If you have an online business that depends on customers buying your products or your affiliate products then you need to start a mailing list. If you want to communicate with customers about product launches and present to them long-form ideas then get an email list. Email marketing is a very valuable part of any marketing strategy. Keeping an email list of your customers, followers, future prospects, and leads is invaluable. Even if you just want to keep in touch with subscribers to your blog then a newsletter software solution like MailChimp is just the ticket.
If you’re a small business and you want to learn the ins and outs, pros and cons of mailing list management and email marketing then get MailChimp. There are other options of course but MailChimp is
- Free (up to a certain number of subscribers – perfect for early entrepreneurs and businesses)
- Easy to use
Is MailChimp the best email marketing solution?
Just as there are alternative operating systems, email client software, and social media networks, there are many alternatives to MailChimp. Check out ActiveCampaign or ConstantContact. However, for its simplicity and low barrier to entry for small businesses, MC offers the best starter package. That’s not to say it’s the best solution overall, but you get my point. This MailChimp review will help you decide if the software is powerful enough for your business yet user-friendly and easy to implement.
But isn’t email marketing dead?
No, and it’s not going anywhere for a long time. Despite the regular predictions of email’s demise, it’s still around and just as strong as ever. You could bet your marketing campaign budget on Twitter and Snapchat but who knows if they will still be around in a few years. Email has lasted this long, people always read their emails, and it’s going to be a high-converting marketing platform for a while yet.
If you’d like to jump right in and start experimenting with the software then you’ve come to the right place. This quick start guide to MailChimp will tell you everything that the beginner needs to know. I’ve also included step by step instructions on how to easily integrate Mailchimp with WordPress.
Experienced marketers can skip this next paragraph. For those still scratching their heads over the topic ’email marketing software’, read on and learn how to use MailChimp to build a better blog.
MailChimp is an email marketing service
‘So what’s an email marketing service?’ I hear you say. Let me explain. We all know the power of email and how even people without social media accounts, phone, and good internet access will often have an email account. Email is everywhere. Let’s say you have customers or blog followers who receive your emails about updates, new products, and blog posts. A customer receiving a plain old email might glance at the text and ignore possible calls-to-action. Emails with eye-catching formatting, colours, calls-to-action, and images work better in many cases than plain emails. Mailchimp offers the ability to create this kind of email, but also provides a way of saving a template of the email for later re-use, sharing of the content of the email newsletters on social media, and tracking results of email responses.
Added to that are other reasons for preferring a service like MailChimp over your standard email service (for sending emails to subscribers). If you want to send emails to a large number of recipients from your standard email service you might need to split the number of recipients into smaller groups as your ISP or email service may not allow large numbers of emails from one account. This helps prevent spam. You could also be marked as a spammer if you bulk mail people from an unapproved mailing account. You definitely do not want this to happen.
MailChimp gives you the ability to offer an unsubscribe link in your email. This is important as it’s a legal requirement so having it automatically managed is one less headache.
MailChimp also allows you to embed customizable sign-up forms on your website. This saves you having to create a form on your site and deal with the email processing.
You could also be marked as a spammer if you bulk mail people from an unapproved mailing account.
Getting started with MailChimp
1. At the risk of sounding obvious go to http://mailchimp.com
2. Click the red Sign Up Free button
3. Enter your email, choose a username, and enter a secure password. MailChimp will send a confirmation email that contains a link you will need to click to continue.
4. To get started with building an email list go to Lists in the top menu bar.
5. Click Create List at the top right
6. You’ll then be presented with the Create List form.
Enter something descriptive for your list name. If it’s a list of subscribers to your fashion blog then call the list ‘Fashion Blog Subscribers’ or something similar.
7. The Default “from” email is the email you would like the emails to arrive from.
8. The Default “from” name should be something like ‘Fashion Blogger’, or ‘Bob from BobsTips.com’
9. The Reminder should say something like “You signed up for the Fashion Blogger email so here’s our latest update”.
10. The company can be the blog name or whatever you like.
11. The address should reflect something professional.
12. The phone number is entirely optional
13. If you’re starting a new list and expect a small number of signups you can select the Daily Summary or One-by-one notifications so see signups as they happen. If you’re expecting a lot of signups this will just create email overload. A good one to select is the ‘One-by-one – unsubscribe notifications as they happen’ to see if your last update caused a lot of people to unsubscribe.
14. Click Save and your list will be created.
From the Lists page again we can now see the list you just created and options to add subscribers (with their permission), view statistics, import mailing lists you might already have, and create signup forms for your website.
Creating a Signup Form
Let’s create a signup form that you can insert into a WordPress site as a widget or as part of a page.
1. Click the down arrow to the right of the list name (beside the word Stats) and select Signup Forms.
2. Select Embedded Forms from the following page.
3. If I’m adding a signup form to a widget I usually make it as simple as possible. Select Naked to use the simplest, non-styled form.
4. Select ‘Show only required fields’ to remove any other fields such as First Name and Last Name.
5. Deselect all other options until you are left with the title, the email address field, and a subscribe button. These are the simplest options for people to sign up. You can make it more elaborate but the more fields that people have to fill out the less likely they will do it. Test this out and change your forms as you discover how your audience interact with your forms.
6. Highlight the code in the box titled ‘Copy/Paste onto your site’. Copy it.
7. In your WordPress admin go to Appearance > Widgets and select a Text widget. There’s no need to title the widget as it’s already in the MailChimp code. Paste the code you copied from MailChimp and click Save.
8. You should have a working MailChimp signup box on your WordPress site.
Creating an email campaign
Now let’s create an email campaign for any subscribers to your list.
1. Back in MailChimp click Campaigns at the top of the page.
2. Click Create Campaign
Note: you have the option to create different types of campaigns but for first-steps purposes we’ll choose the regular campaign.
3. Make sure you have selected Regular Campaign and then choose the list to use. We’ve only set up one list so far so this will be the only option. Select the list and then choose to ‘send to entire list’. The other options are for more advanced list manipulations.
4. Click Next at the bottom right of the screen.
5. The Campaign Info page is where you can personalise the subject line of the email, create a name for the campaign to remind you what it was about, and to choose whether to track if the emails were opened or not. For now, create a descriptive name for the campaign. Add a subject line such as ‘new eBook available’ or ’20% off all products this week’. The from name and email address fields should already be populated.
6. Leave the ‘Track opens’ and all other options at their default settings.
7. If you’d like to use social media to promote your email campaign you will need to connect to Twitter and Facebook via the connect buttons under ‘Auto-tweet after sending’ and ‘Auto-post to Facebook after sending’ and then select the check boxes for each. The tweet and Facebook posts will contain links to the email in HTML format.
8. Click Next
9. Select the type of template you’d like to use for your email. The choice of templates can be a bit overwhelming as there are a lot to choose from but I would first think about how I want my information to appear on the email. Are there photos to include? Calls-to-Action? Multiple offers to promote?
Choose wisely, Indiana Jones, and click Select beside the template.
10. The next screen might the most confusing to a newbie but let’s choose the simplest options to get our email template ready. The left-hand side is a representation of how your email will look to the subscriber. The right-hand side is used for manipulation of the images and settings. You will probably want an image or a logo to include on the email so click the Browse button on the left, then browse on the right and select your image or logo to include in the campaign. The Upload button on the top right lets you upload an image directly but you can also import images from a URL such as your website front page. You might need to try some different image sizes out to find one that works well.
11. Once the image is in place it’s time to write some text. Mail chimp’s template has already inserted some text so click anywhere on the text section, and select the little pencil to edit the text. The right-hand side of the screen will change to show a basic text editor very similar to the one WordPress uses so users of WordPress will understand how this works. Edit your headings, text size, columns, links, and images in the main body text here and click Save & Close at the bottom.
12. If you scroll down on the left-hand side (the preview of the email) and roll your mouse over the email you will see that there are sections making up the entire email. One for the image, another for the body text, then a social media icon section, then the footer. You can select each one individually and edit it just as before. Select the social media icon section and click the pencil icon. The right-hand side will change to show you the social media URLs and link text that you can use to customise your email. When you’ve finished editing the relevant account icons click Save & Close.
13. In most cases, you can leave the footer section as it is. You must leave the unsubscribe from this list option but you can manipulate the other settings to suit your particular campaign. As this is a quick guide to MailChimp I won’t go into it here but will mention that the text that the settings display are created by short-codes or merge tags as MailChimp called them so you will need to understand how these are formed before attempting to change them. More info here.
14. Click Next and have a look at the checklist that MailChimp provides to make sure that your campaign is set up correctly. If all is OK click SEND at the bottom right and pat yourself on the back, you’ve successfully sent a mail chimp campaign.
Campaigns can be reused so there’s no need to create a new campaign every time if you are sending similar information. Small changes to the template and campaign you previously used will save lots of time.
Adding video, images, and buttons to emails are simple tasks and can all be done in the design part of the email setup. It’s worth experimenting to learn how your audience responds to different forms of email communication.
How much does MailChimp cost?
Isn’t MailChimp free? Yes, as long as stay under 2,000 subscribers and/or 12,000 emails a month.
Once you hit those limits you’re going to have to take out the credit card and pay a subscription fee. Pricing starts at $10/month but then things start getting complicated. The company has gone down the path of offering a confusing pricing structure. It probably makes sense to them but here’s the general plan.
If you have 2,000 subscribers and never go over 12,000 emails (6 emails per month per subscriber) then you can remain on the free plan. If you would like to send unlimited emails per month then you can do so for $10 but only up to 500 subscribers. For every 500 subscribers over this number you will pay an extra $5/month for unlimited emails.
500 subscribers = $10/month
1000 subscribers = $15/month
MailChimp Competitors – Free and Paid Alternatives
As I mentioned earlier, MailChimp competitors offer pricing structures and features that are definitely worth looking at. If you’re just starting out or have less than 100 subscribers then I will still recommend MC but once your business starts to grow you might need something more robust, feature-packed, or cheaper.
Active Campaign has been around since 2003 but has really made some noise in the last few years. The company originally offered several products but then narrowed the focus to email marketing. It seems to have paid off as ActiveCampaign is now one of the most recognizable names in this industry.
ActiveCampaign offers a free trial and a competitive offer called the Lite plan: $17/month for unlimited sending. The next step up is called the Small Business Plan and it runs at $49/month but offers custom branding, 25 user support, and more. Think of it as more of a CRM and central marketing area rather than just a vanilla mailing list app.
Constant Contact offers a 60-day trial and pricing starts at $20/month. This gives you 500 contacts. Paying in advance (pre-pay) gets you a discount.
Up to 2,500 users costs $40/month and pricing increases to $90/month for 10,000 users. It might seem expensive and it might be out of reach for small businesses but Constant Contact comes with some quality features. It offers more advanced options for surveys and event promotions. Managing these options is also easier than MC. I actually prefer the interface too, but purely for aesthetics. Email tracking tools are pretty sophisticated and automated emails are a breeze.
A third option is ConvertKit which costs $29/month for up to 1000 subscribers. ConvertKit is one of the new kids on the block. Built from the ground up by a design expert. It shows. The forms are very nicely presented and customizations are a big part of the software. Hitting 5000 subscribers will set you back a cool $79/month so why opt for this email marketing tool over Mailchimp?
Hitting 5000 subscribers will set you back a cool $79/month so why opt for this email marketing tool over Mailchimp? Well, there are too many to go into here but briefly, I would say that the tagging features, automation, and landing pages are standouts. The lowest level includes all the features. Pricing is set based on subscribers. I definitely like this.
And finally there’s GetResponse which offers some features such as automated segmentation of your email list based on mail opens, landing page builders, and webinars. MailChimp has none of these so if these features are useful or will be in the future I’d recommend checking out GetResponse’s offer.
There are 4 levels of pricing and the most basic starts at $15/month but this level does not cover webinars or automated segmentation. Moving up to the next level (called Pro) will cost you $49/month but offers most of the interesting features. You can have 5000 subscribers on the Pro plan. This is a similar pricing that MC offers for the same number of email subscribers.
Note: I haven’t covered more expensive options here as these 4 alternatives along with MailChimp should give enough variety for most business options. Start with MailChimp and progress (or not) as your business grows.