Use this Zap to Auto-Respond to Emails (Part #3/3)
Automatically reply to emails (in Gmail) without lifting a finger.
This is part #3 of a Gmail walkthrough. Read the first part “How I Zero My Inbox” or second part “Organise your Gmail Inbox For Increased Productivity (and Fun)”.
The number one issue or question I find in my inbox is people requesting edit access to spreadsheet templates. It’s my duty to point them in the right direction and help them get their copy. I used to manually type out the same response each time.
Until I realised. Why should we repeat actions when the computer can do it for us? Let’s get rid of that with some email automation!
I started making email templates that can be inserted into an email at the click of a button. But you’d have to get in the email each time though and perform some clicks. You can take it further and completely omit these clicks.
I first thought I had solved my issue by setting up the filter function to filter emails by subject inside Gmail. The filter function is found in “Settings” > “See all settings” > “Filters and blocked addresses” > “Create a new filter”.
This means: pick out all incoming emails that have the text “Social Media Editorial” in the subject line, and do something with them in the next step.
I want these emails to:
- Not go into the inbox
- Archive them in a folder with all incoming emails for Google Sheets edit requests
- And automatically send a reply with instructions explaining how people can get a copy of the template
This seemed promising, until I found out the canned responses I sent out never reached anyone! I set out to find a different solution.
Setting up your Zaps in Zapier
I immediately thought of Zapier, a software platform you can use to connect apps with each other and automate the tedious work, as they say. There’s a free plan you can use to get to know the platform with a limit of 5 zaps to set up for free. These 5 zaps can carry out 100 tasks in total before you’d have to upgrade.
After some googling I quickly found the zap I was looking for: A zap that automatically replies to each new email.
There’s more than one way to go about. I chose to first archive incoming emails requesting access to one particular spreadsheet template into a subfolder. This you can do in Gmail in the settings, as shown in the image above. Tick all but the third checkbox.
If you’ve never used Zapier before, you’ll need to register for the free plan. As soon as you have, start with this generic zap. Let’s get started.
When this happens… ( New Thread in Gmail)
Follow the steps from top to bottom on Zapier.
#1 Choose App & Event
The App we use is Gmail. The Event is a “New Thread”. In my use case, I want the zap to respond to incoming emails in one mailbox, and respond to a new thread. (We don’t want to send a new email, because it will appear as a new email in this same mailbox, thus triggering the zap again, resulting in an infinite loop and eating up all your free actions. That’s bad.)
#2 Choose Account
Choose your Gmail account. You’ll be asked to verify your account if you’re doing this for the first time, so you’ll have to click through a few popups.
#3 Customise Thread
Select the inbox where you want to unleash zaps on!
#4 Find Data
Make sure there is at least one email in your folder for testing purposes. Then, click the “Test trigger” button to search for one.
If Zapier cannot find any emails in this folder, it will also let you know.
In that case, send yourself an email, or drag an email into the mailbox/folder you want to search for emails.
When a thread is found, you’ll see all details in a newly appeared field below.
In case you have more than one email in your folder, you can select the email you’d like to test on by clicking “Thread A” and choosing a different “Thread”. Thread here means email.
When all sorted, press the “Continue” button.
We rounded off the first part! The zap now knows what to do “When a new thread is started in one of your Gmail folders”.
Onto the second part.
Do this… (Reply to Email in Gmail)
#1 Choose App & Event
Again we use Gmail. We want to reply to an email.
#2 Choose account
Fill out your Gmail account once more.
#3 Customise Reply
I specifically wanted to respond to an email on the existing thread, and not create a new email as a response in the same folder that would trigger the zap until eternity. This is something to keep in mind. Zapier warns you for this in the explanation boxes.
These settings worked for me:
- Thread: Message Thread ID
- To: Message From Email
- From Name: [Fill out whichever name you want to appear in someone’s inbox, it could be “Henk from Henk’s Dog Food” or whatever]
- Body Type: Plain
- Body: [Here I copied the content from my generic email template]
All other fields I left empty.
#4 Send Data
Click this row to continue. Press the test button to check if you set up everything correctly.
If all worked as it should, the sender of the test email should have received an automatic reply from you! To not bother anyone or test on strangers, I highly suggest to send yourself an email from a second account, for testing purposes. That way, you can check if all works correctly.
Take into account that Zaps on the free plan are only fired every 15 minutes. That means you might have to wait it out a little before you can check if it works accordingly.
Mind you, I noticed that in Gmail, a reply is visibly sent on the same thread. BUT, when I checked my second account, the one where I sent the email from, the original email is not included. I only received the response there. Just so you know!
Luckily I don’t need the original email from the sender to be included in my response as well. Which is a bit weird, because you are supposedly replying “on a thread”. But it is sufficient for my auto-email needs at this time.
If you need advanced functionality, you’ll have to play around with the settings to further customise it according to your specific needs.
This is how I as of now automatically reply to a small chunk of my emails with the help of Zapier and email automation. There are tons of other zaps that could make life even easier, so I look forward to further exploring how I can utilise zaps.
In case you get stuck, there are help features directly on the right side bar and extended documentation. In case the zap doesn’t fire correctly or there is an error, you will receive an email with bullet points to help you in the right direction.
I hope this was useful to you. If you’re going to give Zaps a go, best of luck and have fun automating some of those emails 📬
As always, thank you for reading!