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What is the Difference Between Automations and Auto-Responses?

Updated on 7 May 2024

Although there are some similarities, there are very important distinctions between Auto-Responders and Automations and it's worth taking the time to fully understand the differences. 

So let's take a detailed look at the two features.


Auto-responders are always a series of emails.  They are always sent based on the number of days since a contact has signed up to your email list or purchased your product.

Your first auto-responder is often a welcome email and is sent “0” days from sign-up; meaning it goes out immediately following their sign-up.

With auto-responders, you can also deliver content, either by

  1. Attaching it to the email or

  2. Using the drip feature within a membership site.

This allows you to drip release a course through auto-responders.

And lastly, an auto-responder allows you to add a trigger to the email. This gives you the ability to create automatic actions triggered by that email being sent. For example, if you want to increase a contact’s lead score for each email in the series they receive you could add a trigger for that.

So what don’t auto-responders do?

The main thing you can’t do with auto-responders is to exclude contacts from an email or the trigger associated with the email. Auto-responders are all or nothing. If the auto-responder is active on the list it is active for all subscribers.

But wait, Automations to the rescue!

Automations are a series of action steps.

These action steps can be emails or actions that are triggered; such as increasing a lead score like we talked about earlier or adding a subscriber to a new list.

These action steps can be broken up by Wait steps.

Wait steps will determine when the action occurs.  They can be based on the number of days since the automation began or based on the number of days since the previous action step, a specific date in time, a purchase date, a product start date, or even a custom form field value or your contact’s birthday!

The action step can also be a “Go to” step which allows a contact to move from one step to another and skip the ones between. Or a Stop step, ending the automation for a contact entirely.

These two steps are especially valuable when you want to exclude people from specific actions. Remember how I said you can’t exclude people from an auto-responder? Well, in an automation each step is customizable allowing you to tell the system to perform the step for each person, or only for contacts with or without a specific tag.

The last big thing you need to know is that automations are not connected to a single particular list or product in your account.

In order to get started into the automation, you will need to add the contact.  You can do this manually, by using the auto-subscribe link or by connecting it to a list or product via a start trigger. This gives you a lot of flexibility and allows you to the series again and again across your account (unlike auto-responders which would need to be re-created in each location).

Now that you understand the difference between Auto-Responders and Automations. How do you decide which one is the right fit for you and your business?

It depends!  (You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?)  Chances are that you will need both Auto-Responders and Automations, for different purposes.

A course drip released over weeks or months is a pretty straightforward set-up that you are likely not going to use repeatedly, which makes auto-responders the ideal place to set up your emails.

On the other hand, if you want to create a sales funnel that your leads can drop into from several different places - since the emails will be the same and you don’t want a contact to get the same email series twice - then an automation will be a much better fit.

But we can do better than that. 

Here are three easy questions that will quickly help you decide the right fit for you every time…

  1. Is this the only list or product I want to receive these emails?

  2. Do I want everyone on the list to get these emails?

  3. Do I want the emails to go out based on the number of days after sign-up?

If you answered yes to all three of the above questions then you are looking to set up auto-responders. If you answered no to any of the questions then an automation is going to be a better fit for your goals.

Ready to set yours up? Check out these guides: