How to use MailChimp to send WordPress blog posts by email
Allowing people to receive your latest WordPress blog posts by email is a great way to build a following. Forget about RSS, Twitter etc. – some people just like to read the latest articles from your website using good old-fashioned email.
There are several plugins which allow you to send ‘new post’ emails directly from your WordPress website – JetPack Subscriptions and Subscribe2 being some of the main players. This is all well and good, but in my opinion neither of these options are very professional or user-friendly. For example JetPack Subscriptions can’t be branded and allows your visitors to subscribe to your sites and other WordPress blogs under a single account, which may not be appropriate for a corporate blog. Subscribe2 requires a lot of custom development to look professional – the ‘Manage My Subscriptions’ page is in the WordPress admin rather than on the front end of your website, which is not appropriate for most websites.
Another problem with sending bulk emails directly from your WordPress website is that your emails are more likely to be spammed. You can add features such as SMTP mail to increase email deliverability, however WordPress is not a specialist email platform. Some WordPress hosting companies such as WP Engine (our recommended host) don’t even allow you to send mass emails directly from your website as it uses a lot of server resources and can slow down your website.
An alternative option is to use a specialist mailing list provider to email your subscribers when you publish a new WordPress blog post. Their servers are configured to maximise deliverability so your emails are less likely to be flagged as spam. They also have built-in features to help you comply with data protection legislation and offer professional options for email templates that aren’t available with most WordPress plugins.
This article explains how to use MailChimp to send your WordPress blog posts by email.
Step 1 – Prepare your WordPress blog
Get your RSS feed URL
WordPress automatically generates an RSS feed listing all your blog posts. This is all you need to integrate MailChimp with your WordPress website.
If you want your MailChimp emails to display all the posts that you add to your website then your RSS feed will be http://your-domain.com/feed (e.g. the RSS feed for this website is http://barn2.co.uk/feed).
If you want to email your subscribers when you add posts to a specific blog category then the RSS feed will be the URL for your blog category followed by feed (e.g. http://barn2.co.uk/category/wordpress-web-design-blog/feed).
Find the URL for your RSS feed and save it in a handy place, as you’ll need to paste this into MailChimp later.
Displaying WordPress featured images in your MailChimp emails
By default, any images that you insert into the main content area of your WordPress posts will appear in your MailChimp emails. However featured images will not, because WordPress doesn’t output them into the RSS feed.
There’s a handy plugin called Featured Images in RSS w/ Size and Position (what a mouthful!). This outputs the featured images into your RSS feed so that they are pulled through into your MailChimp emails.
Simply install and activate the plugin, go to Settings > Featured Images in RSS Feeds in the WordPress Admin, and configure the 2 settings. For best results, I recommend selecting the ‘Medium’ or ‘Large’ image size and ‘Image Centred Above Text’ for the position.
The plugin uses the image sizes that you have set in Settings > Media so you can change the size of your Medium or Large image size. Make sure your chosen image size is smaller than 600 pixels – if it’s bigger than this, it won’t fit into the available space in your emails (annoyingly, MailChimp won’t make the images fit automatically).
Step 2 – Set up MailChimp to send your ‘new post’ emails
Create a MailChimp account
First, go to mailchimp.com and create an account. It’s free to set up and you will only ever have to pay anything to MailChimp if you have particularly high numbers of emails or subscribers (view their pricing page to see if this will apply to you).
Create a List
Go to the Lists section of your MailChimp account and create a new list. This is where all your subscribers will be stored.
Follow the instructions to set up and configure a new list.
Import your subscribers
If you have existing subscribers that you wish to import to MailChimp, create a CSV file containing the data for your subscribers. There should be 1 column for each field – for example column 1 would include your subscribers’ email addresses (1 per row), column 2 would be their first names and column 3 would contain their last names, if these are the fields you wish to store. (If you don’t know how to create a CSV file, create an Excel spreadsheet with all your contacts, go to File > Save As and choose the ‘.csv’ file type.)
Go to the Lists section of your MailChimp account and click on your list. Click ‘Import subscribers’ from the ‘Add subscribers’ dropdown list. Follow the instructions to upload your CSV file. MailChimp will ask you to match the columns in the CSV file with the fields in your MailChimp list, then you can go ahead with the import. MailChimp will tell you if there are any problems with the data.
Note: Your subscribers will NOT receive an email to tell them that they have been imported into your MailChimp list.
Create a campaign
A ‘Campaign’ is basically any email that is sent by MailChimp to your subscribers. The next step is to create an RSS-Driven Campaign which will automatically send your new blog posts to your subscribers.
- Go to the Campaigns section of your MailChimp account
- Click the little arrow next to Create Campaign and follow the instructions to create an RSS-Driven Campaign
- RSS Feed and Send Timing screen:
- Add the RSS feed URL which you copied in Step 1 – e.g. http://your-domain.com/feed
- Choose how often the emails will be sent and click Next
- On the To which list shall we send? screen, select the list you created in Step 2 and click Next
- On the Campaign info screen, fill in all the information (email subject, From name etc.) and click Next
- On the Basic tab of the Select Template screen, select one of the built-in MailChimp templates with ‘RSS’ in the title – for example ‘Basic RSS’ or ‘Right Sidebar RSS’
- Now you get to design the email that will be sent to your subscribers whenever you add a new blog post. This is fairly self-explanatory although you’ll need to spend some time familiarising yourself with how it works. Here are some tips:
- As you can see, MailChimp has added some merge tags which will automatically insert your latest blog posts into the email. These are basically shortcodes, for example *|RSSFEED:TITLE|* inserts the title of your RSS feed. It’s fine for you to add your own text before and after these – for example an introduction to the email – but don’t edit anything within the *| |* merge tags. If you want to edit or remove any of the merge tags then you can read more about them at http://kb.mailchimp.com/merge-tags/rss-blog/rss-merge-tags. If the merge tags look scary and too technical for you then just ignore them and don’t make any changes to the sections that contain them, then you won’t risk breaking anything
- MailChimp will let you make various design changes to the email using the Style tab. This includes changing the background colour, fonts, spacing, link colour etc. so you can style the email to match your brand, as well as uploading your logo to the header of the email
- Once you have finished designing your email, click Preview and Test at the top of the screen. Enter Preview Mode lets you view how the email will look on mobiles and full-sized screens. Send a Test Email lets you send a test email to yourself. It’s important to test your email in both of these ways before sending anything to your subscribers
- Once you’re completely happy with your email, click Next at the bottom right of the screen
- On the next screen, check there are no errors. If everything looks good, click Start RSS
Now your email is set up and will start being sent to your subscribers at the frequency you have selected. The email will only be sent when you have added new blog posts to your website, otherwise nothing will be sent.
Step 3 – Add a MailChimp signup form to your WordPress blog
Now everything is in place, you need to create a signup form so that readers can subscribe to your blog by email. The best way to do this is usually to add a ‘Receive blog posts by email’ form to the right hand column of your blog or website. You can see this in action at the top right of this page.
There are lots of WordPress MailChimp plugins that will add a signup form for you, such as MailChimp for WordPress and Easy Forms for MailChimp. You can also get the code for a signup form from within the Lists section of your MailChimp account, however these aren’t very nicely styled so I recommend using a plugin.
There are many other ways to build your MailChimp mailing list and I won’t go into them all here. For example you can automatically subscribe people who comment on your blog posts, purchase in your e-commerce online shop, submit your contact form, etc. Plan the best way to grow your mailing list as part of your overall online marketing strategy.
Step 4 – Start blogging!
Everything is now in place. Regularly add new posts to your WordPress website and MailChimp will take care of the rest.
MailChimp will automatically check when new posts are available in your RSS feed, and will email your subscribers at the specified time. Make sure you subscribe to your own list so that you receive the emails yourself. This allows you to spot any problems and make improvements over time.