Personalised emails or communications

Some web owners or email newsletter providers wish to personalise their email newsletters or their users experience when browsing their website.    Wordpress plugins have various methods of sending out emails to a customer base, but can they personalise them?  [Plugin amr-personalise just released  allows personalisation of wordpress emails, pages, or posts]

Firstly, what do we mean by personalised?

A truly personalised communication is more than just a greeting by name.  Offering the ability to use more information than just the name is not always as easy a task as it may seem.   Indeed even if one is just talking about a personalised greeting,  there are many differing opinions on whether there it is worth doing at all.   When almost every spammer seems to know the recipients  name, is there value in bothering with just that?

Pros of personalising

  • Some people believe that the recipients value it and some people it is a waste of time and can be detrimental.
  • Done well, it could be used to verify that the email is not a scam, by offering partial confirmation of details (EG: your account ending in 9876).  Again some recipients do not like having their personal details echoed in an email and would prefer to simply be requested to go to the website

Cons or Pitfalls

Some common mistakes or pitfalls with even very basic personalisation such as a personalised greeting,  are:

  • Asking for too much information upfront is dangerous:
    • making it harder for people to sign up may reduce the number of signups.
    • some find the request for more information than is needed intrusive and may respond with garbage to get past these fields.  By echoing the garbage back, when communicating, the business reminds the reader of their attempt to gather more information than is necesary to deliver the product.
  • Example of Error in Personalisation
    Example of Error in Personalisation

    Operator errors in setting up the emails.  Many of us who receive a lot of email letters, often receive such emails with errors.  For example I receive one every week with the same error from a large enterprise that publishes printed community newspapers.  (Not the only personal example I have!)

  • So many spammers or phishing emails are personalised that you risk looking like one of them.   To reduce this risk, if you decide to personalise a greeting, do not personalise the subject line using the name, and do not have the name in uppercase this is a  classic spammer look

Review of some opinions available on the web.

  1. Aweber – one of the major providers of Email Marketing Campaign tools  has a tip that suggests that one “Think before you personalise” and  asks “Isn’t There More To A Truly “Personal” Email Than A Name?”
  2. Webmasterworld has a post by Tedster that says

    I’d like to take a closer look at the idea of personalizing mass emails: using the person’s name in the subject, the greeting, and/or the body copy……

    First, this is a technique and NOT really a relationship. It’s an electronic database trick and almost everyone knows that. A lot of the industry “information” that recommends personalization so very strongly actually originates with a company who sells personalization software!

  3. is a company that sells personalization software.  They have an article which describes how a truly personalised email is more than just  “Dear <First Name>”
  4. is another such company that offers tips on personalising emails and at least mentions some of the errors and pitfalls and differences of opinion.  They recommend testing to determine whether it is worth personalising.

When is something a truly personalised email?

It is more than just a greeting by name.   It will reflect information specific to or of specific interest to the recipient (this is more commonly known as targeted emails or segmenting your customers).  This page at the UK financial services authority has some useful examples and discusses what is and is not a personalised communication.  The following link discusess web personalisation is a much broader sense than just emails – Boxes and Arrrows says in an old but still true (imho) post: Personalization is not Technology….. Web personalization is a strategy, a marketing tool, and an art

WordPress Plugins or Options

So are there wordpress plugins that allow personalisation and if they don’t why not?

  • The major free subscription “email” plugins do not offer personalisation.  Their aim is primarily to make it as easy as possible for users to sign up.  To do this they gather the minimum data (eg: a confirmed email address).  Thus for many of the users in the wordpress database, there will be no name to use, so why bother.
  • The low cost membership plugins offer some personalisation once the user is logged in, but not yet in sending emails.  The more expensive software options typically do offer this functionality.
  • Of course there are also the regular monthly cost third party services such as Aweber,  GetResponse, Pro autoresponder.  These may be worth considering if you have a high volume and generate enough income to justify the costs.

And then there is:

I have developed a plugin that  allows access to the user meta data, so that one may reflect this information if the user is logged in, or in emails.  It will be ready in the next week or so.  Personally I am not a fan of superficial personalisation, as this can make things unnecessarily complex and if errors are made, can make your web or email look unprofessional. However there has been a need and the request made.  So far it works with shortcodes in pages or posts.  It will work with Subscribe2 and Cambridge New Media’s Your Responder.(still in beta).

Stay tuned!

Sending Emails from wordpress

Many web owners still want to send their users emails – it can serve as a nudge to bring them back to the site, to advise the of new options etc.  Sometimes part of the web product may be an email of content which is not available on the website, like a newsletter.  Often the need is simply to notify interested parties that there is more information available.

Sometimes web owners wish to make these emails more personal.  There are varying opinions and schools of thoughts on this.

There are many different ways that people want to record their user detatils and then to email out to them.  Following are some notes (in progress) about ways of doing this in wordpress.

Factors that affect the decision:

  • Amount of data wanted to capture – tradeoff – try for to much, users won’t subscribe.
  • Ability to select or isolate user groups eg: by roles or member types.
  • Confidence in email delivery and receipt – spam a big issue, and false positive’s happen.  This is a big problem even with the large scale dedicated email services (see below).   Aweber say that they have a relationship with many large hosts and so can offer a better success rate for email delivery
  • Whether you want to involve a third party – yet another place the web owner has to login to manage their members or subscribers
  • Degree on interaction required between other plugins such as role managers or membership software.
  • Whether you just want the posts to gout by email, or whether you also want to be able to send custom emails that do not go on the website.
  • Ability to save such custom emails (not as posts, or else you use the rss to email options!)

If you have a lower volume and want to keep costs down:

MailChimp (2017 update)

  • bit complicated to setup, but  a robust reliable option


  • free, $40 upgrade to get html on the broadcast “mail subscribers”
  • aimed at a “quick” subscriber to encourage users, therefore no capture of details beyond email address
  • no personalisation, as many subscribers will not even have entered a username
  • allows users to subscribe by category and to specify html or text

Post notification

  • apparently came from a similar base as Subscribe2
  • has similar functionality


  • lots of configuration options, may suit an experienced wordpress user.  Remember features = complexity which can = hard to implement.

Email Users

  • sends mail to user groups based on roles
  • plugin link does not work, no screenshots – don’t bother


  • relatively new – maybe wait a bit and see how the feedback goes re bugs etc

Your Responder from Cambridge new media (Your Members plugin)

  • looks like it will be a good option
  • can save emails for re-use
  • can select users by member type
  • still in beta mode with a few annoying bugs


  • Aimed at quick informal internal staff communication, not suitable for customers


  • syntax error in latest version loaded – testing??
  • Can personalise?
  • No screenshots, so you’d have to install to see more
  • Can create custom lists too?


  • Limited info, no screenshots, link to plugin page does not work – don’t bother.

Large volume and don’t mind spending more:

  • Aweber – well regarded, and popular,
  • GetResponse,
  • Pro autoresponder,
  • Auto response plus (an installed version)

Just want to convert the RSS Feed to an email

  • subscribe 2 or post notification as per above
  • feedburner – bought by google, sometimes unrealiable – or is that the nature of emails these days!
  • feedblitz

Import users to wordpress db without emailing

There are a number of plugins out there that help with importing users to wordpress. The ones I found would email the users – probably because they are adding through wordpress, thereby triggering the registration and/or activation process.

We were also using Your members and the Subscribe2 plugin, so I needed to see how they would handle the setup.

I wanted to get the users pre-loaded without emails flying out all over the place, and then advise me that they could come to the site and request a “lost” password or reactivate.


PhpmyAdmin has tools to import from a csv file.   Simply ensure that the column names are the same.

Life is not that simple however.

wp_users table was easy enough.  You need a minimum of

  1. user_login
  2. user_email

and can leave the rest blank or put a dummy password in.

Ideally you probably want at a bit more. I entered into  the phpmyadmin import tool this string:


as well as obviously giving it a csv file with matching columns.  Remember to match the specification of delimiters and encapsulated strings.

Dealing with the passwords

You do not really have to!!   On login attempt, the user request ‘lost password’, get an activation email, click that  and get a new password.

That’s not all though…

However if they try to login with the new password, they get

“You do not have sufficient permissions to access this page.

This is because the user does not have a role in the wp_usermeta table.

The easy way:

If the numbers of subscribers allow you to, use the authors/users too, select all users, deselect admin or others, then click “Change role to” subscriber.  Save .

If you have problems when you are testing this process (as in you cannot get the new password email), check that you use the same browser to click on the activation link as when you requested the password.  I use firefox for my logged in admin user and IE for my subscriber tester, however since firefox is my default for my email package, it used that when ever I clicked on the activation link and wordpress must check and did not send me new password due to no match.  Took me a while to figure that one out!

The hard way:

Find the userids from the wp_user table (or guess/extrapolate) and add entries (perhaps using another csv upload!) . Note (leave umeta_id blank, wp will assign).

  1. user_id
  2. meta_keyyourtableprefix_capabilities
  3. meta_valuea:1:{s:10:”subscriber”;b:1;} for subscribers, or see what your other subscribers have

you also need another set of rows for

  1. user_id
  2. meta_keyyourtableprefix_user_level
  3. meta_value1 for subscribers

At that point, the user should now be able to login, with appropriate access to wp.

Other Plugins:


S2 (Subscribe2 ) data is blank (so no emails?).     Although it does have some bulk update tools, the subscribers do not show up initially.  More sets of user-meta rows required.

  1. s2_subscribed – -1 (for all categories, else category list
  2. s2_autosub – yes
  3. s2_excerpt – post or excerpt
  4. s2_format – text or html

Your Members:

If no data,  YM 1.4.5  treats them as free, with no expiry etc. YM will assign an RSS token when they navigate to the membership details screen. You can do more sets of rows in the user meta table to update.


There are also bulk updates in the YM member managment area, so if volumes are not too low and you can “batch” the data, you can probably update these manually.

or via the db

Creating the ym_user data via the DB  may be trickier…..

  1. ym_status – active or inactive
  2. ym_user O:15:”YourMember_User”:8:{s:8:”duration”;s:2:”10″;s:13:”duration_type”;s:1:”y”;s:6:”amount”;i:0;s:8:”currency”;s:3:”USD”;s:13:”last_pay_date”;s:10:”2009-04-18″;s:11:”expire_date”;s:10:”2019-04-18″;s:12:”account_type”;s:4:”Free”;s:10:”status_str”;s:20:”Free Account Created”;}

Your members does also have a bulk update tool in the member management area, and Sean and Tim are apparently coming up with a migration tool, so check their website.