscribers every day to your newsletter, that means every day someone’s getting that offer made to them. You’ll find, over time, that the sales that you get from those types of sales emails actually do add up quite a bit. I know that every day someone’s getting an offer through an autoresponder email that I set up years ago on my blogs and it’s paying off today.
You could do a similar thing with an affiliate promotion. You might want to promote somebody else’s product as an affiliate. You might want to do a deal with that particular person, say there’s someone else, another blogger in your niche who has an ebook. Ask them if they’d be willing for you to send out a coupon code to your subscribers as part of your autoresponder sequence. You just need to make sure that that coupon code is valid forever because people are going to continue to get that email for a long time.
There’s a whole heap of other things that you could do as part of an email sequence. You could set up emails that are case studies that are results of research that you’ve done, all kinds of stuff. Pretty much any kind of blog post that you’ve written you could repurpose that into an autoresponder email.
A few other tips that you might want to think through as you think about the types of content to put into your autoresponder sequence. Firstly, the content really needs to be evergreen. People are going to continue to get that email for as long as you keep it in your sequence. If you’ve got something that’s more news-related or more timely that something is going to date, you probably don’t want to include that as an autoresponder email. You might want to send that out as a single one-off email to your whole list or a segment of your list.
Make it Evergreen
Ultimately, your autoresponder needs to be evergreen and it needs to focus upon your reader and their needs. While you might want to have lots of sales emails as part of your autoresponder, people aren’t going to respond very well to those sales emails if they don’t feel like they’re getting some value from you and the other emails that you send. You want to get the balance right between selling and delivering real value to your particular readers. This really comes down to understanding who your readers are, what their problems are, and delivering content in your email that’s going to take people on a journey and bring about change in their life in some ways.
Take Your Readers on a Journey
A simple exercise that you might want to do is to actually identify the change that you’re trying to bring to your subscribers and actually break down how to bring that change. I’ve used this example before but the change I’m trying to bring on Digital Photography School is I want to give my readers creative control of their cameras. I want to get them out of automatic mode and to have full control of their cameras. The emails that we send as part of our autoresponder try to help our readers to achieve that outcome. We send them emails on composition, we send them emails on how to get creative control of their cameras and how to understand exposure, how to hold their camera.
We actually take our readers on a journey, so hopefully, by the end of them being subscribed to our newsletter, they’re actually going to learn photography. If they do that, they’re going to be much more open to those sales-type emails that we will send from time to time in the mix. Think about the change you’re trying to bring and map out a sequence of emails that are going to help to bring that about.
The other thing that you might want to think about is the state that your readers are in as they view you. How do they actually see you when they subscribe to your email? The chances are that when someone subscribes to your email list, they might be kind of interested in your topic but they may not know who you are. They might be even suspicious about your intentions, they might be unsure about whether you’re someone that they should be listening to. They might be unsure about how to use your site, they may be unaware of your past history, the past content that you’ve created.
Actually put yourself in the shoes of a subscriber and the type of suspicions or the type of questions, the type of view that they have of you. Actually, try and move people along not only in the topic that you’re writing about but the state and their view of you. You want to take people from being maybe a bit suspicious and standoff-ish of you to being someone who actually knows who you are. Someone who likes you, someone who trusts you, someone who’s a customer of you, someone who’s an evangelist for you.
That’s ultimately where we want to take people. How could you design a sequence of emails that actually helps them along in that journey of feeling closer to you? If people do business with people that they know, like, and trust, how could your email sequence move people along that?
What I’m trying to get you to think through here is your first email, probably you don’t want to come across as too salesy. You want it to be something more about building trust, building credibility. Then your next emails, maybe it’s more introducing them to the type of things that you’ve got on your site. Helping them to understand how to use the site.
Again, this builds trust and likeability. It’s about just trying to lead your readers along that journey and not going too fast with the emails that you send. Now, there are different approaches to this and I’ve heard other people say that they just start with the sales email and it works for them. I’m a little bit more gentle with the type of emails that I send.
The last thing I want to briefly touch on is how often should you schedule emails. I get that question a lot and what other emails should you be sending. I’ve already mentioned that autoresponders are just one type of email that you can send. The other type again gets called different things with different email service providers, but AWeber calls them broadcasts. These are where you manually set up an email to go to your full list or a segment of it. You may just want to target particular types of people who may be subscribed at a certain time or that have clicked on previous links, but that’s getting a little bit more complicated. Here, these are emails that you send out to your whole list, let’s just say.
For me at Digital Photography School, once we have an autoresponder set up, we also send out a weekly newsletter. These are things that I manually set up every Thursday and send to our whole list. These have our latest blog posts and other timely updates. Again, sometimes it’s got evergreen content in it but this is not an email that I want to send out again and again and again, I just want to send it out once to my list.
Now I also send out other emails when we launch a product. This is another type of email that I send out to my list. You can already see here, I’ve got our newsletter, I’ve got product launches when we do a new product, and then I’ve got autoresponders. You want to get the balance right here between keeping your list warm, sending out regular emails, and not overwhelming your list with too many emails. Here’s how I use email newsletters to drive traffic and make money.
The different tools will help you in spreading your emails out a little bit, so AWeber, who we use on Digital Photography School, I send out our broadcasts, our newsletters on Thursdays. It goes out the same time every week. I send out product announcement type emails always on Tuesdays, so I know there’s a couple of days. Then our autoresponders, AWeber allows you to choose which day of the week that they can be delivered on.
I block out Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday because I don’t want to be sending out emails three days in a row. I don’t want my readers going, “This guy just keeps sending me emails.” Typically, those autoresponder emails usually go out sometimes on Mondays but usually Saturday, Sunday, or Friday. Just to spread them out a little bit. Use those types of tools and think about how often am I going to be sending out the extra emails that are not part of the autoresponder.
I would encourage you to try and send out emails at least every 30 days just to keep your list warm, but not too much more than twice a week. You probably really don’t want to go more than twice a week. It may be that if you’re doing a big product launch, you may actually want to pause your autoresponder and some of the tools will allow you to do that if you feel like you’re going to be sending out a couple of emails in a week about a product launch. You probably don’t want to be sending out autoresponders during that week as well. The different tools will allow you to do that.
The other thing that you might want to consider is using an autoresponder as part of an opt-in. Yesterday, in the last episode, we talked about using opt-ins, so getting people to subscribe to your list by giving them a free ebook. One of the alternatives that you could give them is a free seven-day course that you deliver via an autoresponder. This is a really effective way of getting people not only onto your list but getting them engaged with your emails which is something I talked about in the last episode.
If you’re a photography site like us, you might set up an opt-in where readers who subscribe to you get the seven days of emails. Just short seven emails that are just really good basic tips on how to use a camera. This is actually something we’re considering doing for Digital Photography School. Then at the end of the seven days, they don’t get daily emails after that because they might just be a bit overwhelming but you might then set up every 30 days they get just an extra tip that continues to keep them engaged in some way.
My challenge today is for you to set up an autoresponder, to get it off your someday list, and to actually get it on to your today list. If you don’t have an autoresponder yet, map out a sequence of emails. You may only want to map out the first 5 or 10 emails; don’t go too far. You can add to your autoresponder later by adding in extra emails to it and I would encourage you to do that.
If you’ve already got an autoresponder, my challenge to you today is to do a bit of an audit of it. Is it up to date? Are you sending out emails that are dated, that look bad, or that have out of date of information? Are those emails converting? Maybe dig into your stats and actually work out which are the ones that get all the clicks, which are the ones that generate sales, and which are the ones that maybe people are unsubscribing after they get it. That’s a really good one to check out. If you’ve already got an autoresponder, should you be adding some new emails into it? Should you be extending that in some way?
These are the types of things that are often on people’s someday list. Whether you’re sending out for the first time or whether you are doing an audit of your existing autoresponder, I challenge you, today you spend on your autoresponder.
Just let me finish this story. A few years ago, I was out on a walk and I realized I’d let my autoresponder list. I hadn’t really looked at it for a while. I’d set up about 12 emails in my list and those 12 emails went out over about a nine-month period. New subscribers were getting these autoresponders for about nine months and then there were no more autoresponders going out. They were just then, at that point, getting newsletters.
I was like, “That’s okay on some levels, I send out newsletters every week so my readers will be feeling engaged but maybe I should be adding in a few more emails.” I came home for my list and I decided to add to my autoresponder list by just simply doing an offer to my readers on one of my ebooks. I added that extra email to my autoresponder. Over the next week that email began to go out to my readers.
I actually looked at the results of that one email that I sent. It took me an hour, maybe an hour-and-a-half to write the email and to add it to the autoresponder. That one email generated tens of thousands of dollars over the next 12 months. It was a small thing that I did today, or I did on that day, that continued to pay off over the long haul.
What are you going to do today that’s going to get something off your someday list and on to your today list? I would love to hear what you are going to do as a result of this podcast. You can let us know on Twitter or on Instagram if you want to do it visually using the hashtag #TodayNotSomeday. This is the hashtag we’re using for this series of podcasts and there’s been some great engagement on it already,