Zookoda, which I discovered on ProBlogger, is a free web-hosted email broadcasting service. The service allows you to send posts from RSS feeds to subscribers. Zookoda is packed with features and it's hard to believe it's free. Other services I tested charged a million dollars for all the features found in Zookoda. However, I did encounter a few problems with it.
Zookoda gives publishers control over subscriptions and confirmations, email design and content, and broadcast times and conditions. Creating nice looking emails is easy with the two billion templates you can select from. Ok, there weren't two billion templates, but there were a whole bunch of them.
I have to admit, when I first logged into the service, I was a bit overwhelm with all the menu options. However, once I started playing around I was able to navigate with relative ease. Most people shouldn't have a lot of problem setting up their newsletters. On the very first page after logging in is a list of step-by-step instructions for setting up the service. Naturally, being a know-it-all guy who should never be hired to work at a nuclear power plant, I didn't read the instructions and just played around with all the buttons. The menu tabs are actually laid out in the same order as the steps outlined on the start page.
In the Mailing Lists tab, I discovered you could add your own fields. The email field is the only field available by default. This feature is handy if you want to collect additional information like a subscriber's name, title, or underwear color. The Mailing Lists tab is also where you import and export records. You can add records one at a time or import a bunch of records via a tab-delimited file. Importing is fairly simple, but I did encounter a problem when I tried to import a file with a header row. Even when I selected the "use header row for mapping" option, I got an error message stating "field names must be unique). when I selected the "no match-ignore for mapping" option, I got an error about "email field must be mapped."
One really nice feature about the import function is that Zookoda appears to skip duplicate records. This is a good thing, but I'm not sure what happens if the duplicate record has additional info not contained in the Zookoda mailing list. Does it add the extra info or does it skip the entire record? I could go back and test for this, but maybe somebody could just tell me.
You can also export your list. When you do an export, the file is saved as a csv (comma separated value) file. This is a bit odd because Zookoda only imports tab-delimited files. I tried importing the exported csv file and Zookoda would not let me. Shouldn't Zookoda be able to import what it exports?
The Emails tab is where you get to mess around and preview your newsletter. First you setup your feed source and post length (from 50 to 750 characters). Next, you select a template you want to use for your email. As I stated previously, there are almost two billion templates to choose from. You can also edit the HTML code for the template you selected. Zookoda offers a number of zootags that you can use to customize your template. It would have been nice if the zootags were listed on this page. I had to go around looking for the zootags and navigate back to the edit template page.
Zookoda also gives you the ability to add an intro and footer to your email. However, once you have created your intro and footer you still have to insert a couple of zootags into the template. Otherwise, the intro and footer do not get inserted. It wasn't a problem inserting the intro tag, but it sure was fun trying to figure out which div closing tag to place the footer tag near.
I also encountered a problem with the template I selected for my email. For some reason, it included both new and old posts in the email. After studying the code for another template I discovered that my template was missing a parameter in the zooloop tag (type="new). I'm not sure why this was omitted in my template. I don't think most bloggers would want their email to send out both new and old posts. As a subscriber, I would find it a bit annoying to see the same old post listed in email after email. Then again, a baby crying at 3 am annoys me.
The Broadcasts tab is where you customize the email (sender, subject, broadcast time, click tracking, minimum number of posts required to broadcast, etc). Once you have the broadcast set, you will need to suspend it in order to make changes in the Emails tab. I'm not sure why I need to suspend a broadcast to edit it. If my newsletter is not set to broadcast for another 20 hours, is it really necessary to suspend/reactivate the broadcast?
Zookoda gives you the option to set the broadcast for single or recurring. If you select recurring, you have the option of weekly or monthly. In order to broadcast daily, you have to select weekly then check off all seven boxes for days to broadcast. Wouldn't it be easier to just check off a button for daily?
I also encountered a problem with the broadcast time. With Zookoda, you can set the time you want your email to broadcast. However, I noticed that Zookoda resets the broadcast time on its own. I set the time for 3 am so the email arrives before the US wakes up. Zookoda would send it out at 3 am the first time. Then it changes to the afternoon and then the evening. So instead of arriving before the start of the workday, the email now arrives after the workday is over. I change the broadcast time back to 3 am, but the time changes again. I have no idea why it does this, but it annoys me. If I get too annoyed, I become very angry, turn green, and smash puny humans.
In the Reports section are reports (duh). You can see stats on the number of emails opened, forwarded, bounced, unsubscribed, clicked on, sent, delivered, and info like the temperature in Los Angles. I'm not sure how Zookoda gets their delivered data. The number delivered appears to match the number sent for every broadcast (I didn't check the stats for every broadcast). I know for a fact that I did not receive all the emails sent to my test addresses (more about this in this post).
There also appears to be a glitch this week. My reports showed that 1837 emails were sent in one broadcast and 5268 sent in another broadcast. My site is new and I don't have that many subscribers. Not even close. I guess now would be a good time to display the subscriber counter on my site.
Zookoda actually only has about 30 email templates. However, the service gives you the ability to create your own email and subscription form templates. This is where you create the other 1,999,999,970 templates to get the two billion templates I mentioned previously.
Zookoda offers a ton of features that other email services charge extra for. Its fairly easy to use once you get use to all the options available. However, the service still has a few problems. Overall, Zookoda is a good email broadcast application that will help many bloggers.