Blog Email Subscription Options

Post CardNearly everyone who writes articles for a weblog has read about the importance of establishing an email subscription list. Readers who stumble upon articles through search services might find a ‘blog or specific article interesting but may lose a site’s URL or the ability to find the information again. They don’t become repeat visitors or frequent readers. Implementing a subscription list, however, ensures that one’s future articles find their way to the email inboxes of interested readers. Regular readers who are interested in an author’s articles are more likely to leave comments, interact, and share content. Increased visitation and sharing helps search engine optimization (SEO) and, in turn, search ranking which ultimately results in even more readers.

Finding the perfect solution for emailing post content and managing subscribers, however, can be quite difficult. I have tried several options but nearly all of them have had a serious detriment that has resulted in further searching for alternatives.

Google FeedBurner

One of my early candidates was Google’s free¬†Feedburner service. Feedburner allowed me to have a nicely formatted RSS feed, subscriber management options, post emailing, and adequate analytics. Unfortunately, Google seems to be discontinuing many of its RSS based services. Google Reader was recently deprecated and ultimately was eliminated completely. Feedburner hasn’t been updated or maintained for a very long time and may also fall victim to a similar fate. At this point, Feedburner’s eventual demise has even been the topic of fervent speculation in many web forums. For this reason, I had no choice but to abandon Feedburner and search for an option with a greater chance of longevity.

JetPack

My second solution arrived in the form of the JetPack plugin for WordPress. It incorporates many of the great features included with weblogs hosted on WordPress.com including a nice comment system coupled with an email subscription service. Commenters can even log in using various social media credentials. Unfortunately, JetPack can create some incompatibility issues with other plugins in a self-hosted WordPress installation.

JetPack’s subscription service works very well but the site owner has no control over the subscribers. This means you can’t manually add or remove users from the list. You can’t even import a list from another service without requesting assistance. Since JetPack utilizes a double opt-in system, a confirmation email can end up in a commenters spam folder where it never gets noticed. A website administrator has no way to follow up or address the issue. This can be a problem if your subscriber base tends to not be very computer savvy.

Another problem I experienced with JetPack was that it only allows you to send an entire ‘blog post to subscribers and not just an excerpt. This gets people to read your content but doesn’t encourage visitation to your website unless they want to leave a comment. This ends up being a detriment to improving visitation and boosting website SEO.

My biggest quibble with JetPack, however, is that the emailed version of a WordPress ‘blog post only has shortcodes stripped away as long as they are the standard ones provided through WordPress.com. If, however, you have a self-hosted installation and are utilizing a theme that has custom shortcodes associated with it, those are left in. The end result is an email filled with gibberish and poorly formatted text. The post appears very unprofessional and can be difficult to read. Although this might work for someone using a very basic WordPress theme, it isn’t ideal for me since the custom shortcodes I use in my theme help create a very pleasing look on my website. Unfortunately, this left me searching for another option.

MailChimp

My third solution was to experiment with MailChimp. It is free if you have less than 2000 subscribers and has a very reliable email system. It seemed like the perfect answer but the free version labels all emails with a MailChimp logo and link. I completely understand why they do it and it can be removed if you upgrade to their pay service. MailChimp is a very viable solution but I wanted to investigate some of the other options available.

MailPoet (aka Wysija)

My fourth email subscription candidate turned out to be nearly perfect and is what I am currently using. It was once called Wysija but has now been re-branded as MailPoet. It is a very flexible WordPress plugin that has a free version if you have less than 2000 subscribers and pay versions if you have more than 2000 subscribers or need additional features.

The plugin is simple to set up and has great drag-and-drop features for designing newsletters. Additionally, you can set up automatic newsletters that send out entire weblog posts, article excerpts, or digest-style emails. New Pages, Posts, or even Portfolio entries can be sent and the HTML elements of the emails can even be customized to some degree. I am able to incorporate my brand’s logo as well as custom text and footers that get appended to every post that is sent. The appearance of the HTML-based emails is very professional looking.

I currently have my MailPoet setup arranged so that users of my ‘blog can subscribe to article updates, portfolio updates, or both. This means that users interested in my artwork don’t have to be sent articles in their email and users interested in my articles don’t have to see my artwork. The solution is nearly perfect and the subscribers get to choose their preferences.

MailPoet’s subscription list management features are also very well designed. You can add, delete, and edit subscription options for everyone in your list. This is nice if you have subscribers that are not necessarily the most computer savvy people and require administrative assistance.

MailPoet has also created a great Newsletter Spam Testing Tool which allows you to send an email to a testing service that analyzes the newsletters you plan to send to readers and determines the likelihood they are going to be labeled as spam. The tool tests digital signature options, looks at the email content, and compares your sending IP address to lists compiled by several spam catching services.

MailPoet Setup

MailPoet allows you to utilize Google Gmail, a third-party SMTP provider, or a PHP based sending system. Since my emails are being sent from my own domain via PHP, it was necessary to have a send address, return address, and bounced email address that originate from my own domain as well. Without this, the newsletters would surely end up in spam folders with warning messages indicating they didn’t originate from the correct sender.

During the course of setting up my MailPoet installation, I also discovered that I needed to go into my DNS Zone File in order to set up a Sender Policy Framework (SPF). This is an open standard that specifies a technical method to prevent sender address forgery. In other words, the email sender can specify which specific servers from which they send messages. This helps alleviate problems with valid emails being blocked or sent to spam mail folders on the receiver’s end. If you pay for the premium version of MailPoet, you can also take advantage of DomainKeys Identified Mail or DKIM. DKIM attaches a new domain name identifier to a message and uses cryptographic techniques to validate authorization for its presence. Both the SPF and DKIM affect the Spam Assassin score that MailPoet’s analysis service uses to help determine the likelihood that your newsletter will be blocked or sent to a reader’s Spam bin. Since I am using the free version of MailPoet, I can’t utilize the DKIM feature but if I were to get enough subscribers to my ‘blog, I wouldn’t hesitate to pay the $97 a year for the premium version of the plugin.

Conclusion

Obviously, this article addresses only a few of the email newsletter subscription solutions that are currently available. At the time of this writing, I am pleased with the performance of the MailPoet WordPress plugin. It is flexible, reliable, has great subscriber management features, and allows for growth over time. I plan to try it for the next few months and am hoping it will be my permanent solution.

What email subscriber options do you use? Let me know what you have found to be the most effective for your circumstances in the comment section below.

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Comments (4)
  • Dai Wynn October 14, 2013

    Another very interesting article, Ken. I love the professional look – in particular your logo.
    Recently my old PHPList mailing list software started to cause problems, so I migrated to MailChimp. Furthermore, I am very much aware of the number of potential eNewsletter recipients who use smartphones. So I use a ‘responsive’ plug-in for MailChimp to automatically adjust the display for different readers’ screen sizes.
    Apart from the MailChimp logo at the foot of every email, MailChimp raises other usability issues.
    Firstly, the ‘standard’ responsive format came with a huge number of ‘bells and whistles’ so I spent several hours ‘commenting out’ unnecessary HTML code to remove unwanted features.
    Secondly, I wanted to build a ‘standard’ reusable template complete with my own logo, several linking buttons and standard contact details. MailChimp offers drag-and-drop facilities which can become rather tedious after several eNewsletters. The absolute URLs of a standard template, modified in Dreamweaver, seem to conflict with relative addresses of the inbuilt editing facilities. Thirdly, while MailChimp invites the user to drop in images of ‘any height X any width’, in fact all it does it to compress the image into the space available So an image in portrait format tends to be squashed into a landscape format. This is anathema to a visual artist. As a result, it has been necessary for me to modify HTML code to accommodate different sized images in different formats. This means that I must edit my ‘template’ code in Dreamweaver for each newsletter before importing the code into MailChimp.
    Nevertheless, MailChimp provides a wealth of data on ‘opens’ and ‘clicks’ and compares them to industry benchmarks. It will even tell me who has opened the email. Hard bounces are cleansed from mailing lists, which can be segmented for different audiences. One can also import lists from other programs.
    Cheers,

    Dai

    • Ken Powers October 15, 2013

      Thanks for the kind words and comments Dai! I think I am going to like the new MailPoet subscription system much better than the JetPack plugin. It is pretty flexible even though it doesn’t allow for a lot of customization of the newsletters, etc… There also doesn’t appear to be a responsive “theme” for the emails although there may be in the premium versions. It is very easy to use, however, and integrates itself within the WordPress administrative dashboard. It can be used for standard newsletters as well as the automatic blog-post and portfolio delivery. There are some nice analytics that include “opens” and “clicks” in the basic version. The premium one apparently has much more to offer in that department. So far I am pleased and it allows me to maintain my current drop-cap and custom shortcodes in my blog while correctly stripping them from the excerpt that is displayed in the email. Very nice! If I end up becoming disgruntled with MailPoet’s performance, however, I think MailChimp would be my next choice. Thanks again!

  • Maillot Maroc October 16, 2013

    I could not reffrain from commenting. Perfectly written!

    • Ken Powers October 16, 2013

      Thank you! I appreciate the feedback!

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