Useful Tools: Mailing lists

Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on email list management tools.

An up-to-date email list is one of the most powerful marketing tools community groups can employ, because it allows you to communicate directly with the people that matter most to you in a targeted way and without having to pay for advertising. In the last few years, there has been an explosion of free software that lets you curate your list, produce branded sign-up forms for your website and social media, send professional-looking HTML emails, and track the data associated with those emails, making it easier than ever to develop an email list.

Using a mailing list provider also ensures you avoid privacy issues such as accidentally putting all addresses in the ‘carbon copy’ (cc) field rather than ‘blind carbon copy’ (bcc), or other practices that may put you in violation of various countries’ anti-spam legislation (such as not providing an unsubscribe facility or contact details for the sender).

Email marketing software

MailChimp is one of the best-known online email marketing software providers, although there are others that offer a similar service, such as Benchmark Email and VerticalResponse. These companies differ in the services they offer, but many have free plans up to a certain number of list recipients (2000 for MailChimp, 1000 for VerticalResponse) and a monthly email cap (12,000 for MailChimp, 4000 for VerticalResponse). You will need to investigate which software best meets your needs, and these are some things to look for in a free plan.

  • Time period: Is it permanently free or is the plan only offered as a limited-time trial?
  • Contact numbers: How many contacts can you have on your mailing list for a free plan?
  • Monthly cap: How many emails can you send per month?
  • Templates: Does the program offer HTML email templates, and how easy are they to use? Are they free or do you have to pay for them? Are they responsive (viewable on mobile devices as well as desktops)?
  • Sign-up forms: What sorts of sign-up forms can you create?
  • Importing contacts: Are you able to import existing lists of contacts or do contacts have to sign up individually through the software’s sign-up form?
  • Multiple lists: Can you manage multiple mailing lists through the one account?
  • Integration: Is the software set up for easy integration with the most popular free website hosts, like WordPress? Can you access it through apps on smartphones or tablets?
  • Reply functionality: If a subscriber wants to contact you, how easy is it?
  • Analytics: What sort of data does the program allow you to track? Are you able to request email notifications for certain types of data (such as new subscribers)?
  • Support and training: Does the software company offer good support and information to help you improve your email marketing?
  • Upgrades: What do the paid packages offer, and are they affordable should you need to upgrade in future?


One of the great advantages to using an email marketing provider is access to analytics. These are the most common data that you can track from your mailing list provider.

  • List growth. How many people are subscribing to (or unsubscribing from) your list each month?
  • Open rates. How many people on your list opened the email you sent them (as opposed to deleting it without reading it)? How does this compare to averages across your industry? This gives an idea of how engaging your subject line is, among other things.
  • Click rates. What percentage of subscribers are clicking the links in your email? This indicates how interested your subscribers are in your content.
  • A/B testing. Some providers let you run tests on two different versions of your subject line, sender name or content to see which version is the most popular. This allows you to make better-informed marketing decisions.

Although there’s an initial learning curve when you start using a mailing list provider, in the long run it will make it much easier to manage your list, and will also help ensure you don’t run afoul of anti-spam legislation.

Published by lmmerrington

L.M. Merrington is a freelance writer, editor, academic and communications professional. Her journalism and academic writing has appeared in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Bulletin, East Asia Forum, Inside Story and South Asia Masala, among others. Her first novel, Greythorne, will be published by Momentum Books, Pan Macmillan Australia’s digital imprint, in 2015. She is currently completing an academic monograph, India and China in the Asia-Pacific, 1890–2030, and working on her next novel.

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