Friday, June 15, 2007

iContact for your blog, especially business blogs

Blogger do not have provision for scheduling post to be published at future dates. You can click "Post Options" at the bottom left of the post editor and change the date to a future date. But when you publish it, it will be published immediately, just with the post dated at a future date.

I previously published a post for a work-around: Prepare post to be published in the future. Unfortunately the site that enable this work-around is no longer online. The domain was not renewed. The creator probably found his venture not viable as a free service.

UPDATE November 3 2007: Forgot to mention this post: Scheduling future posts using Time Cave (click BACK button to get back to this page).

Here is a possible alternative - iContact. iContact is an email marketing and blogging tool that makes it easy for people to create, publish, and track email newsletters, blogs, RSS feeds, surveys, and autoresponders. With the autoresponder, you can prepare messages to be sent to subscribers according to, say, 3 day, 1 week, 2 weeks, etc, from the date they subscribed.

I have examined the features available in iContact, and one thing that attracted me was the possibility to schedule messages to be sent in a future date. This feature can be used in the same way to schedule post to be published to Blogger as described in Prepare post to be published in the future. I have prepared a post, a preview of which you can see at Testing to see if post scheduled to published at future dates using iContact will be published as scheduled (click BACK button to get back to this page). If it works, you should see the same post published on Sunday 17 June 2007, 12pm.

I tested to see if I can prepare post with images uploaded via the Blogger photo upload icon can be published via iContact, however, it didn't work out. But they have a responsive support team. I received this to my query: "At the current time, it is not possible to include scripts in a message sent through iContact. You will not be able to use a script in your post to insert additional content". It says "At current time, but didn't state if they have plans to introduce that in the future. It would be a useful additional feature if they do eventually add the feature.

So I had to use alternative methods. I used Photobucket to upload a screenshot and used the <img src="photo URL" to include images in my messages. I have done so many tests and didn't keep a record, so I can't really state with 100% certainty if scheduling posts will work, but if you see the post I have scheduled for publishing on Sunday 17 June 2007, 12pm with a screenshot, that means it works. Will update this if and when I see that post published. Anyway, uploading photos to Photobucket and using the <img src="photo URL" width="W" /> to display images does work.

There is another feature available via iContact - using a template to prepare a message (post). They say they have extremely easy to use over 400 professionally-designed templates (I have tried one and I can concur that it is easy to use). I have actually published a post via iContact using one of their template, and you can see the result here: Testing publishing via iContact with a template. You can use different template for different post to suit the post content and you should have an interesting and attractive blog in this way.

However, note that the template is very wide and would not fit into the main column (post) width of most template. This may cause problems, particularly the 3 column templates and the template with a right sidebar. I have thus chosen to publish that post with a blog with 2 left sidebars.

However, note that the above post (published with a template) was sent by selecting "send test message". When you proceed to send a message via iContact, you will have to go through a long series of steps. You click the "Messages" sub-tab, then "create". You will then have 4 choices (sections) - "My messages", "My surveys", "My autoresponders" and "Image Libraries" (you will have to upload your own images to be hosted by iContact). If you are going to send a message, click "Create a message" in the "My messages" section. You will then be presented with 4 choices - "Create a new message using MessageBuilder" (this will include using a ready-made template without any need for HTML knowledge), "Create a New Message from Scratch" and "Copy and Paste a Messsage" (this will be your choice if you prepare your message using Dreamweaver, FrontPage or other commercial HTML editors including the Blogger post editor).

I have tested using the "Create a New Message from Scratch" option. You can select either HTML or Plain Text. You will have to enter a "Message Subject". I have found a very irritating "pop-up" whenever you try to type in a message subject that are similar to your previous message subjects. Each time you type in something, the pop-up containing all your past message subjects appeared and block your field and prevent you from completing your new message subject. You will have to click somewhere on the page to get rid of the "pop-up". You may have to do this numerous times, depending on what you are typing. If an iContact representative happens to read this, I hope he/she will consider my suggestion to place the "pop-up" so that it does not cover the subject field.

Your HTML message window will be below if you have selected "HTML and you will prepare your HTML message in that window. However, you cannot send the message immediately or you will get the message:

"This message cannot be sent.

* Your message does not contain a text version. Messages without text versions are much more likely to be tagged as spam. Please enter a text message."

You will have to click the "Copy Text" iContact copy text button button to copy a text version of your HTML message into the "Rich Text Message editor window". Further down, you will see a "Send Test Message" box:

iContact send test message box

That was how I publish the post Testing publishing via iContact with a template, by opting to send a test message to the Mail-to-Blogger Address. The other choice is to click on the "Send" iContact send button button. If you do that, you will get to another page where you have to click on the "Proceed to Send" iContact proceed to send button button. You will then be presented an "initial" field to enter, and some choices as seen in the screenshot below (click on screenshot to enlarge):

options when sending messages via iContact

For the scheduling post to be publish in the future test described above, I have opted for "Schedule Delivery". What will be the result, we will see later and I will update this when the result is out.

I have also tested "Deliver Immediately" and have got some disappointing result. When I clicked that button, I got the message "Your message has been queued and will be sent shortly". I have tested it numerous time, including publishing to Blogging Ideas and to date, I still have not seen the post published. I have also tested sending a test message to my mailbox, but to date, still have not receive it. (Update: the message was received OK).

Update 19 June 2007: Received a response to my query to iContact support, which I think is relevant to this post:


"Thank you for your email. When you click Deliver Immediately, that starts the send process right away, but depending on server traffic, the potential for human review, and the general nature of bulk email movement, we cannot guarantee immediate delivery of any message. We actually recommend allowing up to an hour at times, though, it almost never takes that long. We also had an issue over the week that was causing messages to appear stuck in pending when they were actually sending on schedule. This was caused by server crossover issues when we changed our name to icontact. I apologize for this, we are doing everything we can to prevent it from happening again.

It looks like the blog was published to URL:

Enviroman."


If my memory is not faulty, I had put the mail-to-blogger address to publish via email, but somehow ended up in a blog set up using iContact. I don't think I want or have time to test again. If you are interested, you can try as they offer 15-days freee trial period.


You can also set up a blog or blogs with iContact. I have set up a rudimentary test blog at Enviroman, but since I am only using a 15 days trial subscription, I do not know if this test blog will remain on the web when the trial subscription ends. A casual blogger may not want to subscribe to iContact, but with the number of features offered, a serious blogger, especially those who do business blogs should seriously consider iContact.

Update 27 June 2007: Got this response from iContact support team on 25 Jun 2007

"Last week, we were experiencing some difficulties with our sending queue. Messages were delayed in sending and there was a considerable backlog of messages in the queue for several days. I have a feeling that this issue was the reason for the schedule foul up.

The good news is that that issue has been resolved, so if you try scheduling a message again, it should go through without any problems."

So you may still be able to use iContact to schedule your posts to Blogger. You may want to test it. As for me, maybe I will have to wait for a less busy time to do it.

2 comments:

Nipponster Staff said...

Hi. came in from a similar post on bloggerbuster.

I think it is a shame (on Google) that blogger does not have a method of pre-scheduling posts. I wish we did not have to go to this kind of trouble just to do something that is so easily done on other blog platforms!

But thanks for this work around.
Cheers!

Peter Chen said...

See if this post scheduling future posting using Time Cave helps.

Reminded me to update this post.

Peter Blog*Star
Blogger Tips and Tricks