How To Get Your Website out of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine

The Internet Archive Way Machine can be an incredible resource. But it can also be bad for your publication. For several reasons. One being that they’re literally copying your content without your permission. That’s reason enough to not want to be included. But the novelty of being in the Internet Archive meant that I honestly didn’t really care. It was fun to see old versions of my website that I remember from the ‘good ‘ol days.’

When your site has been around for 14 years, it’s changed a lot!

However, recently I had my websites removed from the Internet Archive. The main reason? It’s evidence. Evidence that can be used against you. There are bots patrolling the internet looking for usage of content – whether it’s images, videos, or audio. And even if you’ve legitimately licensed something, that doesn’t stop these bots and the lawyers they employ to patrol ownership of content.

Even if you delete something, a record of it exists in the Internet Archive forever. After being at the receiving end of several legal threats related to content we’d removed years ago, I decided that the novelty of being in the Internet Archive had worn off.

So, I looked into how to get it removed.

It turns out, the process is rather straightforward. You don’t need to file a DMCA notice or anything (but you can if you want to go nuclear). Blocking their bots doesn’t help. It will just stop them from crawling further if they even follow what a robots.txt file says.

All you need to do is ask.

Simply write an email from the domain you use for the website to and ask them nicely to remove your website. This opens a ticket in their system, and they will respond to you, usually within a day, with instructions on how to do so. You will have to provide several bits of evidence that you’re the actual website owner.

I had to put pages on the websites, that only they could see indicating I had ownership rights. I had to provide a photo ID and also proof from my domain registrar and hosting service that I, indeed, owned my websites. It took five minutes to gather the info. Within a day, they’d responded and removed my websites from the archive. When I checked, sure enough, they were gone.

So, hats off to the Internet Archive for making the process smooth and relatively painless.

Rolling Your Own Link Shortener With the .IM Domain and Automating it With WordPress Jetpack

Link shorteners were very in vogue in the early 2010s but they seem to have fallen out of favor somewhat since most social networks now automatically shorten links (and don’t count links against your character count) and popular networks like Instagram don’t really even allow links at all. Bitly was the elephant in the room for link shortening and they do offer a white-label service. But it’s expensive. A link shortener is a ‘nice to have’ for a business but frankly, it’s not worth paying $29 a month.

As always, I was keen to find my own solution, to fit my own specific needs, and pay as little as possible for it.

At the most fundamental level, a link shortener takes a long link, and shortens it and redirects it to the long link when it’s clicked. It’s basically a fancy .htaccess redirect script.

Jealous of my boss’s very, very short link shortener ( I set out to have my own for my business brand, Anglotopia.

I tried lots and lots of combinations. I wanted the shortest version possible that had at least the word ‘anglo’ in it. The problem was that since it’s a common word, there wasn’t a lot of TLD’s still available using anglo. Eventually, I settled on It seemed ideal as it had most of my company name in it and it was still relatively short. I registered it and then set up a link shortener. I was informed shortly after that .TOP is actually not a very good domain to use for something like this – because it’s has a heavy association with SPAMMERS – so if you use the links in email or social media, it is more likely to get blocked or filtered out.

So, back to the drawing board.

After some digging, I found that was available directly from the Isle of Man Domain Registry (but strangely not through my register of choice these days – Blacknight). It was a bit pricey – £40 a year – but that was still cheap enough to be useful for this project. I could also use it for other things. Short domains are great! And versatile – I may even use it for email one day. I was able to secure ‘’

So, how do you go about setting up a link shortener?

First, you need a server. Any Linux server will do. I happen to have my own dedicated server with Blacknight, so I can put whatever I want on it. I used Softaculous to install YOURLS in seconds, which is an open-source PHP URL shortener. While the tool is pretty basic, with a very dated interface, it works really, really well. It makes the links and tracks the links so you can get stats on how many times something was clicked.

You can set up bookmarklets and Google Chrome extensions to make short links without even having to log in to the service because it has a handy little API.

I’m a fan of automation. With a full-time job and a side-business that takes a lot of spare time, I really didn’t want to have another thing to do – that being creating short links every time I publish or share something. Thankfully, YOURLS integrates easily with WordPress. If you install the BetterYOURLS plugin, you can then automatically create a short link when you publish a post (and customize it if you wish).

When I publish an article on Anglotopia or Londontopia, it’s automatically shared to Twitter and Facebook, so I wanted the links that were shared there to also be the short link. This proved a bit trickier. But I found a workaround.

How to use YOURLS with Jetpack URL Shortener

  1. Download and install Jetpack
  2. Enable the Jetpack URL shortener under the sharing settings.
  3. Install BetterYOURLS, activate and setup with your API key
  4. Then, this is the key part, now go to Jetpack and then deactivate the Jetpack URL shortener
  5. Then, when you publish an article it’ll use your own custom short URL on Twitter and Facebook. If you don’t do this, it won’t work. It took me a few hours to work this out…

Initially, I ran into issues that when these posts were published to Facebook or Twitter, it was not pulling the right Open Graph image, or none at all and when you tried to ‘refresh share attachment’ on Facebook, it still wouldn’t work. I never found a solution to this problem, but a while ago the problem seemed to fix itself.

So, for minimal investment – just £40 (about $50), I was able to set up my own branded URL shortener for all my links that I publish and when people share links from Anglotopia, it uses the short links as well. There’s really no reason to do this, other than to have another way to be branded on the internet. But as we know, links are the currency of the internet and if they’re something you can control, you absolutely should.

I also recently registered, which are my initials, to have the shortest possible URL for when I share links personally or on this personal blog. It’s not 4 letters, but five is close enough! I also found this really short domain useful for setting up a 1 letter email address for registering for things quickly or logging into accounts on smart tv’s – a painful process when you have to type in a long email address.

Finding a Better Way to Make eBooks – ePub Files and Learning Sigil

I dislike eBooks. Well, I don’t dislike the idea of them, they’re fine. I dislike having to make eBooks. I’ve been publishing books for years, and the worst part of publishing a book is making the ePub file (the standard eBook file). It’s hard. It’s fiddly. It’s a pain in the arse. And it takes forever.

But making the eBook version of any book these days is critical – often you will sell as many copies of the eBook as you will of the print version. Making the ePub file, however, is such a pain in the butt, it’s always the last thing I do when prepping a book for publication. Because I bloody hate it.

Laying out a book for print is a lot of work too. But I’ve done it so much for Anglotopia’s books and our magazine, that it’s a breeze compared to making an eBook. With the print layout, you have complete control of the end product. How it looks when it’s printed, how many pages it is, what pictures are included. Everything. The book will look exactly when printed how you’ve laid it out on the computer.

With an eBook, none of these things applies.

You can no control over the end-user experience. When you make an eBook, you have to strip the text down to its base thing – which is just words organized in a linear fashion. There is no design. There is no layout. There are no pictures. How it looks to the reader depends entirely on their e-reader, tablet, platform – and what font they prefer – whether it’s lit or how large it is. You don’t even know how many pages it will be because it will be different for every user. So, an eBook has to be as little as possible, to work on every platform.

This is ridiculously hard to pull off.

I learned this early on when I was formatting Anglotopia’s Dictionary of British English. Having paragraphs is one thing, having a listing of words and definitions with different fonts and boldness and size, is entirely too much for ePubs.

And that’s what’s weird. ePub is the standard for eBooks. It’s what all the platforms use. But what it really is, is an HTML file, filled with code. With as little formatting as possible.

When making an eBook you need just two things – the book itself and a table of contents, so users can navigate the book. Making that is really hard. Over the years I’ve used KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), Createspace (before it was fully swallowed by Amazon), Ingram Spark, Nook. All made it terrible to make an eBook despite all having software that tried to make it easier. With them all, I’d have to spend days formatting the damn thing. When you’ve reached the end of writing a book, rewriting it, editing it, editing it again, crying a few times, and then laying it out for print, doing it all over again for the eBook is that last thing you want to do.

There has to be an easier way.

I’m in the process of publishing a new edition of one of Anglotopia’s old Guidebooks – 101 London Travel Tips. The 1st edition was written almost a decade ago, it was time for an update. But I wanted the print version to be a beautiful print guidebook, with lots of pictures. It’s turned out great. I can’t wait to release it. But this past week, with all the other tasks done, one task was left: make the ePub version. I didn’t want to do it so badly, that I considered hiring someone to do this one task, but I’d already spent enough prepping this new book.


I guess we’re going to have to do this.

First I tried to convert the InDesign document into an ePub. But that just made an unformatted mess that didn’t recognize chapters existing. I tried to find an online web-based tool to make one. There just isn’t one – ePub tools are built into the publishing platforms, no one has just made one that works independently.

Finally, after some googling, I downloaded Sigil. I’d tried to use in the past but found the software impenetrable (just look at the interface in header screenshot – no icon is even labeled!). But I read some articles that told me what to do and sat down on an evening this past week to just make the damn eBook. I followed the directions and…. It was a breeze. Once I accepted the fact that everything nice I’d designed for the print version would be stripped away and mastered how to make the table of contents, it was easy to format the 101 ‘chapters’ in the book and make an ePub file.

I finished it in two hours while watching TV, uploaded it to Ingram – was told there were a few validation errors that were easy to fix (Sigil and the original Word Document for the text had added extra crap to the code that was breaking things). And boom, it was done. Uploaded and ready to go. You can already pre-order it.

When I tested it on my tablet, sure enough, it looked like an eBook. Which is, as I said, not great for this page designer. But it looks fine for an eBook, and that’s all that matters. Slightly irritating that all the time I spent selecting the 101 perfect pictures for the print version, was useless here as they are completely absent from the eBook (pictures always look like shit in eBooks, because you can’t control layout, size, format, they’re just THERE and increase the file size of the ePub, better to leave them out altogether). Never underestimate the benefit of taking the time to learn a new process. I’m still going to hate making eBooks, but I’ll hate it a little less and it will take a lot less time than it took before.

And best of all, Sigil is free!

How to Roll Your Own Linktree Link Landing Page and Control Your Brand

I’ve been using Linktree for a while now as my primary link on Instagram. For those that don’t know what it is – since Instagram only allows links in your profile, the trend is to have a landing page full of relevant links in your profile. Linktree is probably the ‘biggest’ of the link page services. I’ve used it for a while and honestly, it’s great.

But I read this tweet the other day that gave me pause. Why are large Instagrammers trusting their important branding to a third party? Look, there’s nothing wrong with Linktree. But as someone with a large following and an established brand, this resonated with me – I should have my own branded link page, that sells me – not someone else. Linktree offers white label branding, but it costs money. I also want analytics, which Linktree charges for.

I’m not one to do something that costs money when I can do it myself for free.

I already have a dedicated server with Blacknight. It has plenty of capacity and could easily support a 1-page website that only hosts links. It just has to look nice.

So, here’s what I did to set one up.

  1. Bought – I bought my brand name with the .LINK gTLD. It cost like $5 with Blacknight (my primary domain registrar now).
  2. Pointed it at my server.
  3. Installed a clean WordPress install with Softaculous.
  4. Installed Genesis and the Genesis Sample Themes.
  5. Switched to the Landing Page template in Genesis for the homepage.
  6. Installed Atomic Blocks and Kadence Blocks plugins.
  7. Created a block of buttons, customized them to how I wanted it to look.
  8. Installed Google custom fonts (I use Lato)
  9. Installed an SSL
  10. Installed Matomo Analytics
  11. Installed WPSupercache12. Set up all the links, added a background, added my logo, and social media icons.

And this is the end result – check out here – for best results, load it on your mobile:

A simple one-page landing page that does one thing, show links to the stuff I mention on my Instagram account. With Gutenberg blocks, it’s a little more flexible and I can add new features as needed. I now have free analytics and can see how each link does. And, I must say – it looks rather nice. It has my logo and my stock image I use for most of our marketing. When you load it on a mobile phone, it looks great. The page is easy to update and I can easily add new links for each new marketing campaign that comes down the line.

There was a bit trial and error before I settled on this approach. But once I got things set up, it took about an hour to have a finished landing page. It’s certainly wasn’t as easy at setting up a Linktree. But now I control every aspect of it and it cost me nothing more than a new domain and an hour of my weekend.

A B-17 Flying Fortress Visits Laporte Indiana

Recently, well last weekend, a B-17 owned by the Commemorative Air Force recently stopped at the local LaPorte Municipal Airport. It was quite a surprising thing to happen – I didn’t know about it until the day before. The plane flew low and loud over my house. I’m an AVGeek so I was thrilled. It’s one of only 9 airworthy B-17 Flying left in the world (though this one did not see service in World War II).

They offered flights and tours of the plane while it was parked in LaPorte. Because of the ongoing pandemic, I didn’t want to go on a tour or one of the flights – too close quarters for my comfort right now. But the airport was allowing anyone to have a look at the plane. So, on a hot summer day, I ventured over there with my new camera to take some pictures. I was lucky to get very close – and then got to see it take off.

It was thrilling!

Here are some video highlights and some pictures. Hopefully, it will come back one day, and I can take a flight.

Why You Need Your Own ISBN Numbers

So, I’ve published quite a few books on my own over the years. I’ve always had ISBNs with my books (international serial book number – basically the ID number of your book so it can be found anywhere). At one point, a few years ago, I bought 10 of them from Bowker, the main company that sells ISBN numbers, with the assumption it would take me a while to use them. I have finally used them all, and with several books in the pipeline for the rest of this year, it became clear I would need more.

But they’re expensive! Bowker now charges $295 for ten numbers (or just $125 for a single number!). It’s a high upfront cost, and I know it’s a small cost when you project the revenue from 10 books. But it still bites.

I’ve moved recently to using Ingram Spark for publishing Anglotopia’s books (I may write about the switch eventually). Happy with it so far – it offers hardcover options which Amazon KDP doesn’t offer (plus many different trim sizes). They offer a free ISBN if you use their system to publish the book. I did a few books recently with this feature.

But then, I wondered, what’s the cost of free? What’s the benefit of having your own number versus just using one provided by Ingram (or KDP).

After a little research, I discovered why.

You need your own ISBN so that you’re listed as the publisher, not Ingram or Amazon KDP. They become the publisher of record if you’re using their numbers. As I run a corporation that acts as the publisher, I’d much rather my company be the publisher.

I wondered what this meant in practical reality.

So, I looked up Adventures in Anglotopia, where I had my own ISBN, to see who the publisher is listed as on Amazon. It was Anglotopia LLC.

I looked up a book where I used the ‘free’ ISBN and sure enough – ‘Indy Pub’ was listed as the publisher.

You can bet I will no longer be doing that. It’s mostly a vanity thing, but Anglotopia is pivoting to publishing more books, and we want to be the ‘publisher’, not the platform we’re using to actually print the books.

And when you use a service like Ingram or KDP and use their ISBN’s you’re locked into using them for printing copies. And if someone comes in for a bulk order, they would contact your publisher – you’d rather that be you directly instead of Ingram or KDP.

So, spend the $295 on 10 ISBNs. It’s a small investment up front but will pay off in the future as your little publishing house grows.

How to Roll Your Own Invoice Website With WordPress to Process Your Own Invoicing Payments

As someone who runs a small business, I need to send invoices quite often. For a few years, I had a solution that worked fine. I used GoDaddy Bookkeeping to keep my business’s books and to send invoices to clients. They had a built-in invoicing feature that processed payments through Stripe.

It was a very simple system, and it worked very well. My clients never had anything bad to say and getting payments quickly through Stripe was nice. Occasionally someone would have to pay with a check, and that was fine as I could manually mark the invoice as paid. But it could only do it in in one currency because it was simple software. So, when I needed to send invoices in GBP, I had to use something else (like Zervant).

Then GoDaddy Bookkeeping basically stopped working.

After GoDaddy acquired Outright, they proceeded to continue to run it, but never improve it or add new features. Then, the one thing I relied on this service for, invoicing – stopped working well. Two things happened when I sent an invoice to clients – they got prompted to log in to GoDaddy, something they never had to do before and why would I assume my client would WANT a GoDaddy account to pay me? Second, something fundamentally broke – there were two instances where a client would pay the invoice twice accidentally and wouldn’t receive a confirmation that they paid at all.

This was very bad. One invoice was for several thousand dollars. Thankfully I was able to reverse the charge right away. But this was enough to make me look for an alternative mostly because I need to occasionally send invoices in other currencies and that didn’t really work with various invoicing alternatives.

In the meantime, I resumed sending invoices through PayPal, which does the trick. But then again, they also have high fees and it isn’t that professional.

What I really wanted, was a simple invoicing service that used Stripe. There are plenty of invoicing services out there, but they all charge a monthly fee, on top of charging fees per transaction. I looked at them all. But I’m trying to cut my business’s costs and adding another monthly bill to just send invoices was a non-starter. I just wanted something simple that made an invoice, sent it to someone and let them pay with their credit card through Stripe.

Eventually, I came to a solution: I made my own payments website.

Years ago this would have been prohibitively expensive. But not so now. There are several WordPress plugins that let you send invoices. I found a couple paid solutions that were pretty cheap – most give the core invoicing feature away and charge for add-ons (like specific payment gateways). After investigating the various plugins, I decided to just build my own payment processing website.

Here’s the process I went through:

  1. Bought a specific domain just for this – ( just seemed too flashy but I also registered it so no one can spoof it)
  2. Installed WordPress on my Blacklight Solutions Dedicated Server.
  3. Installed an SSL
  4. Installed Sliced Invoices
  5. Set it up
  6. Tested
  7. Purchased 5 Sliced Invoices extensions, totaled $105 and installed them.
  8. Linked to Stripe
  9. Sent several test invoices and did a test payment.
  10. Sent the first invoice to a client (which was promptly paid)

It took an afternoon over the weekend to set up and granted, I already know what I’m doing in this regard. The website is very simple, with a 1-page homepage that says it’s a payment site and you should only be there if you were sent there. I blocked search bots because this site doesn’t need to be indexed in search engines.

Sliced Invoices sets up its own backend and creates secure links for invoices. Only the client can view the invoice. It also gives them an area to login to view their invoices and current statuses. The invoices are basic and nicely designed. They do the job. When you send an invoice to a customer, they get directed to the page on your website to pay. You can have the page be public or use a secure link only they can access. You can track and see if the invoice has been viewed. You can send reminders for payments due.

This is the page the customer sees when they get notified they have an invoice.

I can send invoices in US dollars, British Pounds, and Euros (and also let British customers Pay via bank transfer). It does everything I need an invoicing service to do. And now I don’t have a monthly fee (other than hosting which I was already paying for). I might have to renew these extensions in a year, but we’ll see if it’s necessary.

So far, I’m very pleased. I’ve solved a particular problem that I was having. And it didn’t cost that much. I’ll report back in a few months and see how it’s going in practice.

Thoughts On Using My iPhone 11 Pro as My Primary Camera on a Recent Trip to Ireland

For as long as I’ve been traveling, I’ve always brought a ‘proper’ camera with me. First an SLR and for the last ten years, a Sony Nex-7 mirrorless camera. I’ve been happy with the quality of my pictures for this time. However, the camera is showing it’s age, and I cannot justify buying a new one (for now – a replacement will be about $2,000). Late last year, I succumbed to temptation and bought an iPhone 11 Pro.

Now, I was making the jokes the same as everyone else when it was announced with its three cameras that looked like a stovetop. But when I played with it in my local Apple Store, I was smitten. I quite liked having all the options the iPhone 11 cameras presented. I bought one shortly after that. I’m not going to review the phone in general other than to say, coming from the iPhone 6s, the 11 Pro is a revelation. I love it.

In December I went to Ireland for a business trip (as in my employer was brought me over for a head office visit). Normally, I would take my camera along with me. But this time, and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t take my proper camera. First, it was a business trip; my primary purpose there was to work. So, while I would have a couple of days to explore and photograph things, it wasn’t my primary purpose there. I also wanted to travel light – I try to travel with a carry-on only. The camera would have taken up quite a bit of space in my suitcase or made my backpack heavier. When I used to go on trips for Anglotopia, the pictures and video I captured were a business asset, so it made sense to make room for the camera. This was a non-Anglotopia trip, so any pictures I took would be for fun. I simply didn’t need my big camera.

So, I left it at home.

Here’s a summary of my thoughts after using the phone heavily on my days off when I could take pictures.

Portrait Mode is Amazing

By far, the biggest strength of the iPhone 11 is portrait mode. It uses software and camera trickery to take amazing portrait photos with a perfectly blurred background. Great for both selfies and portraits of other people. However, it’s really annoying that Photos in MacOS doesn’t import the ‘portrait’ version, it just imports a flat version. This is infuriating.

The Three Lenses Give Options, too many options.

The three lenses are versatile, but you find yourself taking three versions of every picture, and why wouldn’t you? It doesn’t take much more time, and one of them is bound to look great. It would be nice if there was a setting to just take three versions from each lens all at once.

Holding Vertically becomes the standard

Hook Head Lighthouse

On a regular camera, the standard is horizontal aspect ratios when you take photos, and that’s how I generally do it. I hardly flip the camera. When you’re holding the iPhone 11 for pictures, it’s just natural to hold it vertically. It’s easier to keep a hold of, and the pictures are easy to compose that way. It takes more ‘work’ to flip the phone and compose a horizontal picture. This led to a weird unintended consequence in my photo library, where there were so many pictures in an unfamiliar aspect ratio.

Live Photos can be annoying still

When Live Photos came out, I thought they were a gimmick, and they still are. Are they a video or a picture? You can’t decide. And it’s weird, on your phone, they are live. In Photos on your computer, they are not live. It’s a weird user experience with no continuity. I’d rather they just keep videos and photos separate.

Night mode is incredible

Duckett’s Grove Ruin

In the original Apple demo, they were not lying about night mode. It is pretty incredible. I took some great pictures in low light conditions. BUT. It achieves this by simply amping up the ISO settings and using software to soften the noise. This is not perfect. Low light pictures still end up a bit muddy and grainy. While the pictures look all right on your phone, they will not look great if you print them. They are simply good enough.

It’s fast

Taking the phone out of your pocket and pressing the camera icon on the home screen is fast. I would argue a bit faster than picking up your camera, turning it on and composing then shooting. You also have quick versatility my taking three different shots in quick succession.

Good case is critical; you will be dropping it

When you’re traveling and moving quickly, you will drop this thing. Especially when you pull it out of your pocket too quickly without a good grip. You must have a good case – I use an Otterbox. I dropped my phone quite a few times, and it didn’t even get a scratch. There were also a few hairy situations in the wind. (especially at Hook Head Lighthouse) where a good case ensured I had a good grip on my phone and didn’t lose it in the sea.

Video is great too.

Videos are fine, just as all iPhone videos are fine. But I was so enamored with the still photos; I didn’t take much video.


The Battery is Incredible

I used my phone heavily while I traveled and with previous iPhones, I would struggle to keep it charged all day. I never had that issue with the 11 Pro. It never dipped below 50% even on days where I used it the most.

They Look Great on the Phone but…

And this is my biggest criticism. The iOS software is definitely designed to make the pictures look their best on the iPhone and to a certain extent, iPads. The resolution of the display makes them look great at all angles and is very forgiving to the flaws of the photographs. But when you load these images up on a proper computer and begin editing them… I found a lot of the pictures I thought were ‘good’ we’re just pretty meh. Low light images were muddy and grainy. Even pictures with plenty of light were a bit muddy and grainy. When you enlarge the images to the size of an iMac 5k Retina screen, most of them look like crap. The image resolution just isn’t there. I work a lot with print, and it’s infuriating that the iPhone still outputs pictures at 72 DPI when in print you need 300 DPI. The iPhone uses software trickery to give you the appearance of a good picture while a good camera uses optics to actually give you a good picture. The iPhone 11 very much relies on software here, the optics are just OK, and that’s the design compromise they make to fit three cameras into 1 square inch.

So, the iPhone 11 Pro is great for taking pictures as a bit of fun and for everyday picture taking. But would I completely replace my ‘proper’ camera and shoot exclusively on the iPhone? Hell no.

Here are some of my favorite pictures I took!

Inistioge Postbox
Duckett’s Grove Ruin – Great Example of Low Light
On the drive to Inistioge
Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle
Trinity Library Dublin
Trinity College Dublin
Temple Bar, Dublin
The Roman Door Outside of Carlow
Hook Head Lightouse
Tea at Hook Head
My favorite picture from the whole trip – through one of the windows at Hook Head lighthouse
Trim Castle

Insane Video of Lake Michigan Coastal Erosion

This video is insane. I have watched it about five times (I recommend looking at it in 4K).

Some context is needed here.

This is where I grew up. I grew up in Ogden Dunes, Indiana, a posh neighborhood sitting on the shore of Lake Michigan. On one side was the Indiana Dunes National Park, on the other side are steel mills. Now it’s surrounded on all sides by National Park.

Water levels in Lake Michigan always rise and lower. We had record lows a few years ago. When I was growing up, we had record-high lake levels, and several houses were swallowed up by Lake Michigan (not in OD, but along the shore). This led residents to take matters into their own hands, and they built a protective steel wall to shore up most of the houses along the lakefront.

Fast forward 20 years, lake levels are now at the highest they have been recorded in decades. Those residents, I’m sure, are quite happy with their steel wall because there is literally no longer a beach at Ogden Dunes right now (or along much of the lakefront). It’s been washed away by the high water levels and recent inclement weather.

A few years after I moved out of OD, the town of Portage partnered with the National Park to build a pavilion and beach walk area along the Burns Ditch waterway. It’s a very nice little place – great for walking. It’s rather funny, growing up this area was closed off to the public, and it was my own private place to explore. Now everyone gets to enjoy it. Which is great.

Except the beach has now been washed away. Not only is it washed away, but the lake has also swallowed up concrete paths, wooden barriers and is slowly eating away at the hill that the pavilion rests on. Lake Michigan is taking back what it wants.

The irony behind all of this is that, while the high levels are a natural phenomena – brought on by high rains and a lack of evaporation in the Great Lakes water system (exacerbated by Climate Change, I’m sure), the damage wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the breakwaters around Ogden Dunes, built to shelter the Port of Indiana (a proper international port that gets ships from all over the world). Those breakwaters disrupt the natural flow of water along the shoreline – which means that it concentrates the lake’s fury on the shiny park pavilion now being washed away.

I’m just in awe of this video. Lake Michigan is relatively new in Geological time – only about 10,000 years old. It’s generally pretty calm and steady and doesn’t affect the wider environment beyond being a beautiful playground and supplying water (not to us, though, our house sits above the Lake Michigan watershed, we get our water from the Kankakee Watershed despite being 10 miles from Lake Michigan). But this is a perfect example of what it is capable of.

I’m reminded of the proverb – it was a foolish man who built his house upon sand.

That seawall along the shore will not protect those houses forever.

Kudos to Timeless Aerial Photography LLC for capturing this video. I’ve subscribed to their channel!

Quitting Mailchimp and Moving My Small Business Email Marketing to Sendy For a Fraction of the Cost

Email is the most important marketing medium for businesses, especially in the age of declining free social media reach. Email is the only way to communicate with your customers directly, and they get to choose whether to interact with you or not.

For almost a decade, I’ve used Mailchimp for my email marketing at Anglotopia. I’ve generally been pretty happy. I accepted their regular prices rises in stride because my business was successful, and it could afford it. But what happens when the business is struggling and can no longer afford it? The almost $300 a month I was paying to Mailchimp began to really, really bite as Anglotopia has struggled over the last 18 months.

I also began to become disillusioned with the service. I always respected Mailchimp in that they were a bootstrapped startup that eschewed Venture Capital money and followed their own course, too much success. But Mailchimp had a shift in strategy recently – they want to become the center of all marketing for a business. They added feature after feature, features I didn’t really need or want to use. I didn’t need another way to pay for Facebook and Instagram ads. Then they started doing questionable things like funding original short-form content. I would be presented with the weirdest things when I hit the login interstitial screen.

All I could think was that my $300 a month was funding crap like this. Meanwhile, the email side of their business wasn’t really improving or innovating much. They didn’t really add new features to the drag and drop email builder. Email list management, by far their most important task, is, at this point, a nuts & bolts type of service that anyone can emulate.

Looking for a way to cut costs, I began to research the possibility of leaving Mailchimp. As someone whose business grew and was successful because of it, this was a hard decision to make. But I’d had enough. I needed a better way.

There are plenty of Mailchimp competitors, and I tried quite a few of them. But I kept coming back to one major problem – most of Mailchimp’s competitor’s pretty much match Mailchimp’s prices simply because they can. There isn’t really a much cheaper alternative. I felt trapped. I needed email marketing, but it’s just too expensive.

That’s when I started thinking about the fundamentals of email. What is the most important thing? List management is easy. Sign-up APIs are easy. Drop and drop email builders are pretty common, and there are many free ones. I came to the conclusion that the most important things to me was deliverability — the simple idea of being able to reach as many of my subscribers as possible. So, open rate and clicks were my most important metrics.

If I could safeguard those, then I didn’t really care which service I used.

I heard about Sendy earlier this year and dismissed it. It sounded too good to be true. Parroted by many of the marketing blogs – that have an affiliate interest in selling it – I didn’t think it would work for me. Sendy is a script that you can install on your own server to manage your email list and sending. It uses Amazon SES, which is a simple email sending service provided by Amazon Web Services (like Mandrill or Sendgrid). I’d never heard of it, frankly.

I did a bit of research and was put off by blog posts that said Sendy required a complicated sever install that you would probably have to hire someone to do. So, another cost. Then you’d have to go through the sign-up process with Amazon and be approved to send (which can be tricky).

Sendy would control your email sending; Amazon SES would send the actual emails.

The cost of this? Sendy costs $59.99 to license for a single user/website. Amazon charges $.10 per 1000 emails sent. It simply sounds too good to be true.

Surely, deliverability would be an issue. Would Amazon have deliverability that’s just as good as Mailchimp, a trusted email sender? Looking back, it’s a stupid question to ask oneself – of course; Amazon has good email deliverability. It’s bloody Amazon.

Anyway, there was enough iffiness to put me off of giving it a try mostly because I was too cheap to spend the money on the software and hire a developer while still pay Mailchimp’s inflated prices. I went back to researching alternatives. I did not find one. And I continued to stick with Mailchimp and watched the price rise again recently.

I’d had enough.

There was also a big unanswered question of how I would build my emails every week. The Mailchimp builder was good enough. Sendy doesn’t have an email builder, you just paste the raw HTML code, and that’s it. Of all the alternative services I tried, I actually really liked the email builder that Mailerlite uses – its RSS integration is much nicer and flexible than Mailchimp’s. I really struggled to find an email builder I could use with Sendy; the only one people talked about in searches was defunct.

A few months went by, and I finally decided to research Sendy some more. I looked at their documentation on the website and read through the installation process and realized it wasn’t actually that hard. It was something I could easily do within my skill level (it’s very similar to installing WordPress). I even had a server I could throw it on. More searches on building emails taught me that I could actually keep using the Mailchimp builder for free, and just cut and paste the email code into Sendy. It was a Eureka moment.

So, I pulled the trigger and bought the software, figuring a $60 investment would save me more in the long run. I downloaded the software right away and had it up and running on my server in less than an hour. I signed up for Amazon SES and waited for approval, requesting 75,000 email sends a day (I have about 60,000 subscribers across all my lists and figured this would do).

I did a few tests to familiarize myself with Sendy, and it worked flawlessly. I waited a day and was approved for sending by Amazon at a rate of 50,000 emails a day at 14/emails a second. I figured this would be plenty. I followed the directions to link Sendy with Amazon SES, and everything was set up in an afternoon.

I decided to test initially with one of my smaller lists to get the hang of things. The list had 9,000 subscribers. I exported from Mailchimp, which was easy. Importing into Sendy was a little troublesome. No matter how I formatted the CSV file, the importer would not take it. In the end, I just cut and pasted the list in batches of a couple of thousand address at a time into the importer box.

I had no issues getting my newsletter template/code from Mailchimp (all you have to do is go to ‘view source’ in your browser when the test preview is open). My old newsletter looked fine. But it was, in the end, my ‘old’ newsletter. I remember Mailerlite and really liked the idea of overhauling my newsletters. So, I built a new template there and used that for my first newsletter send. It looked a lot better. I had to make a few minor changes to the code to update the ‘View in Browser’ and ‘Unsubscribe’ links, so they didn’t go to Mailerlite but to my Sendy site.

The real test would be deliverability, open rate, and clicks. After doing many, many tests to make sure things were just right. I hit send on my first deployment of the Londontopia newsletter to 9,000 subscribers, sending from my own server.

You can see what it looks like here.

Sending was slow. It took 5 hours to deploy to 9,000 subscribers. This was intolerable and was practically a deal-breaker. I need the emails to go out fast. Deliverability must be fast. Mailchimp is fast; it has that going for it. Turns out, after poking around the settings, that I’d set it up wrong. Amazon was allowing me to send at 14 emails a second, Sendy was set to send at 1 email a second. Spoiler, when I deployed the next Londontopia newsletter, it sent in less than 30 minutes (but I ran into other issues, which I’ll share later on).

Deployment was successful, and I watched my analytics and watched the stats provided by Sendy. Open rate was off to a strong start. I would need a couple of days to judge the stats. So, I continued to check things several times a day over several days. Eventually, my open rate matched and even exceeded what it was with Mailchimp. Sendy provides basic stats: open rate, location opened, and what was clicked. I liked this, Mailchimp basically tracks a user across the web, Sendy just tracks the basics. Much less creepy. There’s the usual data on bounce rate, unsubscribes, etc. That was at the same rates as they were in Mailchimp, so nothing of concern there. I run clean lists.

Here’s an example of the stats page:

I really liked that the email is hosted on my own server. You really have complete control of everything. I decided to register my brand’s .email domain and use that for email sending. I worried this might also affect deliverability, but it didn’t appear to. Click rate was a little lower than I would have liked, but I chalked that to the new design. Engagement was still strong. It cost a total of $.80 in Amazon SES to deploy all the emails. $.80. That’s it.

So, after this one test, I was pretty reassured that this was the direction to go in. For the first time in a long time, I was very excited about a business move. I would be saving almost $4000 a year – enough to pay for a trip to Britain for two. So, with the next monthly bill from Mailchimp due in a few days, I moved quickly to move my data from one service to the other. Mailchimp, to their credit, makes this very easy. It’s just an export of a few CSV files. It didn’t take long at all to get them into Sendy.

I created a new email template for my main newsletter in Mailerlite and also created some new eCommerce email templates for my online store list. Everything went smoothly, and I was really proud of the new designs and how slick everything looks. I would be giving up a lot of commerce tracking, but honestly, that data in Mailchimp isn’t that useful when Google Analytics provided better and more accurate data on this anyway.

Here’s a sample of the main Anglotopia Newsletter.

My second week with Sendy was about getting used to it, learning its quirks and deploying all my emails for the whole week with it. It was a little time consuming, but open rates stayed the same. Still, though, click rates were a little lower. But the response from my readers was good. And people still continued to buy things.

There was one major issue – by increasing the send rate to 14 emails a second, this overloaded my cheap shared hosting (I don’t use this hosting account for my main websites). The server kept hitting its resource limits and going offline. This was slightly annoying, so I upgraded the server to the next tier, but again I still had the same problem. I reduced the send rate and it only overloaded on large email sends. This is a short term solution. I will need a more permanent server solution that won’t go down when sending. Thankfully, Sendy keeps sending until the whole list is deployed, so if the server exceeds its resources, it just resumes when it comes back online. I will likely need to get a VPS or cloud hosting, which can be done affordably and I need new hosting anyway (my next problem to tackle is finding a new, cheaper hosting for all my websites, I have someone in mind).

After looking at the data and becoming used to Sendy as a platform, I made the final decision to ditch Mailchimp. There was one hiccup – I’d forgotten that I was using Mandrill, which got acquired by Mailchimp, for all my transactional emails and WordPress emails. This had an easy solution – I could actually use Amazon SES for all of this, I just had to install a new plugin to send all those emails with SMTP. Problem sorted. This took about an hour to sort out.

I also needed to update all my subscription forms and website popup sign-ups. The major ones have been done, but I’m still in the process of doing this across all my sites. Sendy has an API that most of the major services talk to. It’s just a matter of going through and updating everything. But as of two weeks ago, all my new email subscribers are going directly into Sendy. I also need to work on the email messages that go to new subscribers and brand everything. In addition, I want to create some automations (which Sendy supports).

I could make a clean break from Mailchimp.

So, I went into my account settings and ‘paused’ my account. I would not be billed for this month. I could continue to monitor everything, and if I don’t like what I see, I can simply reactivate my account. That’s fine for now. If everything is fine by the end of the year, I’ll go in and clear out all my data and say goodbye to Mailchimp for good.

This solution is not ideal for everyone; you do need a bit of techy knowledge to get this setup. But once you do, you have complete control of your emails for a much lower price. I’ve gone from spending almost $300 a month on email marketing to less than $25. It felt pretty good this week to not get charged by Mailchimp. It’s one less thing I had to stress about and figure out how to cover. I’m very happy with Sendy so far. I hope anyone considering ditching Mailchimp finds this useful. It was very hard to find something like this when I was doing research, so I hope an unbiased look (I’m not trying to sell anything here), is useful to anyone else looking to make this change.

Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below.