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Zookoda – I Don’t Recommend them Anymore

ZookodaThis is just a short note to withdraw a recommendation that I made a year or two ago about the Zookoda email service.

When they first came out Zookoda was a dream come true for me – a free service that enabled bloggers to built a newsletter subscriber base, convert RSS to email etc. It took what Feedburner offers with their RSS to email subscriptions a step (or a few steps) further as it allows you to configure and design your emails. I’ve been using it on a weekly basis for 18 months to deliver newsletters to readers.

When it launched it was in beta and a little buggy but the support team was pretty good at fixing problems as they came up.

However since it was sold to PayPerPost (now known as IZEA) I’ve noticed the service becoming more buggy and the customer service seems to be decreasing. I’ve had problems with deliverability (for a while there it wouldn’t deliver emails to anyone with a yahoo email address – I have thousands of subscribers using them), emails regularly are not sent and I’ve noticed more downtime and slowness with the site.

This week I’ve had two emails queued to be sent for 36 hours now and they haven’t gone. I’ve attempted to reset them myself – but still they don’t go.Emails to their ‘contact us’ form have gone unanswered. Emails to my customer service manager have not been replied to (she’s previously been quite good). I’d understand this if it were the weekend and wouldn’t mind so much if this were an occasional occurrence – but it seems that it’s become an issue that happens every second week. update: just as I hit publish on this I got an email from one of their staff. The latest problem isn’t fixed yet – but they’re working on it. Having said this – it’s an ongoing pattern. I send an email, it doesn’t go, I email and complain, they work on it, it eventually goes.

Email newsletters have become a central part of my blogging and I can’t afford an unreliable service any more. I’ve hung in there to give the new owners time to improve the service – but if anything it’s gone backwards.

As a result I can’t in good faith continue to recommend Zookoda any more.

My emotions in saying this are sadness mixed with a little anger.

Sadness because it’s a product that I think had (and still has) a lot of potential – if only it would reliably do what it say.

Anger because I’ve invested time and energy both into promoting the product in it’s early days and building up my own subscriber base who use it (I have three lists with a combined total of 62,000 subscribers). I will now need to find another service and attempt to migrate these across (and in the process am sure to lose many of them as reputable service require you to get users to opt in to them – even though you’ve already done this previously.

Lastly – I’d like to ask readers who they use to deliver their email newsletters?

I’ve used AWeber previously and will probably go with them but what other services do you recommend? I’m looking for the ability to send weekly emails (html) to multiple lists with high reliability and as much ease of use as possible.

Update: after 5 days of waiting for my last newsletters to go (and having tried to reset them 4 times each now) I’m still no closer to my readers getting their weekly update. Readers have been emailing/complaining and I’m sick of it. On the positive side of things – I’ve had a number of other email service providers contact me to offer their services and hope to transition to a new service in the coming weeks.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. FD says:

    Not surprised on the customer service issues at all.
    Wish I had a recommendation for you, if I come across a good one, I’ll be sure to pass it on.

  2. I’ve always used and recommended Constant Contact for my mailing lists as well as client’s newsletters. It is a very reliable service. It isn’t, however, free.

    I hope this helps you out.

  3. Krista says:

    I’ve had the exact same problem with them. I built a couple of lists to a few thousand subscribers and then started noticing my emails weren’t sent or if they were, few people received them. I moved to Aweber earlier this year but lost a lot of subscribers in the process because they require everyone to re-opt in. Otherwise, I’m pretty happy with their services. I like the ability to set up autoresponders and to add RSS feeds and do a blog broadcast similar to what Zookoda offered.

  4. At TheHighCalling.org we use Caliber Media Group as well as a proprietary email service that we had built for the site. I’m pretty excited about the statistics that Caliber can provide on open rates and click throughs.

    Alas, like Constant Contact (which we also looked into), Caliber isn’t free.

  5. Jeremy says:

    I recall reading your post on RSS to email services, so this is nothing new, but I use both Feedburner and Feedblitz for different projects. Of the two, Feedburner’s service seems more reliable and on time.

    For standard email, check out Mail Chimp (www.mailchimp.com). They have a lot of cool features and….this will make you happy……their customer service has been amazing the few times I’ve had to use it.

  6. At this time, I don’t use one.
    I haven’t found one that I liked, nor had the time to do extensive research.
    But let us know what you end up picking!

    In the mean time I’m gonna go check out AWeber.

  7. Joshua says:

    Interspire’s SendStudio NX (http://www.interspire.com/sendstudio/)

    Brought to you by a fellow Aussie, Mitchell Harper!

  8. Colleen says:

    Darren, as a PayPerPost / IZEA user, I’m curious. When PPP bought Zookoda, did they take over the day to day operations and replace the existing staff? I’m just wondering if the same people who run PPP are actually the people you’re dealing with as well.

  9. Pat B. Doyle says:

    I use Aweber, and I am very happy with them.

  10. I love the Feedblitz.com service. They have consistently upgraded their offering to now include full newsletter distribution. You can deliver your RSS feed by email, twitter, skype, web. Their reporting is extensive and they recently added an advertising component so you can enable ads on your email updates. Phil Hollows, the CEO and developer is passionate about email deliverablity and is smart and dedicated to the success of his service.

    I’ve been using Feedblitz for more than 2 years and never have had a complaint.

  11. Dom says:

    You’re probably better in the long run developing a custom solution – possibly something that you can use for all the B5 blogs.

    A skilled PHP/MySQL person should be able to knock something up in a couple of weeks. But if it were me, I certainly wouldn’t be trusting a mailing list of 62,000 people to a third party.

  12. Could you build an open source email system into your websites and handle all of your email communications yourself?

  13. I have use the great service from http://www.campaignmonitor.com/

    They only charge $5 plus $0.01 for each email you sent. It’s not free, but I have seen companies using it.

    Since I only have small amount of emails, It doesn’t cost me a lot.

  14. AbsintheMan says:

    What about a blog with 15 subscribers? :)

  15. Andy Beard says:

    I would go with Aweber in a heartbeat if they could offer 2 things

    1. A daily digest mode of all blog posts on a specific day – they have a way of sending out your last 5 posts but not something date based
    2. Reporting of subscriber numbers to Feedburner

    Feedblitz on the surface seems like a good service, but last time I looked didn’t seem to have typical email list management features.

    If you decide to go with Aweber, maybe you should grab a white label version to promote for B5 to bloggers, and use the additional influence to get more blogger friendly features included.

  16. Brad V. says:

    I tried Zookoda a while back ago and gave it up after about three months. I had to re-send my emails several times and didn’t like how they limited what you could write in each field. I know some other people who are also fed up with them.

    Don’t worry Darren, I don’t blame you for recommending them, just don’t do it again…or else! Kidding! :-)

  17. Robert says:

    I would reccomend a looking after your own mailing lists. A good linux hosting company will let you host the listserv or majordomo applications which are both phenomenly powerful and flexible and free. Plus you control the list so you aren’t trusting your valuable asset to a third party.

  18. Martin says:

    YourMailingListProvider.com

    I’ve used them for years and not once had a problem. Very low cost, extremely reliable and customer support responds very quickly. I’ve tried others, looking for more features but never left because of the reliability.

  19. Stuart says:

    I use iCompete — and am very very happy with it. It’s not free, but I’ve found the platform extremely good — and far easier to figure out than Zoodoka (which I tried on your recommendation and could never really get my head around.

  20. DefogMyBlog says:

    I use Feedburner for the RSS on my site and for those who want to subscribe by email.

    For building up a mailing list I decided to try aweber. I am nowhere near your sort of numbers. Have to say I am really impressed to the point of feeling blown away with aweber customer service and have them as an affiliate on my site. I liked the fact that it is affordable and easy to get going with by paying on a monthly basis.

  21. Doug says:

    A custom solution sounds easier than it is. Email deliverability is a massive pain and headache. I heard a presentation years ago from someone who had one such service and handled emails for many government agencies and the many steps he detailed to assure current and future deliverability were amazing. It’s a lot of work with stuff outside of most people’s realms.

    Sure you can set up a 50 person list, but once volumes start increasing, you start hitting limits that ISPs/routers/email service providers and everyone in between may look at and tag or filter as spam. And once you land on a blacklist, the failures spread about as fast as spam does once your email makes the first distro list.

  22. Tim Miles says:

    I and several of my clients absolutely love Emma out of Nashville, TN. Very simple to use and works exactly the way it should.

    A quick look at their site – myemma.com – will give you a definitive glimpse into their values.

    Best of luck. Sorry for your hassles.

  23. Jim Logan says:

    Give IntelliContact a look: http://www.iContact.com. I’ve used this on client site’s and it’s a nice solution.

    I use Joomla’s Acajoom…it’s awesome!

    Best of Luck!

  24. Pardon the simple solution, but why not create a category for newsletters, and run it using a category feed with feedburner? Then your regular users will get the normal feed, your newsletter people will only get the newsletter. Hide that category from the front page of the blog if you want, but it has it’s advantages.

    1. You can manage your feeds and newsletter in one place.
    2. It’s a more reliable service.
    3. You can write your newsletter using your favorite blog software.
    4. It gives people the option of just receiving your newsletter in a feedreader too.
    5. Everyone (I think) is happy. ;)

  25. Darren Rowse says:

    good suggestion William – only problem is that my newsletters are not just my posts but me writing extra stuff which is especially for subscribers. If I was just sending out my posts I’d just use Feedburner – but this goes beyond that.

  26. Doug Green says:

    I use aweber and for my list (low 5-figure) it works nicely across the garden network I run. Strong enough to do what I want and more than enough good service when I have a problem. Pricing good as well. No complaints with them.

  27. johnCard says:

    yes, we had considered them before

  28. Phil Hollows says:

    Hi Darren:

    FeedBlitz’s full feature list is at http://www.feedblitz.com/newsletter/features.asp

    I’m more than happy to walk you – or any of your readers – personally through our offerings and the various service options we provide, from our free ad-supported version to our premium for-fee plan.

    @Dom – Third party email service providers (ESPs) like FeedBlitz routinely handle lists considerably larger than 62k subscribers. Not only is it cheaper to outsource this work, your deliverability will be much better because it is in the interest of ESPs to maintain excellent relationships with ISPs. As such, FeedBlitz (like others) uses feedback loops, automated bounce processing, third party deliverability, authentication and RBL monitoring, click through and open tracking reports, various techniques to monitor & prevent abuse, spambots and malware, all devoted to the single mission of ensuring your emails are trusted by both ISPs and the subscribers, and get through.

    And that’s just the basics.

    Add to that the various different ways email bounce messages can be even sent to you, the multitude of ways they’re formatted, the multiple languages they come back in, the back scatter from out of office and personal autoresponders, malware and other junk, compliance challenges, maanging audit trails … it’s not a trivial effort at all. It isn’t a simple as throwing a few PHP scripts together with a database because email – it’s use and abuse – changes quickly. It is surprisingly hard to do *well*

    Moreover, if enterprises are comfortable using SaaS services like salesforce.com to manage leads, contracts and sales pipelines then outsourcing email newsletter delivery ought not to be an issue. Your company should focus on what it does best, not on wasting time reinventing the wheel managing email newsletters for a list of that size.

    We’ve been developing and innovating at FeedBlitz for over two years and we’re not even close to being done. And that’s one of the reasons we’re still here – and growing, recently at over 14% month on month.

    Zookoda’s apparently terminal, despite (or because of?) its being acquired. Yutter – gone. Squeet – gone. Bloglet – gone. FeedBlitz is a proven survivor, with a viable business model, multiple revenue streams, an enterprise ready feature set at a blogger-friendly price point (free!). We even have a revenue sharing ad network where you can earn a little cash from your mailings.

    We’re here for the long haul. Ready when you are…

    Regards,

    Phil Hollows
    Founder and CEO
    FeedBlitz, LLC
    http://www.feedblitz.com
    blog: feedblitz.blogspot.com

  29. Phil Hollows says:

    @Andy B – Repeating the offer I made on your blog a couple of months ago: *please* mail me so I can take you through our features! FeedBlitz has great list management features, including: We include sub / unsub notification emails, customized signup activation mails, unsubsribe surveys, the abiltiy to send emails NOT from a blog or RSS feed, open tracking and click through reporting on all, subscriber import / export, custom demographic fields (both public and private). multiple delivery options …

    Phil

    [email protected]

  30. I have to chime in here again. And, to be perfectly open, I have no financial interest in promoting Feedblitz. I just love the service and I’m a big fan of Phil Hollows who has continually worked to make his service better and better every month. He’s also one of the most responsive vendors I’ve ever encountered and is genuinely interested in hearing your feedback.

    What I want to say is that my partner and I interviewed Phil Hollows about the Feedblitz newsletter/blog email service for our private mentoring members. And, I gave the audio to Phil for his subscribers. I invite you to listen to the interview if you want to learn more about Feedblitz and how it works:
    http://feedblitz.blogspot.com/2007/10/can-you-stand-hour-of-phil-of-feedblitz.html

  31. Marcus says:

    I was an early adopter of Zookoda and one of the first to jump off the ship when it began to take on water… which was long before the buy out… you can read all about my problems with them – including a link to someone who did some real research here:
    http://certainintelligence.blogspot.com/2006/09/zookoda-and-i-agree-to-see-other_15.html

    More than a year later, I stil do ALL of my blog/newsletter business with Feedblitz — 2 commercial blogs, plus my 1 personal one.

    Feedblitz isn’t perfect, but they nail my deliveries better than 95% of the time and when Phil misses, he’s the first to respond, tell you what happened and offer any way to make it better — which is practically unheard of in the tech game.

    Lots of comments on here about AWeber, which I also mention on my blog. Seems they’d be a decent option, too, but I’m more than thrilled with Feedblitz.

  32. Elise says:

    I can also vouch for FeedBlitz and the dedication of Phil Hollows. I’ve been using their service since they started and have always had prompt responses from tech support, usually from Phil himself. Phil has demonstrated time and again his dedication to providing the best email service for his customers. I use both the free service, for some of my blogs, and I pay for the premium service for the main feed newsletter for my recipe blog so I can use my own branding in the email.

  33. Phil Hollows says:

    @Darren: You mention transferring subscribers. You don’t have to ask your readers to resubscribe when importing into FeedBlitz. You shouldn’t be penalized for the legitimate goal of transferring your subscribers from one provider to another. You shouldn’t be the one to suffer if your provider falls over, and it’s unfair for a list that’s already high quality and properly opted in to be made to do that. So we won’t make you.

    What we *will* do is send your subscribers a courtesy note explaining that the mailing service has changed, and how to report abuse or unsubscribe. This process is one of several we employ during the import process (and after) to prevent abuse by the unscrupulous, while enabling legitimate publishers to carry on with their legitimate business needs without penalty.

    Obviously, you can also export your subscribers and their data at any time. You can also interact with your subscribers (and your syndications) automatically via our API.

    Phil

  34. Ryan Erisman says:

    For sure check out iContact.com

    I use them for several lists and they have good deliverability, easy to use, etc.

    Peace.

  35. Andy Beard says:

    Phil you have mail

    The transfer procedures are certainly something that will be attractive to a lot of people.

  36. Vincent Abry says:

    Zookoda is bad, I don’t use them anymore since February 2007 because when I saw all thousands fake gmail adresses that were automatically confirmed in my account it made me crazy.

    I now use Feedburner email and it’s perfect

  37. We LOVE campaignmonitor.com and use it for our SoloSEO newsletter.

  38. Mike Werner says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Read about Zoodoka on your initial pst, started using them, and in the beginning these guys were a wet dream.

    But that went downhill and stayed there, so I had to can my newsletters while searching for a similar service.

    I’ve now found Nourish which has recently started up. It’s free for those that send less than 1000 emails, and is very much like Zoodoka using the RSS feed to create newsletters.

    The recommendation was very good in the beginning, and you point that you don’t recommend them is a correct one.

  39. Darren I am in the same ship as you are and, as you said, I don’t want all my readers to have to resubscribe.

    feedburner service, as I understood it has 2 main problems

    1. inability to import
    2. it sends daily update which doesn’t suite my blog

    I would kindly ask you to update us in another post about your service of choice so I can have a look at it too

    Regards

  40. Peter Brady says:

    As far as I’m aware, Aweber does not offer broadcast settings of per week, per month etc – it’s done on number of posts. Personally, I found this to be a real pain – especially after using Zookoda. I asked Aweber whether this was to be a feature included in any future system upgrades and got a very lukewarm response.

    In terms of useability, I also found the Aweber system clunky, over complicated and very dated.

    However, on the plus side – they do have a lot of potential as a bona fide feed to newsletter solution. If they made the necessary tweaks it would clean up.

    I would also say that Aweber’s support system was excellent and when I decided they weren’t for me – they refunded my subscription costs immediately, no questions ask.

    It’s such a shame Zookoda lost the plot – if they built on what they had I would have happily paid a few hundred dollars a year to use their system, as I’m sure most users here would have done too.

    Feedblitz is ok, but I really don’t like their per email costings. Flat rate like Aweber is the way to go Feedblitz….

    As a footnote to all this, I get the feeling that feedburners newsletter option is due to have a major upgrade soon. With some small tweaks that could also be a real winner. But when is the upgrade due feedburner???

  41. carrie says:

    I strongly suggest Constant Contact. I did extensive research on e-mail newsletter programs this summer, (3 weeks!) and found the software on many of the programs to be very confusing and limited. Many of the programs offer a free 2-week trial, so you can try different ones fairly easily. I really like the interface on Constant Contact and their tracking reports provide valuable info after your mailings on who is opening your mail, what pages they are visiting, etc. The cost comes out to about $20 a month which is really not bad, and you get a lot of bandwidth with that and can use many photos without a problem. They offer didn’t platforms for your subscriber list, which you can download into the program. Although I don’t have a lot of subscribers, I get a lot of compliments on the look of the newsletter. Also, I’ve noticed that a lot of publishers use Constant Contact, such as the LBN e-lert, which has over 200,000 subscribers. Hope this helps.

  42. GetResponse for the winner! ;) It’s what I use and to be hoesnt with you, it downright rrocks.

  43. Arif says:

    Hi Darren,

    I’ve been a regular user of Zookoda for the past couple of months and have felt a tinge of the pain that you’ve been referring to. It has not been so bad for me to change, but then your post has had me looking for other options. Which makes me really wonder of the power of the blogging medium. How one post can change opinions of so many.

    Thanks Mike Werner for the tip on Nourish (www.nouri.sh). They’re saying that they’re fans of 37signals. If they’re aiming for such high standards, their service has got to be decent.

    I’ve put in my email address a couple of hours ago, haven’t received the acceptance mail yet. It’s probably on the way. I too would be keen to hear what service you have freezed upon Darren.

  44. Albert says:

    I often use PHPlist. It’s open source, free, and does a good job in delivering both plain text as well as html newsletters with click tracking, read tracking, multiple lists, user management, opt in out, custom fields, custom subscribe pages, cron jobs, etc.

    On the downside you need some technical knowledge to set it up and implement (but they can do it for you) and you need some time to learn working with the admin interface.

  45. Jay Brewer says:

    We use Feedblitz for all 22+ sites at the Blogpire. As we’ve grown – Feedblitz has added features – we’re not sure what we’d do without our weekly emails using the Feedblitz service. We’ve also been able to attract advertisers to place in the emails and the tools for creating a custom look and feel for the newsletter are easy to use.

    I can see above some people have had issues technically – but we’ve never seen Feedblitz not fix the situation professionally and promptly.

    If you’re looking for a newsletter service we recommend Feedblitz highly.

  46. Hi Darren,

    Sorry to hear about your troubles with Zookoda.

    I’ve got a bit of a hectic weekend ahead of me here, but I’d love to talk Monday morning on how you can most effectively move your email subscribers to AWeber. Just shoot me an email.

    Unless you’d previously confirmed them while using Zookoda, they’ll need to confirm when you make the move, but having worked with a lot of people on this, I can give you ideas on making it easy on them. (Plus for deliverability reasons it’s a good idea to be confirming your email subscribers anyway.)

    Hope to hear from you, and if not, hope it goes well with whoever you end up going with!

    Justin Premick
    Education Marketing Manager
    AWeber Communications

  47. Peter Brady says:

    Justin,

    Please can you update me on whether Aweber are going to introduce date specific broadcast options i.e weekly, monthly, as opposed to your current system – i.e mail shots triggered by number of posts??

  48. Arpit Tambi says:

    A simple solution in longterm

    Get your own service up, outsource the project to India (they’d charge you about US $2000 – $5000)

    Your own server, your own service, your own highly customized newsletter for a small price

  49. I also have been using Campaign Monitor to send all our email newsletters and have had no problems with deliverability. It does not require you to ask your readers to resubscribe when importing your list. What’s more its an Australian company based in Sydney so if you have any issues you won’t have a delay in them responding to your queries.

  50. Jill says:

    I use Feedblitz to send rss items as email, and I really like Campaign Monitor for newsletters. CM is not free, but it is reasonable and reliable+++.