Handling email, whether it is for a newsletter, autoresponder, drip campaigns, etc., is one of those things that doesn’t seem so challenging until you try to do it. And, in fact, for small volumes, it probably isn’t that difficult. But, once you start getting any significant number of subscribers, things get complicated. You want to make sure your server can handle the volume and you want to protect the reputation of your server IP so that your email will have higher delivery rates. To do this, you will need to actively clean your list by unsubscribing bounces. You should also monitor the number of complaints submitted and try to ensure you don’t send too many emails to one provider in a short period of time, etc. You will, of course, want to track delivery and open rates. For this reason, many people opt to use a third party email marketing provider, though the downside is that once your subscriber list and/or number of email sends gets high, so will your cost.
Whether you opt for an outsourced service provider or do-it-yourself software, try to consider what features you might want to have. Some to consider:
Will you be designing your own template or using one provided by your email software or provider? Either way, make sure it is mobile friendly and displays well across the wide variety of email clients.
- Email Design
Besides the basic template(s), can you easily (WYSIWYG) design and layout the content of your email campaigns?
- Personalization and Customization of Emails
Can you use user name or profile information to customize your emails? Can you use shortcodes to add dates or other useful content snippets?
- Administrative Management
Can you create multiple administrator accounts with varying level of access and control? Is there a mobile app available?
- Subscriber Management
Can visitors easily signup and manage their accounts, opt out, etc.? Are there single and double opt-in options? Are there spam registration protection options (captcha, etc.)? Can you easily import/export user lists? Can you specify custom fields of information to collect? Can you easily manage your user list.
- Registration Forms
In conjunction with other subscriber management issues, can you easily design and integrate subscription forms, even across multiple websites?
How many emails are delivered? How many are opened? What links are clicked? Are your reports realtime?
Can you send different campaigns to segments of your email list? If so, in what ways are you able to segment? (geography, purchase history, based on engagement, etc.)
- A/B Testing
In addition to segmenting your list, can you do A/B split testing to see which headlines, content, colors, etc. prove most effective?
Can you schedule regular campaigns?
- Autoresponders and Other Triggered Sending
Can you automatically send new content posted, autoresonders, drip campaigns, abandoned cart conversions, birthday or other important date messages, thank you and confirmation emails, etc.?
- RSS to Email
Can you automatically create emails from your newest blog posts?
- WordPress / API / Integration
If you use WordPress, is there a plugin to integrate with your registration or membership system? For advanced users, can you integrate your emails with your website backend or other IT systems?
- Spam Rating
Is there an option to test how likely your email is to be rejected as spam?
- Social Media Integration
Is it easy for readers to share with their respective social media accounts? Can people subscribe via their social media account?
- Image / Video Support
Can you embed images and/or video?
- Campaign Archives
Is there a way to make your newsletter content viewable on your website?
- Advanced Features
Can you do surveys, work with SMS, deliver by time zone or geography, or take advantage of other advanced features?
Many people don’t want to deal with the hassles involved with managing their own email sending. Many others don’t even realize a do-it-yourself option exists. If you are planning to use a third party, here are the two main providers I see others using most.
- MailChimp is especially popular with bloggers, partly because they offer a good service that is easy to use with many features but also because they offer a free low-end option so that you can take your time to grow into a paid package.
- AWeber is also especially popular with bloggers. You often will see debates online about whether to go with MailChimp or AWeber. I won’t get into that other than to say that Aweber recently got rid of their free low end plan so depending on your budget and plans for growth, that might help make your choice.
Of course, just because Aweber and MailChimp are so popular doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best and they most certainly are not the only two providers worth considering. Frankly, I have never used any third party service, so I am merely providing options to investigate. In that regard, other providers with a good reputation that are worth considering include:
- Campaign Monitor
- Constant Contact
Handling all email sending activity yourself can be a challenge, but fortunately there are some good software providers that can help you out. Below I offer some providers to consider. This is very far from a complete list, but is a decent starting point. In addition to the possible features mentioned above, another important consideration is the email engine you plan to use. Naturally, you can send via SMTP from your own server. But, you may prefer using a third party, most notably Amazon SES, SendGrid, or MailGun.
- Tribulant offers a free plugin for basic usage and a premium version ($79.99 but usually discounted to $64 and sometimes less) with lots of useful features. I have been using this software for over a year on two of my WordPress sites. The functionality and features are impressive and, while I did actually have some significant problems, the support team has been good about helping resolve those. My one caveat would be that this software may not be the best choice for very high subscriber numbers unless you have a server with a lot of memory.
- MailPoet Newsletters appears to be the most popular (based on active users) WordPress emailing plugin available. It also appears that the developers are working on an all new version.
- MailWizz Email Marketing Application is a simple to use, efficient and full-featured email marketing application with an impressive features set. With MailWizz not only that you will be able to properly handle email marketing for your own purposes but you can also become an Email Service Provider for your customers, since MailWizz integrates easily with payment gateways like Paypal and it offers all the needed tools to create pricing plans, promotional codes and to manage orders and transactions created by your customers.
- Newsletter also appears to be a very popular plugin (based on active installs), with some good free features.
- phpList is probably the best open source newsletter manager script available. The big thing to realize about phpList is that it is NOT a list manager in that you can only send out emails via a web or CLI interface. You can’t send to a list from your email client. And, recipients can’t reply to each other. So, if you are looking for software to manage discussion groups, phpList isn’t it. If you want to send out newsletter, it certainly should be one of the scripts you consider.
- Sendy is a self hosted email newsletter application that lets you send trackable emails via Amazon Simple Email Service (SES). This makes it possible for you to send authenticated bulk emails at an insanely low price without sacrificing deliverability. Note that there is a WordPress widget availabe as well.
- Oempro is the script I used for many years on a site with a large mailing list. I liked it much more than phpList for certain things, most notably its ability to use outsourced lists (e.g., a separate membership database). I only stopped using it about a year ago, but I was using a very old version for many years, so actually I cannot really say much about the current product but it is worth investigating.
- Mailman is open source software for managing electronic mail discussion and e-newsletter lists so it will fit the bill where the above newsletter scripts won’t when dealing with discussion groups. Mailman has a web interface, making it easy for users to manage their accounts and for list owners to administer lists. Mailman supports built-in archiving, automatic bounce processing, content filtering, digest delivery, spam filters, and more. I don’t use Mailman, but tried it once. Unfortunately, it requires some advanced administrative privileges to install and I was unable to install it on my host, even though it is a virtual server account.
- Interspire Email Marketer is all-in-one email marketing software that includes everything you need to create, send, track and profit from email marketing.
- Dada Mail
- Gammadyne Mailer
Create Your Own
- phpMailer is not a full-fledged email software program but rather an open source PHP class that you can use by itself or you can use to integrate with development projects. It is also used by many professional scripts.
Shared Hosting Note
If you are using a shared hosting account, going the DIY route will probably be a bad idea if you plan to send any reasonable amount of emails. That is because most shared host providers limit the number of emails that can be sent, either by hour or by day or both. For example, the folks at ListMailPRO provide the following breakdown for some popular shared host providers’ limits:
- Bluehost / HostMonster (essentially the same company) – Basic hosting plan is initially limited to 150/hr but with a call to technical support can be raised to 750/hr. Pro hosting plan allows 2000/hr
- HostGator – Limit 500/hr
- SiteGround – Limit 400/hr
- HostMetro – Limit 300/hr, 3000/day