Mar 4, 2009

Email your content to MailChimp

Here’s a super quick tutorial on how you can setup a website, then email a news announcement to it for publishing. Then, using RSS-to-email in MailChimp, automatically send that news update to your subscriber list.

In this example, I’ve used Squarespace to setup a website for a fictitious company called Acme Bananas:

completely-fake-website

Now, I’ll show you how to:

1. Post news articles to that web page by sending emails to it

2. Automatically take news on that web page, and send an email newsletter to my MailChimp list.

BTW, the reason I’m using Squarespace for my example is this demo web site (http://acmebananas.squarespace.com) took me about 30 minutes TOTAL to create. They make it unbelievably easy.

Setup Mobile Blogging in Squarespace

Anyway, in Squarespace, the front page is called your "Journal." It’s where you can post updates and news announcements. Like a blog. For the record, I’ve renamed it from "Journal" to "News," since this is a corporate website.

Any-hoo, go into Squarespace’s "Journal Configuration" and turn on the "Post by Email" setting:

squarespace-journal-config

This will generate a super secret email address that you can send messages to from Outlook, your mobile device, or anything that sends email. Then, Squarespace will take that email message, and convert it to a news announcement on your page.

Send an email to your journal

Next, I’ve created an email in Apple Mail (you can use Outlook, Thunderbird — whatever) that looks like this:

squarespace-email-annc2

It’s basically a simple email with a photo attachment, which any goob (like me!) can do. Note the subject line, simple text blurb, and ginormous photograph (Squarespace has built-in image resizing, which will come in handy soon).

I sent that email to my super-secret Squarespace address, and it magically gets posted to my website:

squarespace-home-page

Cool, huh?

Now, here’s where MailChimp comes in.

Create RSS-to-email campaign in MailChimp

My Squarespace journal page has an RSS feed:

squarespace-rss-feed

I’ve taken that RSS feed URL, and I’ve setup an RSS-to-email campaign in MailChimp, which will be sent to my "Company News" subsriber list.

mailchimp-rss-feed

If you’ve never used MailChimp’s RSS-to-email tool, here’s a tutorial.

Tweak your email design

Shameless plug: When I setup my new email template in MailChimp, it automatically grabs my website logo and colors (and as much CSS info that we can find & understand) from my Squarespace site. This is a pretty nifty feature in MailChimp, called the automagic email designer (read more about it in MailChimp Labs).

Anyway, since Squarespace creates pretty tidy HTML code, MailChimp is actually able to pick up on a lot of design detail, and build my email template.

Here’s what it looked like on MailChimp’s first try:

mailchimp-magic-importer

Not too shabby! It pulled in my Squarespace page’s header banner (which MailChimp automatically resized to fit the email template), and the background color. Your results may vary, depending on how your website is coded.

Hmm, the header graphic looks like it’s slightly blowing-out my template’s table cells, but that’s because MailChimp adds padding to all headers by default (because we dunno if you’re gonna want to use all-text,  a tiny logo, or a giant header graphic up there).

That’s an easy tweak in my template’s "header bar" setting (padding=0):

mailchimp-magic-importer2

And my email template is basically done in MailChimp!

At this point, I can do some more fine tuning of my email template design (mostly, I’d tweak the style of my body title, subtitles, default body text, and footer), and send a few tests to my inbox.

When I’m all set, I just start the RSS-to-email campaign:

start-rss-campaign1

Finally, here’s what one of the emails looks like:

rss-email-screensh

Add signup box to website

Oh yeah, the next thing I’d do is generate the code for a mini-signup form in MailChimp:

generate-code

and embed that on my Squarespace site. For now, I’ve basically created a new page in Squarespace, then switched from their WYSIWYG to their HTML mode, and inserted the code that MailChimp gave me for my list’s signup form:

sqspc-subscribe

After I’ve sent a few campaigns, I might come back to this page, and embed some links to my email newsletter archive.

There’s more tweaking I could do, but we’re basically done. From now on, everything’s on auto-pilot. My client can just post news to their website by email, by mobile device, or by logging in to the Squarespace admin. Then, email newsletters will be automatically published by MailChimp, and delivered to their subscriber list.

You can use just about any publishing platform

I used Squarespace in my example, because they’re SO easy to use. But you can use the "post by email" feature (aka "mobile blogging" or "moblogging") in just about any blogging or CMS platform, like WordPress, TypePad, and Blogger. There are also plugins for Expression Engine. Just Google around, and you’d be surprised how many mobile blogging and publishing options there are (even iPhone apps), and how many of them in turn generate RSS feeds.

Why bother doing all this?

I know this might seem weird at first. Why would someone send an email to a website, which in turn would create a blog post, which in turn would send an email (again) to an email list?

Because we see a lot of web designers setting up websites for clients, and they’re using blog engines (like WordPress) to build those websites. Blogs are so dead simple to setup and customize, and for small businesses, they make a lot more sense than paying for a completely custom-built website. If your client wants some new doohicky (like a photo gallery) added to their website, there’s probably a plugin for it. Personally, I wish blogs were around years ago, when I ran a web-dev agency. Would’ve made our lives so much easier.

Anyway, you can setup a blog for your client, tweak it to work like a full-blown website, and train them to update it.

If they’re the kind of client that could never handle "publishing an email newsletter" that’s fine. Keep them in the blog, and just sync it over to their MailChimp list for automatic publishing.

Multiple users, permissions, and workflow

What’s really cool is how so many of these publishing platforms come with built-in user permissions. So you can easily setup admins, editors, and contributors to push content to the blog, and not worry about a single one of them messing up their email templates.

Hope you found the tutorial useful.

P.S. If you’re a MailChimp customer, Squarespace is giving a 10% lifetime discount if you use the promo code "chimp37". Sign up for Squarespace and give them a try!