Why Not to Use Free Autoresponders

by Martin Malden

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!

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