|By: Richard Lowe, Jr.|
A term that confuses just about everyone is "autoresponder". When I mention that to friends or associates, they almost always reply with a blank stare, a "what the heck is that", or "I don't like those at all". Even though the concept is very simple, autoresponders are very, very powerful if properly used.
Okay, here's the short answer: an autoresponder is an automatic response. More precisely, they are an automatic email sent to someone in response to some action.
Still confused? All right, in their simpliest form an autoresponder is just an email acknowledging a guestbook signing, a comment or something like that. I'm sure just about everyone who has been on the internet for any amount of time and done anything has received quite a few of these.
You can get more complex with autoresponders. A good autoresponder package will allow you to send more than one email at specific intervals. They will even allow those emails to include custom information such as names, dates, time and so on.
Understand? Now, what the heck are they good for?
Well, every webmaster wants to get people to not only visit his site, but to come back time and again. Repeat visitors are the most valuable visitors. In addition, if you are selling something, the classic wisdom is it takes more than one exposure to an ad to make a purchase - usually the number mentioned is seven!
Those simple thank you messages for signing a guestbook are actually critically important. You see, a visitor has stopped by your site and left you a message. Not only are you thanking him, but you are doing so later, after he has left your site. This means he will be reminded of his visit, and perhaps visit again. He may save the email because he wants to remember the URL or some other information. If you advertise something in this thank you message, your visitor gets to see it.
Of course, sending messages later is even better. If you can send, say, a message immediately, one a day later, one a week later and perhaps one a month later, you are doing great. Don't overwhelm them, just send them something useful and remind them of your site or product or whatever.
Oh yeah, always, always give your recipient a way to opt-out of the stream of messages (unless you are only sending a single message, of course). Most good autoresponder packages will do this for you.
A final note: this is the important part so listen closely. This is all done AUTOMATICALLY. This means you, the webmaster, are communicating constantly with your visitors without lifting a finger. Whatever message you are attempting to deliver is made a hundred times more powerful by these simple techniques.