Are You Using The Wrong Distribution Method For Your Newsletter?

Every year, I find it really thrilling how many people launch new newsletters right around this time. All those fresh new voices in my inbox, new topics to read about, new publishers to get to know. It’s quite a lot of fun.

But what isn’t fun is seeing all the mistakes these new publishers make. And, one of the biggest mistakes they make is in not taking their distribution system seriously.

So, whether you’re just starting a new newsletter, or you’ve been publishing for awhile, let’s go through the steps of a distribution audit together so that you can make sure you’re using the best distribution system for you.

Mistake #1: Using your email program instead of using a system.

You may have read that you can use the carbon copy (CC) feature of your email program to send out a newsletter. And, technically, this is true. Your newsletter will indeed be mostly delivered to your readers. (Both CCing and BCCing [blind carbon copying] have a higher incidence of being blocked by filters.)

The problems with using your email program, though, far outweigh any temporary advantages (it’s easy, free, and you don’t have to make any decisions). First, you’ll have to handle all subscribes and unsubscribes manually. While your list is tiny, this isn’t a big deal, but I’m assuming you’d like to be adding 10+ subscribers per day, and once you get up even to those kinds of numbers, adding and removing subscribers becomes really tedious.

Second, if you use the CC feature, your readers can see all the email addresses of your other subscribers and they can email one another (often without meaning to) leading to a flood of unintended emails (and some pretty angry subscribers). Using the BCC typically avoids this, but means the email isn’t addressed to the recipient which makes it look more like *spam* than a genuine email.

And, finally, your ISP may have restrictions on how many emails you can send and sending your newsletter through their servers may violate their terms of service-causing them to revoke your account.

Mistake #2: Choosing the cheapest distribution method.

As a small business owner myself, I’m all for not spending money where I don’t have to. But, distribution is not a place to cut corners. The simple reason is you’ll get lumped in together with all the distribution service’s other clients-meaning if they let just anyone use their servers to send email, their servers are likely to be on a lot of blacklists which will prevent your emails from getting through.

If you’re going to use a service, look for one that has a great track record of getting its email delivered. If it’s a larger company, they’re going to be blocked from time to time. You want to find a company that’s very proactive about getting unblocked and that takes its reputation really seriously.

Selecting a distribution option is sort of akin to buying a house-you definitely don’t want to have outgrown your choice in six months or a year because moving is definitely a headache. Give careful consideration to the options you need and the support you’re looking for so that you can grow into your choice.

Mistake #3: Wanting all the bells and whistles.

Just as spending too little can be a mistake, spending too much can, too. Most publishers don’t need anything extra-fancy when it comes to newsletter distribution. You might need the ability to split your list by interest or zip code, but you probably don’t need to be able to break your list down by day and hour of their subscription.

Carefully consider what features you’re genuinely likely to use (would you use an autoresponder, for instance) versus ones that you probably won’t have time to explore (are you really going to spend much time examining click-through rates by time of day each time you send a mailing?). Some features don’t provide very meaningful functionality for lists of under 50,000 or so.

If you’ve been publishing for awhile, you probably have a good idea of the kinds of features you’d most like to have. If you’re just getting started, ask around a bit-talk with other publishers about the features they love and how they use them. Some features like knowing an overall click-through rate (the percentage of readers who clicked a link in the newsletter) or open rate (the percentage of readers who opened the email) can be really useful in planning your newsletters. But, really in-depth reports generally go ignored in favor of other business tasks.

How to choose the distribution system that’s right for you

When it comes to newsletter distribution, you have two options: a script or a service. Scripts are a great choice for people with lots of confidence with technology, and who really like to know exactly what’s going on. They give you more control, but they also bring with them additional responsibility.

Services are generally much simpler to use.

They have a support staff ready to help you. You simply log in, send your newsletter, and you’re done. With a script, there’s occasionally additional management tasks. (It’s sort of like the difference between having a maintenance contract on your website and doing updates yourself.)

If you’re uncomfortable with computers, a service is definitely a better option. If you enjoy learning new programs and how to make things work on your own, a script may be a lot more fun for you.

At The Write Exposure, we use a script; some of our clients use services, and some use scripts. There’s no one right choice.

Distribution Services

  • Constant Contact: Offers HTML templates.
  • AWeber: Includes templates and an autoresponder.

Distribution Scripts

  • phplist: PHP based open-source distribution script.
  • 1-2-All: I’ve used 1-2-All since January 2005. You can read my review for the whole scoop on this program.

Take your time exploring the options in scripts and services for distribution, but don’t let it drive you crazy. If you choose something that winds up not being right for you, you can always try something else. (Changing your distribution method isn’t fun, but it’s also not impossible.)

The right distribution method will save you lots of timeand make your newsletter much more effective (both by increasing the deliverability rate, and giving your message that additional professionalism). It’s well worth the time investment it takes to find the right solution for you.



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