Idea: A WordPress theme for e-mail newsletters?

There are plenty of way to have “automated” newsletters sent out based on your WordPress blog’s RSS feed. Feedburner and MailChimp, among other do this, and there’s nothing wrong with those services.

However, if you’d want to write content specifically for your weekly e-mail, RSS is not ideal. High quality e-mailings usually don’t simply copy blog posts, they’re carefullt crafted by copywriters to get as much response as possible. That’s why the idea of a newsletter-theme has been floating around in my head. Here’s what I’m thinking might work…

Using WordPress to author e-mail newsletters

  1. Set up a WordPress install on something like mycompany.com/newsletter.
  2. Write posts like you normally would.
  3. The theme renders the newsletter as e-mail-friendly HTML.
  4. Take the theme’s output and send it out using a bulk e-mail service of your choice.
  5. The WordPress install functions as a “read this online” fallback and image host.
  6. Ideally, the theme would have a custom taxonomy to group posts into newsletter issues.

I once spent a couple of weeks editing HTML mailings for use in a very high-end e-mail newsletter system that did not have a nice visual editor, and this idea is primarily aimed at the users of such systems. But even compared to more user-friendly systems, there’s a case to be made for using WordPress. Authoring in an environment you control makes it easier to switch mailing services, and WordPress adds near unlimited flexibility.

Potential drawbacks

No plan, certainly not one as immature as this one, is perfect. Gathering statistics is critical with newsletters, and there’s tons of standard WordPress stuff that the theme would have to omit to keep the result e-mail client friendly. But I think a customizable newsletter theme for WordPress has potential. I’d love to hear what you think.

15 Comments

  1. I’m personally not a big fan of sending bulk email from a webserver. They get noted as spam real quick, plus why would you when you have something as perfect as Mailchimp?

    Comment by Remkus — November 11, 2010 @ 8:40 am

  2. The idea is not to send using your own server, but to author using WordPress. Have you ever used enterprise level email newsletter solutions? Something like DARTmail? They don’t usually have proper authoring (wysiwyg or otherwise). As good as MailChimp is, it’s not for everyone.

    Comment by Roy — November 11, 2010 @ 10:27 am

  3. Haven’t used DARTmail, but have used enterprise stuff. There’s nothing in Mailchimp that couldn’t replace those imo.

    So basically you’re talking about a theme that displays newsletter blogposts as.. eh.. newsletter items?

    Comment by Remkus — November 11, 2010 @ 10:31 am

  4. Sure MailChimp can replace most other systems. But if your boss plays golf with the DoubleClick people, it probably won’t…

    The theme I’m envisioning would display blog post (as any other), but in table-based, mail-friendly html, ready for copy-pasting. Would be weird not using a global style sheet (at least not for styles). I hate doing email html, so I guess that’s why I came up with this.

    Comment by Roy — November 11, 2010 @ 10:39 am

  5. Ah ok.. Now I get it and agreed.. that would come in handy in certain scenarios

    Comment by Remkus — November 11, 2010 @ 10:43 am

  6. Roy, the Idea is fantastic and is exactly what I am looking for. Is it already available? Where can I get one?

    Comment by Wassim — December 11, 2010 @ 7:48 am

  7. Where do I sign up Roy? Great idea!

    Comment by JustinFYI — January 8, 2011 @ 5:26 am

  8. Thanks for the brilliant ideas Roy! I am also used in sending bulk of email and i am going to try this one.

    Comment by Akira — January 24, 2011 @ 5:34 am

  9. Love the idea, hope it gains momentum. Great blog Roy, and thanks for Cumulus too, makes the boring tag cloud less so.

    Comment by Barry — February 12, 2011 @ 7:14 am

  10. Hi there,
    I am looking for something similar…did you happen to find/create a way to feed wp posts into email HTML templates?
    Thanks

    Comment by Santiago — September 10, 2011 @ 12:13 am

    • I didn’t act on this idea myself, but it’s absolutely possible to create a theme that does this. If you plan to create a large number of email newsletters, getting a custom theme done might be a good investment.

      Comment by Roy — September 12, 2011 @ 11:55 am

  11. Hi Roy,
    My Mom has an older XP PC that’s junked up with all kinds of garbage, and is a waste of time with problems. Could you recommend one of these little pc’s that would replace her bulky tower? She just needs to plug in her monitor, mouse, wifi router(for my laptop!), and keyboard for emails and do some web browsing, manage pictures, and maybe watch youtube videos. Is there a cheap reliable replacement for a 4-5 year old PThanks!C without having yo buy a whole new system? Maybe get a new monitor next year?

    Comment by Gregory Orr — September 11, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

    • While I’m in no way an expert at buying Consumer PCs, I’d recommend a specialized shop that builds computers from parts. If you get a major brand PC, chances are the parts are worse, and you’ll be forced to uninstall all sorts of bundled “crapware” before you can start using it. ANother approach may well be to pop in a Ubuntu Live-CD, and see if your mom likes that. Your old PC will feel brand new if you install Ubuntu, and there will be no problems with viruses and such. :)

      Comment by Roy — September 12, 2011 @ 11:47 am

  12. We basically have this idea up and running. We’re private beta testing at the moment, so if anyone is interested sign up here (flashissue.com) or contact me directly at phil(at)flashissue.com and i’ll make sure you get on. Given you guys have wrapped your head around this issue of not being able to get content easily into an email digest, i’d find your feedback and direct involvement useful. FlashIssue also takes things one step further and allows you to add curated articles to your email digest (aka newsletter) from anywhere on the web i.e. you can create a newsletter (and have it mailed out) in minutes by mashing up your blog articles with other content on the web.

    Comment by Phil — February 17, 2012 @ 8:42 pm

  13. Mailchimp is great…apart from it’s so hard to get dynamic wordpress content into it. There’s the RSS to newsletter feature but this is clunky e.g. say i want to use an older post, say i want to create a digest of content and blend it with curated content. They do emailing well but they do content poorly (as do all the esp’s).

    Comment by phil hill — June 15, 2012 @ 6:21 pm