The final step: choosing the distribution system
is it. The final step. You’re ready to send out your brand-new
eNewsletter to your subscribers. But how will you do this? There
are many options to choose from, depending on the size of your
list, your budget and time, and what your computer and software
setup is like.
You will need to be able to send mail to a group of users, and
be able to track responses, bounces, subscription requests,
removal requests, and changing eMail addresses and contact
information. Depending on how many people you will be trying to
reach, you will need a more or less elaborate system to do this
In its simplest form, your distribution system can be you and
your eMail program. Just copy and paste your eNewsletter into
the body of a new message, and copy and paste the list of eMail
addresses into the bcc: field of the message, hit send, and get
ready to deal with what may come.
Remember, always put your recipients in the bcc: (blind carbon
copy) field. Otherwise, each recipient will see every other
eMail address to which the message is being sent in the form of
a huge list at the top of your eNewsletter message. Not only is
this a faux pas, but it reveals your complete mailing
list to the entire world, which raises substantial privacy
issues. You may also need to put your own eMail address in the
to: field, as many eMail programs need to have at least one
address in this field.
Soon enough after you hit the send button, you will start to
receive out-of-office auto reply messages, bounce messages,
unsubscribe requests, comments from your readers, and so on. You
will need to deal with these as promptly as you can, especially
requests from people who want to be removed from your list, and
You will also want to remove eMail addresses that bounce more
than a few times from your list, to speed up send times, and to
get a better idea of how many subscribers you really have.
Some eMail programs let
you write in a different eMail address in the From: field, so
that the messages generated by your mail-out don’t clutter up
your own inbox. Alternatively, you can create a new, separate
eMail account for your eNewsletter (firstname.lastname@example.org,
for example) from which you can do your mail-outs. Just remember
to check the account for the messages that your mail-out will
Also keep in mind that many eMail programs and Internet service
providers will limit the number of recipients per message, as a
measure to control spam, or junk eMail. If you encounter this
limit, you will need to split your list into smaller groups of
addresses, and send out your eNewsletter in batches.
As your list grows, all of this can quickly turn into a lot of
work. When you are sending to more than a thousand eMail
addresses, the workload can become unbearable.
When the workload generated by manually maintaining your list
becomes too great, there are many tools you can turn to that
will help automate a lot of the drudgery of running a large
eNewsletter. These tools fall into three broad categories:
online list services, dedicated contact management software, and
local eMail distribution systems.
There are many companies,
both commercial and not-for-profit, that offer eMail list
management services. The most sophisticated ones (and the most
costly) are full-blown contact management systems with
sophisticated eMail capabilities, where you can store all your
contact information in one place.
With these services, you can track your subscribers, donors,
supporters, clients, (or any combination of the above) in one
single database. The downsides of these services are a
relatively high monthly cost, a somewhat steep learning curve,
and the fact that your data resides on somebody else’s server,
and not in your office.
In exchange, the service you get rivals what some of the most
advanced contact management systems can offer, at a fraction of
the cost and complexity of purchasing and installing the
software yourself. Backups are taken care of, and you have
access to your data from any computer with an Internet
connection. Commercial services include Whatcounts.com
Your own contact
You can also purchase and
install your own contact management software. If you use a
contact manager like Act! or Maximizer, there are
also add-ons that can run a list based on your own contact
database. This is a powerful option, since you are basing your
distribution list on your contact data, without having to
maintain a separate list or database for your eNewsletter.
However, these contact managers and add-ons usually lack a means
for readers to manage their own subscriptions or to sign up
automatically (although there are some that will do these
tasks). This means that you will still have to do some manual
updating and managing of your records. You may also need to
export your list to your eMail program for mail-outs, although
this is less and less often the case.
You also need to keep in mind the cost of the software, and the
upgrades that will inevitably become necessary, and you will
also be responsible for backing up and maintaining the data. And
finally, depending on the connection your Internet service
provider (ISP) gives you and your eMail setup, you may still be
restricted in the amount of mail you can send out at once.
Your mail may also run a higher risk of being labelled as spam
or junk eMail, because many junk mail filters look at the
software that is used to send the mail to help determine what is
junk mail or not. Make sure you have checked with your ISP
before going this route.
Your own eMail
If you’re savvy enough,
you can run your own software – there are many good free
packages, and even more commercial ones. Phplist, majordomo,
sympa are some of the big names out there in the free
software area. You can also buy commercial software, which will
run under Windows or OS X. Products include e-Campaign,
Gammadyne, M5 Mailer, and Infacta Group Mail.
Some of these products offer several licensing options based on
how many subscribers you have, so they can range in cost from
very reasonable to several hundred dollars, depending on the
size of your list. OS X users take note: much of the foundation
of OS X is based on open source applications, and you can thus
take advantage of many of the LAMP options listed below.
To run the free software, you will need a computer running what
is known the LAMP suite: Linux (operating system),
Apache (web server software), MySQL (database
server), and PHP (web scripting language). The bad news
is that this can be a little daunting the first time around,
particularly when it comes to getting the computer and your
network set up to receive eMail.
The good news is that all of this software is completely free to
use (both in terms of cost and in terms of usage and licensing),
and many Linux packages do almost all of the work for you. There
is also a wealth of documentation online, and there is a large
and mostly helpful community of users and developers online who
are able to help. You can also hire expert help: look for your
local Linux users group (also known as a LUG) and ask them.
Once you have a LAMP system set up and configured, you can
download and install any of the free mail distribution packages.
The biggest strength of this setup is the amount of control you
have over how your mail-outs take place. You can compose your
messages and manage your lists through a web interface from any
computer with a web browser, you can subscribe or unsubscribe
users, and you can create as many lists as you want (hint: you
can use the software to run a media notification list, broken
down by geographic area, or expertise). And beyond the setup
costs and your time, the software is free.
A big advantage of the free/Linux approach is its expandability:
once set up, you can run a huge range of applications, such as
online survey software, time tracking, and content management
systems, among others, and all free, of course. Some commercial
services even base their products on customized open source
The commercial software works well, but usually with fewer
options. Also, several of these applications have been flagged
by many junk eMail filters as known sources of spam, so do some
research before you decide to settle on a product.
Your own mail server
Finally, when your list
gets to be big enough, you may want to consider running your own
mail server, or a mail gateway that can talk to other mail
servers without going through your ISP. Many commercial mailer
software packages do this in a sense, by running their own small
mail server for the duration of the eNewsletter mail-out.
Running your own mail server is beyond the scope of this series,
but if you have an Exchange server, or have chosen the
open-source LAMP route, you already have access to a mail server
where you can create any number of eMail accounts to handle the
flow of mail that running an eNewsletter entails.
Whatever means you choose to manage your eNewsletter, the basic
principles remain: while the distribution and listbuilding
method you choose will affect your workload, strong content and
a good, simple design will do more for the success of your
eNewsletter than which tools you use.
For further information: Christopher Heald, Technology Manager,