Autoresponder and Email Series

To be sure to have the latest version of Autoresponder, save the Newsletter main settings and check the plugins page in your blog for updates.

With Autoresponder Addon, you can create one or more message series that are sent to subscribers with configured delays and run on autopilot. An autoresponder is also known as a follow-up or mail automation.

Linked List

Each autoresponder series is linked to a list. When a subscriber enters that list (after subscription, changing his profile, by retargeting, by purchased product, and so on) the autoresponder starts a process for that subscriber and sends him all the messages with set delays. It usually happens within 5 minutes.

Just an example. You have the list “Lessons to be a smarter online shopper” and you configure your subscription process to add all new subscribers to that list. You then have an autoresponder configured with 5 messages to be delivered in sequence every 7 days which is connected to the said list.

When a reader subscribes he starts to receive your five lessons, one per week. Of course, if the subscriber editing his subscription profile, removes himself from the list “Lessons to be a smarter online shopper”, the series of messages will stop.

There’re many situations where you want to start a message series: when a customer buys a specific product when the reader subscribes using a specific form when a user registers to your site, and so on. We’ll see some cases later.

Autoresponder configuration

The configuration is divided in few parts. The general options are about the associated list, the autoresponder name and if it is enabled or not. Then there are the messages. Every message is composed of a subject, a message body and a delay. The theme configuration is the skin you give to every message of your series. The statistics panel let you access to some aggregated data about the whole autoresponder (for example how many subscriber are in every step).

General options

The autoresponder can be enabled or disabled. When disables it is actually only suspended and when enabled again the delivery process restarts from the last saved point. Of course, if a subscriber should have received a message when the autoresponder was disabled, that message will be sent as soon as the autoresponder is enabled again.

The autoresponder name is only for internal use, only you will see that title.

The associated list identifies the subscribers which are targeted by this autoresponder. When a subscriber for the first time enters the list, the autoresponder starts the email series. Periodically the Autoresponder checks if there are new subscribers in the list and process them. So if you’re importing contacts in a list connected to an autoresponders, shortly they will be processed and attached to the message series. This usually happens within an hour.

Only subscribers which are confirmed are processed. If a subscriber looses its confirmed condition all message series he’s subscribe to are definitively blocked. That may change in the future or move to different behaviors.

If a subscriber is removed from the list, the series is definitively blocked for him.

In test mode nothing is send automatically. You can trigger the internal engine and on each run every subscriber is processed and moved forward by 1 step. It is useful ONLY to test or debug.

Messages and steps (and modifications)

An autoresponder is composed of a set of messages, which are called “steps”. When a subscriber is linked, it starts on step 1 which means it will receive the first message after the configured delay. A subscriber on step 1 has not yet received the first message, it is just waiting for it.

Each autoresponder stores the subscriber status related to a specific series as the NEXT step (ordinal number) he’s waiting for and when it should be processed. For example, a subscribe could be waiting for step 2 to be processed in a specific time in the future.

If you change the series, the subscriber status is NOT affected. Hence if it is waiting step 2 to be processed a specific time, changing the delay for step two won’t change that subscriber delivery schedule.

If you insert a new step and it becomes the “new” step 2 (and the original step 2 becomes the step 3), the subscriber waiting for step 2 will receive the new message for step 2.

Drawback: subscribers waiting for step 3 will receive the message associated to the step 3, which was the old message for step 2. So they’ll receive once again the latest message.

So be sure to not change the order of messages one the series is started or do it but aware of the possible backside effects.

If you need to make important changes to a series, consider to create a new one attached to a new list.

Subscribers which completed the series

When a subscriber completes the series, adding new messages to that series does not affect the subscriber status and it won’t receive the new messages. This is reasonable since the subscriber could have completed the series months ago and receiving a new message out of sequence is something unexpected.

Of course, subscribers still in the series will receive the newly added messages.

Anyway, you have the option to start the series again for a single subscriber or even for all subscribers which already completed it.

Autoresponders are really powerful automation tools, but they need to be planned with care. Do not activate an autoresponder with the idea to complete all steps later. Be sure to have it finished before starting. Usually, the changes made to a series of messages, are about the content, the subject, the ways you engage the customer. Even the delay can be modified, just take care of the notes above about the already engaged subscribers.

Restart on re-subscription

This is a very specific option: once a subscriber completed the series if it resubscribe to your blog you can opt to restart the series once again. It is specially useful if you use Autoresponder to send a welcome email.

Setting a list on completion

When a series reaches the end for a subscriber, you can set in which list you want it to be added. That could be useful for re-targeting or to start another automation (with Autoresponder or Automated).

Messages editing

Since version 1.1.5.

There are two ways to create your series: using the old theme-based system or the composer. The latter is now the default.

Using the composer, each message is fully edited separately from the other. You can drag into the message dynamic block (like the latest posts) and they will be regenerated at the delivery time. So they’ll look always fresh – even if that is not the main purpose of Autoresponder. For recurring messages to deliver the blog new content you should use the more powerful Automated addon.

If you use the old theme-based system, you have a theme that behaves as a “frame” for each sent message and every message represents only the “body” of the email. Even if that grants a quick way to change the layout of all emails in a series, it’s usually rather complicated to deeply customize the emails.


The statistics tab gives an overview of an autoresponder and its subscriber’s status. The panel lists how many active subscribers are waiting on a specific step for that message. It lists how many subscribers exited from the autoresponder (due to removal from the linked list).

Of course, subscribers who lose the confirmed status (because the move bounced, canceled, and so on) exit the autoresponder sequence.

If a subscriber is still confirmed but no more in the autoresponder list, stops receiving the email series and is considered an abandon.

Each message is treated as a regular newsletter so the opens and clicks are tracked as usual.

Late messages warning

Since version 1.1.5.

If you get this warning on top of the main Autoresponder administration page, it means you have more messages ready to send than the delivery capacity of your system. That depends on the speed you set on Newsletter main settings.

Once the speed is raised up, let the system work to flush the queue: until then the message will be displayed.

This warning could be temporary and it is displayed only if there is a delay of more than some hours. If you have an important number of emails all going out together, it is acceptable to have a delay in the email series larger than the one set between every single message.

Note: if you set the delay between messages of few hours and you to have a low sending capacity and an important number of subscribers you can experience larger delays. That is not a bug or a malfunctioning of the Newsletter, you need to set the speed higher.

If the provider doesn’t allow you more sending capacity, you need to switch to a professional delivery service.

Conversion from old theme to composer

Right now there is no way to convert a series based on the classic theme system to the new composer.

Maintenance operations

Force run or trigger

The button triggers the series process to check if there are emails in the queue that should be sent. The processor has activated automatically every five minutes (if the WordPress scheduler is correctly working), so there is no real need to use this function other than when debugging.

If the series is set as “test mode”, this button behaves differently. On each click, it moves 1 step forward to every subscriber in the series and processes it, like if the delay for the next step has been elapsed. This is of course a special working mode of the series strictly to test or debug.

Seen the complex nature of an autoresponder, those functions are kept public to help people test their series, but they could be hidden in the future.

Warning: paying with those functions in an already set up and active series could lead to difficult to understand behavior, so use them only on test series with few known and controlled subscribers.


The reset button restarts the autoresponder for each subscriber in the associated list. The status of each subscriber, in respect of the current autoresponder, is deleted and reset to step one.

Manipulating the database

If you’re comfortable in manipulating the database to make important changes to the series (see above explanations about changing the order or adding messages), you can look at the table wp_newsletter_autoresponder_steps. The important columns are:

  • step (number) is the next step to be processed for a specific subscriber (referenced by user_id)
  • sent_at (number) is a Unix timestamp (in the future) representing when the message associate to step in the step column should be sent

Of course: backup before act!