How do you get an autoresponder that’s free and provides the features that the big boys use? From Verizon through manufacturing firms, I’ve had dozens of clients ask me "What’s the best free autoresponder available?" over the years.
We should probably start by answering the question, "What is an autoresponder, and why would I want to use one?" In its most basic form, an autoresponder is an email program that automatically responds to emails that are sent to it. This type of system will automatically respond with things like FAQs , product information and vacation messages.
High-end autoresponders provide features which allow people to opt-in and opt-out of your email list and provide double opt-in (also called closed-loop opt-in) capabilities. These types of features are absolutely necessary if you have a list of more than a couple of hundred names, or if you’re trying to run a real business.
One of the best free autoresponders available is open-source and will run on both Unix/Linux and Windows machines. It’s called phplist and can be found at their website . This software isn’t the easiest to install, but does have good basic instructions and can be installed by most system administrators without much trouble.
Be aware that even though this is the best free autoresponder, it isn’t the best thing to use if you are sending emails that are time-critical or if you don’t have time to follow-up on sites that blacklist you. Sending out emails to bad email addresses (old, or expired) or to mail trap boxes will cause you to be blacklisted very quickly, which means that your email will start bouncing in a big way. I’ve seen cases where competitors have subscribed one of these mail trap boxes to a competitor’s email list so that each time email is sent to the list it is immediately rejected — something that can be avoided by using double-opt-in.
If you’re looking for something very simple and use Google Lab’s email features (it’s very easy to get a free account if you’re not using it right now), check out the "Vacation Time!" feature to get a free, simple autoresponder. There is also a more advanced feature you can use:
"If you’re sick of typing out the same reply every time someone emails you with a common question, now you can compose your reply once and save the message text with the "Canned responses" button. Later, you can open that same message and send it again and again," explains Chad Perry .
After enabling "Canned Responses " in the settings page for Gmail Labs, you’ll see a new drop-down when composing a message. The "canned responses" option can be used to save a new message or to load an existing autoreply. It’s interesting that Gmail saves the messages as hidden drafts: you can find them if you search for label:drafts , but they’re not visible in the Drafts view. This isn’t quite the same set of features and functionality offered by phplist, but it may do for you or your business.
If you’d like more information on any of these points, or anything else related to Marketing Technology, post a comment letting me know.