A Quick Start Guide to WordPress Email Automation (Plus Top 5 Plugins)

Illustration by Sènga la Rouge

As your WordPress business grows, so too does the amount of work involved. Everything from marketing and lead generation to launching new products and building customer relationships takes time.

Fortunately, you can ditch some of your boring manual tasks with email automation.

Email automation is increasing in popularity. From the welcome email you get when you subscribe to a list, to abandoned cart reminders, birthday coupons, and re-engagement messages, businesses and online stores alike are making the most of what email automation has to offer time-poor WordPress website owners.

In fact, according to Email Monday, half of all businesses use some form of email marketing automation and another 25% are planning to start in the coming year.

If you’re just getting started with WordPress email automation, there’s a lot to be excited about: It’s easy to set up and is about to make your life so much easier — not to mention more profitable.

We’ve put together this getting started guide to help you achieve email automation success for your WordPress site.

WordPress email automation table of contents

  1. What is email automation?
  2. Why use email automation?
  3. Types of WordPress (and WooCommerce) emails you can automate
  4. Top 5 WordPress email automation plugins
  5. How to get started sending automated emails with MailPoet

What is email automation?

Unlike a one-off promotional campaign or email newsletter that you manually create and send to a list, an automated email is set up once and sent automatically to an individual when they meet a certain trigger.

For instance, say you wanted to send an email to people who join your email list. You could create an email that welcomes new email subscribers and includes information about your brand and how to get started. Then, set this email to be triggered when new subscribers fill out the newsletter subscription form on your WordPress website.

It would be time-consuming if you had to email every new subscriber manually. With email marketing automation, your welcome email will automatically send every time someone joins your list.

That’s the appeal of email marketing automation — you set up the email once and each time someone meets the trigger you set, the email sends without you having to do any extra work.

Welcome emails are just the start. There are lots of triggers you can use to automate your WordPress emails:

  • When someone joins a list
  • When you publish a new blog post
  • When a customer completes a purchase
  • A date, such as a birthday
  • An anniversary of a date
  • Site or blog updates
  • When someone abandons a cart

Why use email automation?

Automation can help you provide a better, more personalized experience for your subscribers or customers, while at the same time allowing you to focus on hands-on tasks that you can’t automate. These tasks might include developing new products, hiring staff, building relationships with other companies, and taking part in Q&As and podcasts to promote your business.

While you can’t automate newsletters and one-off email campaigns, they are still essential in any email marketing strategy. But emails where you tend to repeat the same messages can be automated and triggered by a person’s actions (or inactions).

WordPress email automation has many benefits:

1. Deliver the right content at the right time

Engagement increases by 33% when a welcome email is sent to subscribers. Why? Because these kinds of emails are usually sent within 60 minutes of subscribing when the brand is still fresh in the person’s mind.

When you can send content at the right time, people going to be more receptive to your message — and the call-to-action in your email.

2. Personalize sales and marketing messages

Personalizing your automated emails can be as basic as inserting the user’s name in the subject line, while more advanced tactics involve auto-populating the content of the email with a customer’s past purchases.

However you decide to use personalization, it’s a proven way to increase your open and click-through rates for a measurable impact on your revenue. Studies show 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers and recommendations, while 90% are willing to share behavioral data for a cheaper and easier brand experience.

3. Nurture customers or clients through sales and support cycles

If you deal with clients, the primary call-to-action on your site might be to direct people to fill out your contact form. In that case, rather than have a prospect wait for you to reply to their message, an automated email could let them know you’ll be in touch shortly and provide further details about your products and links to an FAQ.

If you deal with customers, an automated email would let them know you’ll be in touch within 24 hours when they send a support request.

These kinds of messages reassure people that you’ve received their message, a real person will respond to them soon, and give you the opportunity to detail further information that might help the user.

4. Build deeper relationships with customers and subscribers

You might not be manually emailing your subscribers each time they get an automated message from you, but your brand appearing in their inbox is a timely reminder that your small business is active and you’re open for business.

Sending relevant messages to your email subscribers will ensure your brand stays front of mind and when they’re ready to buy a product you sell or hire someone with your skill set, they’ll remember you and get in touch.

5. Achieve higher open and click-through rates

Generally, automated emails outperform traditional marketing methods with 70.5% higher open rates and 152% higher click-through rates.

But to get more specific:

  • Welcome emails have on average 4x the open rate and 5x the click-through rate of a standard email marketing campaign (InboxArmy)
  • Sending three automated abandoned cart emails results in 69% more orders than a single email (Omnisend)
  • Birthday emails have a 481% higher transaction rate, 342% higher revenue per email, and 179% higher unique click rates compared to regular promotional emails (Experian)

Types of WordPress (and WooCommerce) emails you can automate

In terms of the types of emails and email marketing you can automate for your site, the sky’s the limit.

As long as you have your WordPress website set up to send emails via an email service provider and a plugin for automation, you can automate processes such as:

  • Send a welcome email to new subscribers or customers
  • Notify users of changes to their account or services
  • Alert subscribers to newly published blog posts
  • Send event invitations and reminders
  • Send surveys to gather feedback
  • Send reminders to customers who abandon their cart
  • Send birthday emails and coupons to users on their special day
  • Send thank you emails to customers
  • Re-engage with users who haven’t made a purchase in a while
  • Nurture leads who get in touch via your contact form

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

1. Welcome emails

When you sign up for a newsletter, buy a product, or sign up for a service, you’ll typically see a welcome email land in your inbox soon after (usually within an hour).

These emails welcome new users to a brand, and depending on the business will detail “next steps” for using a product or service, or offer a discount code for an online purchase. 

For example, when you sign up for Asana, you automatically get this simple welcome email. It contains a GIF that clearly illustrates how the app works, along with 3 steps to get started using the service.

Example of an Asana email featuring a Gif animation of a task being completed.

2. Post notifications

For bloggers who write great content and want to build up an audience of readers, there’s no better way to keep your audience up-to-date than with post notifications.

Post notifications are automated emails that alert blog subscribers whenever you publish a new post. In MailPoet, you can set up post notifications to send:

  • Immediately after you hit “Publish” for individual posts.
  • Once a day at a specific time, e.g. every morning at 9am.
  • Weekly on a specific day at a specific time, e.g. every Monday at 9am.
  • Monthly on a specific date at a specific time, e.g. on the 1st at 9am.
  • Monthly on a specific day during a specific week, e.g. the second Thursday of every month at 9am.

Here’s an example using Jetpack’s post notification feature, which you can read about in How to Send A WordPress Post Immediately by Email.

Example of a Jetpack blog post email notification.

3. Lead nurturing emails

For many business owners, responding to emails can take up a chunk of your day. Fortunately, emails related to initial enquiries — aka lead nurturing emails — can be automated.

Lead nurturing emails often contain information that you find yourself repeating over and over, such as information about your pricing and processes. Automating these emails is like having an online secretary who answers emails for you 24 hours a day.

For example, I recently got in touch with a designer to enquire about branding. After filling in the contact form on January Made Design’s site, this email landed in my inbox a short time later:

Example of a lead nurturing email by January Made Designs.

This email is welcoming, informative, and reassuring, letting me know to expect a personalized follow-up email soon. What’s more, Nicole shares this email along with other canned emails she uses for lead nurturing in her fantastic Copy My Dubsado Setup guide.

4. Abandoned cart reminders

These emails are designed to catch customers who’ve added an item to a shopping cart but haven’t completed checkout. They provide a subtle nudge, reminding customers that they’ve left something behind and it’s waiting for them.

With 67.45% of online shopping carts abandoned, this type of autoresponder is essential for online stores.

Here’s a totally relatable example from Rudy’s. It’s fun and taps into the common plague that is incessant software updates. Importantly, the email contains images of what’s in the cart, a clear call-to-action, and a discount code for free shipping.

Example of a Rudy's cart abandonment email.

Top 5 WordPress email automation plugins

Looking for the best WordPress email automation plugins? Here are 6 great options — including tools for automating WooCommerce email marketing — to help you decide which plugin is right for you.

1. MailPoet

MailPoet homepage.

More than 300,000 websites trust MailPoet to send their marketing emails and newsletters. You can use MailPoet from the comfort of your WordPress dashboard to create, schedule, and send emails.

Key features:

  • Intuitive drag-and-drop email designer and templates.
  • Welcome emails and abandoned cart emails.
  • Automated post notifications.
  • Connect your WooCommerce store.
  • Keep track of open rates, clicks, and segment data with built-in analytics.
  • Send emails that get delivered on time, every time via MailPoet’s reliable and secure email servers.

Pricing:

MailPoet is free for up to 1,000 subscribers, with premium plans starting at 12€/month.

How to use it:

You can send emails with MailPoet via your own server or a third-party SMTP of your choosing. We recommend using the MailPoet Sending Service, which is free to use up to 1,000 subscribers.

Ideal for:

With the free version of this full-featured WordPress plugin, you can easily start with a free plan and enjoy advanced features immediately, knowing that you’ll be able to scale your emails and subscriber lists as your business grows. MailPoet has an easy-to-use interface, works nicely with WooCommerce, and if you like stats you’ll enjoy the advanced analytics.

2. Mailster

Mailster homepage.

Mailster is a versatile option for automating emails that integrates nicely with the WordPress dashboard. It offers a full suite of features, which you’d expect of an email marketing plugin.

Key features:

  • Send time-based autoresponders after a user signs up or unsubscribes, when a new post is published, at a specific time, or at a specific user time.
  • Send autoresponders — welcome emails, birthday greetings, and post notifications.
  • Connect your WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads store
  • In-depth statistics, including open and click-through rates, unsubscribes, and bounces.

Pricing:

Mailster is a one-off payment of $59 for a one-site license, updates, and 6 months of support.

How to use it:

Send emails via your own server or an SMTP service of your choice. Mailster can also be configured to send with Amazon SES, SendGrid, and Mandrill.

Ideal for:

If you’re looking for an email marketing automation option that fully integrates with WordPress, Mailster is a great option. It’s easy to configure, compatible with a wide range of third-party plugins, and lets you manage your email marketing from your WordPress dashboard.

3. SendinBlue Subscribe Form And WP SMTP

SendinBlue’s official WordPress plugin.

SendinBlue’s official WordPress plugin is a powerful all-in-one email marketing and automation plugin. Unlike some other email platforms, it lets you run all your email marketing campaigns from inside your WordPress dashboard.

Key features:

  • Create custom workflows based on triggers, conditions, and actions.
  • Send welcome, birthday and anniversary emails.
  • Send emails after a user visits specific landing pages on your site.
  • Send emails after a user performs a specific action on your site.
  • Send emails when a customer makes a purchase on your site.
  • Send emails based on marketing and transactional activity.

Pricing:

To use this plugin, you’ll need to download the free plugin at WordPress.org and sign up for a SendinBlue account. You can get started for free.

How to use it:

The wp_mail() function automatically uses SendinBlue’s SMTP for enhanced deliverability and tracking.

Ideal for:

This plugin offers some serious automation beyond the basics, allowing you to send emails based on a wide variety of triggers, including dates, purchases, and when subscribers open (or don’t open) particular emails. This is a plugin for serious marketers who want to level up their email automation.

4. AutomateWoo

AutomateWoo homepage.

AutomateWoo is an oft-overlooked marketing plugin, which is surprising because it’s a full-featured and impressive premium option that offers some serious WordPress and WooCommerce automation.

Key features:

  • Send follow up emails based on a variety of triggers and actions.
  • Send welcome, abandoned cart, and win back emails.
  • Send timed wishlist reminder emails.
  • Send birthday emails with personalized coupons.
  • Send refer a friend and VIP emails.
  • Advanced analytics and statistics.

Pricing:

A single site subscription for AutomateWoo is $99 per year, including updates and support.

How to use it:

By default, AutomateWoo sends emails via the wp_mail() function and your web server. It’s recommended you set up an email delivery service such as Mailgun, PostMark, SparkPost, Amazon SES, or Mandrill.

Ideal for:

In the past two years, AutomateWoo was acquired by Prospress, which in turn was acquired by Automattic (makers of WordPress.com). Since this WordPress plugin joined the Automattic family, no immediate changes have been announced, though I’d expect to see greater functionality in time and wouldn’t be surprised to see it appear in the WooCommerce Extensions Store. As far as who should use this plugin, I’d recommend it to marketers who love experimentation and want to get the most out of their WooCommerce marketing tools.

5. Follow-Ups

Follow-Ups plugin.

Follow-Ups is a useful plugin created by the folks at WooCommerce that lets you automatically send follow-up email notifications to customers after they’ve made a purchase on your WooCommerce site. With Follow-Ups, you can create complex drip marketing campaigns based on customer interests and purchase history.

Key features:

  • Send follow up emails based on a variety of triggers and actions, including cart abandonments, refunds, warranty status, and inactivity.
  • Send a wide range of follow up emails, based on purchases, signups, subscriptions, re-engagement, points and rewards, events, bookings, and Twitter messages.
  • Use variables such as names, order numbers, shipping details and more to personalize emails.

Pricing:

A single site subscription for Follow-Ups is $99 per year, including updates and support.

How to use it:

By default, Follow-Ups sends emails via the wp_mail() function and your web server. For reliable and secure email delivery, we recommend setting up SMTP on your WordPress site.

Ideal for:

Follow-Ups provides serious marketing automation for WooCommerce sites, making it a great option for store owners who want to set welcome, abandoned cart, and other types of follow up emails on autopilot.

Note: I also reviewed Mailchimp, AWeber, ActiveCampaign and GetResponse for this post, but their solutions for WordPress didn’t provide enough WordPress integration or automation compared to the solutions above.

How to get started sending automated emails with MailPoet

The good news is that creating and sending automated emails with WordPress is simple and straight-forward. But you do need to get a few things in order before you started sending emails:

  1. Plan what emails you need
  2. Choose an automation plugin
  3. Create your emails
  4. Track and measure results

1. Plan your emails

It’s important to have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish with your automated emails. So here are a few questions to consider at this stage of the process:

  • What kind of site do you have? Service-based businesses typically need emails that nurture leads, whereas online stores require ecommerce-related emails for abandoned carts, win backs, referring friends, etc. 
  • What do you want to achieve with your emails? Do you want to inform subscribers? Boost loyalty? Win back inactive customers? For every desired action, there’s a type of automated email that can help you achieve it.
  • Do you want to move email subscribers through a sales or lead nurturing funnel? If you do, you may want to start with a welcome email and follow up with a series of educational emails that introduce your product or service, inform the user about how it works, testimonials for social proof, and then finish with an offer.

At MailPoet, we recommend getting started with a welcome email, which I’ll show you how to create shortly. Welcome emails are a natural starting point as they are usually the first email a client or customer will receive from a brand.

If you want to create more emails, or a series of emails, it’s a good idea to map out what you want to send and the trigger. For example, an online store selling shoes may want to send:

  1. Welcome email – Sent immediately after sign-up
  2. Abandoned cart emails – A series of 3 emails, with the first sent an hour after abandonment, the second 24 hours, and the third 48 hours later.
  3. Win back inactive users email (including discount code) – Sent 30 days after last purchase.

2. Choose an automation plugin

Once you know what emails you want to send, you need the right automation plugin to support them. So check out the Top 6 WordPress email automation plugins list above and compare your needs with the features listed for each solution.

You’ll want to keep in mind:

  • Features – Does the plugin provide everything you need?
  • Ease of use – How easy is the plugin to configure? Do you need to set up a third-party account for email delivery?
  • Price – Is the plugin within your budget?

For the next two sections, I want to show you how to use MailPoet to create automated emails and how you can track and measure your results.

3. Create your emails

Now the fun part — creating your emails. You’ll need to have your content ready, including your email text and any images. With MailPoet, you can create and schedule welcome emails to send when a subscriber joins your list. 

Let’s step through how to set up a welcome email.

Step 1: Create a welcome email

Go to MailPoet > Emails and click “Add New.” Under Welcome Email click Set Up.

MailPoet interface for selecting a type of email to send.

Step 2: Choose a trigger

Next, choose your trigger. I want to send my welcome email to subscribers who join my list, so I’ll choose that option. Then I’ll choose my list and set the email to send immediately.

With MailPoet, you can choose to send a welcome email when someone subscribes to the list or when a new WordPress user it added to your site.

Step 3: Design welcome email

Choose from one of the pre-designed welcome email templates and click Select.

MailPoet offers many beautiful templates for creating welcome emails.

Using the email designer, customize the template how you like. Replace the default content with your own, including your own text and images. You can do this via the drag and drop builder without having to touch HTML or CSS.

The MailPoet email designer interface.

Don’t forget to add a subject line at the top, along with preview text.

Step 4: Preview email

When your welcome email is ready, scroll down and click Preview

With MailPoet, you can email a preview email to yourself or view in browser.

You can choose to view your email in the browser or send a copy to your email. Either way, you can view the desktop and mobile versions of your welcome email.

Newsletter preview in MailPoet.

Click Next to continue. Or, you can save your email to continue working on later.

Step 5: Schedule email

The final steps involve double-checking your subject line, trigger, updating sender and reply-to information, and adding Google Analytics campaign information if required.

Once you’re satisfied your email looks good and your details are correct, click Activate to start sending welcome emails to subscribers who join your list.

Confirming welcome email details in MailPoet.

4. Track and measure results

After activating your automated emails, don’t just set and forget. With MailPoet, you can view statistics for your emails, including:

  • Open rates
  • Click-through rates
  • Unsubscribes

You can also see:

  • Which links were clicked and how many times
  • Subscriber engagement, including who opened your emails, who clicked-through, and what time they engaged with your email
MailPoet email statistics.

Taking a look at your stats can help you determine if you need to make changes to your email. If your open rates are low, you may need to spend more time on your subject line. If your click-throughs are low, try making your call-to-action clearer or bigger.

You can then test different content, such as text and images and how they’re designed in your emails to see how it affects engagement.

Get started automating your WordPress emails today!

Whether you run a small business, manage a community group, or work in digital marketing, you likely have many tasks competing for your time. Fortunately, WordPress email automation can help you grow your business and drive results without having to spend time manually working on them.

Sending automated emails can increase subscriber engagement, build deeper relationships with subscribers and customers, and make your life so much easier.

Ready to give WordPress email automation a try? Try MailPoet for free today and get started creating automated emails that save you time and boost your revenue.