Why Not to Use Free Autoresponders

Q. Why should you pay the monthly fee associated with the big, well-established autoresponder service providers, when there are several autoresponder applications that you can download, install and run yourself – free..?

A. Because in the long run using one of the free, self-hosted autoresponders will cost you more than the service from the big guys. Possibly much more.

In my view it’s an absolute no brainer to use one of the big, well established autoresponder services. You’ll get:

  • Higher delivery rates – important because you’ve worked hard (and maybe paid a lot) to get people to opt in to your newsletter. You don’t want to waste that investment because your opt-ins don’t receive any of your messages
  • Real time management of your customer database –  important because the Can-Spam act requires that you only send emails to people who’ve asked for them and you immediately unsubscribe people on request. (Among other things)
  • Total compliance with the Can-Spam Act – important because failure to comply will cost you an arm and a leg (and possibly your business).

The $20 monthly fee (it varies around that number with different providers) is a pittance to pay for the service they provide, and here’s why:

Email marketing took off in the late 90’s and was seen as a highly cost-effective alternative to Direct Mail as a means of Direct Marketing. This led to such high volumes of Unsolicited Commercial Email (Spam) that the Can Spam Act was introduced in 2003 to control it.

Can-Spam requirements are tough – but the Can-Spam Act is also the genuine and professional email marketer’s friend.

Can-Spam imposes a number of requirements on email marketers, including what you need to do to avoid being considered a spammer, what information you need to have in the footers of your emails, how you should handle complaints and unsubscribe requests and more.

Failure to adhere to these requirements will bring heavy penalties!

For this reason alone, I would strongly recommend using a professional Autoresponder service rather than installing and running an Autoresponder application on your own server.

Quite simply, not only are the professional Autoresponder services totally Can-Spam compliant (and will force you to be as well) but they will always be up to date with any changes in legislation that affect email marketing.

There are other benefits too.

Because of the stiff penalties that you risk for breaking the law, as well as the considerable strain that large volumes of Spam put on the resources of Internet Service Providers, ISP’s themselves are very harsh on Spam.

Yahoo, AOL, and MSN, among others, are particularly strict. They all provide a ‘Mark as Spam’ button (as do most Email providers) that enables customers to dump emails they don’t want (even if they’ve opted in for them) into the Spam category.

However, the good news is that the big 3 or 4 professional Autoresponder services all maintain close, co-operative relationships with the Internet Service Providers.

After all, it is in the interests of both parties that the end users do get email that they want.

This co-operation results in them being able to achieve significantly better email delivery rates than you would get either using your own Autoresponder system or a cheap 3rd party service.

Here’s an example from my own experience: for my own business I use one of the best-known autoresponder service providers. The cost is US$19.95 per month and I get a 98% + delivery rate.

They automatically handle any unsubscribe requests and any complaints from my subscribers. They keep records of all subscriber opt in details and, should anyone try to accuse me of spamming, they will provide me with all the evidence I need to prove my innocence – in a court of law, if necessary.

I’m also an affiliate for 2 other businesses who use their own Autoresponder systems. In one case I had to be responsible for personally removing customers who unsubscribed, which put the legal responsibility onto me.

Luckily (only in so far as this issue is concerned!) that same service actually had a delivery rate of 0%. I’m dead serious – every email sent out on my behalf by that system was returned as undeliverable. But at least I didn’t have to worry about handling the unsubscribe requests!

In the second case the unsubscribe requests were handled automatically, but the delivery rate was just over 30%.

Since you need to do a lot of work and, sometimes, pay good money to get people on to your list you don’t want to waste all that effort by having your emails rejected by the ISP’s!

I’ve since re-structured my business processes so that my own autoresponder service provider manages all subscribers for all of my businesses.

So what services can you expect from the big Autoresponder service providers?

The biggest and most well-known Autoresponder service providers all charge around US$20 per month.

For this you will get:

  • The ability to set up an unlimited number of mailing lists (you may want different mailing lists for different products or businesses that you have).
  • You will be provided with confirmed (or verified) opt in, where the IP address, time and date that your subscribers confirmed their request for your newsletter is recorded and filed in case of troubles in the future.
  • You will be able to set up as many email messages as you want in each list (I have one list containing over 40 pre-written emails, which are delivered over a period of around 9 months)
  • You will be able to send ad hoc broadcast emails (as many as you like) in addition to the scheduled messages.
  • You will have access to powerful reporting tools that will allow you to do extensive analysis on your customer base
  • You will be able to isolate segments of your customer base and send emails specific to each segment. For example you could send Thanksgiving Holiday greetings to US based subscribers only.
  • All unsubscribe requests will be handled automatically
  • All complaints will be handled automatically
  • All provisions of the Can-Spam act will be met, and they’ll ensure that you provide whatever information you need to provide to comply as well.
  • They will provide tools and support to help improve the effectiveness of your email campaigns

And if Can-Spam compliance and delivery rates were not enough, here’s another reason why I use my autoresponder service provider:

‘The money is in the list’ is a statement that you hear again and again.

What it means is that to be successful in Internet Marketing you need to have a group of people (your subscriber list) who have developed a relationship with you and trust your recommendations and judgement.

Once you have this list you will be able to promote your own and other people’s products to them and the conversion rate will be way higher than if you tried to promote to people who have never heard of you before. It will also be way more profitable, because you won’t have to pay for any advertising!

For this reason, many marketers (myself included) focus on building their email subscriber list first and foremost.

Build a list of several thousand loyal subscribers and you will have built an asset that will earn you income for as long as you have your business.

The Autoresponder is the tool that enables you to manage that asset. And that’s the primary reason why I will never compromise on the quality of the Autoresponder service I use.

What are your experiences with autoresponders..? Have you had success with your own self-hosted autoresponder service? Leave a comment and let us know!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Chris Tackett 19 February, 2008, 5:37 pm

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Tackett

  • TL The Liberator 20 February, 2008, 12:38 pm

    You’re 100% right Martin.

    Too many online marketers try to get by without making investments in quality essential tools that they really need to conduct online business operations correctly.

    TL The Liberator

  • WealthyDragon 20 February, 2008, 1:33 pm

    Thanks TL!

    Yes – when you consider that your subscriber list is probably the primary asset in your online business (products are assets, of course, but if you don’t have a subscriber base you’ll struggle to sell them) then I cannot imagine why you would not want to manage it in the best way possible!



  • Mark McCullagh 20 February, 2008, 10:25 pm

    Any marketer who is unwilling to spend $20 a month for an i.e. aWeber account, is not treating their online business as a business and is, in my mind, a hobbyist.

  • Internet Business Blogger 20 February, 2008, 10:49 pm

    I have to agree with your points although I did not realize the implications of the can-spam act.

    I write this comment because I am a tech guy and when I got started I wanted to save the $20 per month on an autoresponder and knew I could do it myself.

    First of all the autoresponder took hours to set up correctly and even when I had it up and running the reporting kind of sucked.

    Now that I use a professional autoresponder service, (17.95 a month)I have had my eyes opened to all of the great automation, extended services and fancy templates. Not only this but in addition I know that I am getting a lot better deliverability, who knows how bad it was when I self hosted.

  • WealthyDragon 21 February, 2008, 7:20 am

    Hi Mark,

    What else can I say..!? I agree!



  • WealthyDragon 21 February, 2008, 7:23 am

    Hi Internet Business Blogger,

    I can understand the frustration you must have felt going through the set up process! But I’m delighted you’re happy with your professional AR provider – and good luck with your business going forward!



  • WealthyDragon 22 February, 2008, 5:09 pm

    Chris, hi,

    Sorry this reply is so late – for some reason Akismet got hold of your comment so I’ve only just seen it.

    Thanks for your kind words and for subscribing to my RSS feed – I’ll do my best not to disappoint!



  • RickH 22 February, 2008, 11:28 pm

    Great article. Good advice.

    On the other hand there are situations where I’ve found using one of the major autoresponder companies too restrictive. In particular, if you are setting up a list for a company that already has a list of established customers and prospects (like a car dealership for example) the bigs like AW or GR force you to have them all opt-in again. That can be a hard sell if you’re trying to provide a newsletter service to a company.

    There are legitimate self-hosted email programs that work in these situations. But they are not free.

  • WealthyDragon 23 February, 2008, 10:24 am

    Rick, hi,

    Thanks – and that’s a very good point.

    I do know that importing lists from another system can be a pain, but I seem to remember that AW (not sure about the others) gives you the opportunity to make a case as to why you shouldn’t need to get all the imported subscribers to re-confirm.

    If for some reason you are forced to re-confirm all imported subscribers then I guess the only route you can take is to pre-warn them of the move and offer an incentive for them to re-confirm. This has actually happened to me twice. (Jon Leger was one, but I can’t remember the other).

    There’s no doubt some will still drop by the wayside, but those that do may not have been all that interested anyway – but just hadn’t got around to unsubscribing yet.

    Anyone else had experience with this..?



  • Troy Dooly 25 February, 2008, 8:53 am

    Having helped to create and run one of the first and at one time the world’s largest autoresponder to the network marketing profession I have to agree 100%.

    We helped to create the autoresponder industry in 1999 and went on to grow to over 10 million emails per day.

    Now in todays market 10 million emails per day from any one email autoresponder is very small.

    But what we helped to create as Best Practices is still used today by the likes of Constant Contact, AWeber, GetResponse and several other respectable autoresponders.

    Personally I use Constant Contact because they have a full time compliance staff, are White Listed by all the top tier URLs, use only Best Practices and give the publisher great control over style and delivery.

  • WealthyDragon 25 February, 2008, 12:27 pm

    Hi Troy,

    Thanks – I never realised that you’d done that – those must have been exciting times!



  • Richard Day 26 February, 2008, 11:37 am

    I have been using Aweber for about 8 months. I have never had a problem with it. It always works and people can automatically unsubscribe. They are very particular about not letting you import any names that you might have had on Constant Contact, by the way.

  • SF Green Biz 31 March, 2008, 12:14 pm

    Interesting reading and makes perfect sense. Who wants to deal with compliance laws? So nice that you can outsource it and not pay an arm and a leg.

    You mentioned the big 3 or 4 professional Autoresponder services, can you please be more specific about who they are?


  • WealthyDragon 31 March, 2008, 1:14 pm

    Hi SF Green Biz,

    The 4 that I was thinking of are:


    There are lots of others, though, and if you do a Google search you’ll be inundated..!

    But I would definitely recommend one of these 4.



  • ncaditya.com 5 May, 2008, 5:33 pm

    Free is free for a reason. I would never trust a free autoresponder program.

    I use GetResponse and I it is the best IMO.


  • WealthyDragon 5 May, 2008, 6:20 pm

    Thanks Ncaditya,

    It’s usually true – you get what you pay for..! 🙂



  • Piedro Molinero 6 September, 2008, 4:02 am

    I totally agree on this.
    The use of a free autoresponder service can’t be recommended when it is used for business reasons. Free autoresponder services have a lot of disadvantages compared with paid services and in the long run users will benefit from using a paid autoresponder service.