Note: The following is an archived email newsletter, originally distributed on July 8, 2019. Minor updates were made as-necessary. To receive content like this before it appears in archives, subscribe to the All Freelance Writing newsletter and blog updates.
For about six years, I've used MailChimp as my email marketing service. It had its perks. It had its downsides. But overall I was happy with them.
During some optimization work at All Freelance Writing, a dev and I drastically cut down on the number of plugins required to run the site. That included a plugin creating the MailChimp forms.
After all, my theme has a MailChimp integration built in, and MailChimp offers its own form code I could manually use. Simple swap, right?
Unfortunately the theme integration had to be ruled out due to an accessibility problem (which the developers have said they'll look into fixing down the road).
Then I embedded MailChimp's own code into the site and styled it locally. But a funny thing happened.
I saw a 400% increase in subscribers.
I can hear it now: "That's awesome Jenn! I'd love to know how you did that."
Well, no. You wouldn't. You see, these weren't legit subscribers. The moment I used MailChimp's provided code, fake subscribers shot up dramatically.
And most of these were quite obvious -- numerous generic (meaning numerical) addresses on the same obscure domains, a massive number of Russian domains when I've had very few subscribers in that region over the years, and many similar domains coming through all at once (think a.singaporetravel.com, b.chinatravel.com, etc.).
No biggie, I figured. I must have missed something. So I looked into things. A honeypot was implemented in the code. Recaptcha was set up with the form. But still nothing was stopping the flow of fake subscribers. MailChimp's protections were failing. And these fake subscribers were even confirming subscriptions as I'd set up double opt-ins already.
This is where my issues with MailChimp began.
I contacted support after running more tests with plugins and site integrations -- both of which prevented the fake sign-ups -- to find out why I was having issues only when using their code.
They insisted their provided code should be taking care of these.
But they weren't.
Then they made the case that these very obvious fake subscribers weren't blocked by their system because they weren't obvious enough. And no, there was no way for me to blacklist certain domains or countries if a sudden spam sign-up wave was occurring.
I worked with them for months trying to help them figure out the problem so they could fix it. But ultimately they didn't seem to have much interest in that. They even pushed me to just unsubscribe all the fakes rather than continuing to delete them. I didn't know why at the time.
Then MailChimp Announced New Changes
While MailChimp didn't seem concerned about these sudden fake subscribers (which you pay for by the way -- I saw so many my price level went up twice while trying to help them pinpoint the problem), they were busy preparing for other changes.
Previously, your price each month was determined by your active contacts -- people actively subscribed to your list.
But the new changes would see all contacts influence your price moving forward, including those who have unsubscribed.
While there might have been no ill intent on the part of the support rep I was working with, suddenly it felt "off" that they were pushing me to keep all these fake sign-ups as unsubscribed rather than completely removing them.
So I decided I was finished with them and it was time to look for greener pastures.
Searching for a New Email Marketing Service
For a while I'd been wanting to increase my email marketing efforts, not specifically with All Freelance Writing, but with my larger collection of sites. So while hunting for a new MailChimp alternative, my goal was to keep features and prices relatively close to where they were while making it easier to manage multiple lists for different sites from a single account.
That proved to be more difficult than I expected.
Most services I looked into limited you to a single domain, and juggling dozens of accounts wasn't going to fly. Others offered similar features to MailChimp but would have charged nearly twice as much for the same list size. And more were lacking features I wanted altogether.
However, I came across two promising options. And I want to share them with you in case you're thinking about setting up your first list or migrating away from your own current email marketing service.
They work a little differently than you might be used to. Rather than using "lists" you have a master list with "tags" to sort subscribers.
You can send from multiple domains, having subscribers for different sites' content assigned to different tags.
In the end though, this setup wasn't going to work for someone with sites and lists that have overlapping interest areas because unsubscribing from one "tag" unsubscribes people from the whole list. That's a problem if they signed up for updates from multiple sites you run.
With new freelance writing and blogging-related sites coming, this would have been an issue for me. (Support did add fixing this to their request list at least, so it might change.)
2022 Update: This did, indeed, change. However, the new system still doesn't work for the type of multi-property publishing company I run as it either unsubscribes from all "lists" or requires all tags / "lists" to be included in a preference page rather than handling unsubscribes on a tag-by-tag basis. While that makes sense if you have multiple tags for one site, it creates confusion and branding problems when you're talking about lists for different domains. I've noticed this is becoming a more common problem as services focus on this single-list approach. Find for one-site publishers. Terrible for multi-site ones or agencies.
I should also note they don't offer RSS campaigns yet, but they're already working on adding that. I found I received much better open rates with manual post summaries and subject lines, so I prefer that anyway.
2022 Update: They did add RSS broadcasts to the service, but as this happened after my last service test I can't speak to their performance or how easy and flexible they are to implement.
That said, I loved what I saw.
And if you only have one list to manage, they might be a perfect solution for you.
One perk is their much lower pricing because they're still technically in beta. If you get in during this time, they say they'll grandfather you in at that price for as long as you're a subscriber too.
Second, BirdSend focuses exclusively on content creators. I love this about them because they work with people providing real value to subscribers -- not just people sending promotion after promotion.
Best of all however, was their support. They were outstanding to deal with. They'll transfer everything over for you from your current service for free during your trial if you need help with that too.
I asked quite a few questions, and on the rare occasion their support folks couldn't answer, they asked the co-founder who responded personally -- exactly like the kind of support I'd expect from a small company.
I genuinely wish they'd have been able to meet my needs, because I loved everything else about them. And I hope you'll take them for a spin with a free trial and consider them if you're looking to move as well.
2022 Update: After several years with MooSend, I've recently left them as well. There were repeated problems with their RSS campaigns that made them unusable (why I've spent years manually sending job board updates, which was a significant increase in the time I should have been spending on them). There were other support issues on-and-off. But I ultimately left when they added new limits on a feature I'd been paying for for years, and when those went into effect (with very little notice, given at a time many of us were barely back from year-end holiday breaks), they essentially disabled functionality here on my public site. Between that and the new pricing announced after their acquisition (charging more while taking away features?), I was fed up. While I've recommended them in the past, I can no longer do so in good conscience.
Ultimately, I opted for a different service I'd previously been unfamiliar with: MooSend.
At first, the whole cow branding felt a little odd to me. But then again, I was coming from a company branded around a chimpanzee, so...
Feature-wise, they hit all the rights spots for what I needed in my particular business. The price was a bit lower than MailChimp. And I verified I wouldn't run into the multi-list issues I would have had with BirdSend.
That said, I'm not ready to recommend them yet. When I initially emailed support, I went days without a response. When using their live chat after, I did get much quicker responses however, so while initially put off I've been OK with their support since.
I ran into similar fake subscriber issues with their provided code (which doesn't have any spam protection built in like MailChimp's is supposed to). But their WordPress plugin seemed to resolve that for now, at least for my WordPress sites, and I've been assured this will be addressed in a big update they have coming soon.
Overall, I want to give them a thorough round of testing before recommending them or not. So I may share more detailed feedback with you in a few months when I have the campaign data to compare with MailChimp.
In the meantime, if you're having issues with MailChimp, are unhappy with their recent changes, are concerned about how long they'll keep grandfathering existing subscribers into old rate plans, etc., these are two options (of many) you might want to look into.
Other than that, I'm just glad to have the list issues cleaned up so I could get back to sending updates. And with the All Freelance Writing blog not being updated as much in the future, this newsletter will bring you more subscribers-only content than ever before.
Take care, and if you're in the market for a new email marketing service, happy hunting!