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What are automation triggers and how you can use them

· 19 min read · Automation · Jul 13, 2022
Milda, People Experience

Like the first push of a domino in a Rube Goldberg Machine, an email trigger is an event that kick-starts a chain reaction in the form of an email automation sequence.

You can use automation to send a series of triggered emails or actions (or both!) depending on your email marketing strategy. We'll explain the use of all 10 automation triggers in MailerLite and include examples to help you use them.

Building automations with email triggers reduces the amount of time you spend creating and sending email marketing campaigns, but that’s not all!

Automation also helps you:

  • Increase engagement

  • Nurture leads

  • Boost customer retention

  • Deliver a personalized customer experience

  • Communicate with new subscribers in real-time

  • Shorten sales cycles

When you use automation triggers to communicate with a customer it leads to a more natural interaction, which in turn, builds trust and drives sales. In fact, triggered emails result in 8 times more opens and greater earnings compared to regular emails.

You’re probably familiar with everyday automated transactional emails like account notifications and billing statements. But there are so many more opportunities to deliver valuable email content such as online courses, freebies to new subscribers, product recommendations, follow-ups with existing customers, etc. All of these can be automated based on a trigger.

An email trigger is an event that will automatically kick-start your automation workflow as soon as that event takes place. Selecting a trigger (or triggers) is the first step in creating an automation workflow.

Automation trigger example

Let’s say you want to send an automated email to new subscribers when they sign up for one of your lead magnets. In this case, you would select the trigger “When a subscriber completes a form”. Then you add an email step, create your email from scratch, or use an email template, and add a catchy subject line. The triggered email campaign will be automatically sent to any subscriber that completes the form you selected.

Triggered emails vs. scheduled emails

While scheduled emails are also a great way to optimize your workload, they’re not the same thing as triggered emails.

A triggered email is an email, or series of emails, that are sent when a subscriber carries out one of up to three specific actions (triggers) determined by you. For example, clicking a link and/or completing a form. Once your automation is set up, there is no action required from you—subscribers will trigger the sequence themselves by completing the trigger action(s).

On the other hand, a scheduled email is a single, stand-alone newsletter that you set up and schedule to send at a later date.

There are 6 default triggers and 4 e-commerce triggers to choose from in MailerLite. Before diving into specific triggers and how to use them, read our guide to email automation if you want to understand automation better.

Ready to dive in? Let’s go!

“When a subscriber joins a group” is the most popular (and powerful) automation trigger. Groups are used for audience segmentation. Using this trigger allows you to send automatic, targeted emails to subscribers in specific audiences. Messaging your subscribers content that is relevant to them will help you to enhance your open rates.

This trigger fires once a subscriber joins the group you select when setting up your workflow.

It’s great for when your subscribers self-select their interest groups on a signup form, email survey or unsubscribe page. Or when you want to manually add subscribers to a workflow. You can send targeted email messages to each group and fine-tune your sales funnel

Trigger when subscriber joins a group automated email workflow - mailerlite

The email trigger example above shows the most common workflow, which is to send a welcome email used for onboarding when subscribers join your newsletter.

Another example of using this email trigger is when you’re hosting a webinar. You’d create a separate signup form for your upcoming event. Each person that signs up and completes the double opt-in will be automatically added to a group “Webinar signups.”

With email automation, you can trigger an email series that’s sent each time someone is added to the webinar group. Your first email can be a confirmation email for the upcoming webinar, the second can be a reminder and the third a “We’re starting in an hour” email.

→ Learn how to set up the trigger “When subscriber joins a group” in MailerLite

This is the automation trigger we personally use the most. An automation workflow is triggered when a subscriber completes the selected signup form that you created with MailerLite—whether that’s a pop-up, landing page or embedded form.

Trigger when subscriber completes a form workflow email - mailerlite

This trigger is great when your form caters to a specific audience. An example is a content offer automation

In our blog post on planning your content with an email marketing calendar, we included a signup form readers could fill out to receive a free content calendar template.

Subscribers who complete the form automatically trigger the accompanying automation and receive an email delivering their free template.

When building your own content offer workflow, the first email step should contain the offer. After that, you can add as many follow-up emails as you need.

→ Learn how to set up the trigger “When subscriber completes a form” in MailerLite

This trigger allows you to start a certain action when a subscriber clicks a link in one of your email marketing campaigns or automation emails. Once set up, the workflow is triggered after a subscriber clicks the link in their inbox.

Link trigger when someone downloads a PDF in app email workflow - MailerLite
Example 1

The example above can be used to automatically sort engaged readers into a separate group. This workflow moves subscribers that downloaded the free PDF to a new group. You can now target this group to send follow-up emails.

Example 2

Let’s say in your next promotional email newsletter you’re promoting a free social media course. You add a button in your email that says “Send me the course” and redirect it to a new “Thank You” landing page that’s specifically created for this course.

In a new workflow, you use the Thank You page URL and set it as your link trigger. Now you can start building the social media email course automation. Each time someone clicks the button in your newsletter and lands on the Thank You page, the workflow will be activated.

Note: If you’re using our landing page builder, you’ll want to remove the Form block if you have this in your layout. This is because you don’t need a Success page (the second tab in the landing page editor), but only the Thank You page.

→ Learn how to set up the trigger “When subscriber clicks a link” in MailerLite

→ Watch the video tutorial about link triggers

With the updated field trigger, an automation workflow can be triggered when a custom field in the subscriber profile is updated and matches the trigger rule. It also works when a custom field value is manually updated in the subscriber profile and the new value matches the updated field trigger rule.

Updated field trigger email workflow - mailerlite
Example 1

We love using this trigger for the Net Promoter Score survey. When a subscriber clicks a score, their custom field is automatically updated. Based on what scoring they gave, you can send a personalized follow-up email. The above example uses a survey to ask for feedback from people that scored the product line with a 6 or less. Read our article on how to set an NPS email automation workflow yourself.

Feedback email trigger automated workflow - mailerlite
Example 2

This trigger is also useful for sending a first-purchase feedback email. This feedback email is triggered when an order is completed.

For example, when you use Shopify, you can have a custom field that says “Shopify order count.” If a customer never made an order, the field will be empty or display 0. As soon as a customer completes an order, the field will automatically update to 1.

For this automation example, you need to set the rule “Shopify order count” “is equal” “1”. This rule will automatically send out your feedback email when a first order is made.

→ Learn how to set up the trigger “Updated field” in MailerLite

This trigger is perfect for special annual events like birthdays or wedding anniversaries. It activates once the subscriber has a specific date in the date-based custom field. The year is ignored, so the email campaign is sent annually and it only triggers the subscribers that belong to the selected group.

Anniversary link trigger birthday example automated email workflow - mailerlite

The most popular example of this email trigger is the automated birthday email. With this email automation, our software checks for a day and month match in the birthday field and then activates the birthday workflow. Check out our article on how to set an automated birthday email yourself.

You can also use the anniversary email automation trigger for messages like:

  • Membership/subscription anniversaries

  • Employment anniversaries

  • Purchase anniversaries

→ Learn how to set up the trigger “The anniversary of a date” in MailerLite

This trigger is ideal for one-off emails that need to be sent on a specific date in a subscriber field, like a reminder for membership reactivation or a post-purchase follow-up. 

It searches for the exact date in the subscriber’s date type custom field. This happens automatically every day for each subscriber at 4 AM GMT/UTC +00:00 and repeats once. It only triggers the subscribers that belong to the selected group.

Exact match of a date email workflow trigger in app - mailerlite

Let's say you have an insurance company. In your customer's data, there's a field that shows the date when the insurance for each person ends. Now you can use the date field "1 month before" "insurance end date." Of course, when you send the reminder is up to you. It can be a month, a week or a few days before.

→ Learn how to set up the trigger “The exact match of a date” in MailerLite

Apart from these 6 triggers, there are also 4 extra triggers that are specifically made for people with an online shop.

E-commerce businesses can integrate their shop with MailerLite and effectively ask for post-purchase feedback, recommend similar products or seal the deal when customers haven't completed their order.

If you have a Shopify or WooCommerce store that is integrated with MailerLite then you can use this trigger to curb shopping cart abandonment. This one starts an automation workflow when a shop visitor provides their email but leaves before finalizing their purchase. These emails are known as cart abandonment emails and are awesome for customer retention. This workflow will be triggered each time a subscriber abandons their shopping cart.

Abandoned checkout email in app email workflow builder - mailerlite

The abandoned checkout trigger is perfect for reminding people to finish their orders. You can highlight the products from the shopper’s abandoned cart and seal the deal with a special offer. 

→ Learn how to set up the trigger “Abandoned checkout” in MailerLite

This workflow is triggered when a subscriber purchases any product in your store and activates when the purchase is completed (paid). 

Purchases any product trigger automated workflow - mailerlite

Using this trigger is an effective way to send an order confirmation while taking the opportunity to cross-sell or upsell in real-time. Automations that use this trigger can make a great addition to your customer journey. You can start the workflow with this trigger, add a delay and then send your follow-up email.

→ Learn how to set up the trigger “Purchases any product” in MailerLite

This triggered email campaign is activated when a shopper purchases a specific product in your store. While creating the trigger, you need to select this specific product from your connected e-commerce store. The purchase needs to be completed (paid) in order to be triggered.


Oftentimes it’s not just one item you want to sell to your new customers. You probably have cool accessories or similar products in your store too. This email trigger lets you easily send an upselling email. You can also use it to send informational emails after someone buys a certain item or to collect product reviews.

→ Learn how to set up the trigger “Purchases specific product” in MailerLite

This workflow is triggered when a shopper purchases a product from a specific category. You can choose from all your categories or collections when setting up this email trigger. Any finished product order (completed and paid) from the selected category or collection will trigger the automation workflow. 

Purchase from category trigger thank you for purchase email example - mailerlite

This trigger is ideal for cross-selling products or offering other relevant products based on prior purchases. If your store offers different beauty products, and a subscriber purchases an item from the skincare category, you can trigger an email that promotes popular combos of products from that category.

→ Learn how to set up the trigger “Purchase from category” in MailerLite

Advanced MailerLite users can apply up to three email automation triggers to each workflow. This widens the pathway into your automations, saving you time and allowing you to create more dynamic workflows.

For example, you can set your workflow to trigger when subscribers join multiple groups, or a combination of groups and forms… your imagination is the limit!

→ Learn how to set up multiple automation triggers in your workflow.

Fire away!

Do you have any further questions about sending triggered email campaigns or building functional workflows? Our 24/7 support team is there to help you! Just send them your message via email or live chat.

Is email automation part of your marketing strategy? Let us know below which trigger you use most!

Editor's note: This article was originally published in December 2019. It has now been updated with new features and examples of automation triggers. 

Erin Ford
Erin Ford
I’m Erin, I write content here at MailerLite. When I’m not typing away at my laptop, geeking out over email automation and targeting, you can find me at the nearest beach with my furry little rescue pooch, Alfie.