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HOW TO

The 10 Non-Negotiable Features of a Professional Auto-Responder
By: Developer Shed
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    2004-01-28

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    The 10 Non-Negotiable Features of a Professional Auto-Responder
    by John Stone

    Top professionals agree that if you are going to do business on the Internet, you must have a sequential auto-responder. In this article, we will discuss features you should find in a quality Professional Auto-Responder.

    To fully understand this topic, we need qualify what is meant by the term "professional auto-responder." In the mind of this author, there are really three (3) classes of any software product you purchase. Okay, four if you count garbage-ware. Within each class is a wide variety of features, thus, a large variety in price. A general guideline for prices for each category is found below.

    Free - $80 Personal
    $40 - $300 Professional
    $200 - $15,000 Commercial

    In this article, we will only cover the professional class of auto-responder. This by no means implies that a personal class should not or would not have these features, nor does it imply that a commercial class auto-responder would. Features are generally dictated by price (or better stated, price is dictated by feature content).

    Subscribe Features
    1. Email Subscribe. Each mailing list (auto-responder) has an Email address. Any email sent to that address "Opts-In" (subscribes) automatically!
    2. HTML Form Code. Each mailing list (auto-responder) has custom <FORM> HTML to place in any web page to "Opt-In" (subscribe) instantly. Look for a program that generates the HTML code for you.
    3. Manual Addition. Allows you to add email addresses by hand. This method is typically NOT considered "Opt-In" and may not comply with some state Email laws.
    4. Merge from Master List. Add emails from the master list you have been building within the system. This method is typically NOT considered "Opt-In" and may not comply with some state Email laws.
    List Management
    1. Bounce Detection. The program monitors incoming emails to detect if they have been "bounced" (returned as undeliverable). After a few bounces, these email addresses are deactivated and prevented from being used. High-end applications allow the number of bounces to be set before being disabled.
    2. Bulk Upload. If you already have a mailing list, this features allow for quick uploading and insertion into your master mailing list.
    3. Master Mailing List. Incoming Emails addressed to a mailing list are added to the Master list for future use or review. This feature used in conjunction with bounce detection allows you to create a "clean list."
    Email Capabilities
    1. Create Unlimited Segments. Many programs (even professional programs) limit you to the number of segments that can be sent from an individual auto-responder. While these numbers can be as high as 25 to 50, this is a limitation and should lower the value!
    2. Custom Email Tags. Custom tags ( like [ FIRSTNAME ] ) can be used in the body AND subject of the email. Tags should include (but not be limited to) Firstname, Lastname, Email Subject and Reply Email. Quality professional programs will provide more tags than this.
    3. HTML Option. Choose between HTML and Plain Text emails. This is a no brainer! You MUST be able to send HTML Emails.

    These items are by no means standard issue in most professional auto-responders. In fact, many commercial class responders do not have these features. If you see them, give that product extra credit!

    Extras
    1. Conditional Text Code. This feature allow you to use "IF" statements in your Emails. This is a pretty heavy duty feature. Image the power of being able to evaluate the custom email tags mentioned in feature number 9 and react based on the value.
    2. Multiple Opt-In. At first glance, this seems like a bug. Why would I want to allow a single incoming Email to subscribe to multiple lists? If my audience is the same and my mailing lists serve different purposes. This feature, if used very carefully, can be very powerful.
    3. Prompted Auto Subscribe. Prospects are prompted to "Opt-In" as soon as the web page loads. This feature actually causes the surfers mail program to send an email to your subscription address to "Opt-In".
    4. Sign-Up Source Recording. Another bonus feature offered by quality professional systems. Source recording stores the sign-up source, Email or Form. Email subscriptions should store the original email header that subscribed to your list. Form subscriptions should store the IP address of the user at the time of sign-up. This feature is great for proving you are compliant with current anti-spam laws. Use this article as a checklist to rate each of the professional class auto-responders your are considering for purchase.

    To your success,

    John Stone
    http://stoco.net
    http://pubmgr.stoco.net


    About the Author

    John Stone is the founder of Stoco.net, a service based Internet site dedicated to delivering solutions for the small business owner. John has released several commercial software products and provides web hosting at discount prices. Software products include small utilities for organizations, automation and web site control including Publication Manager (an Email Auto-responder) and Ad Manager (a web page automation tool). John is also recognized as a Perl automation expert and offers advice to the Internet newbie through Stoco.net and MaxTrafficExchange.com.

    DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this article is not warranted or guaranteed by Developer Shed, Inc. The content provided is intended for entertainment and/or educational purposes in order to introduce to the reader key ideas, concepts, and/or product reviews. As such it is incumbent upon the reader to employ real-world tactics for security and implementation of best practices. We are not liable for any negative consequences that may result from implementing any information covered in our articles or tutorials. If this is a hardware review, it is not recommended to open and/or modify your hardware.

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