Auto-responders have become an integral part of any website which we find today. All the business owners set it up either using a third party service or host it on their own servers. Both these methods have their own advantages and disadvantages. A third party service will spare you a lot of technical work and will monitor most of the things about your email marketing system. But on the other hand you are required to shell out a lot of money as your email list goes on increasing.

A self-hosted auto-responders system is more technical in nature. You are required to know most of the technical aspects related to setting up of the system and monitor it for proper functioning. Although this is tiresome, you can be free of any financial burden as your list increases. No matter what number of subscribers are on your list there is nothing extra charged by your host.

Let us now deal with setting up an auto-responder through both methods. On a third party email marketing system, you are required to just fill out the name of the list and the email address you want your subscriber to see. You can also design the contact form with a ‘What You See Is What You Get’ interface. Any non-tech-savvy person can easily handle the third party services offered by many companies like Aweber, iContact etc. Most of them give out a very cheap trial for one month before they start charging their usual monthly fees.

A self-hosted auto-responder on the other hand will require some technical skills on your part to get it set up properly. You can hire a professional to get it done for you once and for all. You may be asked a fee but that is a one-time and once your system is set up you are good to go. On a self-hosted system, first of all, you will be required to install an auto-responder script. Usually the hosting providers give an auto-responder script free of cost. But configuring it will also need some technical knowledge. Once the script is installed you will be guided through the setup process and getting it functioning. Some amount of testing is required before everything is running as per your requirements.

A self-hosted auto-responder will require a database on which it will store all the data captured. This database should be created and an administrator should be assigned who can read, write and alter the contents of the database. A username and password should be created for the database which will be used by the auto-responder to enter the database. When someone enters their details on the contact form, it will try to connect to the database with the given username and password and will save the data. To make the contact form communicate with the database on your server, you will be required to edit some of the core files of the auto-responder script which store all the details about database name, username and password. Depending on the script these files will be usually called ‘config.php’ or ‘admin.php’.

When the auto-responder is self-hosted, it requires some other things to run in the background to function properly. A function called ‘cron’ is to be setup so that it fetches email messages periodically and shows it to you. It is also used to send messages to other servers. Since the servers work on the batch processing system for usual businesses, a ‘cron job’ will be used to tell the servers how often to retrieve the messages. You can set these jobs from every minute in a day, every hour, every 24 hours, every week etc. Depending on the requirement and the magnitude of your list you can decide on the cron-job settings. All the settings will be done through an interface on your hosting account.

When all the things are properly set up you will be required to set up the messages which will be automatically sent to the email address which was recently entered. Usually the scripts give you a proper interface where you can enter these messages. Depending on the quality of the script, various advanced features will be made available which are usually found in the third party paid services.

Although most of the people would prefer a third party service to a self-hosted auto-responder, it is better to have complete control over our email marketing system by hosting it on our own servers. The opinions differ on this aspect; but when it comes to the money matter it is beneficial to have an auto-responder system installed through our hosting provider. Moreover, some of the organizations may be running a website for non-profit purposes. This will require them to cut cost and not spend unnecessarily. There is a sense of security as well. We are assured that we have complete control over our email marketing system and have not given it in some other company’s hands.

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