Ruggero Loda is passionate about running. Really, really passionate. So it irked him when he couldn’t find any high-quality online reviews that compared running shoes. In 2009, he decided to do something about it.

He started Running Shoes Guru, a website that goes above and beyond comprehensive buying guides for running shoes. The site serves as a complete training resource for runners of all skill levels. And it took off!

“Running Shoes Guru boomed quite quickly,” Ruggero said. “I guess I wasn’t the only one looking for that information!”

Today, Ruggero has more than 20,000 email subscribers worldwide and sees between 30 and 50 new subscribers each day.

How does he do it?

Ruggero knew that people were looking for great running shoe reviews. By delivering the content they wanted, he knew he could attract lots of people to his website. But the real question was, How do I keep them coming back for more?

“The way the internet works, people have a question, Google it and find the answer,” Ruggero said. “Paradoxically, the better your answer is, the sooner they leave you. You answered their question, why should they stay longer?”

That’s where email marketing comes in.

“Email marketing allows you to tell people, ‘Hey, you liked my content. I have much more for you. Sign up, we will email you with content you will find interesting. If you don’t – you can unsubscribe at any time.’”

Ruggero uses autoresponder emails (sometimes called follow ups or email automation) to keep his readers engaged over time. An autoresponder is an email or series of emails that new subscribers automatically get when they sign up for your list. You can choose to have any number of emails in your series and send them at any preselected intervals you want.

So while Ruggero is out testing the new Nike Air Zooms, his autoresponder series is hard at work forging relationships with new subscribers. Pretty cool, huh?

If you’re wondering how email automation could work for your own business, I’ll walk you through all of the tactics Ruggero uses to combine top-notch content with email automation to attract and grow his following.

Part 1: How to get people into your autoresponder series.

Email marketing – particularly autoresponder emails – makes staying in touch with people over time so much easier. But first, you need to stand out and attract their attention. Read on to find out how Ruggero does this with his website content and free eBook incentive.

Make it easy for people to find stuff on your website.

Ruggero’s email sign up form does everything right: it’s eye-catching, offers a valuable incentive and tells people exactly what they get when they sign up. But asking someone to sign up for your email list before they understand the value of what you’re offering is kind of like going on a blind date: you have no idea what you’re in for, and it may end abruptly and awkwardly.

“I don’t believe in asking for a sign up before serving the content,” Ruggero said. “I let people read what they came to the site for, then ask them to sign up.”

Running Shoes Guru makes it easy to find what you need. Looking for a review of the newest Reeboks? Just search the site by brand. Training for a marathon? Download the free guide. Strapped for time and need a good running shoe recommendation now? The Running Shoes Wizard will recommend running shoes for you based on a five-question survey.

The takeaway? Make it easy for people to find what they’re looking for on your website, and they’ll be a lot more likely to sign up for your list!

Show ‘em what you’ve got with a free eBook.

Everyone who signs up for the Running Shoes Guru email list gets the free Marathon Training Guide. The guide does two things: it give people a reason to sign up and shows off how helpful the Running Shoes Guru is as a resource so they’ll stick around longer.

But how did Ruggero know that his readers were interested in training for a marathon?

“When I had a few hundred subscribers, I asked them why they came to my site,” Ruggero said. “Many people wanted to start running and eventually run a marathon. That’s why they were looking for running shoe advice.”

By surveying his existing readers, Ruggero landed on a commonality and turned it into an eBook. He even found someone to help him write it.

“One of the testers on my team is a semi-elite runner and certified USATF coach,” Ruggero said. “I asked him to put together the best marathon training plan he could come up with and we made it into a book. I am very proud of this book and I still think there’s nothing like that for free out there on the internet.”

So if you’re ever wondering what kind of content you should deliver to your audience, all you need to do is ask!

Part 2: Turn them into raving fans with an autoresponder series.

Now for the fun part: once someone is signed up to your list, it’s your job to keep them engaged. Here’s how Ruggero formats his autoresponder series so his readers never ‘run’ out of excellent content.

Welcome your new fans.

Your welcome email is the first autoresponder email subscribers get after signing up for your list. Think of it as a mini starter pack for your new subscribers. It should contain everything a new reader needs to get them familiar with your website and make an awesome first impression.

Once people opt into Ruggero’s email list, they automatically receive a welcome email that contains their free eBook and links to a few curated blog posts to get them started.

“These are people who just downloaded a beginner’s’ Marathon Training book,” Ruggero said. “I send them links to a guide on how to start running, to the running shoe wizard, and to an article on the truth about running and weight loss. Most people start running as a way to lose some weight.”

While it’s important to send people what they’ll need to get started, don’t send them too much information in your welcome email. A short message containing their freebie (if you have one) and your contact information is just fine. You can save the rest of your content for your autoresponder series!

Format your autoresponder series.

If your welcome email was your starter pack, think of the rest of your autoresponder series as an extension of that. Use it as a way to show off your best blog posts and resources and answer any questions your new subscribers might have.

The first message people get in Ruggero’s series after the welcome email poses a simple question: “How can we help you?” This helps Ruggero gather feedback and gives him a chance to get to know his subscribers.

“People can reply and it goes directly to my inbox,“ he said. “If somebody needs advice on a shoe or an injury, I’ll try and help the best I can. I am a runner – I have been through most of these doubts myself.”

From there, Ruggero uses his autoresponder series to send his readers links to blog posts that cover a variety of topics that runners care about – nutrition, recovery, injury, GPS watches and so on.

“The trick – which is not really a trick – is to actually think about the readers and not about the website,” he said.

In each of those emails Ruggero includes key takeaways, like product prices or short training tips. Readers can quickly scan an email to find what they’re looking for and come back to it later if they need to.

Get awesome results from autoresponders.

The great thing about an autoresponder series is that once you set it up, it keeps your subscribers engaged – days from now, months from now and so on – with no extra effort on your part.

“You put the same effort in writing an email to 200 people as you do to 20,000 people,” Ruggero said.

So what kind of results does he see?

Ruggero’s open rates are more than 40 percent on the first six emails in his series – about twice the industry average. Autoresponders for the win!

Bonus tip: Use autoresponders to make extra money.

If you sell your own products or services, autoresponders can help you boost sales.

Case in point: Ruggero recently started selling a collection of eBooks on Running Shoes Guru and he markets them exclusively to his email subscribers.

“Selling eBooks is not our main goal, but it’s a nice addition. Now that the books are written, we explain the books in a couple of emails and send people to the order page,” he said. “It’s all automated.”

What’s next for Running Shoes Guru?

Ruggero has big goals for Running Shoes Guru in 2016, including growing his total monthly website visitors to more than a million and growing his subscriber list to 50,000 people.

To get there, he plans on improving and refining his existing autoresponder series.

“Email marketing is actually big on my focus list,” he said. “I am currently going through my autoresponder series right now and re-think every single message. Does this email add value for the subscriber? What else can I add? Shall I remove this?”

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