Finding a newsletter workflow for WordPress

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.

Learn Modern WordPress Development

I’m sharing the best resources and tutorials for developers building in and on the block editor.

5 responses to “Finding a newsletter workflow for WordPress”

  1. Joshua Otwell Avatar

    Nice article and very valid. I recently moved a very small newsletter I have from ConvertKit to Mailpoet for the accompanying blog and I am pleased with Mailpoet so far. I’ve just never gotten into ConverKit. I know it’s a great platform but just feels kinda clunky to me. I like having everything for this niche site in WordPress so I went with Mailpoet. I do have a larger developer newsletter on Substack and it is just by far the easiest to use to me and the reason I initially chose it. A Substack type clone in WordPress would be epic.

    1. Brian Coords Avatar
      Brian Coords

      Mailpoet wasn’t too bad, I just wasn’t a fan of its content editor. Weirdly after going through this whole process I’ve sort of realized that ConvertKit is probably not what I needed either (the content editor also isn’t great) but it’s getting the job done.
      Substack is super easy. I’ve seen some WordPress-based Substack competitors but Substack had the benefit of gaining a lot of popularity (and VC funding). The other option I didn’t mention but considered was Ghost.

  2. Dan Knauss Avatar

    I feel your pain! Have you thought about simply wp_mail()ing your newsletter post type to users in the Subscriber group? A well-configured site, mailserver (there might be a good template or snapshot at Digital Ocean), and DNS should handle that just fine or you could use a third-party service like mailgun. I mocked something up a long time ago but never got around to trying it. Newsletter Glue is super but a big plugin solution. Newspack’s Newsletter plugin is a similar more minimalistic option.

    1. Brian Coords Avatar
      Brian Coords

      The thought crossed my mind, though I’d need to think about an HTML template, handling unsubscribes, performance effect of having users on my site, etc. (Things that WordPress could/should work on with projects like WP Notify). I’d love to use Newsletter Glue but especially with their shift to the upmarket group, it’s not really in my price point.

  3. Dan Avatar

    Agh, yeah — I haven’t looked at the updated prices but know NG would have to be for a big, big thing, not a weird personal project or shot in the dark.

    One of 10up’s awesome simple plugins is an “email me new posts” tool. It’s not bad out of the box. Reminds me of Feedburner. Probably could be fixed up.

    Just make it near impossible to unsubscribe short of emailing you directly and encourage that very personal approach! 😀 Seriously, that’s my plan. Not good for normal and scaled-up approaches.

    An old client/friend asked me to Substack her WP on Friday, so I did. The new Lettre theme works, and I discovered Daniel Iser’s Content Control plugin is all you really need for a basic membership site. Content is tested and hidden until you create a free account and land in the Subscriber group. Add paid levels on top of that. If you want more, Ultimate Member is extremely good and very generous with the free version’s features. If I was building something more complex Kadence and RCP would be my top choice.

    The main thing I ended up futzing over was the login/account creation process since there is some much malignant targeting of login forms and hosts all do their own weird things with them. User authentication should be really standardized and strong. I think it will happen, because I’ve been testing the newest Security product at StellarWP/iThemes and I’m blown away by how good it is for WP — like my Google accounts now. Once you set up device passkeys or a simple login link you never need passwords again. I’m really looking forward to that catching on and am fairly addicted now to never having to log into WP by typing stuff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.