What I used FeedBurner for
Since starting my blog I have been using FeedBurner to send out e-mail updates to my e-mail subscribers, and “burn” my feed, which allows subscribers to easily add my RSS feed to their own RSS reader.
However, Google has given us many signs that the end of FeedBurner may be near. In September of 2012, Google discontinued FeedBurner’s API (which allows third party clients/sites to grab and display FeedBurner statistics). The service itself remained running, but third party clients were no longer able to grab FeedBurner data. Then, this month, Google announced that they will be shutting down Google Reader, a service that is in the same ‘area’ as FeedBurner, in the sense that it has to do with RSS feeds. Google has made it clear that they want to cut down on the number of projects they support. Although Google has not said that they will be shutting down FeedBurner, all these signs lead me to believe that the end may be near!
Even though nothing is concrete right now, I think I just wanted to be prepared, and I didn’t really want to be at Google’s mercy. So, I decided to search for other options.
And so, I sought out a FeedBurner alternative
When searching for a FeedBurner alternative, I had one thing in mind: e-mail subscriptions. I don’t care that much about a service to “burn” my RSS feed, because my RSS feed exists already without any third party applications, and I don’t need a third party application in order for people to add my feed to their RSS reader (all they need is a feed URL—which comes with WordPress). But the one thing I absolutely needed was a way for people to subscribe to my blog via e-mail.
The sites I chose NOT to opt into… and why
I researched several different e-mail subscription sites, and I’ll explain why I chose not to go with those options.
JetPack — A WordPress Plugin
The WordPress plugin JetPack comes with an e-mail subscription service. People can subscribe to your blog and then WordPress.com handles the distribution of e-mails. But this plugin comes with several downsides:
- The e-mail format cannot be customized in any way.
- WordPress shortcodes and the_content filters do not show up in the e-mails at all.
- You don’t get any statistics about your subscribers, other than the number that you have (but you don’t know how many have clicked on e-mails, or how many unsubscribed after each e-mail, etc.).
- JetPack is known to slow down some blogs significantly. I have seen one blog first hand that had JetPack adding an extra 45 seconds onto page load time. To put that in perspective, most intensive plugins should add less than 1 or 2 seconds to load time.
So, assuming your blog doesn’t suffer from the last point (slowing down your site IMMENSELY), then JetPack does do the job, and it is free. But it’s not a realistic option for me because a big chunk of my post information (all the “book info” at the top of reviews, like title/author/publisher/rating) is added on using the add_filter WordPress function, which gets stripped from JetPack. Plus, I just don’t like how inflexible it is.
MailChimp is one of the most well known e-mail subscription/newsletter services. It’s certainly one of the first that springs to my mind when someone says “newsletter”. However, their price plans are not cheap for a “hobbyist” blogger.
MailChimp has one free option that allows for up to 2,000 subscribers and up to 12,000 e-mails per month. But I quickly determined that this plan would not work for me. I post almost every single day (sometimes more) and I currently have about 400 e-mail subscribers. At one post per day and 400 subscribers, that’s 12,000 e-mails per month. Now, I am currently within the limits, but this allows for ZERO maneuvering. As soon as I get new followers, I will no longer qualify for this free plan. So let’s look at the payment plans:
|Subscribers||0-500||501 – 1,000||1,001 – 2,500||2,501 – 5,000||5,001 – 10,000||10,001 – 25,000||25,001 – 50,000|
With my current amount of subscribers, I would have to pay $10 per month. But fairly soon, I would be slipping into the $15 per month range. Even the $10 per month option is more than I pay per month for my hosting. As a hobbyist blogger with zero advertising on her site (other than Amazon affiliate links, which give me next to nothing), I’m not prepared to double my current monthly blog spendings, just for the sake of e-mail subscriptions. Not when there are other, cheaper alternatives.
So, MailChimp was out.
Another one I looked at was Mad Mimi, but this had the same problem as MailChimp… or even worse. Their free plan allows for 2,500 contacts and 12,500 e-mails per month. The e-mails per month is 500 more than MailChimp, but I still run into the same problem… Soon, I’d end up having to upgrade. Their basic plan—at $10 per month—allows for 500 contacts and unlimited e-mails. But their second up is the pro plan, which costs $42 per month. I stopped reading after that.
Since creating this post, FeedCat has been suggested to me. It looks like they do free RSS feed “burning” and e-mail subscriptions. This might be a good option if you’re using Blogger and want to move away from FeedBurner and have no other option, but I’m personally not a fan. FeedCat has very little information on their site without registering and I find their interface clunky and unattractive.
But if you’re on Blogger and your options are more limited, this might be a good one to look into.
Long story short: these pay per month options are not good for me!
I simply could not find a reasonable pay-per-month service that worked for me. So I started looking for a better deal: one-time payment plans.
Introducing: MyMail — Email Newsletter Plugin for WordPress
This is a premium plugin that costs $25. This is a one time payment—NOT a monthly payment. Once you buy the plugin it’s yours forever. This plugin allows you to do two main things:
- Create e-mail newsletters straight from the WordPress dashboard. You can essentially write up an e-mail and send it to your entire mailing list.
- Set up an automated newsletter campaign that will e-mail your entire mailing list every time a new post goes up on your blog, and you can include that latest post in the e-mail (basically exactly what FeedBurner does).
- Expanding on the second point, you can even create separate subscription lists that allow people to subscribe to certain categories of your blog. So people could opt in to receive only e-mails from a certain category (like Bitchin’ Book Blog or Reviews).
Track receivers, opens, clicks, unsubscribers, and bounces for each e-mail.
Image from MyMail
It actually does a lot more than this, but those are the key things for the sake of this post.
You then hook up the e-mail settings on the plugin with your hosting and send e-mails straight from your web hosting account. But the great thing is that this is even more customizable than FeedBurner! I’m sure some of you have messed around with MailChimp and you’ve seen how you can customize the look and feel of your e-mail and add in extra text and notes with your e-mails.. this can all be done on MyMail as well! And, of course, you can import a file with all your subscribers! So, on FeedBurner, I can export a list of my subscribers, and then go to MyMail subscribers and import that list so that none of my subscribers get lost.
However, before buying and using this plugin, you should check with your hosting to see if they have any limits on sending e-mails. If you have hundreds or thousands of subscribers, you might be sending hundreds or thousands of e-mails per day. Your web host might not like this and could revoke your hosting account. Yeah, scary stuff. So make sure you get in touch with your hosting provider and find out if they have any limits or restrictions on the amount of e-mails you can send per day or per month.
Just to be safe, I signed up with Amazon Simple Email Service
Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES) is a highly scalable and cost-effective bulk and transactional email-sending service for businesses and developers. Amazon SES eliminates the complexity and expense of building an in-house email solution or licensing, installing, and operating a third-party email service.
Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES)
Basically, Amazon SES is a way of sending your e-mails through Amazon instead of through your web host. This is not a newsletter service. You can’t stick in an RSS feed URL and have e-mail subscriptions go out like FeedBurner. This is just an alternative way of sending an e-mail, and you’re meant to connect this service with the plugin I mentioned before (MyMail). If your host does have limits, you can use this Amazon SES service to avoid any scary “getting kicked out of your hosting account” scenarios. However, this is a paid service… BUT, it’s extremely cheaper than MailChimp or the other alternatives. Here is a price quote:
Email messages are charged at $0.10 per thousand.
Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES)
This means, that for every 1,000 e-mails you send, you pay $0.10. So, for me, sending 12,000 e-mails per month (1 post per day to 400 subscribers), that’s $1.20. The MailChimp equivalent would be $10 – $15.
Putting it all together
So what does this mean? I paid a one time $25 fee for my MyMail plugin. I installed this on WordPress. Then, on the settings page, where I configure how my e-mails will be sent, I put in my Amazon SES credentials and pay about $1.20 per month in e-mail sending fees.
One of the biggest benefits of using a WordPress plugin instead of a third party client is that I have physical access to all the code that’s responsible for sending out e-mails. I can change anything I want in the code and I have complete control. I don’t have to worry about a third party service being discontinued, because all the code for composing and sending out newsletters is hosted on my very own blog, on my web hosting account. I love being in full control and not having to rely on a third party service that could be changed, disrupted, or discontinued.
Alternative to MyMail
MyMail does cost $25 and so far, I highly recommend it. But if you want a 100% free option, you could check out the Wysija Newsletters plugin for WordPress. It’s free, and it looks like it’s similar to MyMail. It also has over 300,000 downloads with an average rating of 4.9 of 5 stars! I can’t personally vouch for it though since I haven’t used it.