Apr 26, 2010

MailChimp v5.1 Launching

We’re launching MailChimp v5.1 tonight. [Update: It’s live now.] The upgrade should not cause any downtime, or affect subscriptions, tracking, etc.

This release is not going to be a huge one, but the changes we’ve made are going to be very visible to all users, so we just want to give you a heads-up so you’re prepared. Here’s what’s changing…

Pre-loading Screen

I’ve discussed this concept at the end of this blog post, but here are some more details. Basically, MailChimp is a robust application with a suite of tools that help you design stuff (like a graphic editor), write stuff (like a word processor), run reports (like an analytics package), segment your lists (like a database program), and more. That’s a lot of stuff you’re running in your web browser. When you get an appreciation for the code, you start to understand why some pages take 2 seconds to load.

Actually, no you don’t. Nobody cares. We all just want stuff to load fast. So in an effort to make MailChimp a little snappier, we’re going to start pre-loading a lot of our JavaScript, CSS, images, and some of the code in the WYSIWYG editor. Not everything. Just the parts that make sense.

The pre-loading screen has some humor in it (and if I’m following @aarron’s tweet correctly, perhaps an easter egg?) and it looks something like this:

login-preloader

But if you have our "party-pooper mode" enabled, your pre-loading screen will look more like this:

login-preloader-party-pooper

It may take some getting used to in the beginning, but we think it’ll help the overall experience after you’re logged in.

List Dashboard

When you click on the "Lists" tab, then on this "view list" link:

view-list

You’re going to see a whole new "Dashboard" for that list. In this Dashboard, you’ll get a birds-eye-view of your subscribers, list growth chart, your list’s engagement score, the list’s average open, click, and bounce rates, and more.

list-dashboard

It’s a nice, handy way to see how "healthy" your list is. At the bottom of each List Dashboard, you’ll also see the different "groups" you’ve setup for that list…

Easier Groups Management

We’ve always had a strange "paradigm problem" when it came to lists and groups. Some of us at MailChimp read database marketing books and email marketing best practices, and we use words like "interest groups" and "segmentation." Others in our company deal more directly with customers, who almost never say the word "segmentation," but instead use words like "target sub-groups." To add to the problem, some of our customers, who are switching from another ESP (who doesn’t support multiple lists), refer to "segments" or "groups" as "lists." It can be hard explaining to everybody how we’re different, and how in MailChimp, you can actually have multiple lists, and inside those lists, multiple groups.

So we’ve redesigned this area of lists completely to reconcile all these factors. We hope that the entire lists vs. segments vs. groups issue is a little easier to explain to people, no matter what paradigm they come from.

First, setting up a group is extremely fast and easy:

view-groups

Above is an example of how a restaurant might create "groups" that email subscribers can join. For example, some people can subscribe to receive updates about Pizza and Salad, but not Sandwiches. Notice we show you how many members are inside each group? You can also click that number to see who those people are, and export them for some kind of deeper analysis (perhaps run them through Flowtown to learn more about their personality). Okay, that change is easy enough to understand.

But let’s say you held a Vegetarian Pizza contest at your restaurant, and now you’ve got 200 more people who signed up at your storefront for updates about "Pizza" and all your other "Vegetarian" offerings. In other words, you’ve got 200 people to add, and make members of your Pizza and Vegetarian groups. In the past, importing them into MailChimp was a little complicated. It involved importing a CSV with properly formatted columns, and it was prone to errors.

Now, you just 1) pick your import method, then 2) check the boxes for what groups they should go in:

import-method-groups2

Hidden Groups

Here’s another scenario for that same restaurant. Let’s say at the register, they like to keep records on their "VIP" customers, and their tastebud tendencies. You know, so they can offer some extra TLC whenever they visit. You can now include that secret stuff inside of MailChimp’s hidden groups.

For example, let’s say you have a customer who absolutely loves your Thai LadNa Noodles dish, because that’s the comfort food my his mom always cooks when he goes home, and he also always orders the mango + sweet sticky rice dessert. Wouldn’t it be cool to send him a targeted email if you have a new variation on the recipe (like, maybe, Lobster LadNa? Mmmmm). Or maybe you want to "tag" certain customers on your list if you know they’re a food review columnist.

In v5.1, you can setup groups that are hidden from your signup form, like this:

hidden-groups2

and then you can send a targeted email to these hidden groups:

target-a-hidden-group

If these recipients ever clicked to update their subscription preferences, they’d never see those hidden settings.

New KnowledgeBase

Over the last few months, we’ve been secretly working on building a new knowledgebase (KB) for MailChimp, and migrating content over (not easy when features change as much as they do around here). The current KB, hosted by  LivePerson, has served us well over the years, but we wanted some extra functionality and customization to make it a better experience for our customers. And to be blunt, the KB has a ton of email marketing content that we’d like the almighty Google to index on our own site, thank-you-very-much.

This was an extremely difficult project, and we wanted to get it juuuust right when we launched. It’s been running for a little while in sort of a "soft launch" state, as we collect data and experiment with different ideas. We actually planned to take more time before launching officially, but we just learned that our product team have already wired it into MailChimp v5.1’s interface:

new-footer

Updated footer design in MailChimp, including new KB search box

KB-side-barSo yeah, I guess we’re launching the new KB (gulp)! BTW, that’s pretty much our secret to GTD around here. Throw your hat over the fence, and make yourself go live, whether you’re ready or not (what’s that General Patton quote about good plans vs. perfect plans?).

Anyway, all KB articles have a new sidebar, which includes:

  • Live Chat escalation link
  • Google Translate link
  • Share/Email links
  • URL shortener for the articles

There’s more exciting stuff underneath the hood. We’re really tinkering with Expression Engine as a KB tool, and are excited about the possibilities. Also playing a lot with Google Custom Search, and handling requests that come in after hours.

Props to Stephen, our website guy, and Jennifer, our KB engineer. Jennifer was once on the customer service front lines, so she’s been a great person to have writing all those articles. She wants me to mention two things about the new KB:

1) First, the Google search algorithm needs more tweaking and training. There’s only so much we can do ourselves. We want to get it right, but the best way to train it is "in the wild." For example, the shorter the search phrase, the better. Don’t ask, "How can I manage groups in MailChimp?" Instead, just type in "mailchimp groups" and you’ll get better results. Also, quotes just don’t work right now.

2) At the bottom of the side column, there’s a new feature called "keywords." She’s manually tagging each article with relevant keywords, to reveal other stuff you might want to learn about. For example, Jennifer says that if you search for "rss-to-email" and read an article, you’ll find little keywords that you can click and "learn a crap ton" of new stuff about rss-to-email.

Just keep in mind this is a "phase one" launch, and more improvements are coming.

Additions to Template Language

We launched our own template language a while back, and two of the most common requests are:

  1. Ability to include a default image placeholder
  2. Ability to also constrain the height of an uploaded image, not just the width

Done, and done. So now you can really do some cool stuff for our template design contest!

Account Status Alerts from Compliance Team

We’ve also added a new "Account Status" feature. It’s like a message center, where you see all the warnings and account updates from Omnivore and our Compliance Team. If you send a campaign that raises any red flags with us, you’ll get a warning the next time you log in to MailChimp. You may also get messages from team members here. We’ve just found that sometimes, when our system suspends an account, people are caught way off guard by it all, even though we’d been sending them emails about the problems for quite a while. It’s mainly because in a lot of cases, the contact person on the account is not the same person sending the emails. We’re hoping this will help. We suspect the current notifications will be a bit on the aggressive side at first (you’ll see them for almost every single warning), but we’ll be tweaking the sensitivity as soon as we launch.

Faster Account Navigation

You’ll notice a few interface refinements in v5.1. Thank our new designer, Jason Beaird, for that. He’s taking baby steps in this release, but you can expect some really super-awesome refinements in upcoming releases (no pressure, Jason).

One nice touch is the ability to navigate your account settings faster with this little dropdown:

account-button

Instead of clicking the Account link, going to the Account settings page, and then drilling down into the Account Keys page, you can just jump straight into it.

Subtle, but powerful. And there’s more where that came from!

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