WordPress has a lot of great features built in it already, but there are still other things that are not even approaching the level of “great” yet. One of such things is supporting email newsletters, or even its simplest form – post feeds via email (like RSS, only by email).
Of course, WordPress is a highly customizable environment, so we can use myriads of plugins to get this done. There are also other solutions, like embedded forms, or RSS-to-email tools. All this is the topic of this post. Tune in to find out some interesting ways of making every WordPress blog newsletter-friendly.
Example email signup forms
Just to make sure that we’re on the same page let me present some examples of email signup forms (newsletter signup forms) incorporated into WordPress blogs.
There’s the form on this blog:
One on my blog:
One on ProBlogger:
Even Mashable takes part in this game:
Actually, there are thousands of these things around the internet. I would even risk saying that every blogger who cares about their readers has an email subscription form somewhere on their blogs.
I’m not trying to be rude, it’s just that email is still one of the best ways of communication on the internet, and bloggers like to take this opportunity to let their readers know whenever a new piece of content gets published.
What do they send?
It all depends on the blogger, but there are two most popular paths here. You can either:
- send whole posts or simple snippets to attract readers back to the blog, or
- send exclusive content that can’t be seen anywhere else. And also snippets of posts to drive people back to the blog.
The former is a popular approach for anyone, the latter is usually utilized by bigger blogs with more staff, as it requires much additional work. Essentially, if you want to make your newsletter good (which I’m sure you do), you need to spend probably the same amount of time as you would on writing normal blog posts.
What also differs among various bloggers is the type of content they send out. Some prefer text, others a combination of text and images, rich PDF newsletters, some even try videos. This all makes the whole “newsletter and WordPress” thing even more complex because a good system needs to provide the possibility to send out whatever a blogger might want to send out.
Is it done on autopilot?
The easiest approach to take is to have a system set up in a way that it sends email updates automatically whenever something gets published on the blog. On the opposite pole there’s sending everything by hand.
But is the former better? It all depends on the situation. Essentially, there are three ways of sending email updates / newsletters through a WordPress blog:
- Automatic updates. Takes no time on a daily basis. The only thing you have to do is set everything up, and from that point on it just works.
- Semi automatic updates. This gives you more options regarding the customization, and the look and feel of your messages. You can have the basic text content delivered from your posts, and then tune everything up, add some additional content, set a nice theme, and maybe even turn everything into a PDF before sending it. This, of course, requires more work, but it can make your newsletters to really stand out.
- Manual. This takes the most time and it’s not necessarily time well spent. To get through with this you’d have to gather all emails manually, create your messages manually, and then send them to every subscriber – again – manually.
Exact tools you can use to start sending email newsletters
Now that we’ve talked about the main principles of combining WordPress and email newsletters it’s time to talk some tools. As always, there are some free ones, and some paid ones. It’s up to you to decide whether you like to spend money or not … or whether you like to have it done properly or not.
FeedBurner is a Google tool that’s mainly about providing free RSS feeds to websites and blogs. And it just so happens that it offers one additional feature – email updates.
To enable it, you have to navigate to the Publicize section of your FeedBurner account. Then click Email Subscriptions.
What FeedBurner offers is very basic. It gives you a simple email subscription form, which you can include in your blog’s structure as a text widget or in any other way you find suitable.
FeedBurner then takes every post you publish and sends it as an email. There’s no styling, and no bells and whistles. Just basic raw content, similar to what a standard RSS feed looks like.
One more downside to FeedBurner is that you can’t do anything else with your list of subscribers. You can’t send them a custom email or anything. Basically, you don’t even have access to the email addresses you’ve gathered.
In the end, it’s not my favorite tool on this list, but it is the simplest to set up.
Wufoo is a great tool for creating all kinds of HTML forms. What’s great about it is that you don’t have to play with any actual code, you just go through a friendly wizard and end up with a cool form. Wufoo takes care of gathering all data, provides really cool reports and all sorts of graphical representation of your data. And, of course, you can also export everything as a CSV file, which we’ll be actually using here.
After signing up to Wufoo you can create a simple email subscription form, which is one of the templates there. You can see it in action here: https://examples.wufoo.com/forms/join-our-mailing-list/ Of course, you can customize it however you want, and when you’re done you’ll get a piece of embed code to include it in your blog.
Whenever you decide to email your subscribers you can download all addresses as a CSV file and either import them into a mailing software or send messages by hand, which is highly time consuming.
The bright side is that you can confidently rely on Wufoo’s quality of service and support. The basic plan’s free, and the premiums are from $14.95 to $199.95 a month.
3. “Subscribe2” WordPress plugin
Subscribe2 is available in two versions. You can get the standard free version, or the premium version called Subscribe2 HTML ($40). This plugin takes care of managing your email subscribers and sending notifications based on the content you publish on the blog.
Emails can be sent either on a per-post basis or as a “digest email.” You can tune the template used for the emails, and create custom confirmation emails. The plugin supports shortcodes and makes it easy to incorporate a signup form without the need of working with any code.
Remember the forms I showed you at the beginning of this post? You should know that the email subscription form on this blog and the one on my blog are both connected to MailChimp.
MailChimp is fully-developed email newsletter software with tons of features. Essentially, it’s a truly great tool. Not only that you can use many premade templates, resources, get access to a reporting platform, and mobile apps, but you can also learn from MailChimp’s extensive set of tutorials and how to guides.
In my opinion, their educational content is one of the best on the internet. There are really not many tools with so clear focus on ease of use and user education.
Most importantly, there’s a free package, which is perfectly suitable for small lists. It offers all the features and doesn’t hold back on anything.
When it comes to integrating it with WordPress you can simply create a form, get the embed code, and put it somewhere on the blog.
You can set an RSS-driven campaign, which essentially takes your RSS feed and sends it as email messages to your subscribers, but you have full control over the looks of the email messages and all the email addresses you’ve gathered (this makes it a lot better than FeedBurner).
The RSS-driven campaign is only one of the possibilities. You can also email your subscribers whenever you want, by sending what they call the “regular ol’ campaign.”
In the end, MailChimp is perfect for anyone who wants to start sending out email newsletters and would like to begin with no additional cost. Later on you can easily upgrade to a premium package in case your list grows to a bigger size.
AWeber is probably the most popular email newsletter service on the internet. Essentially, it offers a very similar set of features to MailChimp, but there’s no free plan.
Why would you want to use it, then? Well, AWeber has been around for the longest and has the biggest client base. Years of being on the market have turned it into a highly reputable brand. Working with such companies is always a good idea.
When it comes to incorporating AWeber into WordPress you can create a campaign called Blog Broadcast. It takes your posts and sends them as emails to your subscribers. Apart from that, you can send out any other type of campaign you like, just like with MailChimp
From a technical standpoint, AWeber works in a standard way – you can create a signup form and then grab the embed code.
Which path to choose?
For me, it’s MailChimp.
It’s the cheapest, the most user-friendly interface, a lot of features, easily adjustable to WordPress, and most importantly, I haven’t experienced any problems with their service yet (I’ve been using it for more than two years).
What’s your current approach for providing email newsletter functionality in WordPress blogs? Can you recommend any tools other than the ones described here?