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Evaluating email newsletter solutions: Get Ruthless

June 27, 2009

Continued from HTML-based email newsletter solutions.

Time to apply your requirements. And if you think you don't have time to thoroughly assess the feature set of 20 different software solutions - you're right.

Time to get ruthless.

You'll want to narrow your search quickly. Your time is precious. If someone wants your business, they need to be honest and open about their offerings. This is where I look at the individual web sites. Do they have a Features page? A comprehensive one? A FAQ page? Can they deliver on your needs?

Second, do they offer Screenshots? If they're not showing you their product, there's a reason. Leave. If they do provide screenshots, or even better, show you some or all of the templates they provide, keep looking. Do any of these look like they'll meet your need?

If this approach rules out all or almost all of your contenders, that's OK. Broaden your approach, a little. But beware - you want to make extra sure that your requirements are met.

Make notes as you surf. Note any unresolved questions. Note anything that stands out as useful. Note all the reasons you're dropping software off the list, because invariably, at some point, you'll ask yourself why you'd discarded a possible choice. Note any requirements you hadn't thought of, but that really should be added.

Spreadsheets are great for this. I've done it using paper, too, but if you have or anticipate the need to document your process, then better to start electronic. It can be as basic as:

sample scoring template for email newsletter software solutions

Initially, I would enter mostly Y or N, or leave blank or a question mark if you feel you can't answer the question.

Enter a numeric score from 0 to 10 if you felt comfortable doing so from web site review alone. Normally I would reserve this for a second, in-depth testing/scoring run on a much shorter spreadsheet, working with the actual product.

Our results reflects such scoring. It may not always contain complete information, or be perfectly up-to-date - manufacturers, please, complete and up-to-date web sites move product! Still, it gives a very good overview of how various solutions meet our requirements, or not.

The following is from an Excel spreadsheet I used to rank various providers for the school newsletter project in this example. Data is preliminary, as gathered from product feature description, or from use of a on-site demo, or trial version.

Even if not perfect - this data is in the right ballpark. Enough that we can substantially narrow our product selection for in-depth testing.
 

Comparison Matrix of different email newsletter solutions


 
easy
WYSIWYG
templates
images
hyperlinks
mailing lists
local archive
monthly cost/499 users
import links
multiple archives
stats
unsubscribe
plain-text
test email
multi-client preview
Y
Y
>375
Y
Y
Y
Y
14.00
Y
Y
Y
Y
?
Y
N
Y
Y
170
Y
Y
Y
Y
9.95
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
>400
Y
Y
Y
Y
15.00
Y
?
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
148
Y
Y
Y
?
82.92
Y
?
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
>25
Y
Y
Y
N
69.00
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
>450
Y
Y
Y
N
10.00
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
>150
Y
Y
Y
?
10.00
Y
?
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
128
Y
Y
Y
Y
10.00
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
14
Y
Y
Y
?
19.90
Y
?
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
>150
Y
Y
Y
N
17.95
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
N
?
?
?
?
?
?
free
?
?
?
?
?
?
N
N
Y
0
Y
Y
Y
Y
free
Y
Y
Y
Y
?
N
N
?
Y
?
?
?
Y
Y
free
?
?
?
?
?
N
N
Y
Y
0
Y
Y
Y
N
free
Y
N
N
N
Y
N
N
?
?
?
?
?
Y
?
free
?
?
N
?
?
N
N
?
Y
?
Y
Y
Y
N
0.00
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
20
Y
Y
Y
N
0.00
Y
N
Y
?
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
32
Y
Y
Y
Y
0.00
Y
?
Y
Y
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
?
Y
Y
Y
N
0.00
?
N
?
?
?
?
Y
N
N
N
?
?
?
N
0.00
?
N
?
?
?
?
N

 

Comparison Matrix Part Two: Miscellaneous observations/impressions


 
Comments
Public archive on iContact server. Video Tutorials. Articles
NPO discount; free API for integrating with other sites
NPO discount
Core product starts at $995/yr; appears less robust than iContact, Benchmark and others
Expensive; better alternatives
NPOs free for <10,000 emails/mo; very large image library. Articles, tutorials
uses 'themes' rather than templates. Archives 'direct from box'. Preview in 25 email clients at extra cost. API allows additional features, i.e. shopping carts, integration with local server code, but requires programming
unique IP for all customers; can integrate into local server using StreamSend API - could build local archive code?
PHPNuke add-on; not updated 4 years
requires config; PHP; limited design options
looks promising; still in alpha, likely years from final
minimalist but easy, functional
PHP/MySQL. Looks clean. Not updated 4 years
$39.95 one-time cost. PHP/MySQL; should be able to create own archive code, with some programming
$88 one-time cost. PHP/MySQL, so again, should be able to create own archive code
$199 one-time cost. Looks slick
Free. Last updated 2006
Free. PHP-on-Unix or linux. Very limited
 
 

From the above data, it is easy to see that only one solution appears to meet all our needs: MailChimp. And the price is decent. Bronto and Pinpointe are expensive, and while competent, don't offer everything we need. The others in the commercial monthly-fee class all appear decent, with the exception of not being able to handle multiple local archives, i.e. the ability to archive Class Updates by class, Committee updates by Committee, etc.

One-time cost solutions are cheap, but if I want local archives to store past email newsletters - means creating custom PHP/MySQL code. Not truly free ...

And the freeware solutions - often in alpha, or abandoned code, limited functionality. Would require huge amounts of coding time to come up to scratch. That's not free. They're the costliest solutions here, by far.

Next: The Winners: template-driven HTML email newsletter solutions.
 

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