There are a few methods for setting up a custom e-mail newsletter and not all of them are equal. You have the option of setting up custom scripts on your server, such as Interspire Email Marketer. But there is also the option of using web services like Campaign Monitor. For somebody who has never done email marketing it can feel a little overwhelming. No need to worry since there are multiple email marketing solutions available.
But for this article I’d like to focus on MailChimp which has been gaining attention over the past few years. You can sign up for a free account and hold up to 2000 people in your mailing list. Their service is fantastic and you always have the ability to pay for more advanced features. But just getting started is difficult enough and I’d like to make that process a little easier.
First you should head over to MailChimp.com and register an account if you don’t already have one. Note that Campaign Monitor is very similar as far as templates and interfaces. But their free plan limits you to 5 subscribers which is not even close to enough. MailChimp simply offers the best solution for smaller companies and it is not difficult to learn.
So once you’re logged into your account dashboard you will notice a series of links and icons. At the top navigation click “Lists” and we want to create a new list with just 1 or 2 e-mail addresses. We should use this only for testing, so add some of your own emails which you can check and verify the campaign was sent.
Most people will end up subscribing to lists through your website form. But for the sake of this tutorial I’ll be skipping that part. There are so many ways to include an opt-in signup form onto your website. But we want to focus on sending out newsletters and how to manage these campaigns.
Building a New Campaign
After you have created a list with your email address then we should jump right into the system. Click on “Campaigns” in the top navigation and create a new campaign. Select the new list we just created as the recipients for the email.
The next page is about setting up your campaign with detailed info. Give any name you wish along with any return email. There are additional options in the right sidebar where you can track analytics data. Don’t worry too much about this right now as you can always play around with these settings at a later date.
When you click the next button in the top navigation MailChimp may ask to verify your domain. This is normal and just part of the security measures if you’re using a new email address. It should only take about 2 mins to get the verification email and enter your code.
Newsletter Template Design
The middle stage is where you will choose a template for your campaign. If you’re familiar with email newsletter design then it’s super easy to code your own table-based layout. But creating a layout for email is much different than a typical webpage – so for now let’s just grab a premade template from MailChimp. But if you are interested to learn more check out the MailChimp custom template builder.
I have chosen a simple dark template with some images and links at the top. It really doesn’t matter what you choose during this phase, since the campaign is merely a test for getting familiar with the layout.
If you select a template you can then scroll through and edit content individually. Templates are built to be reused in MailChimp, so this filler text will always be editable. But in all honesty you can choose to leave much of this text the same. By cycling through the tabs at the top you can change background colors, font sizes, and other minor CSS details.
Generating Plaintext Email
There will be subscribers who would rather have your newsletters in plaintext. Or some people setup their email to always strip HTML and only read plaintext. These newsletters will not look anywhere close to as good compared with full HTML – but it’s obviously better to support everybody.
The generic template for plaintext e-mail is often too convoluted and bloated down. I will always spend some extra time cleaning up the plaintext email for subscription lists with over 100 people. You never know how many subscribers will receive this version and you don’t want to appear shoddy with your workmanship.
After this is all set click on the “Confirm” arrow in the top navigation toolbar. You’ll be given a summary list of each stage in the process and your current selections. If you need to go back and edit anything you’ll find big Edit buttons to the right side of each block. But if your email campaign looks good then let’s send it out!
Wrapping up Campaigns
You have some options at the bottom of the page to either schedule your newsletter for a later date or preview right now before sending. I’m going to go ahead and click the big orange “Send” button to send out this campaign right now.
Since I’ve only added myself into the subscribers list, this will be sent to only 1 person. But it really is as simple as that. If everything works out you’ll be directed to a new page with a success message offering some additional followup links. You can check out reports and dashboard statistics on your previous email campaigns. And be sure to check your inbox to see if the email gets delivered and renders properly.
All-in-all I would argue that MailChimp is simply the best option for people getting started with newsletters. It’s free forever as long as you stay under 2,000 subscribers. Plus their premium accounts don’t actually cost much money, so as your company grows it may be worth the investment. But at this point the simplicity and amount of control offered by MailChimp is rivaled by none other.
E-mail newsletters are not helpful for every single website or application. But truthfully everybody uses e-mail today and it’s not uncommon to expect all the latest updates to appear inside your inbox. If you don’t have the time then it’s probably best to wait – but email marketing is worth the adventure just to learn some of the basics.
I hope this article can provide a brief introduction into MailChimp email marketing and how you can setup your first campaign. Use the first couple lists as a test run to see how you can edit newsletter templates and get familiar with the system. After a couple of weeks the interface will be like second nature and you can churn out newsletters with ease.