Email newsletters have become very popular in the recent years. And it’s no longer just a tool for email marketers, big brands, direct marketers, or some not-so-nice shady scam artists. Oh no.
Email newsletters are on the light side of the force now, and in my opinion, every WordPress blog should use them to develop better relationships with their audience, and get one more channel through which they can deliver content.
The reality of email
No matter what some people say, email is still the way of communicating online. I know that Facebook and other social media sites have grown quite a bit in the recent years, but email is still king. And that’s even despite the amount of spam that’s circulating around.
I’m maybe going too far with this comparison, but email is like sex … everybody’s doing it.
Therefore, the main benefit of introducing email newsletters to your blog is that you can improve your reach significantly. The thing is that some people simply don’t have the habit of visiting their favorite websites every day. But they do check email. Furthermore, the first rule of marketing: hit people where they’re at.
How to get started
Even before we can talk about building an email newsletter list with WordPress we need to cover one pretty basic thing: How are you going to send the actual emails?
By hand? Not really an option. First of all, once you get more than 200 people on your list, sending emails by hand will become impossible. Secondly, spam filters will flag your address long before this.
You need an external service.
Some of the popular possibilities are:
- Wufoo (which isn’t actually a complete service; in terms of email lists),
Let’s start with Wufoo.
They are great for creating all kinds of online forms (meant for various purposes). Wufoo is perfectly suitable to get you a contact form, a registration form, even a sales form (you can use the integrated payment processing as well). You can also use Wufoo to create email signup forms.
However, the only problem is that you still need an external service to send the emails out. Wufoo only allows you to gather email addresses, and then export them as CSV, but not to send the actual messages.
So I guess you can still use their services if you want to make your forms beautiful, but that’s just part of the job.
FeedBurner isn’t a complete solution either. Even though it does allow you to send your “newsletter” (not exactly a newsletter), and it provides you with an email signup form you can place on your blog, you don’t get any control over the email addresses you’ve gathered (you can’t export them or anything).
FeedBurner will take care of sending emails for you automatically. The content comes directly from your RSS feed. This means that you can’t customize the messages in any way, hence why it’s not a real newsletter.
Now, if you want a real newsletter, you’re going to have to focus on one of the following solutions: MailChimp, AWeber, or Wysija.
In many ways, MailChimp and AWeber are quite similar. They offer pretty much the same features and functionalities. However, MailChimp is the only big league player offering free accounts.
This means that you can sign up, create your list, and send emails for free, as long as your list is not too big.
The last player – Wysija is a quite cool WordPress plugin. Wysija stands for What You Send Is Just Awesome. The plugin is a complete in-house newsletter solution.
It allows you to gather email addresses (through opt-ins; you can also import them from MailChimp and AWeber), create your newsletters, and send them out to your subscribers. Everything is quite easy to use and follows the standards that WordPress got us used to. Once you get the plugin installed on your site, you can go straight to the admin panel and start playing with your newsletters. The best part: it’s free.
(By the way, I’m not affiliated with any of the above services.)
Essentially, there are two ways to integrate your email list with WordPress: the 100% manual way, and the easy way.
Now, the whole task isn’t actually complex at all. The only thing you have to do is somehow display the opt-in form on your blog. There’s no other integration required (from a WordPress point of view).
The 100% manual way is about getting the embed code from your email service (always easy to get, as companies like MailChimp provide many tutorials and instructions on how to set up your list) and then placing it somewhere in one of your theme files.
The easy way is to get a plugin or a simple widget.
If you’ve opted for Wysija then you already have this one handled, but if you’ve chosen one of the other available services then there’s still some work to do.
Unfortunately, high quality plugins don’t come free. If you want to get something with truly exceptional set of features and the ability to display your opt-in forms in multiple places (including custom pop-ups), you will have to spend around $50 (I don’t want to promote anyone specific so try using Google to find the exact plugins).
When it comes to simple sidebar widgets, the free space has to offer everything you’d need.
For instance, if you’re using MailChimp, you can get the MailChimp Widget, which will allow you to display your opt-in forms in any widget area your current theme supports, plus you can even subscribe people to multiple different lists if you have more than one.
The usage of the widget itself is pretty basic so I don’t think I need to explain it here.
Creating a custom landing page
Landing pages are not that obvious when it comes to using email lists with WordPress. The most common way of promoting an email newsletter on a WordPress site is to simply display the opt-in form somewhere in the sidebar or some other widget area (the method mentioned above).
But there is another approach that sometimes works a lot better, and it’s called landing pages.
Landing pages are nothing more than basic WordPress pages, but their main task is to display the opt-in form in the center block of the page (where content usually sits). The whole page is geared towards convincing your visitors to subscribe to your list.
You can help the situation out by offering a free gift, for example, or a bonus, or a discount code … whatever makes sense in your situation.
Another strength of such pages is that you can include them in your SEO strategy, so they can reach a nice spot in the search engines by themselves, which will increase the number of subscribers you get every day noticeably.
The recipe is simple: Create a standard WordPress page, include your opt-in form there, and give people a good reason to subscribe.
What to send in the newsletter?
This is a question every blogger has to face sooner or later. Apart from custom content ñ created specifically to be sent as newsletters, you can also choose a path that’s a little less labor-heavy.
The easiest thing to do is to configure your email delivery service to get the content straight from your RSS feed.
(This is a lot more clever than what FeedBurner does, by the way.)
In MailChimp, for example, you get to create a template that includes your RSS content, yet it looks like a completely custom made newsletter.
Of course, everything is sent out automatically with very little supervision required on your part.
I guess that the only thing left for you to do now is to promote your newsletter, and then make sure that the content you provide is quality and valuable to your subscribers.
There’s not a lot of technical stuff to handle once you’ve launched your list.
What’s your take on this whole issue of email lists in WordPress? Do you plan on launching one on your own blog, or suggesting it as an idea to one of your clients (in case you’re a professional developer)?
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