I’m currently planning to start a newsletter (more soon) and so a few weeks ago I put a shout-out on Twitter for service or software recommendations to help me manage the process.

A flurry of responses arrived, including one company who took the time to dig out my email address and email me personally (thank you Alex from delivra.com). I also received several tweets from companies directly, one of whom was rather too enthusiastic and kept pestering me, resulting in my ignoring them. FYI @madmimihelp – can I suggest that one helpful tweet is enough.

Campaign Monitor got a good number of recommendations, which shows it’s still a force to be reckoned with and that it is still the brand leader in the field. It was also one of the companies who tweeted directly (but note, not several times madmimi.com), an indication of good customer service and awareness.

So, the list of possible things to try came to six – a good number to compare – as follows:

For my own purposes I was looking for a service that could handle a small list at a reasonable price, that was easy to use without tech support, that had the option of text only or HTML with a good editor and possibly some customisable templates, that had good list management tools for importing/subscribing/unsubscribing/de-duping, some tracking tools, and that handled data securely.

For fair comparison purposes I only examined what each company claimed about their product on their website, and gathered my list of criteria through reading each site carefully. Many features were standard, such as sending as text-only or HTML, but other features varied more dramatically.

How did each fair?
Here’s the Excel spreadsheet I put together. For reading purposes view full screen. Please contact me if you would like an original copy.

SUMMARY

Mail Chimp 7/10
Great for small to medium sized lists. Nice free option for micro to small lists (0-100 email addresses up to 6 times a month). Good set of plugins for wide number of platforms (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and more). Reporting seems slightly less comprehensive to other SAAS offerings but certainly adequate.

Php List 6/10
Completely free and opensource, the only downloadable product reviewed. Great for people who know what they’re doing and have a friendly techie to hand. Support is via the community and forums. Think of it as the WordPress for email newsletters.

Vertical Response 5/10
Good for professional operations, TypePad users and qualifying non-profits. The lack of widgets/plugins for non-TypePad platforms makes this offering less appealing. Reporting seems very comprehensive. It was not clear how lists were imported into the system from the information available.

Campaign Monitor 8/10
Great for huge lists, agencies, clients. Easy to see why this is the queen of professional email list management. Security and data protection information needs more detail as whilst it seems comprehensive the descriptions are also opaque. No specific mention of compliance standards. Pricing structure off putting for micro-small lists.

Delivra 9/10
Great for developers and large list management as well as those without tech support. This service has some great features such as Lyris integration, real-time tracking, auto trigger management and what looks like a comprehensive API. Security seems to take a high priority. All heavy duty stuff. This is an enterprise level product and possibly over the top for a small list or your average blogger!

Thru Sites 0/10
Thoroughly disappointing. Not enough information given on the site to warrant inquiry. Company would prefer clients to view and understand the product via a demo. No features list available on the site.

And what shall I be testing?
I think I will give Mail Chimp a go as it seems the right fit for what I am trying to do and it’s pricing model is very appealing. It allows me to experiment with how the newsletter will work at a low cost, but has much of the functionality of the bigger players.

Will keep you posted.

With thanks to: @andjdavies, @fractious, @anonymoustom, @WineOfTheWeek, @sparcd, @Paul0Evans1, @gavinwray for all their suggestions.

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UPDATE 18/08/2009: It was looking so promising… Mail Chimp sign-up is optimised for IE.

TIP: do not attempt to use non-domain owned email (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail etc) when signing up, particularly using either FireFox or Opera as the fail messages do not fully display and the page does not seem to function as a result, claiming that it requires cookies to be turned on. To save yourself some time and anxiety (if you can face it), use IE and/or ensure you are using a domain email address eg @kathryncorrick.co.uk.

4 Comments

  1. Hi Kathyrn you might be interested to know that Campaign Monitor has just launched A/B testing for either subject lines, from addresses or email design.

    I’ve been waiting ages for that feature.

    Jonathan

  2. Very handy spreadsheet, nice one. BTW, checked into MailChimp and it can handle scheduled sending (a ? on your spreadsheet) at least through the API, which is pretty comprehensive.

    Agree that it’s slightly weaker on the stats front, but the integration with Google Analytics will cover some of that.

    Not noticed a problem with the sign-up form using FF on a Mac just now, but maybe I got lucky.

  3. Even after using the full screen option, I am having difficulty viewing your chart. Please email me an excel sheet if you can. Thanks.

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