Vertical Response has been my favorite e-newsletter program for many years, and then I dumped them. I ran off with the free phpList and authorized a major integration with newsletters sent for our website. Disclaimer: we have a Partner Account with Vertical Response, and offer part of our affiliate sales back to our members as a 10% discount to them.
Several business owners around me use Emma, Mailchimp, phpList, Constant Contact (ich). Emma, MailChimp, and phpList I was always curious about, and Constant Contact I had zero interest in for these reasons:
- admin area was hard to navigate
- breaking into templates was quite difficult, to customize them for a client who wanted to use a pre-designed template
- there was no WYSIWYG editor for custom designed templates, making for easy editing for your own branded email templates
- customer service was lackluster, and I love me some customer service.
MailChimp was, and still is, my next temptress, because they are so modern, fresh, and seem to offer a ton of features with what you can do with your newsletters. However, much of what they offer is the same as what Vertical Response offers. MailChimp's visual design, however, always triggers my weak spot. I'm such a sucker for visual prettiness.
However, when I left Vertical Response for phpList, I made a mistake that I always try to guide my website clients into not making. I took for granted all of the basic features (and I mean basic) that I was used to, and assumed they would be in phpList, my new e-newsletter rebound guy. I'd been having some issues with VerticalResponse, but my reason for leaving was to make the hookup between our member account emails and our newsletter program be seemless. Vertical Response could do this via their API, and we'd used it before, but were thinking we were ready for a change. PhpList was free, VerticalResponse was around $250/year for unlimited email sends for our email list size, so I cheaped out and went for phpList for the theory of an easier integration. Twas not to be the case. The API for Vertical Response could still hook up our member accounts into the email signup/unsubscribe/bounce system, but I thought phpList might be a better hookup. It proved to be wrong, as phpList just wasn't ready to deliver what we needed based on how our website is built.
However. That turned into the catalyst of why I switched back to Vertical Response. Everything at Vertical Response that I viewed as "normal, eh", like how to edit an email, how to view the statistic reports, how to create a new email, became extremely important and sorely missed. So let me take this space to let you know why Vertical Response is special, and very cool:
- At-a-glance snapshot of your newsletters: From the home page, you can get a snapshot view of your drafts and sent emails. This lets you quickly see basic open rate stats, and edit an email or create a new one based on a past one. All in one click.
- Quick edits to your newsletter: Edit any of your drafts in one click from the home page.
- Quick view of partner campaigns: If you are part of Vertical Response's Partner Program and have affiliate sales through them, you can see a graph of your last few months right when you log in.
- Newsletters are Socialized: For a while, Vertical Response can link your newsletters with your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, so that people can easily socialize it.
- Customer Service: Is always wonderful. I've used their service as a normal customer, and also as a "VIP" customer for a partner account. I get treated the same with both services: with respect and a swift fix of the problem (even if the problem is with my own eyes).
- Third-Party vs Custom Solution: Thanks to open source programming, you can affordably custom build a website or e-newsletter solution for your business, without having to pay a license fee or any kind of fee to a business who built a similar service, but runs a business around it. If you do this (and again...hitting myself here), you probably won't get any customer support at all. You may get user forums that the developer of the free service you want to us may check in on and answer from time to time, but otherwise, you're on your own. I know there is a lot of free stuff out there for websites, but sometimes it's much better to pay for them. On the other hand, sometimes it ties your hands and you have limited freedom in areas you want to control.
- Scheduling the e-newsletter: phpList has a scheduler for the future, just like Vertical Response does. But here's where the above bullet point also comes into play: the scheduler ran with our website, and our website has its own process for scheduling things. Without getting too technical, lets just say that it didn't work as planned. AND, they used the time in military format, so one could easily (or at least me) schedule a newsletter for 3am instead of the afternoon. Rrr. Unscheduling was also a problem. That seemed to have been a bug, or a really hard thing to figure out how to do. With Vertical Response, it's one click away - on the home page.
- Merging Newsletter Lists: One of my major problems with Vertical Response was/is that you can have multiple lists, but if a person unsubscribes from one list, they unsubscribe from all. For instance. If you send out a weekly digest, and offer a daily dose, the person may tire of the daily dose, but want to keep the weekly. If they unsubscribe, they are gone from all. Even a member subscription that they pay for. Yup, you'd have to call Customer Service to get them to add that subscriber back to the lists that they sill liked. PhpList didn't seem to have this problem, which was another big reason for why I switched. We don't have a lot of unsubscribes, but it's just annoying.
- Bounced emails: Vertical Response manages all of your bounces for you. You never see them in your inbox. After a while, you can even contact the good people in Customer Service and ask them to debounce everyone in case there were fluke bounces. Sadly, with phpList, all bounces came into my inbox, again, and again, and again. We might could have configured this to do something else, or go to a inbox that didn't go to my computer, but again, why go through the time in configuring that if Vertical Response just "takes care of it" from the get go.
- Sending a newsletter in one click - buh-bye: Again...major assumption on my part that was so wrong. Depending on the size of your list, newsletters take a long time to send. Hours or days. In our case, hours. Days later, however, phpList would still try to put through bounces. A week later even. No no. If a newsletter doesn't reach someone on the date sent, we've moved on. We maybe could have configured this to not do that, but why? Vertical Response takes care of it. It sends in a timely manner. That's all you need to know.
- Sending even if you close your computer: Once you press "send" on a Vertical Response newsletter, you can log off and call it a day (yeah right, you'll just jump into some other project). I think, and I could be wrong, with phpList, your computer needed to be connected to the internets until the status bar stopped sending. This could be a very...long....time.... I'd forgotten about this factor with phpList, and usually I finish up our newsletter production for our free weekly digest email down to the wire. One weekend, I finished it at a coffee shop, pressed send, and oops! Couldn't close the computer because it was still sending. But my family was driving into NYC to meet more family at a sports bar to watch OSU football, and we were running late. My hubby was literally stalking me on Main Street, trying to find which shop I was in, as I was being vague to buy time. When he found me, the newsletter was still sending, so I tethered my laptop to my iPhone while speed-walking to the car (aka, used the iPhone as modem to stay online), and off we drove to the highway (but read why rushing is a bad idea). Which is where we always drop service, so in fact, the entire list did not get sent to when my connection broke. Sigh.
- Bigger company = more stuff: Vertical Response just rolled out a new feature: you can host your events with them, and even sell tickets. I have not investigated yet, but I point out so that you can see how a larger company that you pay for will offer you the good stuff, faster. Because you're paying them. ;)
Assumptions. NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING WITH THE INTERNET. I recently had a client want to switch their website from a custom built content management system into WordPress. There are many technical benefits to doing this, however, the client's reasoning behind it was: "Won't we get a better design if we move the site into WordPress?"
Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. No. You won't. Yes, you could pick a pre-designed template, but if you have an existing website, chances are, it has an extensive navigation, and maybe some ecommerce or other special things. It would be a programming nightmare to make the switch because you assumed the flick of a WordPress switch would get you a new visual design. (ps: If your website started out as a blog on WordPress, and you wanted to switch templates, you literally could click-and-switch visual designs...but this was not the case).
No matter who you are, be very careful before you abandon a system that is working, but might bug you a little, and carefully evaluate every inch of what you will jump into. Don't be romantic about it, or think in theory. You may be in a great situation right now and not even realize it.