How do you set up a free autoresponder on your WordPress dashboard, create quality email newsletters AND get them delivered to the inbox for free? Very easy!
Price and quality usually go against each other. We all know the mainline autoresponder services like AWeber, ConvertKit, Infusionsoft, etc.
We also know that these services have high monthly fees. If you are a new blogger and not making money, you simply don’t want to spend a lot of money on a service like this for no return.
Freemium Email Delivery Services
If you are like me, you look for alternatives like MailChimp, SendPulse or SocketLabs. While these three all have a free tier, even up to 20,000 emails per month in the case of Socketlabs, they have a huge issue: Their Acceptable Use Policy prohibits sending emails containing affiliate marketing, make money or work at home materials. Unfortunately blogging falls into all three of these categories.
Then you have MailerLite. They don’t prohibit his kind of promotions and they have a free-tier service up to 1,000 subscribers, however I am not completely happy with their service. I have had issues with undelivered sign-up emails several times and the stats also act strange – one minute my subscribers in a certain group are at 1, the next day it is 20. Also I have an extremely high unconfirmed sign-up rate and I can’t trace the source of it. I just have the feeling that I am losing subscribers.
Cheap Email Delivery Services
I have tried to apply for several other cheap services like SendInBlue, however they disapproved my account and refused to give any explanation “for security reasons”, which is in violation of GDPR.
WordPress Newsletter Plugins
These seem to be a great solution, but they have a crucial flaw. They rely on the WordPress core to deliver email through your web host.
This negatively affects the delivery rate, since your emails will end up in the promotional or spam folder. There’s also a separate problem – the “WordPress not sending emails” issue. I had instances when I received the user registration email 6 hours after signup. That obviously doesn’t work, especially if you have a membership site.
SocketLabs has a free plugin that fixes this problem by taking over the delivery of WordPress emails; and you could use Newsletter along with SocketLab’s 20,000 email freemium service. However this is only a valid solution if you are not in a make money type of niche and Newsletter doesn’t send autoresponder series, only newsletters.
How To Send Your Newsletters For Free?
I have been looking at Amazon SES as a possible solution, a cloud-based email sending service designed to help digital marketers and application developers send email economically. With them you pay $0.10 for every 1,000 emails you send or receive, plus $0.12 per gigabyte (GB) of data in the messages you send. This data includes headers, message content (including text and images), and attachments.
Amazon SES has a 1-year free trial and needless to say, your newsletter will get delivered into the inboxes with a very high probability. There are also several plugins that take over the delivery of WordPress emails so that these also arrive.
Unfortunately they don’t manage your email lists for you cannot prepare your emails on their platform, therefore you need a third party solution.
Some Affordable SES Services
There are web-based services that use Amazon SES, like EmailOctopus.com. They have a free tier of 2.500 subscribers, however this includes campaigns only, autoresponder series are only available with the paid plans.
They have a 14-day free trial, however their cheapest plan (10,000 subscribers) is $19, which doesn’t work for a new blogger.
A better solution is a Hybrid Email Marketing provider, which integrates with and sends emails using your Amazon SES account. They provide really powerful UI so that you can design, schedule and monitor your Email campaigns.
The best solution I found has two versions.
SendX is a full blow Email Marketing Automation platform and you can do really really sophisticated things with it. Unfortunately SendX costs $19.99 per month or $15.99 if you pay yearly, but they also include services like resending your unopened emails at an optimized time and retargeting solutions.
As an alternative, you can use Sendy as a self hosted email marketing software that integrates with Amazon SES and costs $59 (one time license).
You can set up a series of emails in drip campaigns, one off emails, segment our list, Mass import/delete subscribers, custom fields, single/double opt-in, custom subscribe/unsubscribe confirmation page, thank you/good bye emails. It also has Google Analytics support and full GDPR features.
Sendy integrates with many popular apps like WordPress, Magento, Joomla, etc. thanks to third party developers. Sendy also works with Zapier, an automation service that enables you to integrate Sendy with 1000+ apps in Zapier’s app directory.
There is a free WordPress plugin that uploads your subscriber straight from your sidebar widget, another one that synchronizes your WordPress users with your email list, which is important if you run a membership site.
The plugin also directly integrates with Thrive Leads.
I wasn’t really impressed with their editor, though and it’s not free.
Setting Up Your 100 Percent Free Autoresponder
Yes, there are several solutions.
MailPoet 3 is an autoresponder plugin that is free up to 2,000 subscribers. Above that you need to purchase a license, it costs $99 for one site.
Features of MailPoet WordPress Plugin –
- Edit your newsletters using the Wysija drag and drop newsletter editor.
- Your latest posts can be sent automatically.
- The plugin comes with single and double opt in.
- Subscribers can be imported easily.
- You can track the opens, clicks and unsubscribes for your newsletter.
- The lists can also be segmented according to clicked, opened and unopened.
- The newsletters can be sent through MailPoet itself (for a monthly subscription), from your web host, Gmail or any SMTP like Amazon SES, Sendgrid.
The MailPoet Newsletters plugin for WordPress has most certainly simplified the entire process of sending newsletters to users.
To tell you the truth, there isn’t a whole lot of MailPoet 3 demo site.
MailBard created a completely compatible plugin, which looks the same, without the 2,000 subscriber limit. It is supposedly fully compatible with any MailPoet 2 add-ons that you can find on WordPress.org.
MailBard is a fork of the plugin MailPoet 2. The MailPoet team has decided to stop support MailPoet 2; MailBard will pick up where MailPoet 2 left off. We are striving for 100% backwards-compatibility with MailPoet 2.
With Mailbard, you can create newsletters, post notifications and autoresponders. Drop your posts, images, social icons in your newsletter. Change fonts and colors on the fly. Manage all your subscribers. A new and simple newsletter solution for WordPress. Finally!
I tried Mailbard, but it wasn’t working for me. The test email froze the plugin.
Setting Up A Free WordPress Autoresponder with 100% Email Deliverability
These steps show you how to create an email newsletter system that works completely within WordPress but with an external sending tool that ensures safe and reliable email deliverability.
Note: I went through all the below steps, then I was informed by Amazon SES that they disapproved my account, because of the “potential danger that I could be for other subscribers.
Therefore make sure your account gets approved first, otherwise just use MailPoet 3’s free tier sending service instead of Amazon.
1. Create An Amazon SES Account
The email sending service is a key part of the success of this setup, otherwise your messages will end up in spam. Amazon is a company trusted by Google and other email providers. Their free tier very generous (1 year) and even after that you are paying 10 cents for sending 1,000 emails.
To set up your account, you will need to enter a credit/debit card and do a phone verification – Amazon will make an automated call and you will need to enter the code shown on your screen.
Next you need to verify your domain. In the navigation pane, under Identity Management, choose Domains.
In the Verify a New Domain dialog box, enter the domain name. If you want to set up DKIM signing for this domain, select the Generate DKIM Settings option.
In the Verify a New Domain dialog box, you will see a Domain Verification Record Set containing a Name, a Type, and a Value. (This information will also be available by choosing the domain name after you close the dialog box.)
To complete domain verification, add a TXT record with the displayed Name and Value to your domain’s DNS server.
The documentation says that verification takes up to 72 hours, however in reality it takes about 15 minutes. You get a notification email when your domain is verified.
Then you need to verify your sender email addresses, you get a verification link in an email.
At this point you are still in the sandbox environment, and you can only send email to addresses that have been verified.
Send a test email directly from your Amazon SES account to verify it’s working. This way if the plugin from your website doesn’t send, you know that the problem is not with the SES account itself.
Then you have to apply for a sending limit increase, then you can start sending email to non-verified addresses. You can do that from your “Sending Statistics” tab.
You can also set up WP SES or a similar a plugin to handle all emails usually sent by the WordPress php mailer. This improves the deliverabiliy of the standard WP emails. I tried WP SES but it wasn’t working for me for some reason.
2. Install the MailPoet plugin
Next we need to install the MailPoet newsletter plugin.
Login to your WP admin and go to Plugins >> Add New then enter “MailPoet 3” into the search bar.
Once it’s activated you should see it appear on your admin sidebar.
3. Configure MailPoet settings
Next we need to customize some of the most important settings for MailPoet.
Some of the key things you might need to look at are:
- Go to MailPoet >> Settings >> Basics to set up your company address, email notifications and more. There is an option to allow users who register to your site to subscribe on a list of your choice. This is really useful for membership sites.
- Go to MailPoet >> Subscribers and create (or edit) a list for your newsletter sign-ups. You can also import any previous subscribers here as well.
- Go to MailPoet >> Settings >> Forms and setup a form to go on your pages. If you want different wording and fields you will need to create separate ones for each.
- Go to MailPoet >> Settings >> Signup Confirmation and setup the message you send out to new subscribers. You can also designate a thank you page if you are promising an ethical and highly valuable bribe for your new subscribers to download.
- Go to MailPoet >> Settings >> Send With… to configure your sending frequency. This tab also has an option to add a third party SMTP provider, which is where you can add Amazon SES. MailPoet 3 also has a free plan where they send your emails for free through their own server, up to 2,000 subscribers, this is what I recommend.
To hook up MailPoet with your AWS account you’ll need to create a pair of ‘SMTP Credentials’ for your MailPoet plugin. Start by visiting your Amazon SMTP settings tab, then copy the Server Name into the plugin’s SMTP Hostname field and the port. Set encryption to TLS.
Create My SMTP Credentials: This form lets you create an IAM user for SMTP authentication with Amazon SES. Enter the name of a new IAM user or accept the default and click Create to set up your SMTP credentials. The copy the user name and the password into the plugin.
4. Test your setup
If you connected SMTP directly, go to MailPoet >> Settings >> Send With…, enter an email address and click the Send a test mail button.
Create a test page that’s not public, add a form and sign up with one of your email addresses to test the sign-up process.
5. Create your emails
Go to MailPoet >> Newsletters and create a series of emails that you will send your subscribers will receive.
On the first screen you can pick if you want a standard newsletter or an automatic (drip campaign).
Enter your subject line and when you want to send the email. There are three options:
- When someone subscribes to the list of your choice
- When there’s new content
- When a new WP user is added to your site.
Then click “Next Step” – this is where you can create your emails.
You can upload templates through the “Themes” tab and here’s a tutorial on how to more themes you can install.
You can just create a standard email campaign and call it “Standard Template” or something and then just duplicate each time you create an email.
Keep in mind that short, text only emails tend to convert better and are a lot more mobile friendly. You can watch the following video on creating an email campaign.
6. Add your forms to your website
Once you have tested all your forms, created email templates and confirmed your email delivery you can start adding forms to your about page, sidebars and posts. To do this you need to use the MailBard button in the text editor or the widgets for any sidebars or post entry areas.
As an alternative, you can easily connect the plugin with Thrive Leads by going to Thrive Dashboard >> API Connections. Just pick MailPoet from the drop-down menu and click “Connect“. Check out the API connection video here.
Adding Spam Protection To Your Forms
Spam is overwhelming these days. Fake WordPress registrations will make your membership site a nightmare and spam email addresses entered by bots into your signup forms can get you blacklisted.
Just like everyone else, I have been using the free Akismet plan, however this doesn’t resolve the spam WP users problem. I haven’t tried their premium plan because it costs $5 per month.
However I found a better solution called CleanTalk. Their plugin provides much better protection. It has a 1-week free trial and it only costs $8 for an entire year.
Now you have a free WordPress autoresponder with excellent deliverability that effectively fights spam.