On Finding and Choosing the right Autoresponder- and Newsletterservice

A. Preliminary Remarks

Recently I have been looking into autoresponder- and newsletter tools. There is a plethora of possibilities to experience and compare. I will try and give a short overview. My own research lasted for a week or so, and at some point I just more or less stopped and signed up with a service I liked. So my article is not exhausting.

Yet, maybe a brief introduction may be of service, both to me, if anyone ever asks me about it, and to my potential readers. Even if offers may change, I believe some principal considerations will still be of value even later in the future.

If I should happen to find further information, I may (or may not…) include them, so come back whenever you wish, and have a look.

B. Experiences, Hints, Advice and Decision

I. Things to become clear about

There are a few lead questions you will want to ask yourself and then check the offers you can find on whether they provide what you need:

1. Which language should be the backend in? And in which language(s) do you wish to post your newsletters? And in which countries?

2. Are you ready to self-host, setting up things for yourself, or would you prefer and external service?

3. Would you accept the logo of the service in your newsletter or advertisements by others  or as a part of the sign-up process for your customers?

4. Do you intend to do affiliate-marketing or can you definitely exclude that you for the future?

5. The price, of course.

6. Are you thinking about becoming a reseller or how important is customization of the interface for you?

7. Do you need an autoresponder?

 II. Some Services named

The following overview only selects a few services. This does by no means imply that there are not equal worthy or maybe even worthier ones out there… It is jus those I encountered and decided I wanted to name here. Do look further if you feel called to do that.

1. Self Hosted

Quite a few of them are fee.

a. Scripts

While you can try using general mailinglist scripts or programmes (e.g. Mailman),  if you adapt the settings, there are also special newsletter and autoresponder tools available.

Many people use phpList . It may be quite functional. There is even a hosted version , which may address deliverability (see III.) concerns.

I have installed poMMo  in this version and like the interface. Unfortunately it does not seem to have integrated an autoresponder.

I have also installed Infinite Responder (hint to myself: here, lest I forget). The look appears to be a bit… retro… , but offers a variety of autoresponder options.

I have only read about Dada Mail .

There are a lot of others, if you shop around. I found some of them via WarriorForum or maybe by just googling. Some actually quite expensive (and probably quite good), as e.g. http://www.interspire.com. I also noticed http://www.openemm.org.

If you are looking for solutions from Germany, to these belong e.g. IMT PHP Autoresponder Pro Mailresponder  or the Superwebmailer.

A general overview can be found e.g. here.

You may also find interesting plugin solutions for WordPress blogs, if you look for the terms “newsletter” and “autoresponder” here.

As additional tools, programmes like Mega List Cleaner may be helpful.

b. To Observe

If you think you might ever change to not self-hosted services, enable only double-opt-in sign up forms. Even in that case, though, make sure you see a realistic road to import your list with a commercial provider without having to make your users resubscribe, which could mean a considerable loss of subscribers.

For more hints, please see III.

2. Non-Self-Hosted

The order in which I name some solutions constitutes no ranking. That I will be using affiliate links in this section will have no influence on my selection or description. Only after deciding which ones to select, I was looking for an affiliate programme.

Of course, there are many more services not named here which may be right for you.

Also, by the time you read this, features may have been added or changed, and points I may have criticized may have been improved. Always check for yourself.

AWeber

Maybe one of the most well known a lot of professional marketers and people offering online shows use. Offers a lot of options, a lot of templates.

Yet, a few remarks:

I read about one incident where I am not sure whether they refused a German to continue to use their service (cf. http://www.internetmarketingportal.de/internet-marketing/spielt-aweber-jetzt-schon-gott.htm) for reasons that may or may not be acceptable.

There exists the possibility that they cannot deal with German (or other?) Umlaute, it seems, and, as far as I know, have not shown any interest to change it. But I may be wrong there, just check.

If it was not for their starting price, I might have considered choosing them for my English language newsletters, although the Umlaute-issue might have made me think again.

Also, when choosing them, make sure to delete the entries of former, now unsubscribed, recipients. Otherwise you might have to pay for them.

You can receive further information from themselves (please note: “free” does still mean they would like to have 1$ at least temporarily, the reasons for which they explain on their site, I believe):

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MailChimp

I might have liked the service, it looked attractive, but I severeley dislike the TOS (read it and see below III. 4.). If you do not mind, they may be a great choice with a good free deal for beginners. I do not like to be told what I can advertise in my newsletter, though, and so I  did not even try them.

Listwire

Quite an intriguing free offer, although you will have to check whether you like their way of advertising on pages shown in the subscription process (on which your newsletter may also be advertised, though, under certain conditions).

I did not like that they will, from time to time, prune the list without asking you, deleting customers they consider inactive for the sake of deliverability (they may allow to export these prospects in the future). The problem has been discussed in their forum, and they are quite decisive in that matter. Their reasons, a connection between “engagement” and deliverability may be sound, but I have no interest in sending mails “because I have to” instead of when I feel it appropriate, and I believe my audience will value that.

Thus, if you do not like this or know you will only send occasional newsletters, you may wish to look elsewhere. It may be a  pity, for, as such, the service seems to be a great offer.

CampaignMonitor

Great. One of my definite favourites and my current choice. For details see V.

GetResponse

Nice, well designed.

Really, really beautiful interface with the possibility to choose a couple of languages. Beautiful archive. Beautiful sign-up form and newsletter templates. Even includes the possibility of creating web-surveys.

As it is the case with many other services, though, the TOS does not make me happy – it puts certain restrictions to content, in certain cases they charge for deactivating one’s account, albeit only after giving a warning.

But do indeed have a look.

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Graphic Mail

Could be worth having a look at. (Their autoresponder function is called “TriggerMail”, if you are looking for it, by the way.)

They also offer services in German and other languages.

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 Email-marketing through GraphicMail

ExpressPigeon

ExpressPIgeon looks quite beautiful, nice and interesting. Although currently I am using Campaign Monitor, I could well imagine having a deeper look at ExpressPigeon.

Follow your intuition.

NamasteLight

As someone esoterically inclined, I felt attracted by it, but I did not check it –  make sure how quick there customer service is before deciding.

Das Leadsystem

This is a German service I would have liked to use it, but I disliked that one had to give one’s real name, which would be reflected in a certain URL and the forum profile, both of which would have been publically accessible, as far as I understand. As I try to keep a certain control about in which context my name appears, I cancelled my account for that reason. But if you do not mind, do have a look, if it speaks to you.

CleverReach

CleverReach offers services in German and English. It appears to be quite a good service, but do compare prices if you expect to have a lot of subscribers.

And read the TOS, especially the Affiliate-TOS, if you intend to put out affiliate links for them. I do not, because I sincerely dislike contractual penalties and contracts incorporating them.

Clever Elements

CE is offering services both in German and English. They offer a Whiltelabel solution and do seem promissing. As far as I know, an autoresponder function is being planned.

Klick-Tipp

Interesting, but not cheap (at least not for people with only a few subscribers) appears to be the German Klick-Tipp service. It is totally in German (check whether you can use it for other languages, if you would like to).

There has been some criticism in the initial phase. Do check. And do read the TOS and be aware what it means. I also find their Anti-Spam-Policy too strict, e.g. it does not allow to send out mailings which do not have a connection with your website. If you do, they may even sue you!

• Others

Among others, I also came accross iContact, Contactology, Constant  Contact, VerticalResponse, MyEmma, DirectIQ (multi language according to their FAQ), 12SecondCommute and 123Response, Interspire and SimplyCast (in the letter case, for example, check here and here – you should always check all the services online before deciding, google for experiences etc.).

There are some resellers around, be it of Aweber, be it of CampaignMonitor, or of others. They may offer you a better (or a worse) price, or just good (or not so good) service. Have a look, and, if you want to know, check for the name plus “White Label” or “Reseller” etc. That may be interesting.

3. Other Creative Solutions

There are also email programmes for your computer available which do allow mass emailing, as far as I know. I have not further researched them, though (But see III.2., which you may have to consider, then, too.).

Whether, by the way, to creatively use Google Groups in a newsletter function, an idea I read about, is a good or feasable idea, I have not further researched.

III. Comments as to I. and interrelations between I. and II.

1. Which language should be the backend in? And in which language(s) do you wish to post your newsletters? And in which countries?

a. Language

aa) Languages other than English

If you wish to address an audience in another language than English, you will have to find out whether there are certain functions in the newsletters you will send which are named in English, will display in the recipients emailbox and the names of which cannot be altered.

bb)   Make sure all characters in your language work

And you will want to make especially sure the encoding allows to have all letters of your alphabet readable, especially in the newsletters you send . This may be a problem with, for example, AWeber and quite a few languages other than English.

Do enquire, do try it out with various standard email services.

In some cases, the only problem may be when someone with a name containing a foreign character signs up for your newsletter. His name might not be displayed correctly. You might be able to change that by setting the page with the webform to UTF-8.

b. The Country

The country question is relevant in so far as internet and privacy law is concerned (which customer data will be collected via the service and in how far you can control that, can you include social media buttons without including special privacy information etc.; the reader’s data crossing certain legal borders) and whether the service allows to comply with other legal norms (U.S. providers, for example, may have constructed their service or policies in such a way that it conforms or needs to conform with the CAN-SPAM-law).

Also, some may require double opt in, but I do not know. Just consider, though.

In these cases, choosing a provider from the region you aim at can be helpful. If your reasons are legal ones, do not rely solely on trusting that your provider will get it right. Look into the local rules yourself.

Of course, you can use different services for different purposes or countries.

2. Self-Hosting and Deliverability (also some general notes on Deliverability)

Are you ready to self-host, or would you prefer and external service?

If you are ready to self host (or choose a programme running on your computer), you may get away for free, or get quite an impressive peace of software for a one-time price.

Yet, you will have to set it up and then, you will have to look deeper into questions of deliverability. You will have to make very sure that your server (which may be more difficult if hosting on a shared server, although, on the other hand, you may profit from the “credibility” of your “neighbours” on the server – provided they are good ones) will not be blacklisted for SPAM and also check how the services used by email providers to filter out spam work.

To do this, it may be helpful to browse through the blogs of the various newsletter providers, but to make sure you do not get any biassed opinion.

You can also try and combine these self-hosted programmes or scripts with services like http://www.smtp.com or http://dyn.com/keepsending/ to ensure deliverability. Some of these may not accept being used in such a way, though. Check their TOS, before even considering it.

Even when signing up for an external service: DO ALWAYS EXPERIMENT with different email providers and see where mailings sent out through these services end: In SPAM-Folders or your inbox? And google for the experiences of others (name of the service and keyword “deliverability”, “deliver” etc.).

Only then decide.

(Of course, results may change again and again, depending on e.g. the other people on the server your account is on and other factors. Maybe do check from time to time.)

Tools and sites which may be helpful in the context of deliverability are, for example:

http://senderscore.org, and http://deliverywatch.com

By the way: do change the standard response email texts in the sign up process, it may help; I made it appear like a normal email, including a postal address and afterwards got it in my inbox instead of in my SPAM-folder.

Recently, by the way, a change in DMARC-policy lead to some problems.

3. Free services may advertise

Would you accept advertisements by the newsletter company or other companies in your newsletter or as a part of the sign-up process (as does Listwire) for your customers?

If not, free services or free offers of otherwise paid services may not always be your choice.

4. Traps in TOS: Do you intend to do affiliate-marketing or can you definitely exclude that you will do so in the future? Have you read the TOS and Acceptible Use Policy and other Policies?

a. Contents

Quite a few services exclude a wide range of content from being used with their service, reaching from MLM, drugs and pharmacy over lotteries to affiliate marketing in general.

Do read the TOS and the other policies in advance. And do not just believe and hope it will be fine. Analyse it and understand which risks you will take.

If you cannot exclude that you will want to do affiliate marketing in the future, you may not want to use MailChimp. Read the TOS, it is far too limiting, according to my opinion, and leaves a lot of potential points where you could find yourself suddenly locked out of your list.

But to move a list is no fun (see IV. 2.)

Some services (e.g. Klick-Tipp) even threaten to sue the user if he breaches certain aspects of the TOS.

b. Other traps in the TOS

Some services (e.g. CleverReach, but others will do that equally, I believe I have seen it, so I do not wish to single them out) will not allow mailings to be sent to certain addresses. To these may belong addresses beginning with “sales@”, “webmaster@”, “abuse@” etc.

As a reason you may hear that behind those addresses are normally no persons using them for subscribing to such newsletters, but that they are used by enterprises, and the owner may change.

My comments:

(1) So what? Maybe even people acting for enterprises wish to subscribe to a newsletter with such an address.

(2) It is not even true in my eyes. I would use an “info” address (which is also one sometimes named in this context) to subscribe without the blink of an eye, unless I knew this practice.

CleverReach at least openly talks about it (kudos for that). I suspect there may be other services which do not allow them and do not so openly talk about it. And then you may wonder why people signing up with these never seem to respond… Do check the TOS, do check the policies, and do ask whether any addresses like these will be automatically excluded. It may not be such an issue – you would have to look how many of your subscribers use these addresses, and what happens if someone signs up using such an address. But I would want to have a definite list of excluded addresses at the very least.

5. The Price

Well… quite obviously something to consider. But do put the other needs you may have in relation to it. And you may wish to support a good service, after all.

Take into account that some offers are cheap for people with a low number of subscribers, but may get more expensive than others once a certain threshold is reached. That also sheds a better light on the pricing of e.g. AWeber. Yet, there may be discounts available, if you ask.

If you find a service attractive, why not talk to them?

Some of the services listed in II. offer free basic accounts enabling sending out mailings to e.g. 100, 500 or maybe even more recipients. Quite enticing.

If you would like to avoid changing to another provider later, though (for reasons I have already mentioned), take into consideration how many subscribers you expect to have and how many you ultimately aim at – in the long run, another service may be cheaper.

6. Are you thinking about becoming a reseller or how important is customization of the interface for you?

If yes, do have a look at CampaignMonitor.

AWeber, GraphicMail, GetResponse and others may also offer Whitelabel-Solutions. But then make sure that it is really totally cutomisable, if you want to make sure you cannot be exposted as a reseller (unless you choose do disclose it, that is).

7. Research the Autoresponder Features

The autoresponder may not be included in some free trial versions, but do get informed about which functions they offer and which you may need. There are simpler ones and ones where you can determine when to send an email much more precisely (e.g. “not on Mondays” etc.), which might be helpful considering research concerning when people will open their email most likely.

IV. Some Keywords to Research and other Advice

• Check for integrations with social networks and commercial services, if you would like to have them.

• Some services allow for easily choosing a singup checkmark box for other newsletters one offers for the sign up form (e.g. CampaignMonitor).

• Be careful with a certain kind of sign-up form, lest they be blocked by web browser plugins; possibly provide alternatives.

• You can always have a self-hosted solution installed as something to fall back onto if something does not work with your newsletter service provider as wished. Just remember to export your lists once in a while so they cannot be held captive or deleted. Into your own tools, you can always import…

• If you are considering using a service which offers its services for free first (or a self-hosted service), and potentially to change later, think twice:

Some providers will not accept lists from others without making your customers sign up again (you might loose some – or more… – of them then), if at all (some will, though). At least make sure to have set a double-opt-in process from the beginning,  that might make it easier later.

But, if you can, maybe just avoid changing and make the “right” choice from the beginning.

 V. My own Decision and an Outlook

1. My Decision

I decided for CampaignMonitor. I love how I can integrate it into my website, branding it and customizing it in a lot of ways, also concerning the URLs where you sign up for my newsletter – I prefer keeping people on my own domains, which they know and can trust (I hope they do…).

It has beautiful statistics.

I also liked their TOS. Honest, and without a lot of the – in my eyes – inadequate limitations some other providers have in order to protect themselves, but severely limiting the usefulness of the service for those who actually wish to abide with the terms of a service they use and have the (relative, of course) security not to be “kicked” just because of a breach of some strange and unexpected clause in the TOS or policies (cf. above, III. 4.).

Also, it appears I can, de facto, collect addresses for free, until I decide to really use the service to send. Then, I will have to pay. As long as there are only a very few members, I can still use my webmail to reach them, and yet have got their addresses in a double-opt-in process.

But I can still decide whether to opt for a monthly plan or a plan based on the number of campaigns and emails to be sent.

(When writing this, I had not seen this yet, but for the moment, I am using Campaign Monitor.)

2. An Offer for Friends

For friends (although I do not believe many of them read my blog, and even less may wish to have a newsletter at the time I am writing this, but who knows…): please talk to me, if you would like to use Campaign Monitor; we might find a mutually beneficial arrangement.

3. To Learn

Many newsletter service providers have blogs. Some of them, e.g. those of GetResponse, AWeber, CampaignMonitor, can be quite instructive to read even if you have opted for another service.

I may update this article, if I find additional information I would like to include. The current version is version 1.3 of April13th, 2014.

 

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