Friday, May 26, 2006

Email Marketing: Constant Contact Is Lame

I've been using Constant Contact for my newsletter mailing list for quite a while, but unfortunately I need to find another service to handle it... here's why:

CC allows you to create nice HTML emails, they have a variety of templates, it's easy to edit the templates... so far, very nice. CC converts URLs in the email to tracking links, so that you can count click-throughs. Again, so far, so good... It's nice to be able to track clicks, send follow-ups, etc. If the subscriber has opted to receive an HTML version of the newsletter.

The problem comes in when subscribers elect to receive a text-only version. Instead of just putting the URLs in as plain text (which would be the non-stupid approach), CC takes the stupid approach and puts tracking links in, which are extremely long and contain encoded characters.

This renders every URL in the newsletter unreadable, unusable, and unclickable for those receiving a text version. This can't be fixed by using shorter URLs, because the tracking code adds more than 55 characters to every URL, and the lines are wrapped at 55 characters in the text emails.

How hard would it be to use a non-stupid approach, or at least give customers a "non-stupid" setting? I don't know, but apparently it's too much for the folks at Roving Software Incorporated, dba Constant Contact.

In fact, it's not even possible for me to create a separate text-only version of the newsletter to fix the problem by hand. I can't even tell which subscribers, or how many, have chosen to receive a text-only version... so I have no idea how much the lack of non-stupidity is costing me.

Readers of this blog are invited to comment and recommend non-stupid email marketing solutions. Some things I need:
  • I don't want to hear how great Mailloop is. Don't bother telling me about any stinkin' desktop software, I want a web-based solution.
  • Subscribers should be able to choose either an HTML or text version, and receive a non-stupid email when I send my newsletter no matter which version they selected. Ideally, I shouldn't have to create an entirely separate text version by hand.
  • I need the ability to import my subscriber list from Constant Contact in some way.
  • I would like to be able to track and follow up on click-throughs. By follow up, I mean sending a second email to those who have clicked a particular link in an email campaign.
  • Subscriber interest groups, so we can send out special announcements on different services to those who actually want them.
  • The service needs to be able to send to 10,000+ subscribers in a reasonable amount of time, allow the emails to be scheduled in advance, and have the standard deliverability features (like authentication) that email marketers expect.
  • Almost forgot, another non-stupid feature, let me set a "thank you" URL instead of trying to send the visitor back to the referring URL. Thanks.
That's about it... If someone from Roving / Constant Contact would like to offer a solution, I'll be happy to listen, but your first level tech support didn't have a solution so if one exists you might want to let them know right after you explain it to me.

9 Comments:

At 9:59 PM, Jill said...

Dan I use:
http://www.listcast.com/

 
At 3:26 AM, Uliss said...

Hi Dan,
I use PHPList from Tincan (http://tincan.co.uk/phplist) - it's not a web service, you'll have to install the script on your own host, but it takes just about one hour to customize. It's very reliable and designed to be able to deal with a very large amount of email addresses.
And the most amazing thing of all: IT'S FREE.

 
At 10:46 AM, Mike said...

It doesn't have all the features you listed, but one I developed for my company: MightyMailer. It handles the HTML-to-text conversion, but doesn't do its own URL clickthrough tracking (yet - that's a feature I'll look at implementing).

 
At 10:39 PM, Dan Thies said...

Mike, without clickthrough tracking it's less than half a solution for serious email marketing. It's good to hear that you're considering making some improvements.

Uliss, free is definitely the best thing you can say about running a large mailing list off your own server. No thanks! The words "Security update (April 2006): all versions of phplist are vulnerable to exploits" on their website are enough for me.

 
At 2:12 AM, Uliss said...

Dan, as regards PHPList, I don't think it's a bad thing to inform people about security holes and advise them what to do to fix these issues. Many commercial software producers have to learn this from the Open Source community.

What about Lyris List Manager (http://www.lyris.com/)?

 
At 3:20 PM, Dan Thies said...

Uliss,

I understand. It's a great thing to let folks know about exploits and how to fix them, but one reason I don't want to run an email script on my site is that I don't want to have to keep track of new bugs. Some things we have to run on our server, this isn't one of them. With deliverability issues right now, it's not cost effective anyway.

 
At 5:45 PM, Elge said...

Hey Dan,
I'm pretty sure I've used just about every major online newsletter program out there. I used to recommend 1ShoppingCart but their reporting is fantasy and their deliverability rate sucks. AWeber's reporting is fantasy too.
I'm really liking Cooler Mail these days but I'm not impressed with their tech support. I think they have the best infrastructure, it's easy to use and they have really good reporting.
I'm seriously looking at Topica right now but they don't have the ability to set a custom Thank You page for double opt in signs ups which is a pain because you can't do conversion tracking with ClickTracks, etc.
As far as I know none of these services have stupid links in their text versions.

Hope that helps,

Elge

P.S. I've written a report on the features of a dozen different online newsletter services. I updated it in January. ANy feedback would be much appreciated.
Online Newsletter Distribution Service eReport

 
At 6:28 PM, Elie D. Ashery said...

Dan,

Come check out my company Gold Lasso. We offer all the premium features of expensive email service providers at cut rate pricing. There are no lock-in contracts or monthly minimums.

If you decide to switch to us I'll give you 6 months free.

Here's a link to our pricing:
https://www.goldlasso.com/forms1.php?&Itemid;=136

Regards,

Elie Ashery
President & CEO
Gold Lasso, LLC
http://www.goldlasso.com

 
At 7:32 PM, Dan Thies said...

Hey friends, I've got a sense of humor and all that, but if you're going to post an ad on my blog, please do something for me in return. At the very least, take the time to read the original post and let me know if the "solution" you are pushing even does what I asked for. That way I know whether I should take you seriously, or write you off as some joker who just couldn't resist the urge to post an ad. Thanks.

Moderation of comments is now turned ON. What a great way to spend my time.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home