Sendy: Powerful, cheap newsletters for Joomla

We've been using Mailchimp for our newsletters over the past few years and have been very happy with the features, but not so much the price. We recently switched to Sendy, the self-hosted newsletter suite, and have been extremely happy with the results. So much so that we released the only Sendy integration extension for Joomla. 

What is Sendy

thumb sendy-logo

Sendy is a self-hosted newsletter solution, which means you need to have your own server to host and run it from. However, if you're already a Joomla user, this shouldn't be too unfamiliar territory. Once installed on your server, it has a slick web-interface where you can create different 'brands' (think of companies or products) and then 'lists' which subscribers can be added to for each brand. You can create unlimited brands and lists to suit your needs, whether you want to manage them all, or you want to let different users into your Sendy configuration and manage each individually.

Our Requirements

The two main features we took advantage of from Mailchimp were the standard newsletter abilities and autoresponders, both of which Sendy has handled splendidly so far. For the uninitiated, newsletters are the standard fare of sending an email to everyone on a list, generally to announce a product or blog post or whatever.

Autoresponders let you send an email to individual people after a set amount of time from an 'event'. In our case, any users that signup to SourceCoast will get an email 3 days later letting them know that they're 'on our list' and the advantages of our social network integration suite for Joomla.

There are other features we used within Mailchimp (groups, Time Warp, etc), and were features we definitely liked but not considered essential for a replacement.

The Price Advantage

The advantages of hosting it yourself are direct: huge monthly savings. With Mailchimp, we were on a plan that cost us over $200 / month to send as many emails as we wanted. With Sendy, there's a 1 time fee of $59 for the software. All emails are actually sent through the Amazon Simple Email Service (SES) and cost $1 / 10,000 emails sent. If you are an infrequent email sender and have a decent size list, you could start saving thousands of dollars per year, like we are.

The main case where Mailchimp still seems viable (to us) is if you have a relatively small subscriber list that you send to many, many times per month. Alternatively, you could use their Pay As You Go plans, which are still more expensive then Sendy, but gives you all the features of Mailchimp.

For us, we were simply stuck in a no-mans land: we had a big subscriber list that we wanted to send to about 1x per month. That's the case where Mailchimp simply doesn't have a cost-affordable pricing plan.

Setup and Migration from Mailchimp

I'm not going to say all was roses moving from Mailchimp. Initial setup took just minutes. If you don't have an existing newsletter or subscriber lists, you can have Sendy send it's first email in a few hours. In that case, designing your first newsletter will be the most difficult part.

For us, it took about a week of setup, planning, testing, and migration to get things right. There are a few features we miss, but think we can get around, live without, or implement ourselves in the future (if not included in one of Sendy's free updates). Below are the main setup points.

Amazon's SES

SES (Simple Email Service) is what actually sends your emails. This is better than any Joomla specific solution as those will generally send email through your server. That not only takes up processing power, but also is prone to lots of issues like your server being blacklisted for mass emails (shared servers especially succumb to this problem since another domain on your site unrelated to you may have already blacklisted your IP). By sending them through Amazon, you have their reliability and checks to make sure you email is delivered with almost 100% confidence.

The SES framework is controlled through Amazons Cloud Control Panel. There's step-by-step instructions with Sendy on how to set this up. I'd never done it before and had things going in about 15 minutes. Fortunately, I already had a Cloud account for Amazon, since we use their storage products and other solutions. If you don't have one, expect this process to take about 30 minutes.

Migrating Templates and Emails

Mailchimp definitely has a slick interface for setting up newsletters. It's very easy to drag and drop, upload photos, and generally get things going. Fortunately, Mailchimp lets you export your newsletters to HTML. WIth that, we were able to copy the code directly into Sendy and edit from there.

If you rely on Mailchimp's drag-and-drop features and generally are lost when looking at HTML, Sendy may take some getting used to. Sendy has a WYSIWYG editor (like Joomla) or HTML view. It's very competant, but you'll need to send a lot of test emails. I'm not sure what the monkeys at Mailchimp do behind the scenes, but it definitely took a few edits to make our styling look right in most mail clients.

Sendy's Newsletter Editor

Missing Features

As noted above, there are things that we enjoyed about Mailchimp that we no longer can do with Sendy. The biggest feature missing is "Groups". This is a great way to segment users in the same list based on additional criteria. Right now, for the same ability, we're creating separate lists. For example, now we have lists for JFBConnect Subscribers, JFBConnect non-subscribers, and All Users (a list that combines both of the first lists) whereas in Mailchimp, we had one list and just added attributes to each user and could filter on that.

Other features in Mailchimp aren't really missed. We were never "power users" in Mailchimp, so that's not to say their features weren't amazing, it's just that we didn't use them.. and that's one of the reasons the price was too high for us.

Sendy for Joomla

In the move from Mailchimp to Sendy, we realized there was no Sendy integration extension for Joomla already available.. so we created one! Our first release, v1.0 is simple, but powerful. We're using it on this site at the bottom of every page, actually. Right now, it has the core features that any newsletter integration should have:

  • A way to configure your lists for use within Joomla
  • A newsletter signup module where you can select the list that users will be signed up to
  • A new user registration plugin to automatically sign users up when they join

There's also a simple API you can use to add and remove users to a list with just one line of code.

Right now, the integration is simple. We're planning to add more features, and would love to have your feedback. Our Sendy integration is free. We'll be honest, our links to Sendy are affiliate links and that's where (we're hoping) to get a little payback from our work. We need the extension anyways, but we already have the features we need... hopefully our affiliate experiment will work for future development.

So, what are you waiting for:

Alex Andreae

Alex co-founded SourceCoast Web Development in 2008. Based in sunny Florida, SourceCoast develops extensions for integrating your Joomla powered website with popular social networks. He has spoken at more than a dozen Joomla User Groups and Joomla Days, including the Joomla World Conference in both 2012 and 2013. Topics have included social networking for Joomla, running a business around Joomla extensions, and Joomla development.


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