Send Newsletters Automatically in MailChimp using RSS

Published in WordPress.

WordPress is an open source project with one clear mission: to democratize publishing through Open Source. In other words, it wants us to freely express ourselves, to let the world know what we think. The only problem is, what’s the point of sharing our minds if there’s nobody listening?

The greatest problem you’ll probably face when running a blog is getting a fan base—those people who are always interested in your content, who comment on all your thoughts and share your posts on social media, who like you on Facebook and retweet your tweets… That’s the people you want for your blog, don’t you? So, the question now is how to create a loyal reader base.

Our last posts have talked about this issue from different perspectives. For example, last week Ruth discussed what is the best moment for sharing your content on social media, and a week before that Toni shared some tips and tricks to increase our productivity and be more effective at promoting our content. In the end, it’s all about making some noise and hope for people to discover you exist. While people don’t know you, it’s your job to move your ass and reach them ¯_(ツ)_/¯

One of Toni’s tips was to create a mailing list with your audience, so that you can ping them every now and then, letting them know when there’s new content available in your blog (and thus driving traffic to your web). Usually, this communication is quite effective—you’re emailing people who’s already interested in your content, because they implicitly told you so when they subscribed to the mailing list. That’s what makes them the perfect candidates to become your fans! 🤗 So, today we’ll talk about how you can create a Newsletter in MailChimp that’s automatically sent when there’s new content available in your blog.

What is a Newsletter

A newsletter is a regularly distributed publication (in our case, via email) that is generally about one main topic of interest to its subscribers. If you think that emails are old-fashion and that there are better ways to connect with your audience, you probably need to read Neil Patel‘s article on why email still matters:

Historically, email has been one of the most important channels for driving ROI. (…) Email addresses are the core unit of analysis for identifying customers [and email marketing offers an integrated measurement, for it shows] how much you’re spending and how much revenue you’re generating over the long-term.

» Email Is the Foundation of Everything Online

So there you have it! Emails are pretty important in the long run 😉 But even if you’re not interested right now in getting into all these details, you should know that Newsletters have a great advantage compared to other marketing channels. As opposed to networks like Twitter or Facebook, where everybody follows everybody, newsletters are super targeted and will be received only by people who clearly showed interest in your work. How can you be sure about it? Well, they shared their email address with you, so you can probably assume they are interested in your blog, aren’t they?

What is MailChimp

Now that we’ve established the importance of having a newsletter in place, it’s time to discuss how to create your own. There’s plenty of services for that, but the one that everybody seems to get started with is MailChimp. As one can read in their website:

MailChimp is an email service provider (ESP), which helps marketers send bulk emails to clients, customers, and other interested parties. Our approach to email marketing focuses on excellent list management practices, beautifully designed campaigns, and powerful data analysis.

MailChimp’s biggest advantage lies in its free version. With its starting (free) plan, you’ll get full control of your mailing campaigns and you’ll be able to send up to 2,000 emails at once. Not bad for getting started, huh? 💪

How to Create an Automatic Newsletter in Mailchimp

Sending Newsletters to your subscribers is equivalent to sending them customized emails manually. But, of course, you don’t want to do that—you want to automate as much as possible of this process, and that’s when MailChimp and similar services come into play. With MailChimp, each Newsletter is a new campaign that you can create as follows:

  1. Go to the Campaigns page.
  2. Click on Create campaign and select the type of campaign you want to create. In this case, a regular campaign.
  3. Select the recipients.
  4. On the Setup step, configure some basic information about the email you’re about to send: subject, sender, and so on.
  5. Select the template you want to use.
  6. Write your email copy and make sure it looks good.
  7. Send it! 👏

As you can see, creating email campaigns is quite similar to creating regular emails. So, why should you use MailChimp? Well, imagine you want to send an email each time a new post has been published in your site, or you want to send the email once a week/month with a summary of the newly published posts during that period. Do you really want to repeat the previous process each and every time? 🤔😥 I bet you don’t. And there’s no need to! Don’t you remember I told you this post is about how to create an automatic Newsletter? 😎

Sending Newsletters automatically when new content appears in your WordPress site is super easy with RSS campaigns. For those of you who don’t know what RSS is (shame on you!), here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

RSS (Rich Site Summary; often called Really Simple Syndication) uses a family of standard web feed formats to publish frequently updated information: blog entries, news headlines, audio, video. An RSS document (called “feed”) includes full or summarized text, and metadata, like publishing date and author’s name. RSS feeds enable publishers to syndicate data automatically. A standard XML file format ensures compatibility with many different machines/programs. RSS feeds also benefit users who want to receive timely updates from favorite websites or to aggregate data from many sites.

All WordPress installations include an RSS channel that allows your readers to subscribe to your blog. You can easily access it by appending /feed to your site’s URL. For instance, Nelio Software‘s RSS feed can be found at neliosoftware.com/feed. If you click on the previous link, you’ll see an XML website with a list of all the recently-published posts. This feed is updated automatically each time you publish (or un-publish, for that matter) a post from your blog, which means you simply need to tell MailChimp to watch the feed and send a new Newsletter whenever the feed gets updated.

In order to create an RSS campaign with MailChimp, just apply the following steps (which are pretty similar to the ones we’ve just seen; bold face highlights the different ones):

  1. Go to the Campaigns page.
  2. Click on Create campaign and select the type of campaign you want to create. In this particular case, we’re now interested in creating an RSS campaign. Select the URL of your RSS feed (in our example, it’d be neliosoftware.com/feed), as well as the periodicity in which emails should be sent:
    • daily,
    • weekly or
    • monthly.
  3. Select the recipients.
  4. On the Setup step, configure some basic information about the email you’re about to send: subject, sender, and so on.
  5. Select the template you want to use.
  6. Recover the content* (and preview it to make sure things look like they’re supposed to).
  7. Finally, activate the campaign and wait for it to be automatically sent. 👏

Step 6 is the most complicated one, because you’re not supposed to write the content now—instead, the Newsletter should be composed automatically using the information retrieved from the RSS feed. To instruct MailChimp to do this, you simply need to use MailChimp’s special RSS merge tags. I could try to explain how to use them, but I think it’ll be easier if I just show you an example… so, for example, if you want to send a Newsletter such as the following one:

Nelio Software's Newsletter (Spanish version)
Example of one of our latest newsletter campaigns (in Spanish). This is the email our Spanish-speaking subscribers received a few days ago.

your MailChimp template needs to use the following tags:

Designing your Newsletter in MailChimp
Designing your Newsletter in MailChimp is super easy. Just add the required RSS merge tags and you’re done!

As you can see, the actual content of the Newsletter starts with a block named *|RSSITEMS:|*. This block iterates through all the items in the RSS feed and, for each one, it retrieves its different attributes: title (*|RSSITEM:TITLE|*), author (*|RSSITEM:AUTHOR|*) or content (*|RSSITEM:CONTENT_FULL|*).

I hope this tiny tutorial helps you to connect with your audience whilst you save some time. Please, share your own experience with us. And if you have any questions on how to tweak your feed so that you can adapt your template, just ask! I’ll be happy to help 😁

Featured Image by Andrew Taylor.

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