This year, I moved the hosting of my free weekly newsletter ORBITAL OPERATIONS from its longtime home on Campaign Monitor to Buttondown.
Campaign Monitor’s service is superb. However, it’s a massive Swiss Army Knife of a thing, and does more than I need it to do. I would recommend Campaign Monitor to anyone. Their performance over the years has been literally flawless, and worth the expense.
But I chose to simplify. I realised that I just didn’t need all CM’s bells and whistles, and wanted to focus purely on personal publishing. So I moved the newsletter to the very well regarded Buttondown system – which, I have to note, provides excellent service and support right from the start. Which is even more amazing when you realise it’s run by a single person.
Buttondown works off the Markdown text protocol. Markdown is designed to elegantly present plain text with a little styling, no more and no less. Buttondown’s system allows you to add a little HTML to that, and there appears to be space to dress the overall newsletter with CSS, which I know nothing about. What I’m trying to say is, if you’re coming from CM or Mailchimp, Buttondown will feel and look basic. You will try to make it do things that it simply isn’t designed to do because Markdown simply wasn’t built to do them. I spent a few months beating my head against it, and, unless you have some significant web-fu that I cannot conceive of, so will you.
Accept the limitations. Use them. Creative limitations can be a good thing.
The writing window in Buttondown gives you two options – write in Markdown or write in a WSYWYG “Rich Text” window that lets you embed images and the like. Here’s a rub I found (am working in Chrome on Windows): if you start in Markdown, and then switch over to “Rich Text” and embed a picture or add a link, some of your formatting, and any HTML you may have placed in your Markdown work, will get mangled. Before you send, you’ll have to click back into the Markdown window and fix stuff up. I find myself adding < br > a lot to restore line spacing.
Buttondown appears to enjoy less “sending authority” than other newsletter providers at the moment. “Sending authority” is, basically, does your email provider recognise that your newsletter is coming from a respectable source? I see enough unconfirmed subscribers to guess that confirmation emails are going straight into spam, especially on Gmail. Buttondown combats this in the only way it really can – it has an extremely sensitive filter for bounced subscribers and what it calls “spammy subscribers.” If you’re moving from another provider, sending your first email from Buttondown will immediately dematerialise a chunk of your subscription list. I don’t mean sudden unsubscriptions: I mean, in the first few seconds after you hit send, Buttondown will identity a whole bunch of subscribers as evil ghosts and exorcise them. This is fine.
What you may like, however, is that Buttondown doesn’t track email opens. If you’re an absolute growth hacker, not knowing your open rate will probably drive you mad. I, however, decided that I don’t need to know.
I like Buttondown a lot. It’s a little fiddly, but it doesn’t hurt to have to think twice about what you’re doing when you’re writing a public letter. It’s not as fancy in the end product as other systems I’ve used, but that’s because Buttondown is built with the intent to serve text and images with simplicity and function. If you’re looking for a paid, supported service – especially one that, with the Buttondown Pro option, will allow you to charge for newsletter subscriptions – this is what you should look at first. It’s not as slick as others, but it has intention.