How to Build an Opt-in Email Autoresponder

I Decided to write my own opt-in form and email autoresponder for WordPressI decided about a year and a half ago to write my own opt-in form and email autoresponder plugin for WordPress. I decided today that I would share the adventure in a series of blog posts. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me explain what these are. Opt-in forms are those little forms you see on a lot of blogs and other websites asking you to sign up by entering your name and email address. Once you do that they may email you a free gift of some sort and they will probably send you regular emails with additional content and/or let you know when they have published a new post. The email autoresponder is the part that handles sending all of the emails.

Why Create My Own Opt-in Form and Email Autoresponder?

Why the heck do I want to create my own opt-in/email autoresponder system? There are so many services out there that already do this, and do it well – Aweber, Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, InfusionSoft, Get Response, the list goes on and on.

There are actually several reasons why I decided to do it.

How Do They Work? – If you’ve used one before, you know about the parts that they expose to you, their customers. You create an opt-in form using their templates and then copy the generated code and drop it somewhere on your website, or use a plugin or some other tool to get the form where you want it. Then, also using their service, you write your series of emails and set the schedule for when you want them sent out after someone enters their info on your form. You may also compose emails from time to time that get broadcast to your entire list all at one time.

But do you know what goes on behind the scenes? Maybe you don’t want to know. I was a software and web developer in my first professional life, so I’m curious about these things work. There’s a lot to it, let me assure you. Figuring these things out will give me, and you through these articles, a new appreciation for what these services actually do for you behind the scenes.

I Wanted Control of My Data – I have used Aweber in the past and I was frustrated at the lack of access I had to the data. I only had a small list, so any time someone flagged my email as spam I got a warning. If you have 20 people on a list and just one person takes issue with your email, that’s 5% of your list saying that your email is spam. If I remember correctly, Aweber flags you if you are over 1%. They didn’t take into account that it was only one person. Things might be different now. I don’t know.

I also wanted to know who that person was so that I could make sure they were off my list. That list was of people interested in the products that I was selling with my network marketing business. If you sign up on a list offering information about products, you should be expecting information about products. It’s not spam if you receive exactly the information that was advertised. That person needs to just unsubscribe, not flag it as spam. Call me crazy, but that’s how I feel.

Exploring WordPress – Writing WordPress plugins, especially something complicated like this, helps me to better understand WordPress. Have you ever wondered why WordPress does things a certain way? Have you ever thought about how this software can take the text you type into the post editor and turn it into HTML, incorporating all of the short codes, plugins, widgets and everything else into a webpage that your visitors can come to and read?

If you use WordPress, pull up your latest published blog post, or this one if you prefer, as your visitors see it and take a look at the source. There should be a menu option somewhere in your browser that lets you look at a webpage’s source code. You will see a lot of text, the raw HTML that your web browser turns into a formatted document that your visitors can (hopefully) easily read on their computers. It’s pretty amazing.

Considerations For an Opt-in Form and Autoresponder

There are a lot of things that have to happen for an opt-in form and an email autoresponder to get the job done adequately. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Capture data without duplicates – Obviously you have to be able to display a form so that people can enter their information and you have to be able to receive and store that information in the database for future use. You also want to make sure that people don’t opt-in more than once because you don’t want to send the same email to people multiple times. And don’t forget the spambots, you have to be able to block them.

Double opt-in – This is when you enter your information in the form then have to watch for a link to arrive in your email so that you can confirm your subscription. This is very important because without it, other people can sign you up for emails that you don’t want. If you do not click the confirmation link then you shouldn’t receive any additional emails from the list. All respectable lists should require double opt-in.

Ability to opt-out – The CanSpam law requires every marketing email to have an unsubscribe link so that recipients can easily say that they don’t want to receive any more emails from you. Some services give the former subscriber the ability to tell you why they are unsubscribing.

Support both HTML and text email – As content providers we all want our content to look good for our readers, and that goes for our emails too. If it doesn’t look good, people don’t read it, and we don’t make any money. Being able to format our emails with HTML makes them look much more appealing to our readers, almost like seeing an actual webpage. Unfortunately, not all email readers can support HTML, so we have to be able to provide a plain text version as well in such a way that the email reader can figure out which one to display.

Tracking email opens – You want to know that your emails have been received and that they have been opened. This is usually done by embedding a one pixel by one pixel image into the email and counting how many times the image has been accessed. This only works for emails that display as HTML (not plain text) and if the reader has images turned on. Otherwise the image isn’t accessed and the open cannot be counted. So it isn’t a completely accurate way to keep track of opens, but it is probably the best you can hope for short of asking all of your subscribers to email you to let you know they read it.

What Do You Think?

Like I said earlier, I started this project about a year and a half ago but I haven’t been able to work on it consistently due to other more pressing commitments (I like to spend time with my family). I’ve made some good progress on it lately and I will share what I have learned in future posts.

So what do you think of my project? Pretty crazy, right? Leave me a comment below and let me know what you think.

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