When someone signs up for your site/service/list you get a second chance to make a first impression… But how should you use it? Here are some general guidelines to create a great autoresponder email to say thank you.

Make it instant.

Since it’s automated, there is no reason it shouldn’t be delivered right after the person has signed up. This helps people make a connection so they are less likely to ignore what you are saying.

Get straight to the point.

Skip the temptation to cram a ton or marketing crap down people’s throats. If you have a username, password, download, or next steps to deliver, make sure those are first. Users shouldn’t have to dig for that stuff.

Add some education.

Once you’ve gotten past that point, people seem to enjoy some education. This is your chance to make people better users of your product. Useful tips, links to important FAQ, and links to getting started information is welcome here. Keep in mind that the things that seem obvious to you aren’t.

Give it personality.

Someone trusted your brand/message enough to give you their contact information. That creates a layer of trust so you can accentuate what they probably liked about your message. Yeah, everyone will know this isn’t from a real person, but that doesn’t mean it has to read like it was generated by a robot. Add your real name(s) and some humor if you have the ability to be lighten the mood.

Put a free prize inside.

If someone has rewarded you with their attention, they should get something in return. A free download, access to a beta, or a discount would be easy for you to manage. And, please, don’t make them whore out their friends to get it. Save the pyramid schemes for Tupperware parties. If people like what you are doing, they will sign their friends up anyway.

Say thank you.

You just got paid with someones attention. Show some gratitude.

Assign a call to action.

You want them to do something next… even if it’s just to wait for your next newsletter. Make sure that call to action is clear and don’t make it complicated.

Provide context.

They may not read it right away. Make sure you remind them why they got the mail.

Make sure someone can reply.

I hate getting mails from donot-reply@somewhere.comdon’t you? I want to know someone is accountable for this mail.

Here is a great example from a KickoffLabs customer (What If Conference) in their auto-response.