Software & web applications, Tips

Email tools roundup

I’ve just been chatting with a client about email marketing – exploring which tools they should/could use to support their email strategy. I thought I’d do a quick review of some of the options we looked at.

Click through to read the full post.

Note: of the options mentioned here, the only one I’ve used commercially/professionally is Campaign Monitor. So I’m basing much of this appraisal on initial impressions, not in-depth usage. Please leave a comment if you have first-hand experience with any of these tools.

What’s the aim?

The first question that my client needed to answer was what the requirements were for the system. In essence, my client is wanting to leverage the traffic they’ve been receiving to their blog and start developing those connections by offering an email list/subscription.

Of course, the success of such a strategy depends entirely on the offer – what’s in it for the blog readers? What’s the value proposition?

We decided that, initially at least, the value proposition is being notified of new posts to the blog. So there are two methods we could use:

  • Send an automated email update with each new blog post (like RSS to an inbox)
  • Send a crafted email of “highlights” after a period of time – e.g. monthly

The approach taken will determine the suitability of the options presented here.

Blog update notifications

There are a couple of tools that may be suitable for this purpose.


Feedburner offers a number of blogging related services (both free and paid), including stats on RSS feed readership, advertising revenue sharing and more.

One of the free services they offer under the banner of “Promote” is an email service which sends an email to subscribers whenever something is posted.

The service offers a small amount of customisation to the email template, and also provides an management facility, including export, for subscribers records. They also offer JavaScript and HTML form options for creating a sign-up form in your blog.

The Feedburner option is very quick to implement, especially if you’re already using one of Feedburner’s other services.


Zookoda is a great service that is dedicated to re-publishing content from a blog to a subscriber list.

The system is a bit more complicated to setup and manage (compared to Feedburner), but offers a lot more flexibility. This extends to the templates used for both the sign-up form and emails themselves, as well as the content of emails.

For example, you can select which posts are published in the email, and what the order of those posts are.

On balance, I think this flexibility makes it a more compelling option.

Custom email sending

If the aim is to send out a regular email that is not fully dependent on blog content, the Zookoda and Feedburner options aren’t really all that helpful. In such a case a dedicated email list management tool is more suitable.

Campaign Monitor/Mail Build

As I’ve mentioned previously (both here and in my presentations), I’m an admirer of the crew at Freshview who are responsible for Campaign Monitor and Mail Build (as well as spear-heading the Email Standards Project).

I’m yet to see an email list management solution compete with the extensive features of Campaign Monitor, nor it’s ease of use (provided you know how to create the HTML email in the first place).

They work hard to ensure the deliverability of your emails – having implemented Domain Keys and SenderID, as well as a spam test tool among other things – and provide a great number of tips on their blog to help you improve open rates etc.

Other benefits include an email client testing tool that enables you to check your email layout in a variety of email clients, bounce management, send-to-a-friend forms + tracking, a comprehensive API, and attractive, easy to understand reports on campaign delivery (open rates, unsubscribe and subscribe requests and more).

They also provide easy to implement form templates for including sign-up forms in your site.

The one downside to Campaign Monitor, when considering client-accessibility is the need to know HTML – as all campaigns are imported into the system (i.e. there’s no WYSIWYG editor).

That’s where the companion Mail Build product comes in.

It offers a template-driven, WYSIWYG editable interface to all of the cool features of Campaign Monitor, as well as a flexible billing model for agencies implementing the system on behalf of their client(s).

This is the tool I recommend to most of my clients.

Emma, Constant Contact, Newsberry

I have to admit, being such a fan of Campaign Monitor, I’ve not really looked all that hard at other hosted options – though I’ll mention three that I’ve come across in passing.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone that’s had experience with these systems to get a sense of how they compare with Campaign Monitor.

Emma, apart from being an odd name for an email system, seems like a fairly friendly option with most of the core features an email list system would need. It uses a monthly billing+volume model, which personally I’m not a real fan of.

Likewise, Constant Contact follows the same billing model. Newsberry uses a volume model and includes a full WYSIWYG editor for campaigns.

(As an aside, I’m not a fan of full WYSIWYG editors in this context. What I mean by that is a tool for editing the content of the entire newsletter in the browser. Given the myriad issues with creating HTML emails that work across email clients, I find that WYSIWYG editors make it too easy to break a design, which can cause problems for recipients. Mail Build’s template-driven approach seems to me to be a much saner option.)

Again, both of these system seems to cover the core requirements, but none of these services have APIs which allow tighter integration with CMSs.

Fully hosted solution

I was introduced to Interspire Email Marketer (formerly Send Studio) through Digital Eskimo.

If you have and are comfortable with your own hosting environment, this could be an attractive solution. While there’s a one-off fee to buy the software, plus upgrade costs over time, you don’t need to pay ongoing fees with each email you send.

Additionally, if you’re hosting the system yourself the data is fully under your control – which can be an important consideration with regards to privacy policies etc.

While the system is pretty comprehensive, I find the way the system is laid out a bit confusing and hard to use. And so have some of the clients who have used the system, I might add. Even though the latest version has an improved UI, the underlying structure (separation of lists and contacts, the segmentation function etc.) – the cause of the issues – remains.

I’ve also experienced issues with the bounce management, and the WYSIWYG editor is problematic in a variety of ways too (I usually resort to using the system in Safari, which disables the WYSIWYG editor). It introduces HTML in some instances that cause rendering issues for some email clients, but also in some cases doesn’t properly update the HTML to reflect edits in templates.

Desktop solutions

I’ve come across a few desktop mailing list solutions, but none have really come close to the flexibility and convenience of an online service, especially in relation to automating the sign-up and unsubscribe service, and managing bounces.