I am on the mailing list for AppSumo, a daily deals site for small businesses and entrepreneurs. I never would have heard of if it weren’t for fellow author Alina Popescu, who understands the business side of writing about a hundred times better than me. AppSumo is a bit like Groupon for geeks, gearing its deals toward people associated with start-ups and digital marketing. That means that most of its emails go straight to my trash.
But I keep subscribing because the occasional treasure comes along, perfect for the indie author. This week, it was a breathtakingly cheap offer for an email newsletter service.
Aside: Why You Should Have An Author Newsletter
If you’re wondering why an author would be interested in sending out e-newsletters, these articles will tell you:
- Email Newsletters for Authors: Get Started Guide — Jane Friedman
- How to Create an Author Newsletter That Isn’t Terrible — Katie Rose Guest Pryal
- Reaching Readers with Author Newsletters — Debbie Young
- An author newsletter is key to effective book promotion — Sandra Gulland
Two Email Newsletter Services: MailChimp vs. SendPulse
Back to AppSumo. On Wednesday, they sent me an offer for a subscription to SendPulse, an email newsletter service and MailChimp competitor, for $59. It builds on SendPulse’s free plan, which allows members to send 15,000 emails a month to up to 2,500 email subscribers. The $59 deal provides credits for sending an additional 400,000 emails over any period of time (this month, this year, the next decade …). If 400,000 sounds like too many, you can get 200,000 email credits for $39 instead. This offer is no longer available.
I currently use MailChimp to keep in touch with my readers and with subscribers to my newsletter for writers. It’s easy to use, and it’s paid version has great features for the tech-savvy and non-savvy alike.
But if you have more than 2,000 subscribers or want advanced features for targeting your emails to specific audiences, MailChimp starts to get pricey in comparison to other services. And it’s nowhere as cheap as the AppSumo deal I mentioned above. (You can play with an interactive price table for small businesses here: mailchimp.com/pricing/growing-business/.)
The AppSumo deal was so absurdly cheap I figured it must be too good to be true. SendPulse’s regular prices are also much lower than MailChimp’s. (You can see SendPulse’s regular price plan at sendpulse.com/prices.)
I went digging for the caveats. Could SendPulse even begin to compare to MailChimp or other highly rated services like MailerLite and SendInBlue? I wanted to compare SendPulse with MailChimp’s ability to:
- easily transfer your mailing list from an old provider or to a new provider
- put subscribers into groups (I have separate newsletters for readers and writers, and segment my newsletters based on the genres my readers like), add mail list sign up to one’s website
- use DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) and SPF (Sender Policy Framework)—two complicated names for technologies that simply reduce the chance of your emails ending up in spam folders.
I couldn’t find any friends who use SendPulse, and I didn’t want to waste $59 on a service I would never use. So I decided to sign up for a free trial to test out SendPulse’s user interface and options. I spent about an hour playing with SendPulse to answer these questions:
Is it easy to move a mailing list to SendPulse?
I tried importing my mailing list two ways:
- directly from MailChimp
- by downloading my mailing list from MailChimp in a spreadsheet and uploading it to SendPulse
Each process took just a couple minutes—including time spent reading directions on SendPulse’s website—and worked flawlessly. A short delay occurred between the moment the import completed and the moment all the names appeared in my SendPulse account, but a quick email to customer service cleared that right up.
SendPulse didn’t only import names and emails, but also all the other information I had on subscribers, such as which newsletters they prefer to receive (and which ones they don’t want to receive). That impressed me, because I’ve lost that information simply moving emails within MailChimp. But SendPulse lost nothing.
Does SendPulse have good segmentation options?
“Segmentation” is a fancy word for making sure that subscribers only get the emails that are appropriate to their interests. Hubspot provides a great intro to segmentation here.
I played with SendPulse segmentation options for a while and found that:
- Segmentation when sending emails is very much possible in Sendpulse
- You can get super complex and grainy with your segmentation options if you want—much more detailed than with MailChimp, at least from what I’ve seen so far from both providers.
Want the nitty gritty? Read SendPulse’s article Send an email campaign using segmentation.
The only drawback I found with SendPulse is that it doesn’t automatically populate segmentation fields. For example, say you’ve organized your list according to the books subscribers have purchased. You pull up the segmentation list “Books.” MailChimp will pop up a list of all the books you’ve entered in its database. SendPulse doesn’t. You need to remember your titles and type them in yourself. So if you want to send emails to segmented groups with SendPulse, it’s a good idea to keep a printed list of all your segmentation possibilities handy.
Does SendPulse prevent mail from being marked as spam?
Keeping emails out of spam folders turns out to be SendPulse’s biggest selling point. The company claims that DKIM, SPF, and similar technologies mean up to 30% more emails get opened. And unlike MailChimp, SendPulse actively encourages users to use DKIM and SPF. Following the instructions on SendPulse’s website took about five minutes. Another win.
Does SendPulse allow subscribers to set their own preferences?
When readers sign up for my newsletter, I like to ask them their preferred genres so I don’t end up bothering them with stuff they aren’t interested in. (You can see an example at the bottom of my homepage.) I looked into whether SendPulse allows this, and it turns out they do. If you are curious about it, you can find instructions at How to Create a Subscription Form on the SendPulse website.
Unfortunately, SendPulse does not make it easy for subscribers update their preferences once they have subscribed. To allow readers to do this, you would either have them resubscribe, or you could manually add them to or remove them from groups upon request.
When deciding whether to buy the deal, I considered everything above plus the fact that I’d emailed customer service twice and they’d answered both questions quickly and promptly. Later on, I use their online chat service for help in setting up my account, and that went smoothly as well. They also have a telephone support hotline with a California area code that’s open 24 hours a day.
SendPulse also has a huge knowledge base with lots how-tos if you prefer to get your information that way. Please note: SendPulse is a US-based company, but many of its articles seem to be written by people who don’t speak English as a first language. They are not difficult to understand, but the syntax is occasionally awkward. Random “the”s appear in front of nouns where they shouldn’t be. Even the introduction to the company on its info pages is off: “We are located in two cities in USA” instead of “We are located in two cities in the US.”
A quick look through staff bios and pictures revealed a higher percentage of Slavic names and white faces than typical in the US population. My guess is that most employees are immigrants who speak English as a second language. That’s not necessarily an issue for me, but if you’re impatient with non-fluent English, it’s something to consider.
My Conclusion: I’m Signing with SendPulse
SendPulse’s features for the price have really impressed me. The two things I didn’t like about SendPulse:
- the lack of automatic population for segmentation fields
- the limitations on subscribers who want to update their preferences
But given SendPulse’s significant strengths elsewhere, the responsive customer service, the ridiculously low price, and the fact that I like to save money where I can since my writing hasn’t yet made me a millionaire, I decided to buy the AppSumo deal for the base plan plus 400,000 email credits.
If you want the same deal, you can get it here. This offer is no longer available. But SendPulse told me you can use this link to get $10 off each month for the first 5 months of your subscription.
Do you have an email newsletter service you love? Or maybe one you love to hate? Still wondering why you should care about newsletters at all? Please comment below.
To get a weekly roundup of all my posts for writers, sign up here.