You’d think that creating an email newsletter in WordPress would be easier in 2023. You’d think that a few years into the creator economy and the great Substack migration of 2020-2022, we’d have a pretty good solution for authoring an email newsletter in WordPress. Well, not really.
My goals: I’d love to write my email newsletter in the WordPress block editor and send it to my subscribers. I also want to archive my newsletters as a CPT that I can display on an archive page, with a decent design for individual issues. I’m really trying to embrace the IndieWeb principal of POSSE– creating everything inside my WordPress site and pushing out from there. Plus, with the WordPress iOS app no longer needing Jetpack, it felt like a good time to move even more stuff in-house.
I’ve tried Jetpack (which just sends your latest post in a very ugly email) and MailChimp (just… no). Recently I’d been using a WordPress plugin called MailPoet. I believe I was on a free plan but had a free copy of the premium plugin installed.
The pros? MailPoet is all inside the WP dashboard. Plus, their free plan handled actually sending the email so there was no need to set up a separate service like SendGrid.
The cons? MailPoet does not use the block editor. It uses something that feels closer to an Elementor editor- it’s block-based but not nearly as fluid feeling as typing into the block editor. It created archive pages but they weren’t super easy to customize and design for. The whole experience just felt disappointing.
The next solution I looked at was Newsletter Glue, which I believe is much closer to what I wanted (design emails in the block editor, push to your email provider) but they don’t handle the actual email delivery. You have to work with a separate service, but they don’t work with ConvertKit (more on that later), which I planned to use.
In WordPress this is my version of the 80/20 rule: every solution gets you 80% of the way their but the remaining 20% of functionality you want will take 80% of the effort.
At the end of the day, I decided that I’d create my own damn custom post type and just copy/paste whatever I wrote in Gutenberg into ConvertKit or whatever I ended up using. I mean, it’s just a newsletter. I don’t need fancy graphics or even columns. I really just want some nice looking paragraphs and bullet lists, which the block editor will let me copy/paste as simple HTML.
But, because I’m a developer, I decided to see if I could automate pushing my content from WordPress to ConvertKit using their API. Welp, now I see why Newsletter Glue doesn’t support them yet. The ConvertKit API endpoint for generating new email “broadcasts” is just… bad. It’s clearly not ready for primetime. It gives you the most basic text-only design. You can’t even set a nicer default design in the dashboard. You’re stuck with basically no custom typography choices and if you want to use one of their templates, it’ll erase your content anyway.
Copy and paste it is. So here’s my newsletter archive page. And here’s a recent issue written up in WordPress. I’ve been using Rich Tabor’s Wabi FSE theme, which means I’ve designed everything you see on this site in the “site editor.” And I’m starting to… like it? Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a LOT of issues with the site editor (I broke my live site multiple times, and I’m a pretty savvy WP developer), but it’s getting better. When in doubt- add a group block (it’s the nested
div of the site editor).
The newsletter layout doesn’t exactly match what you’ll get when you subscribe via email, but it’s close enough for now. And no matter where I move my email service in the future, the original copy will at least live on my website, where I can own it.
Should this be easier? Should I be able to launch a newsletter from my website with a lot less effort? I guess. To be fair, MailPoet was getting the job done, and I see why it’s popular. It’s probably good enough. It’s my fault for wanting to be more… in control. But I think I’m happy where I landed.
Now, if the WordPress iOS app could support custom post types so I could draft my newsletters on the go, we could really be in business.