How to Use Mailing Lists

Mailing lists are a key tool to communicate with your customers or supporters. Here's an overview of what you need to know about them.

Mailing list programs

Mailing list programs are available in two main types:

  • Software that you install on your site and maintain yourself
  • Email marketing services where you create an account and maintain your mailing lists

Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Software that you install on your site, such as DadaMail and phpList, is generally free (open source). Because it's on your site, you can customize it if you want and know how to. However, you have to upgrade the software periodically and troubleshoot it if something isn't working. You also have fewer features to use than with commercial mailing list services.

Commercial email services, for example, Mailchimp and AWeber, typically have more features. Depending on the program, you can track subscriber data, schedule email campaigns, set up autoresponder email series, and more. You won't have to upgrade or troubleshoot the software — that's taken care of for you.

You will, however, pay for these features. Mailchimp is free for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month, but autoresponders aren't included with free accounts. AWeber, which has more features for marketers, starts at $19 per month after the first month.

The above are just some examples of popular mailing list programs.

Subscribers and sign-up forms

To get subscribers, you need to invite people to subscribe. Keep the options simple on the sign-up form, and include a link to your Subscribe form throughout your website and on your social media pages. Invite people to subscribe to your mailing list when you email them as well.

Be sure that your sign-up form uses the double opt-in procedure. With this step in place, subscribers receive an email with a confirmation link to click to verify their subscription. This step serves several purposes:

  • It verifies that subscribers entered a valid email address.
  • It prevents people from adding other people's addresses to your mailing list.
  • It helps show that you aren't a spammer. Your mailing list has only the addresses of people who choose to be on it.

Also be sure that your sign-up form is easy to use on mobile devices.

CAN-SPAM Act requirements

If you live or do business in the US, you can send commercial emails only to people who are customers of yours or who have given you permission for you to send them email. In addition, commercial emails you send must have the following in the footer of every email:

  • An Unsubscribe link
  • Your business address

You must, of course, honor unsubscribe requests.

For additional CAN-SPAM Act requirements for commercial messages, see CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business.

If you live or work in another country, it's still good practice to do the above. No one wants to receive spam, and these steps help reduce the chances that your emails will be perceived as spam.

Starting your mailing list

Mailing list setup is a service I offer to clients that I'm doing other work for. If you need more than the above information to get started, contact me.

Content to send to your subscribers

Much of this website is about content that you can email your subscribers about. See the links below.

See also