Email newsletters created on a platform like MailChimp gives you a great opportunity to provide your customers with information about your company and your products or services on a regular basis. Unlike social networks your message will not get lost in the clutter on the recipients newsfeed. They also allow you to provide much more information than you can in a tweet or timeline post. Like any other promotional tool though you have to be careful to use them correctly.
I think that everyone who is on the web knows about email marketing. It is hard to miss almost from the moment you open an email account on any of the free platforms like Yahoo or even Gmail. One day you have a nice, shiny new inbox with one or two messages in it and the next you get an email from a bank manager in Nigeria or a lonely person in Malaysia who is looking for love. Then it seems like every time you ask for information about a product or service on a website you are somehow subscribed to a newsletter from the owner of the site who assumes you want to hear from them every day. Before you know it you are getting 50 or 100 emails a day from various businesses and your Spam folder is jammed full.
In the first case (Nigeria and lonely hearts) the emails are Spam. I mention them because they are the most crude and annoying form of email marketing and something that you want to avoid being perceived as doing. There are established laws that define what Spam is and establish penalties for sending Spam emails. The Federal Trade Commission has a compliance guide to doing email marketing correctly and I encourage business owners to make sure they understand it. Failure to comply with these laws can result in hefty penalties (up to $16,000 per email sent) so it is obviously in your best interest to comply with them.
Even if you are in compliance with anti-spam laws there are email filters that are pretty indiscriminate in which emails they send to the spam folder when someone gets them. I have found that email addresses from free email providers are pretty likely to be sent to the spam folder by email filters as are (to a slightly lesser extent) emails from business domains. This does not mean you ARE spamming people, it just means that the email filter perceives your email as potential Spam and there is not much you can do about it.
For this reason and the compliance issues mentioned above it is much easier to use an email platform to send out a newsletter to your clients than it is to use your own email platform. That is not to say that you do not have to follow the same rules when doing it, just that email platforms like MailChimp are designed to help you follow the rules while at the same time creating effective and aesthetically pleasing email campaigns for your business.
My own experience using MailChimp came as a result of watching a Hangout On Air with a MailChimp employee that was put on by the Google Small Business Community on Google+. I have never been much of an email marketer but have clients who ask about how to set them up and, having recently gotten into the newspaper business myself, it seemed like a good time to get started. I had looked at various platforms in the past and was already leaning toward MailChimp because it seemed to offer the features that would be most useful to myself and my clients and because it offers a free account that I felt would meet the needs of many small business owners.
Setting up an account and using MailChimp are pretty easy but since a great part of my readership is made up of business owners who are new to the web or have not had much experience with setting up and using web based services I want to provide an overview of some of the helpful features available on MailChimp and the basics of setting up and using an account. The balance of this article will be devoted to those topics.
After going to the MailChimp home page and setting up an account the next steps are to design your email. Lets look at designing a monthly newsletter that will be sent to your existing clients and new prospects. It will be a fairly simple newsletter for ease of use and include blog posts that you have written that month as part of your ongoing Content Strategy on the web.
Once you have set up your account you can design your newsletter. MailChimp offers a number of templates with various layouts and themes for different business purposes. You can customize the look and format of the template you select so that it represents your business in the way you want it to. Here is a link to the completed email template and first newsletter that I created for Specialized Digital Marketing.
I kept it pretty simple using just a header image and a brief introduction and description of the intent of the newsletter to start things off. Then, for the rest of the newsletter I included links and images from blog posts that I published during the past month. Then I wrapped up with a think you and a request that readers share the newsletter with their friends.
I do not want to spend a lot of time on the nuts and bolts of using the templates and designing a newsletter. If you have any experience using a drag and drop website builder it should be fairly easy to figure out. If you are brand new to the web and want to create a professional looking newsletter it is not hard to reach out for some help in designing and configuring MailChimp for your business.
Selecting An Audience For Your Newsletter
Deciding who will be on the list of recipients for your newsletter is your next big job. Ideally your list of recipients should include only people who want to read your newsletter. In the beginning I would limit the list to people who are already your customers or people who are good prospects who have already given you their email address.
MailChimp provides built in ways for people to easily unsubscribe from your newsletter if they want and that is a required part of a successful email campaign. They also provide tools to help you create your initial list of subscribers. You can import a list of your email contacts from a number of platforms or upload them directly in several file formats. If you want to learn how to create a file in the correct format to upload to your MailChimp account from your Gmail contacts you can find a tutorial from Google on how to export your contact list here.
Once you have your initial list imported and edited you can send out your first newsletter. Another cool feature built into MailChimp is analytics that show you how many of your subscribers actually open your email and interact with it. You can use this data to further refine your content strategy and better target your newsletter.
Here are some of the things that MailChimp analytics shows you:
- Open Rate – This shows you how many of your clients actually open your email and compares it to benchmarks such as the average for your subscriber list and an industry average.
- Click Rate – Shows you the number of subscribers who interact with your email by clicking on links within it. Again, it gives you list averages and industry averages for this action that you can use to judge the effectiveness of each edition of your newsletter. It also shows how many times your newsletter was forwarded by your subscribers and provides a 24 hour timeline that shows what time of day readers opened and interacted with your newsletter. This information can be used to show you the best time of day to send your newsletter in order to ensure maximum engagement every time you send it out.
- Top Links Clicked – Shows you which of the links in your newsletter is most popular with your readers.
- Subscribers With Most Opens – Shows you who your top fans/followers/clients are in terms of making use of the information provided in your newsletter.
- Social Performance – Shows you how many times your newsletter was shared by your readers and how many times the sharing bar that can be included in your newsletter was accessed. Again this is great information because it shows you who your most engaged readers/fans are so that you can pay some special attention to them.
- Top Locations By Opens – This metric shows you what part of the world is being reached by your newsletter and can be very useful when considering markets for your product or service.
It can also show you interactions by domain and you can link your MailChimp account to Google Analytics in order to get even more data regarding the performance of your newsletter.
Getting New Subscribers To Your MailChimp Newsletter
Now that you have created an awesome newsletter to keep people up to date on what you are doing at your business and sent out the first edition you will probably want to add new subscribers. MailChimp provides you tools to make this process easier too. You can add new contacts by hand and that is great in some instances but automating the process as much as possible across various platforms that are included in your web presence makes it much easier. Here are some of the ways that MailChimp provides in prder to automate the process for you:
Your Website – We design websites exclusively using WordPress because we have found it to be the most full features program available. WordPress has a host of well developed tools available as plugins that make it much faster and easier to build high performance websites that conform to Google best practices in web design.
MailChimp offers a plugin to integrate your newsletter signup form directly with your MailChimp account on your WordPress website. In this image you see it installed in the sidebar of the Specialized Digital Marketing site. Subscribers just fill out the required information, hit “submit” and are automatically added to your newsletter contact list.
If you have a high traffic site and receive a large number of new signups every week then this one feature can save you hours of work each month as opposed to adding each email by hand.
Facebook – If a lot of your clients are on Facebook and you have a social networking program as part of your overall business strategy MailChimp provides Facebook integration. In this image you can see it set up on the Specialized Digital Marketing Facebook page.
Many other integration opportunities are provided which can be very useful depending upon your business such as Twitter, which sends a tweet every time your newsletter is published. Other integrations include PayPal, Etsy, SurveyMonkey, EventBrite, SalesForce, Zoho and others. They also have an app for Apple and Android tablets called Chimpadeedoo. The app allows you to collect email addresses from attendees at public events. You simply have it set up where people can stop and add their email.
All in all I think that MailChimp provides a great platform for small businesses to use to set up a professional looking email newsletter campaign and distribute and manage it effectively. Best of all the basic, free account provides all of the features I have described in this article. There are some limitations in more advanced features and the free account only allows you a maximum of 2,000 subscribers and puts a limit on the number of individual emails that you can send per month (12,000). So if you have 2,000 subscribers or less you can send 5 emails a month to each of them and that is more emails than many small businesses will ever need to send.
Once your business/newsletter grows beyond 2,000 subscribers the paid plans offered by MailChimp are affordable and priced to scale. I believe that MailChimp has a great platform for businesses and especially for small businesses or those new to the web as a way to get started with email marketing. I am totally satisfied with my initial experiments with the platform and I think it is an effective way to build customer relationships wither in conjunction with social networking and a content strategy or even as a stand alone product.