My genealogy society has published a quarterly journal and a quarterly newsletter for the last 50+ years. Each has been printed and mailed to members. It is a time-consuming and expensive operation. In the case of the newsletter, genealogy news is happening so fast that a quarterly publication can’t keep up.
Our society site runs on WordPress and we have Jetpack’s email subscription turned on. We usually post a weekly research tip article, a monthly meeting reminder and the occasional news item. Even with minimal promotion of the email subscription feature, we have a substantial number of subscribers. When the board requested information on potential email newsletter options, my first question was could we use what we already had? The answer . . . absolutely!
To experiment, we added a second weekly post which is published on Sunday. It contains the latest additions in the major archives, the latest deals, interesting news and some recommended readings. We are getting very favorable feedback and the number of subscribers is climbing. So, with the subscriber base already in place, the challenge is how to transform a WordPress post into an attractive email newsletter.
First, the weekend update got a bit of a facelift with a simple masthead graphic and a couple of graphic section headings. The graphics were designed to fit within the site’s theme settings. Jetpack’s mailing system reduced them to fit their email template. Every graphic used in a newsletter post must physically reside in your WordPress media library to be included in the email. Embedded objects – like a YouTube video – won’t be delivered to your subscribers. They will only see a – rather ugly – link to view it at YouTube.
Instead of trying to build HTML sidebar boxes, we’ve been experimenting with text box graphics (a colored box with text inside saved as a .png graphic). The challenge is to find a width that looks good on your WordPress site and won’t be compressed to small to read in the email message. Fortunately for us, the site’s theme has a post width of 640px and the email message compresses that to 600px wide so the difference isn’t too bad.
Once graphic elements have been uploaded to your WordPress site, they can be used over and over. In addition to the masthead and section headings, you can use custom graphics in place of the standard horizontal line, and include your society’s logo somewhere in the post. Just remember you want these graphics optimized for the web – not print quality.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that if you’ve already got email subscriptions in place and a number of subscribers, you don’t want them to suffer through your design and layout experiments. If you are running a self-hosted version of WordPress, you could install a second instance of WordPress in a separate folder for testing. Note: having a test site is useful for more than just your newsletter. Hosted WordPress.com users could set up a second site for the same purpose. Set it as a private site so only you and those working with you will see it.
One last note. If you have visitors already using a newsreader to keep up with your site, don’t force them into an email subscription. They’ll get your newsletters delivered to their newsreader instead.