We've all seen them, and probably received many of them, and in many cases we have used them ourselves when on holiday - but are email auto-responders bad for business?
When you use an auto-responder an automated message is sent in response to any inbound email to your account informing the sender that you are on holiday or away from your office etc.
However, all too often this response is sent to the wrong person! Because if the message your auto-responder is replying to was a spam email, you can be confirming to the spammer that your address is valid. Or even worse, the spammer had forged their FROM address and your auto-response goes to an innocent party that had never contacted you in the first place. This person may then report your mail as spam - and this can get your email address blacklisted by their ISP - effectively cutting you off from all that ISP's customers...
Imagine this: Your email account receives 200 messages a day but 190 of them are spam - the vast majority of spam has a forged FROM address - your autoresponder will send the response to the FROM address. But since 190 of those messages were spam and almost all of them had forged FROM addresses, then the autoresponder is basically responding back to an email address that never initiated a dialog with you in the first place - which makes YOU the Spammer!!!
So the owner of that address ends up marking the email as spam. A lot of mail providers consider those responses as "spam" - I know I do. It's a really bad idea to use autoresponders and it should be avoided at all cost, especially if the email account typically receives a fair amount of spam. If the email account typically receives little or no spam (very rare), then it is probably safe to enable the autoresponder for a brief period while you are out.
BUT - It's one thing using autoresponders as "out of office" responders for a BRIEF time, but a lot of people like to keep an autoresponse on 24/7. That's really bad idea, and inevitably will result in the email address being blacklisted as a source of spam - and when that happens your genuine emails will start getting bounced back to you as they are rejected by ISP's that use public Blacklists to check for addresses currently known to be a source of spam.
If that is not enough...
When your autoresponder replies to an incoming spam email with a forged FROM address - since the address was forged your auto-response can get bounced back to you - and your auto-repsponder replies to that bounce message, which bounces again, and your auto-responder replies again - setting up an infinite loop of bounce-reply-bounce-reply etc. etc.
Do not use auto-responders at all - ever!
Instead, inform your normal corespondents of your absence before you go on holiday, or let a co-worker or family member answer your email while you are away. Publishing a FAQ information section on your website can also help cut down on the emails you receive because the visitor to your FAQ can get the answers there without needing to email you. (If you do have a FAQ on your website, remember to add a link to it in your normal email signature).