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Finding an easy-to-use, template-driven HTML email newsletter solution

June 23, 2009

I was searching for an HTML-based email newsletter program anyone could use - specifically, for the internal use of a local school. Theme templates were a must, and a WYSIWYG interface easy enough that techies are unnecessary. (Want to know the winner? Skip ahead.)

So, where does one begin?

My typical approach start with a basic Google search: 'best HTML email newsletters'. Then variations on these search terms, and others. Because the school site is PHP-driven, I used 'PHP'. Because I'm looking for a WYSIWYG interface, that's a word I used. 'Freeware', because freeware is nice, if it's well-enough developed that it meets your needs.

This approach generated lots of leads, and a number of good possibilities:

Still, you should not stop there.

My next stop is SourceForge.net. My initial search term of "newsletter" produced a number of possible products; other variations of the keywords noted above got a few more:

Finally, I typically try one more approach - I go directly to a scripts site like hotscripts.com and browse their directory for more potentially suited candidates:

Next: Sorting the wheat from the chaff

All right, the list is large. Too large. Where do you begin?

If you don't already have a list of requirements, start one now. Who is the newsletter for? How will it be used? Debate this with your client or development committee or end-user group. Be as concrete and specific as you can.

Check the features comparison table at email-marketing-service-review.toptenreviews.com/ for a good idea of what you might need to look at.

Next, prioritize. What's mandatory? What is high-priority? What would be nice, but optional?

For the school project above, we need something that non-techies can use. A preformatted page, i.e., one or more templates that fit with a general theme, a consistent look-and-feel, one that matches the school web site. One that can easily be edited, images can be copied to, hyperlinks created to pages on the school web site, etc.

We need to manage multiple mailing lists: newsletters meant for the general public, others for the entire school community, class updates, and so on. Mailing list management should be easily, and ideally allow us to import lists from Excel or other sources.

We need to be able to archive newsletters, class updates, etc. in some way that they can be viewed on-line by our community. Ideally, we should be able to sort these in various ways, i.e. by class. Hosted locally, on our web site, not that of the newsletter company.

Ideally, we need to know when newsletters are undeliverable, or if they're not being read: statistics.

Finally, we're a non-profit, and try to be as affordable as possible. Our solution needs to be inexpensive.
 

Our requirements:

Mandatory High priority Nice, but ...
Easy for non-techie users
WYSIWYG interface
Reusable templates/themes
Image support
Hyperlink support
Multiple mailing lists
Newsletter archive
Inexpensive
Importable mailing lists
Multiple newsletter archives
Statistics: opened, unopened, undeliverable
End-user unsuscribe capability
Plain-text newsletter version
Test email function
Preview email in multiple clients

Please note that these requirements are not comprehensive. If you're sending marketing emails, you'll want to make sure your solution is compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act (which prohibits sending of unsolicited e-mails). A unique IP for your emails may also be necessary: shared IPs can lead to emails being falsely categorized as spam, and being blocked.

Etc. Educate yourself. Know your requirements. 

Next: Evaluating email newsletter solutions: Get Ruthless

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