Nifty Email Broadcast Service: CampaignMonitor

For years, I’ve been looking for the right email broadcast service for small- and medium-sized firms with a monthly newsletter. I’ve kissed plenty of frogs:

  • Topica. A hosted service for medium- and high-volume senders. For a test account, they mistakenly dinged my credit card $500 for four straight months. Although it did get resolved, it was not a pleasant process.
  • iPost: A great service started a few years ago by some nice guys (Steve Webster and Greg Fox) who were very accessible on the phone. They eventually joined their rightful place among the higher-priced services like EmailLabs, CheetahMail, and YesMail.
  • Campaigner. Inexpensive hosted service. If I remember correctly, their unsubscribe policy was awfully restrictive. If Joe Smith unsubscribed from one Campaigner-serviced newsletter, he was taken off all Campaigner-serviced newsletters… including your own.
  • ConstantContact: Another inexpensive service. It’s got good market traction these days, and I can’t complain about the deliverability and the end product. But the back-end interface is kind of clunky, and the pages don’t flow as you go from step to step. For example, the “send a test” function is in the Preview popup window, and the button doesn’t stand out. It’s difficult to delete a draft email. There are upsell links scattered through the first few pages. To be fair, ConstantContact is aimed at a non-technical audience. There are loads of templates, and the monthly pricing is predictable and cheap.
  • eZineDirector. Cheap hosted service. Terrible and unintuitive interface. Delivery can be delayed for hours after you click Send. Major data loss event took place in 2006.
  • DadaMail. An installed set of PHP scripts, written by an artist in Colorado. A nominally free package, but you have to pay to remove the DadaMail tagline. In 2007, the guy’s website would regularly exceed its bandwidth cap, leaving you without support forums. Now I notice that he’s selling links from his home page, a little bit of commercial sleaze which just confirms that artists often do sell out. And yes, the software was named after the surrealist.
  • PHPList. Much-used free PHP script package, but it’s apparently impossible to strip the “PHPList” tagline out of the email. Other customizations are difficult.
  • Feedblitz. Not a true email broadcast service. Instead, it’s a web app built to read RSS-formatted blog/CMS output and then send it out to your list via email. Like a complement to “traditional” RSS. Nearly all of my clients have websites built by some kind of blog/CMS application, so Feedblitz was worth a look. There is a rather bewildering array of features, which surely can be massaged into something useful for readers of a blog-centric company. Yet there’s a little too much FeedBlitz identity built into the output, and it’s more expensive than the cheap services. Not the best fit for my requirements, but one to keep experimenting with.

 

There are happy customers on all these services, but my search for the right blend of inexpensive/easy/fast/smart/brandable went on and on. Until today.

Campaign Monitor is a hosted service run out of Australia. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

  1. Inexpensive enough, for monthly senders. Per email blast, it’s $5 plus a penny per recipient. The simplicity of this a la carte model is very appealing, even if it’s about 50% more than the cheapie email services. Weekly mailers with lists in the ’000s won’t save any money here, I must add.
  2. Works Fast. It feels like the server is next door.
  3. Fabulous user interface. Here is where they really shine. As you assemble an outbound email, the pages flow naturally together in a wonderfully linear way. How did they do this? Information is chunked together well, button colors chosen sensibly and applied consistently, labels are consistent, and there is white space to set the important material off. Really, there is so much goodness here I should write a separate post about the UI. Bottom line for the user, a solid UI means less chance of a mistake and less time spent building the email.
  4. Focussed. Once you’re logged in, you don’t see pointers to other services the vendor offers. These just clutter the interface and take you off-task.
  5. Brandable. As far as I can tell, there are only two things in an outbound email that you can’t “own” with your corporate identity: the URL of the unsubscribe link, and the email headers. That’s as unobtrusive as it gets for a hosted service, at least at this pricing level.

 

Although I haven’t road-tested Campaign Monitor much, I have a feeling I’m at the end of my quest.