Building a Better Blog Series: Setting Up an RSS-Feed Driven Email List with MailChimpIf you have a blog - most likely you want people to read it. By setting up an RSS-feed driven email list - you can make reading your blog easy. Using MailChimp makes it even easier! Watch the SCOA - Marketing Monday with MailChimp Video
The changer of worlds.
Email. Apart from text messaging – the single most popular communication tool in the world. Quick, simple and to the point – email is the Cliff Notes of conversation. Delivered nearly instantly anywhere around the globe – to a single person or hundreds of thousands – email carries the news of pending deliveries, job openings, family updates and great inheritances from Nigerian princes. As school counselors – we have so many great ways to use email as a tool. This article will primarily be focused on using email in relation to someone’s school counseling blog – but the ideas here are expandable! Take the idea of an email list for a school based blog writing about college applications that parents and students can sign up for. Or helping your students gather weekly scholarship posting (only the new ones!) that you post to a school counselor blog as they come in. All of this can be done by following the instructions in this write up.
# of email accounts in 2012
# of email accounts predicted at the end of 2018
# of emails sent worldwide each day
Getting started: Open a MailChimp Account
I hope you watched the Marketing Monday video on MailChimp from a few years back to get oriented as to what MailChimp is. I am not going to go through the ins and outs of setting up or using MailChimp in this post – as it would be thousands of words and nobody would read it (tl;dr). MailChimp has a great Knowledge Base (KB) and help center to get yourself started.
MailChimp runs on Lists. These lists are made up of people and email addresses. You can have a blog list, a list for a contest, lists by counselor location, etc. If you are using this for a school based blog or other school function (I do that too with a different account) – make a list for parents, students, staff, etc. You can also add form fields (how they sign up for your mailing list) with other info like grade level, race, language spoken, etc.
From these lists – you create “campaigns”. A campaign is an email blast that you send to a list or segment of a list. Those segments are when you can take parts of the main list and specify certain fields like only 11th graders AND only Spanish. There are different types of campaigns – from a standard email campaign to a plain text campaign. The one we will focus on will the the RSS-Driven campaign.
For those of you not familiar with an RSS feed – here is the quick and dirty. RSS stands for Rich Site Summary (or also Really Simple Syndication) and creates a feed that different services, such as an RSS feed reader like Feedly or a program like MailChimp, use to gather information.
RSS solves a problem for people who regularly use the web. It allows you to easily stay informed by retrieving the latest content from the sites you are interested in. You save time by not needing to visit each site individually.
We will use this RSS feed that our blog creates (check with your blog platform to find out your RSS feed address – you will need this) to create an automatically generated email that can be sent to subscribers any time there is new content posted on your blog.
Starting an RSS-Driven Campaign
Once you have your MailChimp account set up – go ahead and click on the Campaign button and chose to start a new RSS-Driven campaign.
After you have selected the RSS Driven Campaign option – it will ask you to specify your RSS feed address (double check this) and the timing you want MailChimp to check for new content. This is an important step. Firstly because you want to ensure you have the right RSS feed. If you don’t enter it correctly the email will never be sent because technically – no new content is every accessed. Secondly – how often do you want MailChimp to check for any new posts? I chose to check once per week on early Monday morning. I found that was the most popular time that people checked my blog and the email would be awaiting readers in their inbox at work or as they eat breakfast. If you set it to check multiple times a week – it will send the first time it checks your feed and you have new content. I wanted to have some consistency and only have it send once a week.
Another good thing about that is I could post 20 blog posts in a given week and subscribers will only get 1 email with all 20 posts or summaries of those posts on one day. Don’t overwhelm your readers if you are on a posting rampage.
Once all the data you are pulling in is set – you now need to setup who you are sending it to. That is where you select your list and any segment (specific breakdown or portion of the entire list) you would like to have it sent to. For most bloggers and school counselors – an RSS feed will be sent to the entire mailing list so typically no need to worry about setting up the more advanced segment feature.
Hit next and fill in the appropriate information on the Setup page. This area includes information about the subject line, the reply to email and info about tracking features like Google Analytics. MailChimp uses something called Merge Codes to pull information from your list and/or your RSS feed to customize each email. Meaning – each email you send can be customized based on the information in your blog post or title. The merge codes are pre-built in but you should check out what each does and include them in your email. See the image below for an example of what a subject line with merge codes looks like.
The next step is pretty important. There are numerous templates available with MailChimp for free. I highly suggest keeping things simple and selecting a pre-formatted RSS template and customizing it to your needs. You can change things like colors, texts and other small details after selecting the template. Templates are the general layout of your email you are about to send. In our RSS email example – the template will be the layout each email is sent when you add new blog posts and should be fairly general.
RSS Merge Tags are also needed in the content of your template. If you select an RSS template – it should already appear in the template – however if you are more adventurous and want to build your own or change a different template, be sure to add these merge codes. If you don’t you will send blank emails to your mailing list. That is no bueno.
For an easy list of RSS merge codes – click here to check out the Knowledge Base article.
In your template – you can also add static and consistent material to every email you send. Perhaps a welcome, a reminder of why they are receiving the email blast or a seasonal announcement. You can use any of the other drag-n-drop template components to add this content (the text box, image placeholder, etc.
After you have finalized your content – you will hit a confirmation page and a button to schedule your campaign. If you are happy with your progress – you can hit the button and the next time you publish content on your blog – an email will be sent to subscribers based on the schedule you set up. Congratulations – you just setup a mailing list!
A few important notes
Always test your emails you will possibly send out to hundreds or thousands of people. The quickest way to turn people off to your very interesting and insightful content is by having something not work or be sloppy. Mistakes happen – but always test your emails before sending. View this Knowledge Base article on previewing your campaign before sending. I also always send a test email to my personal email to check that everything sent the way it was intended (and check it on a mobile and laptop device).
Secondly – respect your mailing members. Most people know what this mean – I hate emails that I get each and every day. It is a quick unsubscribe. However – a weekly update or even monthly summary of posts is a great way to help people remember to read your content.
This walk-through on the MailChimp Knowledge Base is an easy to follow tool: http://kb.mailchimp.com/campaigns/rss-in-campaigns/create-an-rss-campaign
# of initial WordPress Email Subscribers
# of MailChimp Email Subscribers 6 Months Later
% Change in Email Subscribers in 6 Months with Little Effort
How it’s worked and getting subscribers
For me, getting “traffic”, readers and subscribers is not a major focus. If 10 people or 100,000 people read my blog – it doesn’t make a huge difference to me. Okay maybe a little – but that is not the goal or purpose. I don’t write to gain a following or earn money – so helping one person or 10,000 people is equally as great. I do want to share how I have gone about integrating this RSS campaign into my site and making it available to visitors.
Elegant Themes “Bloom”
I use a theme called Divi from a company called Elegant Themes for my WordPress site. Part of my subscription (see costs of running The Counseling Geek) includes access to a few great plugins including Monarch (a social media tool) and Bloom (an opt-in tool). I use both, but Bloom is helpful for helping visitors connect to your email list. You have many different options to integrate Bloom into your site – from sidebar widgets to pop up or inline content. There are other WordPress plugins that do similar things if you are not an Elegant Themes subscriber or not interested in paying for a feature.
Above – you can see a breakdown of the numbers and growth since starting the campaign. In the few months I have been using the MailChimp RSS campaign and offering a mailing with new posts – about 100 people sign up a month. So it is working great knowing that people can easily get information and not have seek it out on their own. This keeps people in the loop and not needing to keep a constant eye on social media or the site for new posts.
While this would be what I would call a more advanced blogging tool – it is a pretty handy one for getting information in school counselor hands. Feel free to check out the additional documentation on the MailChimp Knowledge Base – you can go as nuts as you want with the customization of your emails. Many businesses and huge companies use MailChimp for their for-profit email marketing tools and there are many tools at your disposal.
[Tweet “Stepping my blogging game up at thecounselinggeek.com #scchat”]