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What are automation triggers and how you can use them

· 17 min read · Tips and resources · May 4, 2021

When you build a new automation workflow, you need to choose a trigger that sets everything in motion. There are 10 types of triggers in MailerLite. Let's see how they work!

You can use automation triggers to start a sequence of emails or actions (or both!) depending on your email marketing strategy. We'll explain the use of each automation trigger and include examples to help you use them.

Email automation workflow trigger list in app - mailerlite

Automation reduces the amount of time you spend creating and sending email marketing campaigns, but that’s not all! It also helps you increase engagement, nurture leads and deliver a tailor-made customer experience.

When you communicate with a customer based on their activity (with the help of automation triggers) it leads to a more natural interaction, which in turn, builds trust and drives sales. In fact, triggered emails can generate 24x more revenue per send 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 automation trigger is the event that will automatically kick-start your automation workflow as soon as that event takes place. Selecting a trigger 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 join your email list using one of your signup forms. 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 will automatically send off to any subscriber that completes the form you selected.

By default, each trigger only fires once for each subscriber within that workflow. So if a subscriber completes that form and then completes it again at a later point, the workflow won’t activate for a second time. If you want the automation to be triggered more than once, you can click the “Repeat workflow for subscribers who …” option in the sidebar.

The same subscriber can’t be triggered more than once in a 24-hour period, so you don’t need to worry about spamming them. Also, subscribers can only be triggered a second time when they’ve completed the workflow.

The “Repeat workflow” option is available for all triggers, except for the date and custom field update triggers. For these 2 options, subscribers can be triggered more than once by default (but only after 24 hours). This is useful for anniversary or birthday automations that trigger every year.

Before diving into specific triggers and how to use them, read our guide about email automation if you want to understand automation better!

Trigger 1: When subscriber joins a group

“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 you have a signup form for a specific interest group or when your form allows subscribers to self-select several groups. Now you can send targeted email messages to each group and fine-tune your sales funnel. 

If the subscribers are already in the group before you set the trigger, you can manually add them to the workflow by clicking the link Add subscribers to workflow. You’ll find this option in the sidebar once the workflow is activated. Subscribers will never be triggered more than once in a 24-hour period. If a subscriber unsubscribes from that group, they will be removed from the workflow.

Note: Subscribers that belong to an excluded group won't be triggered in the automation, even when they join the trigger's group. You can read more about excluding subscribers from workflows here.

Trigger when subscriber joins a group automated email workflow - mailerlite

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

Another example to use this email trigger is when you’re hosting a webinar. You’d create a separate signup form for your upcoming webinar. 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

Trigger 2: When subscriber completes a form

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. If you’re starting from scratch, you’d build a landing page for your content offer, add a signup form and then create a new automation workflow using the completed-form trigger.

Your first workflow step would be to create an email that contains the content offer. This email will automatically be sent once the subscriber confirms double opt-in (if you have this option activated). You can then add as many emails as preferred (like a follow-up email a few days later).

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

Trigger 3: When subscriber clicks a link

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 in 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

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

Trigger 4: Updated field

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

Trigger 5: The anniversary of a date

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 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.

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

Trigger 6: The exact match of a date

This trigger is ideal for one-off emails that need to be sent on a specific subscriber’s date, 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

You can use any type of information to create a workflow with this trigger—it just depends on what data is available. 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.

E-commerce trigger 1: Abandoned checkout

Do you have a Shopify or WooCommerce store that is integrated with MailerLite? Good, 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. In this article you can read more about this workflow.

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

E-commerce trigger 2: Purchases any product

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 a great way to send an order confirmation with an 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. In this article, we’ll give you the specific steps to get started.

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

E-commerce trigger 3: Purchases specific product

This trigger 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 1 item you want to sell 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 so send informational emails after someone buys a certain item.

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

E-commerce trigger 4: Purchase from category

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 to offer other relevant products based on prior purchases.

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

Wrapping up

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 insights and examples of automation triggers. 

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.
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