Comparison of WordPress Email Newsletter Subscription Plugins

When I was migrating my blog from Joomla! to WordPress, I investigated a bunch of different automatic newsletter generation options. I concluded that MailPress was the best fit for my requirements. Here is a summary of what I found along the way.

Requirements

Under Joomla! I used Vemod News Mailer to automatically mail new content to subscribers, and I wanted the same functionality under WordPress. My basic requirements, prioritized from most-to-least important, were for a solution that could:

  1. Automatically email new posts to all subscribers
  2. Send HTML
  3. Bulk Import subscribers from CSV file
  4. Export subscribers in a CSV file
  5. Support throttling to avoid mail server rate limitations
  6. Capture Name in addition to Email address
  7. Allow links in HTML
  8. Send a personalized email per article, Title as Subject
  9. Include links generated by the SEO Smart Links Pro plugin
  10. Include a simple unsubscribe link in every email
  11. Add a clickable list of Recent/Popular/Related Posts
  12. Send a periodic combined newsletter (Daily or Weekly)
  13. Embed a friendly “Comment on this article” link
  14. Updated relatively recently by the author/maintainer
  15. Embedded videos referenced via WordPresss Video plugin
  16. Automatic Bounce Handling
  17. Easy to add subscribers in the backend
  18. Manually send subscriber-only newsletters
  19. Captcha/Spam protection on subscription
  20. Not cost the earth

Summary Comparison

I'll give details of the most promising options later, but first here's a summary table of how each option I looked at stacked up. I've included Vemod for comparison purposes:

#RequirementPrio
%
VemodMail-
Press
WP Res-
ponder
Tribulant News-
letter
Feed-
burner
Mail-
Chimp
Sub-
scribe2
-HTML
News-
letter

Version1.2.125.04.9.4.23.8.3N/A1.1.155.91.5.9
1Automatic100YesYesYesYesYesYesYesNo
2Send HTML100YesYes
YesYesYesYes
3Import CSV100YesYesYesYes
YesYesYes
4Export CSV100NoYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
5Throttling100YesYesYesYesN/AN/AExt

6Capture Name95YesYesYesYesNoYesNoYes
7Links in HTML95YesYes
YesYesYesYesYes
8Once per article90YesYesYesYesNoNoYesNo
9Smart Links90N/AYesNoYesYesYesNoNo
10Unsubscribe80YesYesYesYesYesYesNoYes
11Recent/Popular/Related Posts80YesYes
NoNoNoNo
12Periodically70YesYesNoYesYesYesYesNo
13Comment Link70NoYesNoYes


No
14Last Update709 Dec 0813 Jun 1013 Aug 1014 Jul 10N/A19 Jul 1030 Jun 1028 Mar 10
15Embed videos60NoYes
YesYes
NoNo
16Handle Bounces50NoYesNoYesYesYesNoNo
17Easy add40NoYesYesYes
YesYesYes
18Manual option30NoYesYesYesNoYesYesYes
19Spam protect20NoYes

Yes
Yes

20Price per 100010FreeFreeFree$49.99Free$15/mo$40.00Free
21Hosted/Service5HHHHSSHH

Notes:

Bold means I verified it myself. Regular means I relied on documentation or feature claims.

N/A means not applicable, which is generally favorable.

Blanks mean I couldn't easily determine whether this feature is supported or not.

Ext means is supported when used with another plugin or external component.

Hosted means the emails are sent by your hosting provider. Service means a separate service sends them.

Prices are in $US, based on a list with 1000 subscribers.

So in more detail...

Hosted versus Email Services

There are two different approaches when it comes to sending email from a blog. You can get your web hosting service to send the emails, or you can get an email service to send them for you. Email services cost money on an ongoing basis, but are generally more reliable; they specialize in getting messages delivered and avoiding SPAM filters so your readers actually end up seeing your messages. Web hosting companies generally don't care much about delivering your site-generated emails; for all they care it's SPAM and email is a hassle to them that they'd really rather not have to deal with.

I discovered during this exercise that my own hosting service IX Web Hosting have a draconian approach to email that isn't documented either in their sales documentation nor their online manual: send more than 300 emails per day, or 5000 per month, and the rest get silently discarded. No bounce messages, notification, error logs or anything... they just accept and then silently drop them. Ouch. They can whitelist me to remove the 300 emails/day limit, but the 5000/month is non-negotiable.

If your average email rate isn't too high, you can use throttling to get around peak hourly or daily limits. Once you exceed your hosting service's average limits, you either need to switch to an email service, or pay a mail delivery service like SMTP.com; which end up costing about the same.

MailPress

MailPress is the grand-daddy of WordPress email plugins. It has everything, and turned out to be the only free solution that met all my requirements. Unfortunately it's also the most difficult to configure and it does have some missing features, limitations and bugs I'd like to see addressed. The documentation is sparse, and was written by a native French speaker. Modifying the appearance of emails requires editing template files containing HTML, PHP & CSS. This makes it extremely powerful, but there is no visual template editor. MailPress works and it's free; so it's currently my preferred solution.

To get the functionality you want in MailPress you have to activate add-ins by going to Plugins → MailPress Add-ons. To meet my requirements I activate Batch_send, Bounce_handling_II, Bulk_import, Comment, Connection_php_mail, Import, Newsletter, Newsletter_categories, Tracking_ga, and View_logs. Then, go to Settings → MailPress → General → Admin, enable Dashboard widgets and Save Changes. A row of buttons related to your add-ons will appear. Click each one to set the relevant settings for the features that you need. To learn more, read this article on How to Configure Your MailPress Newsletter.

Be prepared to spend some time configuring and checking that it's doing what you want before unleashing it on your list. A really handy feature is the Test widget that appears when you open a post in the WordPress backend, allowing you to generate a test email using the selected post with any template. This makes it possible to hack an existing template into the shape you want and test it rapidly with your email client, without bothering your subscribers.

WP Responder Email Autoresponder and Newsletter

This plugin has a very impressive feature list, and with the author's interest in email marketing it's definitely headed in the direction I want to go. But I got the feel that it was lacking in maturity and not up to commercial quality at the moment. Some of the backend features don't work, and screens don't format correctly. Comments on the author's own blog gave me the sense that it was a bit amateurish. At the time of writing, it appears to be under rapid development. However, it does support a visual template editor and it's also free. If he keeps going, this may well surpass MailPress as my preferred free hosted solution.

Tribulant WordPress Newsletter

I didn't actually test this commercial plugin from Tribulant Software, but according to the feature list and a support enquiry I sent them, it appears to meet all my requirements. It looks much easier to configure than MailPress, principally because you don't have to hack PHP/HTML/CSS to edit your template. It's also commercially supported, and reasonably priced with no ongoing fees. Enter the coupon code 15OFF if you purchase it, and it's even 15% cheaper. If MailPress scares you but you really want a powerful hosted solution, I recommend Tribulant WordPress Newsletter instead. Let me know how it goes.

FeedBurner

Feedburner is the simplest and cheapest solution for allowing subscription to a daily newsletter from your site. You register your RSS feed with Feedburner, then add a Text widget to your sidebar with the Feedburner subscription form HTML code. Everything else is taken care of for you, and it's free. Unfortunately like other RSS-based solutions they only visit once a day so it's not possible to generate an email for each post this way.

MailChimp

MailChimp is a commercial email marketing service, which gets around the volume delivery limitations of hosted solutions I mentioned earlier. It also has a free low-volume trial plan so you can get started at no cost while you're building your list and not earning anything yet. That meant I could evaluate it for free too. It's much more flexible than Feedburner, but since it polls your RSS feed it still can't publish a per-post newsletter.

Their service is very easy to use, and has advanced email marketing features. There is also a plugin with a subscription widget for your sidebar so it's trivial to integrate. If you want a periodic newsletter and plan to use your blog to get into serious internet marketing, MailChimp looks like a great place to start.

Other Email Marketing Services

There are many email marketing services out there with very similar features to MailChimp, although I haven't evaluated anything else in detail. They all use your RSS feed to generate emails, and can do a great deal more than just automate your blog newsletter. All charge around the same amount depending on how big your list is, and how many emails you send.

Many of my Internet Marketing friends swear by AWeber. Other popular services include ConstantContact, and iContact. I recommend you check them all out if you're looking to build your blog newsletter into a serious email marketing business.

I've used Interspire Email Marketer on another site of mine. It has some great features, but it's impossible to integrate with a WordPress blog as it doesn't support RSS-to-email.

Subscribe2-HTML

Subscribe2 is hugely popular, but has some limitations that ruled it out for me. It doesn't capture your visitor's names, and doesn't appear to expand shortcodes meaning that things like embedded videos via the WordPress Video Plugin wouldn't work. It also doesn't support individual subscriber emails, making personalisation impossible and the unsubscribe process a little tricky. I only evaluated the free non-HTML version; but on that basis, it looked like even the premium HTML version wasn't going to meet my needs either.

Newsletter

The Newsletter plugin provides a manual newsletter facility for visitors to subscribe to. It's great if that's what you want, but isn't designed to automatically send new posts to them.

There are many other WordPress newsletter plugins available. Most of them didn't look like they would meet my requirements and once I found a solution that did, I pretty much stopped evaluating.

If you're aware of another solution that matches all, or at least most, of my requirements that you think should be included here, please leave a comment describing it.

Liked this post? Subscribe to get more like it via email.

About Graham

I'm the creator of BuildYourBlog.net.
This entry was posted in Email and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Comparison of WordPress Email Newsletter Subscription Plugins

  1. Heiko Mamerow says:

    Nice work, Graham - Thank You!

    Personally i use "Newsletter" - since beginningless time. ;-)

  2. Peter Luit says:

    Hi all,

    Does anyone know a plugin in which a subscriber can select one or more post categories during subscribing (via a widget in the sidebar) and that the subscriber gets only mail with content form the chosen categories?

    Thanks,

    Peter Luit

  3. I appreciate your thorough review.

    I am not a techie and coding is beyond me. All I want is a plug in that you can use to create a monthly newsletter from my blog, automatically. I'd like to be able to use a easy visual editor or drag and drop template, and have it automatically grab the first paragraph (or a digest version) of each blog post from the prior month, add lead in text, and some social links ... and send. Does anything like this exist?

  4. JPD says:

    Thanks for this post. I find it informative and well-balanced.

    I've been using Subscribe2 (unpaid version), which does the job, yet does not offer the rich feature set required for producing pro-level newsletter (e.g. HTML). Seeking an upgrade, I started my research a couple of days ago, aimed at finding a free/reasonably priced solution which would give greater flexibility.

    Our site is small and at this point I prefer self-hosting solutions to auxiliary service.
    Initially I leaned towards the paid version of Subscribe2. Thanks for drawing my attention to Mail Press and Tribulant's Newsletter.

    MP seems to meet my needs and I'm planning to give it a try. I like Tribulant's rather extensive feature set, particularly the automatically generated code for integration outside WP. This is a useful feature for anyone who seeks easy integration outside the WP scope. The alternative would entail self-coding, which on one hand would grant greater flexibility, yet, may require ongoing attention, to maintain compatibility with plugin updates.

    If MP falls short, I believe I'll go with Tribulant's solution, as it offers a much richer feature set than Subscibe2's paid solution, while its price is only marginally higher.

    Thanks again for the post...

  5. sheoran says:

    You seem to be very dedicated and methodical. I adore you for your work on this article and the one on choosing a keyword affiliate link plugin.

    But tell me, if you know, 2 things about Feedburner:
    1) Do they support your advertisement links (affiliate links, cross-links or the adv. links native to blog) in the Daily Mail Digest that they might be sending out?

    2) Isn't there a benefit in subscription with Feedburner in terms of getting your blog to be indexed and ranked faster? Because I think they combine RSS + EMail Newsletter both together, right?

    3) What if you subscriber base grows to 500-1000 in 3-4 months? MailPress will be able to handle it efficiently? Wouldn't it put extra load on CPU supposed to focus more on blog? I understand if SMTP is a problem, you can always have an arrangement with SMTP.com or some similar commercial service.

    • Graham says:

      Thanks for your comment, glad you found these posts helpful. I'm not an expert on Feedburner, but as far as I'm aware:
      1. Feedburner passes HTML links in your RSS feed articles through to the emails, so yes, affiliate or advertising links embedded manually or generated automatically are supported.
      2. I doubt using Feedburner gives you any search engine ranking or speed advantage. Ping-o-matic should update search engines as soon as you post, and you can submit your RSS feed as a sitemap to Google if you like.
      3. This is the big problem with hosted solutions like MailPress and Tribulant WordPress Newsletter. It's not a problem of loading your blog host, because most hosting providers run a separate email server anyway. The problem is that most low-cost hosting providers like IX Web Hosting and HostGator aren't really focused on delivering email from your site and have limits on how much, or how quickly, they'll send it for you. And the policies are sometimes draconian: IX Web Hosting drops your precious email silently if you exceed the limit, and has no tool to even tell you how close to the limit you are. On some providers you can use throttling to alleviate the problem, but if your blog gets really popular, you'll have to fork out for an SMTP server or a commercial solution like MailChimp or AWeber. I haven't hit this limit on any of my blogs yet and it's a problem I'd quite like to have...

  6. I noticed that you left out analytics from your list of requirements for a newsletter plugin. Any reason why? Does Mailpress provide or facilitate any analytics regarding newsletters?

    • Graham says:

      Good point; I just wasn't thinking about it when I started out. Mailpress has its own built-in analytics, and can also link to Google Analytics so I kinda take this for granted now. I haven't played with email analytics much yet though.

  7. Chris says:

    Hey thanks for the informative article, it was just what I needed to get a bird's eye view of the best of what's out there. When others do the legwork it's at least polite to say thanks so......

    Gracias. Domo Arregato. Danke. Etc.

    :)

  8. Mark says:

    Hi,

    Does anyone now a solution for the following: I would like to offer my visitors the option to subscribe to a daily digest of new posts. But I would also like to offer them to option to cherry pick from several categories. This way they would receive a daily digest of the posts from the categories they are interested in, in a single e-mail.

    Thanks!

    Mark

    • Graham says:

      MailPress comes pretty close to doing this; I have this site set up with separate newsletters per category, as you'll see if you visit the link under the Subscribe via Email widget on the top of the left hand column. I'm not sure how you'd get it in a digest, but you could ask about it on the MailPress support group.

  9. Frédéric Sidler says:

    Really great post. Thank you.

    There are multiple ways to notify and inform people about your posts. I divide these categories into two. The first one is to notify as soon as it was published. This is great for people that are not Twitter or Facebook friendly and that do not follow you in these social network. The second category is about digest and information you want to send to your followers. Service like MailChimp and Campaignmonitor are great for that. But this was not the subject of your post.

    So I think a combination of both is the right way to proceed. And I mentionned Campaingmonitor here because everything you do regarding electronic communication can be measured and should be. Why? Because if you want to improve, you need to rely on objective facts. And services like Campaignmonitor and Feedburner can give you these facts.

  10. Denis Davydov says:

    Hi Graham,
    thanks for a grate review. I also recently went with MP+WP. Yet, I could not find a step-by-step solution of how to have a custom form-widget with Captcha (antispam).

    I installed Forms MP add-on, but there's too less documentation on how to set it up to work as a subscription custom form-widget.

    Could you please describe how you did it in details? I mean all this Attributes/Options/Messages/Visitor/Recipient settings + Field settings. The easiest way is probably to do several screen-shots. I think many other users also find it difficult, so it would be grate if you share your experience on how to set it up.

    Thank you in advance,
    Kind regards,
    Denis Davydov, PhD.

    • Graham says:

      Ah yes; the MailPress form designer is quite a challenge and takes a little getting used to. I'm working on an article on how to use MailPress, and this is one of the things I want to cover. It's on my TODO list, but might take a while. Try experimenting in the mean time. It's pretty powerful once you get the hang of it.

  11. Julia says:

    Hi Graham

    Thanks so much for this. I've been using WP Responder but have been hit with spam sign ups. ..and no response from the authors as to whether they'll ever be adding spam protection. I've been looking for a good summary of the various newsletter plugins and your information was great! I think i'll give Mail-Press a go. Sounds good. The captcha is a big issue for me having tried and failed to wrap one into WP Responder. Rgds. Julia

    • Graham says:

      I haven't had any problems with spam sign ups, although I don't have huge traffic yet, so I haven't looked at this closely. MailPress is probably a bit more open than WP Responder. I'd be interested to hear how you go; please let me know.

  12. Pingback: Best Wordpress Newsletter plugins | Web developer & geek blog

  13. Eduardo Rodriguez says:

    This comparative is excelent !
    It was so usefull for me and I discovered new scripts and plugins to make suscriptions to my visitors... Very good and thanks...
    Bye and sorry my english...

  14. Graham,

    This is a very useful comparison of the email options available for WordPress bloggers. As the author of Subscribe2 I'd like to take the opportunity to add a little more detail to your review and perhaps fill in those blanks.

    Subscribe2 is now at version 6.0 and if you were using the version from 30th June 2010 it would more likely have been version 5.9 (5.6 came out in March 2010).

    - Throttling is not available in the plugin but is possible via a paid extension.
    - Subscriber name capture is possible only for users who Register with your WordPress blog. People who just enter their email address become and names are not collected. This is because I have found that the more information you collect at registration the less likely people are to subscribe.
    - Unsubscription links are possible with a little thought. Subscribe2 asks that you create a page to handle the subscription and unsubscription process. You can add a link to this page into your email templates.
    - Subscribe2 does not link to Comments.
    - Subscribe2 does not automatically handle bounces but with correct configuration bounces will be returned to the sending address for manual action.
    - Spam subscribers can be blocked on a domain basis by adding problem domains to the "Barred Domains" area in the Settings page.

    I hope you and your readers find this information useful.

    • Graham says:

      Thanks Matt; I appreciate your feedback. I've made a couple of updates. Subscribe2 is a great plugin that came close to what I wanted; it is well suited to sites with slightly different requirements to mine. I hear what you say about not wanting to do anything to discourage subscriber; I'm still in two minds about the name thing myself.

    • Shvakovski says:

      Matt, will Subscribe2 be ever able to work with custom post types. I mean I'd like to send not only categories but another post types (e.g. catalog updates for example).
      Looking for a plugin with this functions and don't know if any of reviewed by Graham could help. Graham, any information?

  15. Karin says:

    Thanks for this great post! I'm using the plugin Post Notification right now, but it's not being updated anymore so I was trying to find a new solution when I found your site. I'm definitely going to give Mailpress a try. Thanks!

  16. Cole says:

    I was just looking at them all and I picked Mailpress as well. It was either that or us Subscribe2 with Subscribe To Double Opt In Comments. Two plugins would have been horrible to try to convert over to something else later.

    I refuse to use anything hosted, I would rather spend the money on a better server. Free hosted tends to be a little limited.

    I did consider using PHPList or something and integrating, but I think Mailpress will handle everything I need.

    The thing that was scaring me off was all the problems that people had with Mailpress in the past. Those might be gone now, but I think far fewer people use it or dare to use it. As soon as you install it, you can tell it is better than any of the other plugin options.

    Thanks for taking the time to put this all together. It was helpful for the finalizing of my decision.

  17. Really helpful post and the timing could not have been better! Got Mailpress running in a multi-site network environment thanks to your recommendation. No Multisite hiccups :)

  18. Graham,

    I've been looking for an objective view from an end user that's used WP Email Newsletter Plugin with all the features you've wanted in an app for your blog.

    This is great research and glad I found it on the Subscribe2 WP Plugin directory page.

    Great stuff and I'll be sure to let you know if anything I'm using surpasses what you've recommended here.

  19. Alex Cook says:

    Whoa! Thanks so much for putting this together. I'm glad I don't need to do this research. Solid!

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