Feb 3, 2010

Geolocation in MailChimp

Geolocation tracking added to MailChimp

Geolocation tracking added to MailChimp

We’ve been scheming at this Timewarp idea for a long time now. But in order to make that work, we first had to get geolocation data for our users’ subscribers. That took a while to collect and add to our system. For the uninitiated, here’s an article from ReadWriteWeb where they dream about the possibilities of a geolocation-enabled twitter. Here’s one trendy way twitter ended up using geo, and here’s a fun article on how Foursquare got kind of catty over Yelp’s entry into geo.

So geo’s kind of a big thing. Apparently. We just needed it to make email marketing a little better.

Anyway, after we got Timewarp working, we decided to add geolocation as a segmentation option too. So you can now send a targeted campaign to subscribers inside a 150 mile radius around any point on the globe.

Here’s how that works…

GeoTargeting in MailChimp

Previously, in order to do any kind of location-based targeting, you’d have to add fields to your signup form asking subscribers to enter their mailing address or postal code (see: MailChimp’s ZIP code targeting). Now, you can let MailChimp automatically pinpoint their location. It’s not as perfect as getting their address, but it’s pretty close.

Here’s how you send a targeted, location-based email with our geolocation service:

1. Segment your list by specifying some region:


Choose a 50, 100, or 150 mile radius around that location.

2. We’ll show it to you on a map for verification (and for dramatic effect):


3. Click the "use this location" button, and you’re ready to go.

You might want to hit "refresh cont" on that segment to see how many people we pinpointed. For example, I’m kind of delighted to see that of my list of 25,000 MonkeyWrench newsletter subscribers, 323 are within 50 miles of me:


When I click the "view segment" link, I see lots of familiar names from business colleagues, personal friends, and customers. Made me smile.

By the way, it’s also possible to go to –> Lists –> View all members, run the very same segment criteria, then download that segment as a spreadsheet:


With the spreadsheet, I can create a new list in MailChimp. Or, I’d more likely try to do some further analysis of the list to learn more about them. For example, there’s a company called Flowtown (which integrates with MailChimp), and, if I understand this Daily Sense article correctly, can tell me which local residents are the most "influential." I wouldn’t advocate sending them more email marketing, or emails with "hey, social dude, let’s get all social and stuff." Don’t send stuff like that just because you know more about them (that’s creepy). But I’d probably buy them some beers, or coffee if I see them around town, or send them some extra special mailchimp shirts, or maybe even a hand-written note. That’s what "social" means, right?

We could also hold a local event just for local customers, and send them an invitation using our Eventbrite integration. Just to thank our customers and followers. We did all this manually when we took our trip to San Francisco recently and threw a little party (here are some pics, btw). But for future events, this geo thing is going to come in really, really handy.

How it all works

Whenever someone double-opts-in to your list, or opens or clicks from inside your email newsletter, they get redirected through our servers (which is how we track opens and clicks for you). As your subscribers pass through, one very common piece of information that comes with them is their IP address given to them by their ISP. We basically do a reverse lookup to find out the general region they’re in, so that you can use that information to send localized, targeted information.

Constantly Updating Geolocation

People travel, and they sometimes check email from mobile devices. Also, their ISP changes when they check email from work vs. at home. So their geolocation data changes constantly.

Yes, MailChimp tracks all that. We basically keep tabs on their location over time, and we "average" it out for you. For example, if someone normally checks their email from London, and one day she opens one of your emails from Miami, we know she’s just on vacation, and we don’t update her profile. But if, on average, most of her email interactions start coming from Miami, we will assume she’s moved, and we’ll update her geolocation profile for you accordingly.

Data is Backfilled

The nice thing about all this is we’ve been tracking geolocation data for more than a year now, and have already backfilled it for you. We’ve processed just under half a billion subscriptions. As you send more campaigns, we’ll gather more data, but you’re set to go right now.

Keep in mind that subscribers that have engaged with your emails, or double opted-in to your list, will now have geolocation data in their profiles. But if your list was imported, or if members on your list aren’t engaging, there is no geo data to track. On average, you can probably expect around 20-25% of your list to actually contain geodata.

Guess it’s a big deal

Like I was saying, Timewarp was our real goal, because we just wanted to make email scheduling easier across all the timezones across the globe. And I’m pretty sure MailChimp Labs took this project on because someone said it would be extremely useful and cool, "but probably impossible to automate." So it’s really nice to stumble upon this whole "geolocation" thing and then discover how fascinating it is to so many people in the "social" world.

And to be able to offer it free to email marketers is just icing on the cake!

Also see: