Dec 9, 2010

RSS-to-email Enhancement for Publishers

lead-image-wrapping-wrong

How to fix weird text wrapping like above in RSS-to-email

Back in 2008, when we initially rolled out our RSS-to-email feature, we thought it would be a nice, automated way for email marketers to "fill in the gaps" between their monthly or quarterly email newsletters. You blog (or post to flickr, twitter, and Facebook) almost daily, and all those tools generate RSS feeds. So why not use that as email content? Frankly, I thought it was a very sexy feature, and would take the world by storm.

It did not take the world by storm. At the time, watching its usage grow was like watching water boil. RSS, as it turns out, is the exact OPPOSITE of sexy. It’s boring and confusing to most people. It needs a fun name, like "twitter." So I stopped watching the feature. Recently, we were checking some RSS usage stats, and noticed that we have more than 70,000 RSS-to-email campaigns being sent daily. Even more interesting is how many major publications are using the feature.

So we’re starting to add some more enhancements. The first one we want to announce is an RSSITEM:IMAGE merge tag that designates a "lead image" in your feed, which helps you code out some better, fail-safe formatting for HTML email…

What it Fixes

Normally, when you publish an RSS feed into MailChimp, the formatting of images is somewhat okay. But some email programs, like Outlook, will place images and wrap your text in yucky ways.

Here’s an example of an HTML email that’s generated via RSS-to-email:

image-wrapping2

That is not ideal. The images should be aligned left, and the text should flow around them.

This is what things should look like:

fixed-formatting

Most major publishers who want to send RSS-to-email also need tight formatting control over the advertising images (banner ads) in their newsletters. You can’t have a bunch of ads stacked on top of each other. Everything needs to be formatted nice and neat.

In order to achieve this, some email readers (ahem, like Outlook), require that you place images in their own table cell. Yeah, if you’re a coder, that sounds pretty crazy and frustrating, in this day and age of magical CSS positioning and what-not. But Mr.Miyagi say, "Silly monkey scream at tree to make banana fall. Wise monkey climb tree, take banana, pee-pee on tree, then move on to next project." More zenful HTML email coding lessons in our Email-Jitsu guide.

Where was I? Ah yes. Formatting images in your RSS feed.

Using RSSITEM:IMAGE + media:content

You’ll need some RSS coding skills to get all this done. Chances are, if you’re a publisher, you have the resources to generate custom RSS feeds.

First, we recommend you generate a new RSS feed specifically for use in MailChimp. For example, if your feed is at:

example.com/feed/blah

go make a new one at:

example.com/feed/blah/mailchimp/

In that new feed, wherever there’s an image that you want to control in your MailChimp template, mark it with media:content. Here’s a code example:

rss-code-snippet

then, in your MailChimp template, place the RSS:IMAGE merge tag code like this:

rss-image

Whenever we pull in your RSS feed to generate your HTML email, we’ll place your images wherever the RSSITEM:IMAGE tag is.

We’ll have more RSS-to-email enhancements to announce shortly!