How I Manage My Email Marketing Newsletter

Belinda asks, "How do you send this email? Is is from/through an email provider (MailChimp, etc) or from your website directly (that would be amazing)??"

I'm going to preface this post by saying that the way I manage my email marketing newsletter isn't for everyone, and isn't optimal. I do things the way I do for a combination of cost and control reasons.

Email Newsletter Front End

On the front end, the newsletter is just straight HTML, written first in a language called Markdown. I write in Markdown because it's one of the easiest languages to format text in, can be rendered in HTML to be compatible with all mail programs and platforms, but most important, is purely in plain text. Why does this matter? More complicated formats tend to also be proprietary formats, and that means problems reading the data down the road. A document I wrote in Microsoft Word 95 isn't easily readable today, especially if you don't own Microsoft Word. A plain text document I wrote in 1995 is just as readable today as it was 25 years ago, and will be just as readable 25 years from now.

I write all the newsletters in a program called Joplin. It's a free, open-source app similar to Evernote that allows all the modern conveniences we love like cloud-based sync, but it's open-source (so it won't mysteriously vanish overnight) and everything is written in Markdown.

Joplin and the Almost Timely Newsletter

Email Newsletter Back End

The back end of the Almost Timely newsletter is the Mautic marketing automation system, running on a server I rent from Google Cloud. It connects to Amazon SES for the moment (though I am exploring changing that). The reason for this is list size; Almost Timely is well over 150,000 subscribers, and right now sending it costs about $108 per month to send 1 email a week. Were I to use a service like Mailchimp, it would cost close to 10x the amount.

Mailchimp costs

The change I'm considering making is switching to Postfix on the server itself and sending natively from the server. The reason? Cost again. It would take more time to administer (right now it's about an hour a week) but I could probably cut the costs in half easily. I've actually given serious thought to just hosting the server on my own hardware, but that's just a level of complexity too much, especially given the relatively low costs of cloud hosting.

Every week, the basic process I follow is:

  • Write the newsletter itself
  • Clean up the list, verifying new subscribers' emails with the Million Verifier server
  • Process unsubscribes and opt-outs (complaints)
  • Process bounces
  • Send the newsletter

The process isn't as automated as I'd like it to be, but there's a reason for that, especially when it comes to handling things like bounces. Getting technical for a moment, there are two fundamental types of bounced emails in the email marketing world - soft bounces and hard bounces.

Soft bounces are when a recipient's email server rejects an email for a temporary reason, like their mailbox is full.

Hard bounces are when a recipient's email server rejects an email for a permanent reason, like that person no longer works at a company and the email address is gone.

When it comes to managing your email list, you generally want to keep soft bounces and you generally want to unsubscribe hard bounces.

But here's the catch: every email server is configured differently, and there's no obligation on the part of email server operators to strictly adhere to the definitions set out in IANA RFC 5248. Which in turn means if you just blanket unsubscribe hard bounces, you may be unsubscribing valid recipients, and if you blanket keep soft bounces, you may still be keeping garbage email addresses.

Why does that matter? Because deliverability - the ability to get an email into someone's inbox - is dependent on reputation, and reputation is governed by how often you do bad things like send to non-working email addresses. Thus, I spend time each week cleaning (with automation) all the bounced email messages I get from my list, processing them based on what each mail server administrator's chosen to send for responses to bounced emails.

So, that's the process of how I manage my email marketing newsletter. It is not the most efficient process. It is, for me, the most cost effective for a very large list. If you have the same size list but want none of the technical headaches, just use a full service provider like Mailchimp, Hubspot, SendinBlue, etc. You'll pay a much higher price but the technical part of email marketing is done for you. If you need to squeeze every penny out of your budget, my process is the necessary path to follow, and you trade money for time and technical expertise.


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