Create and Send Newsletters

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The Newsletters Module is where you create and send messages to your subscriber. Of course is the heart of  Newsletter plugin. There are some topics you should be aware when creating messages to get the most from them. Briefly:

  1. what is a theme an its configuration
  2. how to select the subscribers target of your message
  3. how to compose the message both in textual and html version
  4. how to send and monitoring the delivery
  5. how to track the message: opens and clicks
  6. online version of your messages

Even if those seems a lot of concepts, you’re sending emails to a lot of subscribers and you should know what’s behind a mail marketing campaign. Let me start.

What is a theme

A theme is something that make graphically pleasant your message and can enrich it with some extra content or even create the whole content for you (which you can just slightly modify).

theme_selectionOn creating a new message, you select a theme: there is a blank theme which gives you a blank sheet where to compose and other themes which prefill the message with latest post from your blog.

A theme can have some configurations, like messages, colors and so on. When you change the theme its configuration appears and you can twick the setting to see how your message will be.

Since theme settings can be complex, they will be saved and reloaded when you will compose a new message with that theme. This way no translations of fixed labels (like the opening and closing texts) will be lost!

A theme produces two messages: one in html format, with color, fonts and images and one in pure text. Almost every email client, today, is able to show html emails, but a textual version even minimal, is useful to reduce the spam issues.

It’s not possible to produce a textual version directly from the html one, so you should write it by hand or use the content generated by a theme.

To test the theme generated email, you can send a test sample to all “test” subscribers (a test subscriber is a regular subscriber with the test flag on – see the subscriber management panel).

Themes can be customized and created by you, state you have some programming skills. Tutorial are available elsewhere on this site.

After you finished to configure the theme, you can select the “compose” button: a real email message is generate and you’ll enter the editing panel. Theme cannot be changed once the email is generated: if you change your mind, you should delete the email and create a new one.

Selecting subscribers

Once you are done with the theme, you are presented to an editor where to change both the html and textual version of your message and a panel where you can select who should receive that message. Every subscriber? Only women? Only men? Only the ones with a specific preference active? Or a combination of all that filters?

Anyway, only confirmed subscriber will be mail, just to know.

Composing

Composing is easy as write a blog post: just use the editor which is similar to the WordPress editor but remember to write something even on the textual version. The latter can even be a simple message like “this email is readable only with an html capable email client”.

Since a link can be added to read the newsletter online, if not private, on textual version you should use at least the {email_url} tag to a link will be included to open the html version on a browser.

While composing, and usually themes already add it, you must (not only should) add an unsubscription link. There are actually two kind on links created by two different tags: {unsubscription_url} and {unsubscription_confirm_url}.

The first bring the user to an unsubscription message (configurable on administration panels) where to ask him if he really want to unsubscribe. The second directly unsubscribe the user, without furthers questions, and bring the user to a goodbye message (always configurable on administration panels).

Use the one you feel most comfortable: personally I prefer the {unsubscription_url} since it gives me the opportunity to advise the user what he will loose unsubscribing.

To test you message you can simply press the test button and all test subscribers (see the theme paragraph) will receive a copy of the email.

The use of tags

The email message can be made dynamic adding a number of tags that are replaced by delivery engine just before send an email to a subscriber. The process of sending an email is that:

  1. take the email message (html and text) and the subject
  2. take the next subscriber (with all his data: name, email, sex, profiles, …)
  3. replace on the message and subject the tags referencing user fields
  4. send the message

The available tags for an email are listed below. Note that on ther subject not all tags works.

  • {name}, {surname} respectively the first name and the last name. If you collect only the name, as many do, use only the {name} tag.
  • {email} the subscriber email
  • {profile_N} the collected profile value from N to 20 (or the number configured in wp-config.php)
  • {date} the current date with WordPress configured format
  • {date_[format]} the current date formatted with the “format” string (no square brackets) as per date() php function
  • {unsubscription_url}, {unsubscription_confirm_url} the unsubscription links, see above for an explanation of the differences
  • {email_url} url to the online version of this email

Tags which convert to a link can be used directly in the text and they will be added “as is” (emails clients usually convert them to clickable text) or as “href” attribute of a real html link. To create the latter, simple select the piece of text that should be linked, click the “chain” button on editor toolbar and insert the tag.

Don’t worry is the tag will be prepended with your site url, Newsletter plugin will manage it.

Sending tests

When the test button is used, the message is temporary finalized and sent as a real newsletter to subscribers marked as “test” subscribers. There is no more the test emails configurable on main configuration panel, now you should create real subscribers and mark them as “test subscribers”.

This change permits to send test email much more similar to the real messages but pay attention that unsubscription link will work!

Sending and monitoring

To send a message is simple a matter to press the send button!

When you start the sending process, the message is moved to the “sending status” and cannot be modified anymore. Newsletter delivery engine take care of it and start to create and send an email for each targeted subscriber.

Emails are not sent all in once! The delivery engine uses your emails per hour settings (see the main Newsletter configuration panel) and sent them respecting that limit (and other limits imposed by you provider).

On email list you can see the progress (number of emails sent out of the estimated number of emails to send) and the status (sending, sent and so on). When an email is marked as “sent”, it means the delivery engine ended its work.

Some time you can have an email in “sent” status with the number of sent emails lower or higher the number of calculated  number of receivers: it is normal whenever new subscriber are added or removed from your list while the sending process is running. Only big discrepancies should be interpreted as a problem.

How to track

To have a track and some statistics about your message (answers to questions like: did they click the message links? did they read the email?) you can enable the “tracking”. With this flag on, links inside the text message are transformed so Newsletter plugin is notified of click on them. The message is completed with an hidden image to try the “opening”.

More on statistics that can be collected and drawbacks about this kind of activity can be found on Statistics Module page.

Online version

Your message, the html part, is no different that a web page (or at least it resemble a simple web page). So, the same text can be shown in a browser instead of on an email client. Adding the tag {email_url}, you add a link to a web version of your email.

This is a common request from marketer scared by the possible fact that their email is not displayed in a readable way on email client (specially on handheld devices).