One of the first things many do when starting up a new WordPress website is begin building an email list. This almost always involves putting a generic sign-up form on your blog’s sidebar and either exporting your list to a service like Aweber or Mailchimp; or hooking your form up to one of those services directly. See our guide to increasing your subscribers we posted the other day.
The main benefit of those services is that they have completely mastered the art of managing email lists and sending out bulk messages, such as newsletters. The downside is that as your list increases in size so does the price. Personally, I’m ok with that. But for anyone looking for a powerful – and free – alternative I’ve yet to find anything quite so good as the Newsletter plugin.
It should be noted though that if you’re the type of person that likes to install a plugin that “just works” then this is probably not the option for you. Stick with MailChimp or Aweber. But if you don’t mind a healthy dose of customization, configuration, and testing – then the Newsletter Plugin is for you. That’s not to say it is overly difficult by any means, just that you’ll need to block out a good deal of time to get everything working just so. And for some, a free newsletter is totally worth that. So lets do this!
Once you’ve downloaded the newsletter plugin navigate to your WordPress Admin > Plugins > Add New > Upload and install the plugin. Once activated, you’ll notice a new sidebar menu titled “Newsletter”. Click there to get started.
As you can see in the image above, the Newsletter sidebar menu has several sub-sections. The first is titled Welcome and as you might expect it describes the first steps you should take, lists the various modules included and available for the plugin, as well as links to support and documentation.
In fact because that documentation and support is so thorough this post is really only going to be a brief overview of what is possible with the Newsletter plugin, as the ins-and-outs of the plugin settings are made easily available to anyone who chooses to download and install.
The second sub-section is the configuration page. This page has four tabs: basic settings, advanced settings, smtp, and content locking. Under the basic settings tab you can set the email address and name from which your emails will appear to be sent from. You can also set your “max emails per hour” as well as return path and reply to email addresses.
In the advanced settings tab you’re able to grant Newsletter plugin access to editors, copy your API key, add custom CSS styling and choose between 8 bit and base64 encoding.
If you want to use an external SMTP, you can do that under the SMTP tab.
And if you want to lock certain types of content off from non-newsletter subscribers, you can do that on the Content Locking section. Which is a pretty neat feature if you wanted to create enticing subscriber only content.
The next sub-section is called Diagnostics. In this section you’re able to send test emails as well as view various logs (error, run, etc.) generated by the Newsletter plugin.
The next two subsections are called Subscription and Subscribers. The Subscribers section, as you would expect, is basically just a running list of everyone who’s subscribed to your newsletter(s). But under the Subscription section there’s a bit more. This is where you build subscribe/unsubscribe forms, confirmation messages/pages, and a welcome messages/page.
Finally we have the Newsletters sub-section. This is where you’re able to build the actual newsletters that will be going out to your email list. To begin click “New Message”.
Here you can select an email theme and preview what your email will look like both with that theme and as plain text. You can also create your own theme and upload it so it’ll be an option.
When you’re happy with the general look you can move on to the next step by clicking “Create the email”.
This is where you actually write and craft your newsletter. As you can see there’s a fairly standard visual text editor by default but you can also switch to an HTML source editor.
When finished you can choose to send it right away, save it for later use, or save and test.
When it’s all said and done I must admit, I’m really impressed with this plugin. For the low price of FREE it really puts a lot of power in the hands of its users. The help text throughout is very useful and the support and other documentation proved extensive as well. The only draw-back I can think of – and I didn’t get to test this thoroughly enough to know for sure – is that it seems a large list with a lot of “sends per hour” might slow down your website. But to be fair, I did not see that as a complaint in the reviews section so maybe this plugin really is too good to be true? Give it a shot let us know what you think!