How to Set Up an RSS Driven Email Campaign in MailChimp

If you’re like me, coming up with good content for your email marketing and your blog is an ongoing challenge. Case in point, I haven’t written a new blog post for about a month now, nor have I sent an email newsletter. Sometimes the issue is just finding the time, others it’s coming up with really good content that people will find useful and informative.

Anytime you can consolidate your efforts in this area, you are saving precious time, yet still reaching your audience with your unique message. To this end, I created an RSS (Really Simply Syndication) driven Email campaign in MailChimp, so that my blog posts will automatically go out to my newsletter subscribers. This way, if I don’t create an actual monthly newsletter, I’m still keeping in touch with my readers. I’ve set this up to run once a week, only if there are new blog posts generated within that week.

If you aren’t yet using MailChimp, there is no time like the present to get started with email marketing. MailChimp is my provider of choice for several reasons. The first being that they offer the ability to create these RSS campaigns, whereas other providers do not (at the time of this writing, in any case). They are also free for up to 2,000 names on your list(s), and up to 12,000 emails per month. No other providers offer that great of a deal, either. Lastly, I find their interface much simpler to use, however this is a personal preference for everyone.

If you need to set up a MailChimp account, click here.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Begin by making sure you have an RSS feed setup (I use Feedburner). Feedburner is a free service provided by Google that syndicates your blog posts to a group of people that have subscribed to your feed. (Click here for full instructions on how to set up an RSS feed on your website.) Create your feed by typing your feed address into the box and click Next. Your feed URL is most often your main URL followed by /feed. Feedburner will generate a new feed URL for your Feedburner feed automatically, however I use the website’s main feed URL (shown below). You can then customize your feed within Feedburner, however this blog post will not go into that detail.
  2. Log in to your MailChimp account, or create one if you haven’t already. If you’re new to MailChimp, spend some time looking around, create your list (so that you can add names to it) and create your Email newsletter template. Once all your company information is complete and you’ve created your first list, it’s time to create your RSS campaign.
  3. From your Dashboard, click the drop down arrow next to the Create Campaign button in the upper right corner. Select RSS Campaign.
  4. Add your Feedburner feed address into the box as shown and select how often you wish to send your campaign. On the next screen, you will be asked which list should be used to send this campaign to. Select your list and click Next.
  5. Click Next, and select the list you wish to send to.
  6. Provide your campaign information. The campaign uses merge tags to pull data from your feed as shown below. You can create a static subject that will be used in every email, or you can pull the title and the date from the most recent post, as shown. You can also pull the first name of the recipient to personalize the email even more. For a detailed list of all the merge tags available, click here.
  7. The next step is to design your campaign. Here you can use select a template that you’ve already created or use one of MailChimp’s predesigned templates. I highly recommend customizing your template with your own branding. Add a greeting before the name merge tag and include a short paragraph explaining that this is your weekly blog update, make sure the feed merge tag is in the correct place and click Next. Note that the posts will be inserted as you have them set up in your Feedburner account. So, if you have it set up to show the feed as excerpts with links to the full post, that is how it will be pulled into your email campaign.
    Once the design is complete, you will be taken through the Plain Text set-up, which is pulled from the content of your design, and then you’ll be prompted to start your campaign. It won’t send until your scheduled date and time unless you select the option to Send Now & Start. You can also preview and test your campaign in this screen. Testing involves sending yourself a copy of the email so you can make sure that everything is displaying properly.
  8. Adding post images to your RSS campaign. You can use the WordPress plugin Featured Images in RSS w/ Size and Position to add an image to your excerpt in this campaign. This makes the excerpt much more appealing to your reader and will help encourage click-throughs. This is a free plugin you can find by searching in your WordPress site in the Add Plugins area. You must set a Featured Image in your post when you are creating it for the plugin to work.

I hope this helps you stay in touch with your audience a bit more effectively. If you find this post useful, please share with your friends! If you have questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section and I’ll be happy to address them.