This is the third post in our Email Newsletter Series.
One major sticking point for most bloggers who are setting up a newsletter is deciding what email service to use. There are lots of different, competing, options out there, and there’s no one perfect solution.
Just in case you were thinking about it … don’t try to run a newsletter by emailing everyone through your regular email client, using the “BCC” field. If you email subscribers from your own gmail, yahoo, even @yourdomain.com email account, you put your own IP address at risk for being blacklisted by Internet Service Providers if you get flagged as spam.
That means all your emails – not just bulk emails sent to your subscribers but regular everyday communications – could have a hard time getting to anyone. Definitely not a situation you want to find yourself in. You also want to make sure you don’t unintentionally break any privacy or anti-spam laws or you could find yourself in even more trouble.
Why Use an Email Service Provider?
Most email services have quite similar features, including these basics which really do take away the headache of sending bulk emails by:
- Sending out emails. Obviously you’ll want to be able to email your list whenever you like! Most services allow you to send unlimited emails – however, if you’re on a free or cheap plan, check the small print.
- Complying with regulations by allowing email recipients to “unsubscribe” from your list and helping you avoid being reported as spam by automatically stop sending emails to bounces, blocked mailboxes, spam reporters or mis-spelled emails. This actually gives you better a better chance of getting to your subscribers’ inboxes through the email service’s established reputation as a sender
- Reporting on email deliverability, open-rates and click-throughs to see what messages work and even enabling split-testing of one message versus another
- Offering a load of advanced features including sign-up forms, scheduled sending, automated message sequences, tagging and segmenting your audience to target with different messages and fancy templates to help your emails look great
How to Choose an Email Service?
What email service is going to work for you depends on what you want out of a service and often what stage of blogging you are at. For instance, having a free or low monthly rate may be more important when you’re just starting out. Whereas a complex array of trigger-based autoresponders based on subscriber activity will be useful to convert your subscribers to become paying customers via an email sales funnel.
An easy trap to fall into is to start looking at email service providers before analysing your own needs and priorities. You can very quickly become overwhelmed by the array of choice and distracted by features that may not be necessary or even useful for you.
A few questions to ask yourself are:
- In what direction do you think your blog will develop? Are you planning to monetize and in what ways?
- How many subscribers do you have? What goals/objectives do you have for subscriber growth and over what time period?
- What’s your budget? If you’re planning to monetize your blog, it’s easier to offset the cost of email against sales revenue.
- Are you technically-minded? For example do you know how to use HTML code?
- Is graphic design and using images important for your emails? If you’re a fashion, food or lifestyle blogger, this may be much more important than if you are writing about less visual subjects.
- How much time do you have to set things up and devote ongoing to your email system?
Once you have a framework of your own requirements, it becomes much easier to sort through the different features and options to assess what email systems will work for you and whether there is one that suits you best.
The good news is that even if you change your mind at a later stage, it’s possible to switch from one service to another. Most will make it quite straightforward to export your subscriber database to move to a new supplier.
At ProBlogger, we have just finished the process of changing our email service provider. We have used AWeber for approximately 12 years, alongside Mailchimp on occasion and we continue to do so for my other blog Digital Photography School. We took our time to investigate other email options, trialling a couple of alternatives and working out what will also work best with other systems we’re using. You don’t need to spend as long as we did in this process, but do enough homework to work out what suits you best. I’m an affiliate for the programs we use and the following recommendations include our affiliate links.
Which Email Service Should You Use?
The following list is an overview of popular email service providers that we have personally trialled over a long time. Each of them have their own strengths and weaknesses and are suitable for bloggers with different priorities and at different stages. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but hopefully it’ll give you an idea of some of the key options for running an email list. We’ve also compiled a comparison table of key features you can use to benchmark other solutions.
This is free up to 2,000 subscribers, and used by a lot of newer bloggers to get up and running. Mailchimp offers a really friendly interface, making it easy to create good-looking emails using their nice templates with a drag and drop editor. The Basic version isn’t so feature-rich as other options, but does offer some neat integration with Facebook and Instagram. Mailchimp charges an extra $199/month for their Pro add-ons which give you more advanced tracking, targeting and automation.
RECOMMENDED FOR: MailChimp could be a good option if you’re (a) just starting out with email and have under 1,000 subscribers (b) visual presentation and images are important (c) not yet ready to use lots of detailed features like tagging.
ALTERNATIVE: You may also want to consider the newer MailerLite which is quite a bit cheaper (once you get past 1,000 subscribers) and offers a few extra features.
This well-established service costs from $19/month for up to 500 subscribers, and has slightly different strengths and features from MailChimp. You can refer to our comparison table below for details. While AWeber’s user interface is a bit dated, it represents increasingly good value for money as your list grows and has useful functionality to take your email marketing up a notch. You can apply tags to your subscribers to segment them, trigger email campaigns and autoresponder sequences. AWeber also offers split-testing allowing you to test different subject line text or message content, even different sign-up forms to increase response rates. Otherwise, the AWeber reporting is a bit clunky to use and doesn’t measure much beyond open and click rates. AWeber do provide good customer service via phone, email and live chat which is above and beyond most providers who just give you an online library of resources.
RECOMMENDED: AWeber is a solid, no-frills option that has worked for many (ProBlogger included) for a long-time. It’s particularly cost-effective as you develop a large list to market to.
“Built by bloggers for bloggers” is the tagline of this new kid on the email block. We trialled Convertkit early on and were impressed with the system’s simplicity and recently added functionality which suits ‘professional’ bloggers. If you want to segment your list in several different ways (e.g. based on what links an individual subscriber has clicked), Convertkit has hosted, customizable landing pages and opt-in forms that allow you a lot of tagging options along with easy to use trigger-based email automations and sequences. However, Convertkit only does text based email. There are no beautifully designed templates here (unless you code it yourself): the focus is on sending simple, straightforward content.
RECOMMENDED: If you can budget for it, ConvertKit allows a lot of power and flexibility, and works very well to deliver a sign-up incentive (e.g. a free .pdf) – this is integrated with the “confirmation” email, so when your subscriber clicks to get their freebie, they automatically confirm their email address too. It’s simplicity allows you to get up and running quickly and if you are switching to Convertkit with over 5,000 subscribers, they offer a complimentary migration service.
ALTERNATIVE: GetResponse offers similar features to Convertkit but with more of a visual focus giving you designed email templates and a stock image library.
Drip is a bit pricier than the other options we’ve covered so far ($83/month for 5,000+ subscribers) but it has more features and comes with a money-back guarantee. You can compare it with other options here – though note this is Drip’s own comparison tool. Ultimately ProBlogger decided on Drip as it gave us the best insights into our readers, beyond email activity. Drip enables us to identify how valuable subscribers are, scoring each individual as a lead and also tracking their activity over on the blog. We can follow up on these interests with very personalized automated email workflows. Many similarly powerful systems require you to hire a consultant to navigate their complexities, whereas Drip is straightforward enough to tackle yourself with great learning resources including a Facebook Group and a supportive customer service team to assist.
RECOMMENDED: If you have an established blogging business and are looking for a powerful but easy to use CRM-type system check out Drip.
ALTERNATIVE: There are quite a few solutions in this top-end category, but none of them are cheap. Leading options include ActiveCampaign, Ontraport and Infusionsoft.
Want a handy comparison of the options we’ve used and trialled? Download the ProBlogger Email Service Provider Comparison for Bloggers, based on most of the the same criteria we used to choose our email service provider.
Whichever service you pick, the important thing is that you choose something and get started on building your list. Hopefully, the options above have given you some ideas of what might suit you best.
Got your list set up but still feeling stuck? Don’t worry. Next week, I’ll be taking a look at seven common newsletter problems … and solving them for you.