Using WordPress as a CMS occasionally throws up a few hiccups in the development process, and one of the biggest problems I face is setting up a halfway decent subscription and newsletter module. When the client is on a budget, this becomes an even tougher job. Various freely available newsletter plugins can be configured to provide basic email services. However, for a truly flexible and customizable solution, the only plugin I would recommend is Tribulant’s Newsletter Plugin.
Designed for WordPress, the plugin is extensive in its scope. From autoresponders to multiple mailing lists, it allows users to create newsletters from scratch, or to send out posts as newsletters, to multiple mailing lists. Double opt-in subscriptions can be provided to all the mailings lists, and subscribers and subscription details are exportable for marketing analyses.
For recurring newsletters, the plugin allows users to create email templates that can be adapted to each new newsletter, thus avoiding unnecessarily repetitive actions when creating and sending out mails. Most impressively, the plugin has a theme system using HTML, CSS and native shortcodes that can be adapted to match the client site. Up to 10 themes are included with the installation. However, creating a new custom theme is a simple enough matter for anyone familiar with HTML. All that is required is one html page (index.html) holding a few necessary shortcodes (such as [wpmlcontent]) to ensure the correct placement of headings and body content within the theme. Images utilized in the themes are uploaded to the plugin folder in the WordPress installation, which allows them to be remotely loaded for each email.
One of the most cumbersome requirements I had was a single subscription form for multiple mailings lists. I had previously spent several months and quite a bit of money (on php developers hired to modify the plugin) on a free plugin (WP Autoresponder – which, coincidentally, offers many of the same features as Tribulant), that only allowed one mailing list per subscription form. On a site with different newsletters, this meant having multiple forms, a clumsy approach that I finally resolved when I stumbled upon Tribulant.
Not only is creating a single form a snap, a custom fields option allows for extensive customization of the form. Not to be confused with WordPress custom fields, this option is for additional form fields for data collection (ask your customers where they live, or what their favorite color is, for example) that can be added to the subscription form. The form is available as a widget, but can also be added manually to a template using WordPress Template tags, or using shortcodes in a post or page.
A single-site license (at $54.99) is a one-time cost that includes 3 months of free updates. This can be renewed for a small fee, or you may choose to continue without updates; at any time, updates and support can be renewed at a later date for a small fee. The documentation on the Tribulant site is extensive. My own experience with the customer support team for Tribulant has been a joy. Not only are they prompt in responding to a query, the last time I contacted them, the owner, Antonie Potgeiter, was online himself to respond to my queries. They obviously take their obligations seriously, a rare quality in today’s world.
Perhaps the only drawback to the plugin is actually buying it. Payment options include PayPal (Pakistan’s kryptonite!) or 2Checkout (a payment gateway for credit card processing). I don’t need to vent about PayPal – we’re all well aware of our limitations in Pakistan. However, 2Checkout has a fairly stringent Fraud Detection process that tags the smallest errors for possible fraud, therefore declining the transaction. If you are going to buy the plugin using 2Checkout, make sure that all credit card details are exact, and that you have a card from a reputable bank (such as MCB or Standard Chartered). Avoid, if possible, UBL’s Wiz card – I had nothing but bad luck when I tried it!
For the sake of Pakistani developers (and any other developers and designers for whom PayPal is inaccessible), I am hoping Tribulant will offer a new payment gateway for their customers. Perhaps if they receive enough requests (hint hint, nudge nudge, know what I mean?), that may yet happen.