If you have a WordPress blog and hope to keep visitors coming back for more, you’ve no doubt heard that email marketing is key.
This is especially true if your blog supports a business. Retaining current customers costs far less than finding a brand new customer, and email is a great way to keep customers engaged with your brand (that’s also why every retail cashier you step in front of these days asks you for your email address!)
However, which platform should you choose to implement your email marketing strategy? Should you choose a well-established provider such as MailChimp, AWeber, or Constant Contact? Or alternatively, could you manage your email marketing efforts from within your oh-so-familiar WordPress backend?
There are a number of WordPress-native email marketing solutions available. We’re going to look at four today – Newsletter, SendPress, MailPoet, and our very own WPMU DEV e-Newsletter – to help you decide whether WordPress email marketing plugins can really stand up to the big boys.
Email Marketing with WordPress Plugins
There are a number of WordPress email marketing plugins available, but with most functionality is limited to integrating your site with standalone email marketing applications such as MailChimp and AWeber. These plugins primarily enable you to create signup forms within WordPress, and little else.
However, a handful of plugins enable you to you create, send, and manage email newsletters from within the WordPress dashboard. While a WordPress-native solution may sound great at first, it’s not for everyone. Whether it would work for you depends on two things:
- your audience, and
- your goals.
Let’s start by taking a closer look at the four aforementioned email marketing plugins: Newsletter, SendPress Newsletters, MailPoet Newsletters, and WPMU DEV e-Newsletter. After that we’ll continue by assessing the pros and cons of using WordPress email marketing plugins, before wrapping things up.
Newsletter claims to enable you to add a newsletter to your blog free of charge, and promises unlimited subscribers and newsletters. It features tracking capabilities, customizable themes, and single and double opt-in features. Newsletter’s features can be further extended by several premium extensions, including a reports extension and a feed extension that automates turning blog posts into newsletters. Individual extensions start at $19.95, while a package starts at $29.95.
Newsletter is definitely a good plugin. According to the Plugin Directory, it has 100,000 active installs and a rating of 4.8 stars. The plugin seems well thought-out and is advertised with a nice professional walk-through video. (In fact, I admit I’ve been enjoying the music in this walk-through as background music for the past couple of days.)
However, even this video tells us something about the intended user for this plugin. For Newsletter, the focus seems to be on personal email updates for an invested audience, not unlike MailChimp’s stripped-down TinyLetter application. The goal seems more to inform and build a connection than to market a product.
In other words, for business users, Newsletter may come up short.
SendPress enables users to create templates that match the style of their blog, and edit content within the newsletter editor in the same manner as you would a post. Individual newsletter tracking and lists synced to WordPress roles are additional features. A pro version, which gives you additional sending options, is available from prices starting at $99.
Not unlike Newsletter, SendPress gives you a good idea of its ideal user with its video demo:
SendPress seems to market itself for more promotional purposes, but doesn’t seem quite right for a professional service provider or retailer’s needs. On the other hand, it has a 4.6 star rating and more than 10,000 active installs according to the WordPress Plugin Directory, so its users obviously like it.
MailPoet – previously known as WYSIJA (What You Send Is Just Awesome) – aims to be yet another step up from Newsletter and SendPress. It features another drag-and-drop, completely HTML-free experience, autoresponder options, stats tracking, and the ability to segment lists.
The free version of MailPoet is capped at lists of 2,000 subscribers. A premium version is available starting at $99 per year.
MailPoet certainly targets more professional users than either Newsletter or SendPress, and for some users, it could be an excellent option. It’s also one of the (if not the) most widely used and best-rated plugins in this category, with over 200,000 active installs and a 4.9 star rating in the Plugin Directory.
It would be remiss of us not to feature our very own e-Newsletter plugin in this list. e-Newsletter enables users to create and send professional newsletters, manage subscribers, and track campaign results without any third-party subscriptions.
With plugins like Subscribe by Email and Automessage under our belt, we set our sights on creating an all-in-one email marketing solution that was easy to use, yet still very flexible. The beginner-friendly e-Newsletter plugin comes with seven pro templates, and features a live as-you-build-it email preview. For added flexibility, the plugin features the ability to create unlimited subscriber groups (even letting subscribers choose their own groups) and customization to manage which emails are sent to each group.
The e-Newsletter plugin comes included with our WPMU DEV membership along with more than 350 other plugins, themes, and unlimited support. Membership pricing starts at just $24.50 per month.
With more than 80,000 downloads, e-Newsletter is a strong contender for those users looking for that all-in-one email marketing solution. It’s a great pick for WPMU DEV members who are just starting out learning email marketing and looking to build an audience.
Regardless of the breadth of functionality these four plugins offer, some users may find that it’s worth it to go with a standalone email marketing application. I’ll go over my reasons for this assessment next.
WordPress Email Marketing Plugins: The Pros
One of the biggest pluses for these WordPress email marketing plugins comes down to the rich features available in a familiar environment. Many of the same features available in standalone email marketing plugins are the selling points marketed by AWeber, MailChimp and others:
- Drag-and-drop newsletter building
- Templates and custom options
- Individual newsletter stats
- Open, clicked, bounce, and unsubscribe metrics
- Google Analytics integration
Users who don’t want to commit to a paid subscription or premium plugin can still use all three of the above-mentioned plugins for free. MailPoet – which caps subscribers for the free edition – has a lot in common with MailChimp’s free version (which caps its free version at 2,000 subscribers).
I would recommend WordPress email marketing plugins only to beginners and users seeking a relatively simple email solution.
Users who prioritize ease of use, only want to send newsletters related to their blog, and who aren’t interested in advanced marketing options should definitely consider Newsletter, SendPost, MailPoet, or e-Newsletter for their email marketing needs.
WordPress Email Marketing Plugins: The Cons
Now that I’ve given you the reasons why a WordPress email marketing plugin could work for you, I’m going to give you six reasons why you shouldn’t necessarily go with such a solution. Again, this really depends on your individual email marketing needs, but if any of these drawbacks will affect your marketing goals, do take note.
1. None of These Plugins Offer a Complete Solution
Yes, you read that right. Despite the spin, each of these WordPress email marketing plugins relies on another external service to send your messages. You may be able to compose your newsletters in the backend of WordPress, and even manage your subscriber list in the database, but sending is another matter entirely.
You’ll need a sending service to handle your newsletter messages; either through your domain host, a Gmail account, or through services like SendGrid, ElasticMail, Amazon SES, or Mandrill. Besides involving potentially problematic account setup and integration, these services can be fraught with issues.
MailPoet doesn’t recommend using your host’s SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), meaning you need an additional product and possibly a paid subscription to make it work. New users may have difficulty with APIs and integrating email solutions, but even with a plugin, you’ll have to deal with that with any of these sending services. Even with e-Newsletter, despite being a great email marketing solution, users do need to send mail via Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, or a domain host. This works well for our users, but for those of you with larger lists, this could be a deal breaker.
2. Your Messages Are More Likely to Be Marked as Spam
Your hosting service probably set you up with a domain-level email account (or maybe even a couple) when you signed up. However, these complementary email accounts aren’t intended to handle major email marketing initiatives.
The shared servers most sites are hosted on aren’t really the best way to send bulk email from the perspective of major email clients (Gmail, Yahoo Mail, etc.). In fact, by going with a non-standard solution, you’re inviting your IP to be marked as a spam address. Yikes.
3. Your List May Not Be as Secure
When you’re choosing an email marketing solution, think about who has control of your subscriber list. There are a few things to keep in mind here.
Your email list is very valuable. If your site is part of an e-commerce business, a significant part of the value of your business comes from your list. In other words, your email list can have a big effect on how much your business is worth and how much income it can generate. And even if you don’t run your website as a business per se, a large newsletter audience can also open many doors for you as a blogger.
With the above in mind, if you do use a WordPress email marketing plugin, make sure that you have independent backups of your list(s). Storing your list on your own domain is risky, especially without backups. MailChimp and AWeber have enterprise-level backups; something the average hosting service doesn’t offer.
Also think about your list’s portability. Can it be shared, downloaded, uploaded, or integrated with other products or applications?
4. You May Not Be Able to Integrate with Other Services
Speaking of integration, think about how far your WordPress email marketing plugin can take you. Ask yourself if you can:
- Import your list into a customer database (such as Salesforce),
- Email your list something besides marketing materials, and/or
- Send a user survey via SurveyGizmo or SurveyMonkey.
The likes of MailChimp and AWeber integrate with many other programs and services through their APIs. If you anticipate needing such integration in the near future, this would be another reason to go with a standalone service.
5. Analytics May Not Be as Feature-Rich
Like blogging, email marketing isn’t a skill you master from day one. There’s a lot of trial and error, which means that analytics are vital in terms of pointing you in the right direction.
When you consider an email marketing platform, it’s important to ask whether you can see how your last email campaign did. This doesn’t just mean the basics like who opened, unsubscribed, or clicked on a link in your message.
A great email marketing application will tell you much more, including what text or image got the most clicks, or even how often a particular user engages with your marketing.
AWeber, Constant Contact, MailChimp, and many other standalone services all incorporate this as standard. That cannot be said for all WordPress email marketing plugins.
6. Key Features May Be Missing
If you’re already investing this much time and effort in email marketing for your site, it would be worthwhile to learn more about actual marketing strategy.
That may sound daunting at first, but the basic concepts of online marketing are no harder to learn than the basic concepts of blogging or using WordPress.
In doing so, you may find that you’re interested in implementing strategies that are ultimately not supported by WordPress email marketing plugins. For example, consider whether your email marketing solution will let you:
- Carry out A/B split testing,
- Track an entire campaign of multiple messages and their overall performance, and/or
- Segment your list and send personalized emails automatically to each segment.
If any of the above points gave you pause, it might be an indication that you’re looking for more features and versatility than what’s available with WordPress email marketing plugins.
So, is a WordPress email marketing plugin right for you?
For beginners and those who want a simple solution, a WordPress-native solution could be a great option. And fortunately, there are several great options available to suit a variety of these users’ needs. Of course, we recommend our own e-Newsletter plugin.
Having said that, it’s important to remember that there is no perfect email marketing solution. You will have to make compromises when you decide which option to take – the key is to compromise as little as possible.
Finally, remember that there are lots of great products out there to help you accomplish your blogging goals. I am truly passionate about WordPress, but there’s no reason to limit yourself to its capabilities alone. It may be better to use each application for the strengths it was built for, which in this case, means that a standalone service such as AWeber or MailChimp could be the preferred option.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.
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