Whether it's you're running a blog or a standard website, many people want to add the ability to capture visitors' email addresses. The greatest advantage of WordPress having so many users and therefore so many plugins is that you're spoilt for choice, the drawback is that it makes choosing all the more difficult. This post will highlight three different options for WordPress email signup plugins, give a sense of their strengths and shortcomings and hopefully leave you better informed of the options available to you. But first you can watch the video overview.
Click to View the Video, click bottom right button to view full screen, or to the left of that to view on Youtube with Chaptering.
For this review I'll just be looking at email subscribe plugins for WordPress that use the Feedburner system. If you already use MailChimp or A-Weber or other newsletter software, many of them have their own custom built WordPress plugins some official or by fans. That said you can still choose to use Feedburner anyway. It's up to you. All of these reviews presume you've already signed up to a Feedburner account, which you can do in about 2 minutes and it's all the easier if you've already signed up previously to a Google service like Gmail or Youtube.
So let's get right into it!
What immediately attracted me to the Feedburner Form plugin was that it's built to be placed in a widget area. This means it's for your website's sidebar or footer. I'd suggest the footer is not such a hot place to put a sign up box as website visitors spend the majority of their time above the fold, and if you want people to subscribe to you with their email they have to see the option in clear sight. But a sidebar is where many people want to place a subscribe box and where many people expect to see it.
Being a widget, you simply drag and drop it into the relevant sidebar and place in your preferred position. There's plenty of freedom for choosing your message to your visitors which is a huge benefit. However, you do need to supply an 'Icon URL', basically you get to select your own RSS feed logo, but they don't provide them. This is a big advantage for those who like to customise and make this plugin their own, but it will be a big frustration for many others. If only they'd let you choose from a small selection as well as adding your own!
When I played around with it, it didn't look great because the image I chose wasn't the ideal size, so there's a bit of trial and error with this and of course you have to make sure you get a rights-free logo. That all said, with a bit of effort you can make some very appealing and impressive buttons and boxes as showcased on the screenshots tab of the plugin's page. (See Right)
You also have control over the stats counter. To display the number of subscribers you have or not? That is the question. I'd suggest, that if you have very few to leave it out as it might put people off. If you have quite a few subscribers and it doesn't mess up your layout and look, then add it for a little boost in social proof. Sure if five hundred people subscribed before me, there has to be something good there right?
Another difficulty with the Feedburner Follow plugin was that it seems quite dependant on your theme's CSS. I tried it on one of my test sites where it looked small, quite unimpressive and lacking much elegance. I then tried it on another test site with a different theme, and it suddenly had much more impact and more design details even though I put in pretty much the same information. (See Right, Above)
Follow Button for Feedburner
In many ways this plugin is the opposite of the Feedburner Form. Where the previous one took a while to get going but had lots of customizable options in both calls to action and design, Follow Button for Feedburner is simple through and through. This is for people who want an elegant solution for visitors subscribing to their site, with the minimal of time, disruption and fuss.
It sits down at the bottom right of your site, now matter where your visitor scrolls. It's a little more noticeable than you might think, as it just says 'Follow'. Click it and it brings up a message that you can't seem to change, but to my eyes seemed to be all that most people would need.
There's also the benefit of extra little touches of good design work such as the slight drop shadow around the edge, which floats it gently above the page. That makes it look more expensive and professional and reflects well on your site overall.
Feedburner Footer SlideUp
Confusingly the setup process for this plugin requested my 'feedburner URI', which was fine, but it took me a little time to work out or confirm that the URI is the same as my Feedburner ID. This is an instance where the plugin designer is absolutely technically correct to ask for information using that term as it's accurate. However, it's not as intuitive and immediately understandable for many people compared to being asked for your Feedburner ID like many other plugins. Not a big issue, but it took me a few minutes to figure it out and delayed me a little unnecessarily.
It's not the most pretty display, no gradient of colour or shadow here, but I thought that might be down to the test site theme's CSS again. But unlike the Feedburner Form plugin which improved immensely from the better theme's CSS this didn't, and the screen shots on the plugin page look a little better, but not by much.
One of the great benefits to the Footer SlideUp was that by just checking a box, it won't display to people who have either signed up or told it not to show again. This is a huge factor in not irritating your return guests to your site and probably it's best feature.
If you want a fast, good looking and no trouble solution for an email subscribe plugin go for the Follow Button for Feedburner. The ultra simplistic plugin's other advantage is that you don't have to sacrifice any real estate on your sidebar if it's already quite full or nicely balanced. To be fair though, this is also true of Feedburner Footer SlideUp. Although the Footer SlideUp's functionality was fine I just thought it was too irritating to any visitors, that it would turn them off my site. Where the Follow Button was good looking and noticeable without being off-putting, the SlideUp was very noticeable but just that bit too distracting and the look was too basic.
If you're happy to go to the trouble of finding your own RSS Feed image, playing with the exact size and choosing your own precise calls to action, or you have your heart set on a widget based email signup box then try the Feedburner Form. But test it on your theme to make sure it looks well first before you put all that effort in! It would be great if a few complete examples appeared in future updates.
These three plugins are three among thousands. If you tried these out, do you agree with me, or disagree? If you use another email subscribe plugin for WordPress, please tell me about it. How do you like it? What you feel are it's high points and low points?