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The Return of the Newsletter — How to Keep the Newsletter Concept Without the Work

by Tom Johnson on May 30, 2007
categories: technical-writing wordpress

Although I dismissed the effectiveness of newsletters in a previous post, I am rethinking my position for one main reason: readers of aren't feed savvy enough to be checking their feedreaders daily. And even if they do use feedreaders, it's so easy to skip past a post in the constant barrage of information.

So I implemented the ShiftThis Newsletter plugin, which costs $20. It's one of the few plugins that actually costs money. Although I'm still figuring out how to send 292 emails without my server stopping the process due to a spam prevention mechanism, so far I like the plugin. You can create the newsletter simply by selecting the posts you want to include. Then you just send it out. No copying and pasting (like you'd have to do in Constant Contact).

And you aren't required to use the registered users in your blog. You can import a .csv file of email addresses. However, when I attempted to send out the newsletter to the 292 email addresses (the Suncoast chapter listserv), it froze at 32%, and I received an email saying, "Domain has exceeded the max emails per hour. Message discarded." And I was only on the A's!

As a quick solution, I just added the listserv email address as a subscriber, and it sent the newsletter to all 292 addresses in record time. The only problem is, people can't unsubscribe to it without unsubscribing from the listserv. But I'm still looking into that ...

The Newsletter's Look and Feel

Here's how the newsletter from ShiftThis looks (with a bit of tweaking). It's the ideal.

Ideal Newsletter

However, many email programs, like Outlook 2007, strip out the header and images, so what you see unfortunately looks like this:

In Some Email Programs

Other times, for unpredictable reasons that I can't yet discern, the images in the newsletter appear as attachments:

Attachments in newsletter

Someone told me that the banner looks oversized and unnecessary. I agree, and considering the problems with the display in different readers, I stripped it out. This is more of the light version of the newsletter:

Solution — Light Newsletter

I have to add that the newsletter is not that simple to style. You need to know a bit about page templates, and be comfortable editing CSS if you want to change the look and feel of the newsletter. But it's not that difficult, especially if you've been using WordPress a while.

Other Newsletter Decisions

Ann W. asked me for some more details:

What's the plan for the newsletter? Frequency? Method of distribution? What's the URL for the plug in?

I'm planning to send the newsletter to the Suncoast listserv weekly, sending it via the listserv. I'm hoping to use it to increase the communication among members without having to dedicate time and resources for it.

Underwhelming Responses

How many people do you think commented when I sent the resurrected newsletter (which hadn't been produced for two years) out to the chapter? About five people gave me some feedback.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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