How to Run a Free WordPress Newsletter (and the Plugins to Help You Do It)

Illustration by Mary Delaney

It seems like everyone and their dog has an email newsletter these days. If you go back and check the last 10 sites you visited, I bet at least half of them have a newsletter.

Is that a bad thing? No way! While all the optin forms and pop-ups you come across online can be overwhelming, there are several reasons why so many sites want your email. 

Having a newsletter can help raise awareness of your brand, nurture deeper relationships with your followers, and even generate sales. And the best part is that creating and sending a newsletter doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. In fact, you can run a free newsletter quite easily.

In this guide, I want to show you how. We’ll take a look at my picks for the best newsletter plugins for WordPress. But we’re not just talking WordPress plugins—we’re going to cover all the plugins and tools you need to run a WordPress newsletter entirely for free.

By the end of the post, you’ll be equipped with everything you need to run a free WordPress newsletter, including:

  • How to create content for your WordPress newsletter;
  • 4 free optin plugins for capturing subscriber emails;
  • How to set up MailPoet (the best WordPress newsletter plugin); and
  • 2 free SMTP plugins for reliably and securely sending WordPress email.

Note: Before diving into this post, you might like to read Ultimate Guide: Create and Send Newsletters with the Best Email Plugin for WordPress. It’s jam-packed with everything you need to know about newsletters.

How to create content for your WordPress newsletter

With so many sites out there vying for your audience’s emails, the best way you can differentiate your newsletter is by delivering amazing, valuable content.

You may already have something you want to share with your email subscribers or you may have absolutely no idea what you want to send! And that’s fine, you’re getting started. The important thing is that you understand the impact having a newsletter will have on your business.

So let’s take a look at 3 different approaches to email content you could send to your subscribers.

For more on creating newsletter content, read Top 5 Time-Saving Tips for Creating Email Newsletter Content.

1. Creating original content

If you want email to be the focus of your marketing strategy, it’s worth investing time and energy in writing original content for your newsletter. This approach will involve some planning, including deciding how often you want to send and send, creating a content calendar, but most importantly, working out what you want to share in each newsletter.

For small businesses, freelancers, and bloggers, you might share content that’s related to the work you do, such as:

  • Advice or tips
  • Short opinion pieces
  • Short essays
  • Case studies
  • Lists and links to helpful resources

You could even ask subscribers to send in their questions and you could pick one to answer in your next newsletter. The important thing is that you share valuable content with your email subscribers. After all, they’ve subscribed because they are interested in what you have to say!

If you get writer’s block and are stuck for content ideas, think about the challenges you’ve tackled this week and what you’ve learned. Is there an important lesson you’ve learned or a helpful resource you’ve come across that might help others?

Writing original content doesn’t have to be time-intensive. An hour or two a week is all you need, maybe longer when you’re starting out. Over time, you’ll get quicker as you send more newsletters and develop a routine. Think of it like writing a blog post or scheduling posts for social media.

When creating original content, don’t forget to consider your brand voice and tone—basically, your brand’s personality. For more, check out Why UX Writing Is a Thing Now.

Let’s take a look at an example of original content in a newsletter done well.

I’m a big fan of Kindred Word’s simple newsletter, which offers brief writing advice. Every time I open the newsletter, I know I’m in for some inspiring words.

Example of Kindred Word email newsletter.

Similarly, Austin Kleon’s weekly “10 things I thought worth sharing” newsletter is packed with creative links to get lost in.

Example of Austin Kleon's email newsletter.

2. Creating a digest of existing content

If you regularly publish blog posts, a tried and true approach is to send a digest of your latest post (and even older ones from your archive).

Many sites use this approach with great success. The main advantage is that you can repurpose content you’ve already published and use it to drive traffic to your site. 

For users who don’t have the time to visit your blog regularly, getting a newsletter with all your new posts not only saves them time but helps keep your brand front of mind. Kind of like a friendly, “Hey! Remember me? Here are some posts you might like to read.”

For example, Kinsta sends out a weekly newsletter with links to latest blog posts published on their blog along with other useful links:

Example of Kinsta's email newsletter.

3. Curating other people’s content

If you don’t have a blog and don’t have the time to write original content, why not share other people’s content? While this might sound like stealing, I can assure you it’s not. You might be surprised to discover many newsletters curate links to relevant content from around the web.

One of the many benefits of this approach is that it can help position you as an authority in your niche. While you may not be sharing your own original content, it shows you’ve got your finger on the pulse. Plus, it delivers value for time-poor subscribers who don’t have time to search for the links themselves and prefer to have them delivered in a timely newsletter format.

One of my favorite examples of this type of newsletter is NextDraft. Dave Pell, self-proclaimed “Managing Editor of the internet” reads about 75 news sites every day and picks the top 10 most fascinating stories, which he then shares in his daily newsletter.

3 free opt-in and newsletter subscription plugins for capturing subscriber emails

Building an email list can be difficult—especially when people don’t know your list exists! That’s why you need an opt-in form on your site. Newsletter subscription forms allow you to advertise the fact you have a newsletter and collect emails from your site visitors.

There are several types of opt-ins: pop-ups, slide-ins, bars, sidebars, and in-post opt-ins. No matter which type you use, the basic premise is simple: users can enter their email and sign up to join your list.

With the right opt-in plugin, you can create better converting opt-in forms for list building that grow your list faster. In fact, the average conversion rate for email opt-ins is 1.95%, according to Sumo. Not bad for a tool that works passively in the background collecting emails for you.

Here are three free WordPress plugins we’ve tested at MailPoet and recommend you check out.

1. Holler Box

Holler Box opt-in plugin.

Holler Box is a super simple freemium plugin that lets you add pop-ups and banners to your WordPress site. It’s lightweight and user-friendly, unlike other complex opt-in tools.

The free version comes with just enough features that you won’t need to upgrade unless you need to do some heavy-duty promotion on your site.

Features include:

  • Unlimited pop-ups.
  • Choose between notification box, pop-up or faux chat.
  • Choose between subtle notification bubble or lightbox popup.
  • Exit intent pop-ups.
  • Supports MailPoet, Mailchimp, ConvertKit, Drip, Active Campaign, or a custom form.
  • Limit to certain pages.
  • Time delay and scroll triggers.
  • Show to logged in/out and new or returning visitors.
  • Use shortcodes and WordPress content in your popups.
  • Conversion rate analytics.
  • Add forms and shortcodes to your popups.
  • Supports Ninja Forms, Gravity Forms, WPForms, and Contact Form 7.
  • eCommerce buy buttons.

You can read our full review of Holler Box here.

2. Hustle

Hustle opt-in plugin.

With 80,000+ active installations, Hustle is an email opt-in plugin that has quickly gained a following and hundreds of 5-star reviews on WordPress.org. It’s easy to see why—it’s simple to get started creating eye-catching opt-in for your site, and then track and measure your results as visitors start filling out your form.

Hustle offers more advanced customizations than Holler Box, though it only lets you create pop-ups, slide-ins and in-line opt-ins. A user-friendly (and well-designed, I might add) wizard guides you through setup.

Features include:

  • Target visitors with a range of behaviors and conditions, including time-on-page, on-click, scroll, location, position, page, post, login, category, tag, referral link, and device type.
  • Target visitors with smart exit intent.
  • Integrates with popular email service providers, including AWeber, Mailchimp, ActiveCampaign, ConvertKit, SendinBlue and SendGrid.
  • Display social icons on your site and customize using floating social, widgets, and shortcodes.
  • Detailed analytics, including stats on how many times opt-in forms are displayed and submitted, as well as conversion rates.

3. Icegram

Icegram opt-in plugin.

Icegram is another popular WordPress optin plugin and it has a ton of features. It’s a great option if you want to add more than just pop-ups to your site, including header and footer bars, toast notifications, and slide-ins.

Features include:

  • A collection of customizable and responsive theme designs
  • Integrates with popular email marketing services including MailChimp, Constant Contact, AWeber, Campaign Monitor, GetResponse, and InfusionSoft.
  • Unique headline generator that creates engaging headlines, giving your copywriting a head start.
  • Time and sequence different messages
  • Multiple display positions – top, middle, bottom, left, right, center
  • Choose where and when to show your campaigns and optin forms: on specific pages, categories or posts, to certain users, on specific schedule, via shortcode, and more.
  • View conversion and impression analytics or your campaigns and messages using a free add-on.
  • Customize with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and an extensive JavaScript API.

How to set up MailPoet (the best WordPress newsletter plugin)

MailPoet opt-in plugin.

MailPoet is the most popular email newsletter plugin for WordPress. More than 300,000 websites use MailPoet to send email newsletters. It’s free for up to 1,000 subscribers, and the best part is that you get full access to premium features and the MailPoet Sending Service.

Use MailPoet from the comfort of your WordPress dashboard. Quickly add content and images directly from your media library. Forget uploading files to third-party services—with MailPoet you can create content, drag and drop images, and include WordPress content in your newsletters.

It’s also worth mentioning that MailPoet lets you embed opt-in forms, which you can add anywhere on your site as a subscription widget, via shortcode, or via PHP.

Features including:

  • Growing collection of beautiful, responsive newsletter templates.
  • User-friendly drag-and-drop email editor.
  • Manage subscribers and subscriber lists in WordPress.
  • Send automated welcome emails, abandoned cart, post notification emails, and other autoresponders.
  • Integration with WooCommerce.
  • Segmentation.
  • Advanced analytics so you can track, measure and improve future newsletters, as well as Google Analytics integration.
  • Advanced delivery infrastructure built for WordPress (the MailPoet Sending Service which is available for in the free plan).
  • Automatic blog post notification emails.
  • Add signup forms to your sidebar or footer as widgets, use shortcodes and even iFrame.
  • Double opt-ins and GDPR compliant.

Let’s take a brief look at how to set up and send your first newsletter with MailPoet.

Step 1: Install and activate MailPoet

In the WordPress dashboard, go to Plugins > Add New and search for “MailPoet.” It will be returned as the first result. Click “Install” and then “Activate.”

Searching for MailPoet in WordPress plugin repository.

Step 2: Set up MailPoet

You’ll see MailPoet has been added to the admin sidebar. Click it and you’ll be taken through the setup wizard. Fill out your details and click next through each of the 3 screens.

MailPoet installation screen.

Step 3: Get MailPoet Premium for free (optional)

This step isn’t essential but I highly recommend it! You’ll see a notification inviting you to get MailPoet Premium, which is free up to 1,000 subscribers.

With MailPoet Premium, your email will be automatically routed through the MailPoet Sending Service, MailPoet’s secure and reliable email delivery servers. This means you won’t have to worry about your emails failing or having to set up SMTP as your email delivery will be taken care of for you.

Installing MailPoet.

For unlimited subscribers, you’ll need to choose a MailPoet Premium pricing plan.

Step 4: Create your newsletter

To create your first newsletter, go to MailPoet > Emails and click “Add New.”

Adding a new email in MailPoet.

On the next screen, you’ll be prompted to select the type of email you want to create.

Selecting a type of email in MailPoet.

Then you’ll be prompted to select an email template. You’ll notice on the tabs above that “Newsletters” is already selected.

Choosing a responsive email template in MailPoet.

Step 5: Design your WordPress newsletter and add your content

Next is the fun part: adding your content to your newsletter. The MailPoet email designer makes it really easy to add text, swap images, and customize the template to match your branding and WordPress themes.

The best thing to do is experiment. The email builder is user-friendly and you’ll quickly get the hang of how to use it with your email templates!

Customizing an email template in MailPoet.

When you’re happy with how your email looks, click “Next” to continue.

Step 6: Send your newsletter!

Last but not least, there are some final details you need to fill out. This includes double-checking your subject line, choosing the list you want to send to, and setting your sender and reply-to details.

You can choose to schedule your newsletter to send at a specific time or simply click “Send” to send immediately.

Final steps in sending a newsletter with MailPoet.

And that’s it! Your newsletter is on its way to your email subscribers’ inboxes.

If you have any questions about creating and sending your newsletter, be sure to use chat in the bottom-right corner of the WordPress dashboard. MailPoet’s friendly support team will be happy to answer any questions or concerns you have.

2 free SMTP plugins for reliably and securely sending WordPress email

When sending emails from your WordPress site, you may have noticed issues with messages landing in spam folders. It’s an all-too-common (not to mention frustrating) problem that can usually be traced back to WordPress sending via PHP mail.

This is where setting up an SMTP plugin can help. An SMTP plugin can help you configure and send all your outgoing WordPress emails via an SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) server, completely bypassing PHP mail.

Note that MailPoet does send emails if you sign up to the free plan so you don’t need to install an additional plugin.

Here are two free WordPress plugins we’ve tested and recommend.

Note: Don’t forget to read Top 3 SMTP Plugins for WordPress Compared (and How to Fix Emails Not Sending).

For more on fixing email delivery issues, check out WordPress Emails Going to Spam? Here Are 13 Ways to Improve Newsletter Delivery.

1. WP Mail SMTP

WP Mail SMTP plugin.

With 1+ million active installations and a 4.5-star rating, WP Mail SMTP is the most popular free SMTP plugin for WordPress. What’s great about this plugin is its user-friendly setup and reliability.

To get started with WP Mail SMTP, all you need to do is install and activate the plugin, and then choose an SMTP service provider. SendInBlue is recommended (and free for up to 300 emails per day). Then you’ll be asked to enter an API for your chosen service. And that’s it—SMTP is installed on your WordPress site.

Features include:

  • Integrates with SendInBlue, MailGun, SendGrid, and Google (Gmail).
  • Set “from” email and “from” name.
  • Send test emails in HTML or plain text format.

2. Easy WP SMTP

Easy WP SMTP plugin.

Easy WP SMTP offers no-frills SMTP configuration for your WordPress website. The simple settings page has all the options needed to connect to an SMTP provider.

You’ll need to find and sign up for an account with a third-party SMTP provider before using Easy WP SMTP since it doesn’t offer integrations with popular providers. It’s not complicated—you just need your SMTP host server, port number, and username and password—but it does mean taking extra steps to connect compared to WP Mail SMTP.

Features include:

  • Basic SMTP configuration options.
  • Set “from” email, “from” name, and reply-to address.
  • Debug log.
  • Send test emails.

Putting it all together

Now that you’ve got all the free plugins you need to get your newsletter up and running, here are some more tips.

Wrapping up

Running a WordPress newsletter doesn’t have to be expensive. As we’ve explored in this post, you can do it entirely for free! All you need is a vision for your newsletter, the right plugins, and the motivation to want to share valuable content with your subscribers.

WordPress newsletters are excellent tools for raising awareness of your brand, nurturing connections with your followers, and wooing subscribers to come back to your site.

If you have any questions about the plugins mentioned in this post or about running a free newsletter, let us know in the comments below!