Pocket Guide to Privacy-First Email Newsletter Software
A handy guide to privacy-first email newsletter services that protect user privacy by turning off open and click tracking by default.
When I first started to look for privacy-first email newsletter options back in 2019, there just weren’t many options. There were great privacy-first website analytics tools like Fathom Analytics, but nothing for email. Nearly every provider required tracking pixels by default.
I want to briefly acknowledge that there are some legitimate reasons why email newsletter software providers might require pixels. Tracking pixels are one way to evaluate a sender’s reputation and ensure overall deliverability for everyone using their platform. Higher open and click rates indicate that a list is engaged. The reverse could indicate that an account is sending spam emails.
The problem is that tracking pixels collect far too much information, including exact location information from each recipient. Most of us understandably don’t want senders to know where we read an email, how many times we read that email, what links we clicked, and how many times we clicked each link.
There are, of course, other ways to evaluate list engagement. Unsubscribes and spam reports are a clear signal – and they are the indicators that matter most. As a sender, you can evaluate email engagement by website traffic, list growth, unsubscribes, spam reports, and other methods.
The good news is that over the past year or two many major email newsletter providers have started to let you turn off email trackers (e.g. MailChimp, but with limitations). Other providers still do not (e.g. ConvertKit).
Privacy-First Email Newsletter Services
I wanted a provider that offered a privacy-first by default platform. So I compiled a list and I’m sharing it here. My criteria for inclusion in this list were simple:
- Open and click tracking are turned off by default
- Does not use Google ReCaptcha on the subscription form
- Does not have third-party trackers (e.g. Google Analytics) on their website
Below is a list of the email newsletter services that met the criteria, as well as their lowest price point as of February 9, 2023:
|Company||Tracking||HQ Location||Cheapest Plan|
|Buttondown||Off by default||US||Free up to 100 subscribers|
|SendStack||None||EU||Free up to 100 subscribers|
|MailCoach||Off by default||EU||$9.99|
Buttondown is a minimalist tool for writing and producing email newsletters. Based in the United States, it is run as an indie software business. Buttondown gets a lot of things right, like privacy-first by default (you can, however, opt-in to tracking if you want), the ability to write in markdown, RSS-to-Email tools so you can run your own version of Substack, and a first-party API.
SendStack is one of the newest tools and was released by a team based in the European Union (Germany, specifically). It has fewer features than Buttondown but a much friendlier user interface. They also make their first-party API available to free plans, which is a great feature for developers or anyone wanting to build their own first-party email newsletter subscription form. SendStack takes a much harder line on automation, so there is no RSS-to-Email function or other automation tools.
MailCoach offers both a hosted and a cloud-based solution. Interestingly, they also support transactional email. Like the other platforms here they offer a streamlined interface. But unlike Buttondown and SendStack, automation and transactional email are treated as important features. This is a good solution if you need more than just a newsletter, and would be a great option for agencies, businesses, or anyone building more complex email workflows.
I have personally used Buttondown and SendStack, but I haven’t tried MailCoach yet. This isn’t an endorsement of any particular service. You should try them out and see what works best for you. I also recommend this article comparing pricing models for privacy-first email newsletter services if you are considering one of these platforms.
But, if you’ve been looking for a private alternative to Mailchimp and similar services, you now have a handful to choose from. I’m looking forward to seeing this space grow as more creators and businesses start to adopt privacy-first marketing practices in the future.