If you’ll be sending a lot of email — for instance, if you keep an email subscription list and send them all notifications of your thrice-weekly blog entries — you’ll want to avoid sending all that email from your own WordPress server. You can do that — there’s a plugin for it — but if someone gets the idea that you’re spamming and blacklists you, getting off the blacklist is a difficult proposition. So the emails should be sent by some trusted outside party which is a known non-spammer, someone who satisfies the legal requirements for being able to unsubscribe and so on.
Mailchimp is the 800-lb chimpanzee of the email subscriber list business. It’s the default if you want to have someone else maintain your mailing list and send newsletters.
Mailerlite, with about a million users, is similar — the setup screens for creating your “campaigns” will seem very familiar to Mailchimp users.
There may be other services I should mention; if you know of a worthy contender please mention it in the comments or use my contact form to let me know. These are the two I know best.
Both services are free until you reach a certain number of subscribers or volume of email.
MailChimp free plan
Mailerlite free plan
Mailchimp insists on putting your physical mail address into every newsletter, whereas Mailerlite puts it in by default but lets you remove it. That may be a deciding factor for many.
Multiple list capability
Bottom line: Mailchimp charges you money to manage multiple lists under the same login. Mailerlite does not.
At the paid levels, MailChimp lets you create multiple “audiences” — distinct mailing lists, which is useful if you’re communicating about different subjects on different websites. For instance if your dog salon and your fiction website each have a mailing list, when dog salon subscribers ask to edit their email preferences, they don’t need to see a checkbox to sign up for “publishing news and free short stories,” because what does that have to do with dog grooming? And if you do happen to have the same person on both lists, and they click the general “unsubscribe” from dog salon, you don’t want that to unsubscribe them from hearing about your publications also.
Mailerlite lets you create multiple “accounts” with distinct mailing lists under the same login at the free level. So an account is basically their equivalent of Mailchimp’s audience.
So the cost is a consideration if you have multiple lists; however, you can always create multiple Mailchimp logins to maintain separate lists without paying extra.
Signup form design
The services are similar in this regard. You can design signup forms and decide which fields to include, add your own fields, set the prompt text and decide which fields are required. You then either copy the HTML code to your website and include it wherever (for WordPress sites, using an HTML “block” or widget), or alternatively, in the case of Mailerlite, reference the saved form with a WordPress plugin on your site.
Mailerlite has a slight edge over Mailchimp in terms of designating a form for a particular group (in case you know from the context which group they’re signing up for so you don’t need to ask) and in cases where you want to ask people to choose groups on the form, in selecting which groups they can choose from. Your “embedded forms” (which are the type where you can copy the HTML to your website) give you little control over their appearance — for instance, there’s a lot of padding around the form which makes it unsuitable for use in a sidebar, and even those who know CSS will find it hard to control the styling because nearly every attribute is already flagged “!important”. You can overcome this by copying the full HTML of the form and editing it on your site, if you’re pretty good with CSS and HTML.
WordPress plugin support
There are several plugins which support Mailchimp signup forms, popups, and the like — plus, even without a plugin, pasting in Mailchimp’s form HTML is reasonably easy and you can go in and customize the form manually if you have to because you have all the HTML right there.
For Mailerlite there seems to be just one official plugin, which would be fine if it were a decent plugin. It is not. There are some serious bugs, the ability to design forms is limited — not as limited as on their website, but pretty poor. Their English is also not great. Based on the reviews and support tickets on WordPress.org, these problems have been present for years, so they’re not in a hurry to fix them.
Both services, at the paid levels, also have advanced functions such as A/B testing. I haven’t used these and couldn’t say whose features are more comprehensive or best implemented.
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