How do you set up a free autoresponder on your WordPress dashboard, create quality email newsletters AND get them delivered to the inbox for free? Very easy!
First I am going to give you all the options that I looked into and found unworkable, then I will show you the best solution I found, where you can send emails for free up to 2,000 subscribers.
Mainline Autoresponders Are Expensive
Price and quality usually go against each other. We all know the mainline autoresponder services have high monthly fees. If you are a new blogger and not yet making money from your blog, you simply don’t want to spend a lot of money on your email service for no return on your investment.
AWeber starts with $19/month for 500 subscribers.
ConvertKit starts with $29/month for 1,000 subscribers.
Infusionsoft, starts with $199/month for 2,500 subscribers.
Freemium Email Delivery Services
If you are like me, you have probably looked for alternatives like MailChimp, SendPulse or SocketLabs. While these three all have a free tier, even up to 20,000 emails per month, they have a huge issue: Their Acceptable Use Policy prohibits sending emails containing affiliate marketing, make money or work at home materials. Unfortunately blogging falls into all three of these categories. MailChimp banned my account when I had 10 subscribers…
Then you have MailerLite. They don’t prohibit his kind of promotions and they have a free-tier service up to 1,000 subscribers, however I am not completely happy with their service. I have had issues with undelivered sign-up emails several times and the stats also act strange – one minute my subscribers in a certain group were at 1, the next it was 20. Also I had an extremely high unconfirmed sign-up rate and I couldn’t trace the source of it. I just had the feeling that I was losing subscribers.
Cheap Email Delivery Services
I have tried to apply for several other cheap services like SendInBlue, where you can send 300 emails per day for free, however they disapproved my account and refused to give any explanation “for security reasons”, which is in violation of GDPR. Also their first paid plan comes in at $25 per month, with 40,000 monthly emails.
Sending Emails Through Your Web Host
Newsletter plugins seem to be a great solution, but they have a crucial flaw. They rely on the WordPress core to deliver email through your web host.
This negatively affects the delivery rate, since your emails will end up in the promotional or spam folder, even with SPF records set up for your domain.
There’s also a separate problem – the “WordPress not sending emails” issue. You may have noticed that WordPress notification emails don’t always arrive. In fact I had instances when I received the new user registration email 6 hours after signup. That obviously doesn’t work, especially if you have a membership site.
By the way, this is not the fault of your web server, it’s a problem with the WordPress mail function. (I tested this problem thoroughly – the test emails I sent using the email account I created on my web host arrived instantly, while the notification emails didn’t.
To solve this issue you need to use an SMTP plugin, such as SocketLab’s free plugin and there are other WP SMTP plugins that fix this problem by switching over the delivery of WordPress emails to an SMTP server.
To get your marketing emails sent out, there are free plugins like Newsletter, which you could use along with SocketLab’s 20,000 email freemium service. However Newsletter doesn’t send automatic autoresponder series, only newsletters, and SocketLab is only a valid solution if you are not in a make money type of niche.
Sending Your Newsletters With Amazon SES
I was looking at Amazon SES as a possible solution, a cloud-based email sending service designed to help digital marketers and application developers send email economically. With them you pay $0.10 for every 1,000 emails you send or receive, plus $0.12 per gigabyte (GB) of data in the messages you send. This data includes headers, message content (including text and images), and attachments.
Amazon SES has a 1-year free trial and needless to say, your newsletter will get delivered into the inboxes with a very high probability. There are also several plugins that take over the delivery of WordPress emails so that these also arrive.
Unfortunately they don’t manage your email lists for you and you cannot prepare your emails on their platform, therefore you need a third party solution.
Also, when I applied for their services, they rejected my application.
External Amazon SES Services
There are web-based services that use Amazon SES, like EmailOctopus.com, which has a free tier of 2,500 subscribers. However this includes campaigns (newsletters) only, autoresponder series are only available with the paid plans. Their cheapest plan (10,000 subscribers) costs $19, which doesn’t work for a new blogger. (They have a 14-day free trial.)
A better solution is a Hybrid Email Marketing provider, which integrates with and sends emails using your Amazon SES account. They provide a UI so that you can design, schedule and monitor your email campaigns.
SendX is a full blow Email Marketing Automation platform and you can do really really sophisticated things with it. Unfortunately SendX costs $19.99 per month or $15.99 if you pay yearly, but they also include services like resending your unopened emails at an optimized time and retargeting solutions.
As an alternative, Sendy is an email marketing plugin hosted on your blog that integrates with Amazon SES and costs $59 (one time license).
You can set up a series of emails in drip campaigns, one off emails, segment our list, Mass import/delete subscribers, custom fields, single/double opt-in, custom subscribe/unsubscribe confirmation page, thank you/good bye emails. It also has Google Analytics support and full GDPR features.
Sendy integrates with many popular apps like WordPress, Magento, Joomla, etc. thanks to third party developers. Sendy also works with Zapier, an automation service that enables you to integrate Sendy with 1000+ apps in Zapier’s app directory.
I wasn’t impressed with their editor at all, even though it’s a paid solution.
The MailPoet Free Autoresponder Plugin
MailPoet 3 is an email autoresponder plugin that is free up to 2,000 subscribers. If you get above that limit, you will need to purchase a license.
Premium costs $99 per year for one site if you send your emails with another service and Premium sending plans start at $10.
This freemium service is totally sufficient if you are a new blogger and you want to get started with your email marketing. By the time you have 2,000 subscribers, you should start making money, you can upgrade.
You can find out more about this plugin in my MailPoet review.
Setting Up A Free WordPress Autoresponder with 100% Email Deliverability
1. Install the MailPoet plugin
First we need to install the MailPoet newsletter plugin.
Login to your WP admin and go to Plugins >> Add New then enter “MailPoet 3” into the search bar.
Once it’s activated you should see it appear on your admin sidebar.
Next we need to customize some of the most important settings for MailPoet.
2. Configure the plugin
Some of the key things you might need to look at are:
- Go to MailPoet >> Settings >> Basics to set up your sender and reply-to email addresses, new subscriber email notifications and more. There is an option to allow users who register to your site to subscribe on a list of your choice. This is really useful for membership sites.
- Go to MailPoet >> Subscribers and create a list for your newsletter sign-ups. You can also import any previous subscribers here as well.
- Go to MailPoet >> Settings >> Signup Confirmation and set up the message you send out to new subscribers. You can also designate a Thank You page if you are promising an ethical and highly valuable bribe for your new subscribers to download.
- Go to MailPoet >> Settings >> Send With… to configure your sending frequency. This tab also has an option to add a third party SMTP provider, such as Amazon SES or SMTP of your web host (not recommended). I recommend the MailPoet 3 free plan where they send your emails for free through their own server, up to 2,000 subscribers. Test your connection before you continue.
- Go to MailPoet >> Settings >> Forms and setup a form to go on your pages. If you want different wording and fields you will need to create separate ones for each.
As an alternative (if you want nicer looking opt-in forms), you can easily connect the plugin with Thrive Leads by going to Thrive Dashboard >> API Connections. Just pick MailPoet from the drop-down menu and click “Connect“. Check out the API connection video here.
Here is a video that shows how you can easily set up opt-in forms with it:
Thrive also has the ability to easily create landing pages, place your opt-in forms after each blog posts, pop-ups, ribbons, etc. This is the tool I used for all such forms on my blog.
3. Create your emails
Go to MailPoet >> Newsletters and create a series of emails that you will send your subscribers will receive.
On the first screen you can pick if you want a standard newsletter, a drip campaign or a welcome email sequence.
Enter your subject line and when you want to send the email. There are three options:
- When someone subscribes to the list of your choice
- When there’s new content
- When a new WP user is added to your site.
Then click “Next Step” – this is where you can create your emails.
You can pick an existing template or upload templates through the “Themes” tab.
You can just create a standard email campaign and call it “Standard Template” or something and then just duplicate each time you create an email.
Keep in mind that short, text only emails tend to convert better and are a lot more mobile friendly.
Adding Spam Protection To Your Forms
Spam is overwhelming these days. Fake WordPress registrations will make your membership site a nightmare and spam email addresses entered by bots into your signup forms can get you blacklisted.
Just like everyone else, I have been using the free Akismet plan, however this doesn’t resolve the spam WP users problem. I haven’t tried their premium plan because it costs $5 per month.
The other option is ReCaptcha or a similar program, however this also resulted in people writing me that they are unable to leave a comment on my site.
I found a better solution called CleanTalk. Their plugin lets you choose whether you want to protect your opt-in forms, your registration forms, contact forms, etc. It has a 1-week free trial and it only costs $8 for an entire year. It provides excellent protection against spam, however there are also false positives.
Now you have a free WordPress autoresponder with excellent deliverability that fights spam.
Setting Up Amazon SES
Note: I went through all the below steps, then I was informed by Amazon SES that they disapproved my account, because of the “potential danger that I could be for other subscribers.
Therefore make sure your account gets approved first, otherwise just use MailPoet 3’s free tier sending service instead of Amazon.
Also, it is a very complicated process.
1. Create An Amazon SES Account
The email sending service is a key part of the success of this setup, otherwise your messages will end up in spam. Amazon is a company trusted by Google and other email providers. Their free tier very generous (1 year) and even after that you are paying 10 cents for sending 1,000 emails.
To set up your account, you will need to enter a credit/debit card and do a phone verification – Amazon will make an automated call and you will need to enter the code shown on your screen.
Next you need to verify your domain. In the navigation pane, under Identity Management, choose Domains.
In the Verify a New Domain dialog box, enter the domain name. If you want to set up DKIM signing for this domain, select the Generate DKIM Settings option.
In the Verify a New Domain dialog box, you will see a Domain Verification Record Set containing a Name, a Type, and a Value. (This information will also be available by choosing the domain name after you close the dialog box.)
To complete domain verification, add a TXT record with the displayed Name and Value to your domain’s DNS server.
The documentation says that verification takes up to 72 hours, however in reality it takes about 15 minutes. You get a notification email when your domain is verified.
Then you need to verify your sender email addresses, you get a verification link in an email.
At this point you are still in the sandbox environment, and you can only send email to addresses that have been verified.
Send a test email directly from your Amazon SES account to verify it’s working. This way if the plugin from your website doesn’t send, you know that the problem is not with the SES account itself.
Then you have to apply for a sending limit increase, then you can start sending email to non-verified addresses. You can do that from your “Sending Statistics” tab.
You can also set up WP SES or a similar a plugin to handle all emails usually sent by the WordPress php mailer. This improves the deliverabiliy of the standard WP emails. I tried WP SES but it wasn’t working for me for some reason.
2. Install & Configure MailPoet
You would do the installation as described above.
To hook up MailPoet with your AWS account you’ll need to create a pair of ‘SMTP Credentials’ for your MailPoet plugin. Start by visiting your Amazon SMTP settings tab, then copy the Server Name into the plugin’s SMTP Hostname field and the port. Set encryption to TLS.
Create My SMTP Credentials: This form lets you create an IAM user for SMTP authentication with Amazon SES. Enter the name of a new IAM user or accept the default and click Create to set up your SMTP credentials. Then copy the user name and the password into the plugin.
3. Test your setup
If you connected SMTP directly, go to MailPoet >> Settings >> Send With…, enter an email address and click the Send a test mail button.
Create a test page that’s not public, add a form and sign up with one of your email addresses to test the sign-up process.