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How to set up an automated article newsletter in Mailchimp
An automated article newsletter helps to regularly deliver content to blog readers and increases the chances of people reading it.
If your company keeps a blog, you've probably thought about the way this content gets to the target audience. It's not enough to just post the articles according to a schedule, you need to deliver them to the users where it will be convenient for them to read. A person won't probably check the blog looking for updates. But it will be convenient for them to get the articles via email.
It's not difficult to build an email with a new article in Mailchimp. You need to create a new campaign and add the article data to it: its title, preview, author, and short description. Nothing difficult at first glance, but plenty of time is always spent on this and it would be good to automate this process.
We will tell you how you can create an RSS feed with articles and use them in a Mailchimp automated newsletter. You can create an automated newsletter once and it will send the new articles to your readers' inboxes.
Step 1. Setting up the RSS feed for the Mailchimp automated newsletter
First, we set up the RSS feed that we'll use as a source of data for the emails.
"RSS (Rich Site Summary) is a web sites' news collecting format created at the end of the 90's. The technology was popular for some time and allowed to gather all the news that you've subscribed to, in one service or browser add-on with links to the full sources. If you got interested in the setting, you could go to the web site to read the full news."
The feed will have everything important to form an email, namely:
the title of article
the author's photo
the picture for the article
To set up the feed we go to the website's CMS. We can create an XML file with all the articles and set the updated period for it there.
The RSS feed itself is a file that is usually one of two formats: RSS or XML. In most cases the web site's CMSs generate the XML files as a feed. And for the Mailchimp automated newsletter we need the RSS one. You can find lots of services on the Internet that will generate your XML file link into a link to an RSS feed.
For example, we use the service FeedBurner. It is made by Google, it is free, and it works. We don't need anything else. Just paste the XML file link and push the button - you will get the link to RSS.
Step 2. Setting up an email for the automated newsletter
When we have the link to the RSS feed we can create an automated email in Mailchimp.
We go to the campaigns section and create a new one. Choose the special type of campaign. In our case it is a Shared blog updates email:
Insert the RSS feed link to the field. This way Mailchimp will understand where it should take the data from.
Next we choose the day of the week and the time the emails will be sent to the subscribers. It all depends on the time you publish your articles on the web site. If the day and time are regular, for example, every Thursday at 1:00 PM, then you can set one date (let's say, Thursday, 2:00 PM). If the articles are posted on different days, then you need to mark all of them in the schedule. The email will be sent in the set time only if there are new articles in the feed.
In the next step we set up the audience we want to send emails to. You will get here only if everything is okay with your feed. The set up process is standard: we either send the emails to the whole list or to one or more segments. The process is no different from setting up any other automated email in Mailchimp.
Designing email campaigns:
The interesting part is waiting for us on the template creation step. The main thing is to set up the posts' distribution from the RSS feed. Two blocks are in charge of it:
This is what they look like in the email:
Pay attention: here you can see only the dynamic parameters or tags. It is just text that can be edited in a drag-and-drop editor. If you use html layout then you can insert all of these tags into it manually. If you click on every block in the drag-and-drop editor, a menu will open to the right. You can use this menu to choose the type of the tags. If you click on every block, a menu will open to the right that you can use to choose the tags' type. Here is how the RSS Header block menu looks like:
So we see that the advanced version has more information that we can put into the email. Take a look at the screenshot below and compare it to the previous version:
I believe that lots of us will consider such information as the feed URL the data irrelevant. This is why it is better to use custom mode for a finer tuning, in order to choose yourself what to pull into the email. In this case we open all of the tags from advanced mode in a text editor and rewrite them as normal text:
For those who will set up the html version, it will be easier to check all of the available main tags right in the drag-and-drop editor:
*|RSSFEED:URL|* - the link to the feed;
*|RSSFEED:TITLE|* - the main headline, probably, the name of your company;
*|RSSFEED:DESCRIPTION|* - the description under the main headline, something like a short description of the blog subject matter;
*|RSSITEM:TITLE|* - the article's title;
*|RSSITEM:AUTHOR|* - the author of the article;
*|RSSITEM:DATE|* - the article's release date and time;
*|RSSITEM:CONTENT_FULL|* - the article's description;
*|RSSITEM:URL|* - the link to the article;
*|RSS:RECENT|* - the previous articles.
And also, if you are going to write the email in html, all the content concerning the article, should stay between the *|RSSITEMS:|* and *|END:RSSITEMS|* tags.
To check the way the content is placed in the email, click the "enter preview mode" button:
As we've set up the design, we finish setting up the email and launch the automation. The campaign will react to the feed updates and the email will be sent in the periods that we've set up previously.
The example of setting up the automated newsletter in the Embacy agency
Our client, Embacy, had a similar task. They have a blog where they post great content on design and branding on a regular basis. It would be good to collect subscribers and send them content: the chances of a pleased reader remembering about the blog and coming back a week or a month later on their own are really low.
The web site has a static subscription form:
It is rather costly to build a new email and send it regularly. We decided to set up an automated email that will have the feed data transferred into.
First, we made a newsfeed in the CMS. Embacy used Webflow and created the blog articles via CMS Collection Pages.
To create a feed we go to Pages → CMS Collection Pages → Settings for the needed page.
You can turn on the feed creation in the page settings and enter the data:
the channel title and description;
the way the title of the news is formulated in the newsfeed (here - only from the article's headline);
the news' description (we hooked it up from the meta description for SEO);
the news' picture;
the news' publishing date (the choice is yours - the date the article was written, updated or published).
Below we see the newsfeed and the last setting: the update frequency in minutes. We've set it once in 3 hours: we've decided that it's no use to do it more often as the articles are posted once or twice a week. The main thing is for the feed to update from the moment of posting before the moment of Mailchimp's daily ping.
We are done with setting the feed, we just need to not forget to post the changes in Webflow. Though the settings say "RSS feed", the feed is formed in XML format. We've put this link into the FeedBurner and got the RSS file.
Next we've built a simple email in a drag-and-drop editor and placed the feed data there.
It's a standard procedure besides making the feed description: we wrote a better introduction manually.
This is the email we got:
It doesn't have all the article data from the feed. We used only the important data. Initially we wanted to add an image into the email - we didn't want to send the design articles without images. he problem with adding images is that they were too big and resizing wouldn't work in the drag-and-drop editor.
It's painful to look at, isn't it?
Mailchimp heavily reduced the text size in order to place big images with the width of the email provider. It looked horrible.
We couldn't reduce the images - they were used as the main ones for the articles in the blog and were specially made in this size to look good on high resolution screens. We googled the problem, studied forums, and understood that this is a long living problem in the Webflow+Mailchimp bond. However, neither platform ,or any other, is ready to solve it. Webflow doesn't allow to download alternative images for RSS (and doesn't change the size of the existing ones) and Mailchimp in no way allows to reduce the image taken from the feed (even though such an option is chosen). Thus we decided to not use images in the emails for now.
Read our manual
to learn more about designing email campaigns
As a result, we managed to quickly create an email with automatic article distribution. The basic lead generation on the client's side began to work and communication with the users via email began. And there's no need to spend the client's resources on building an email every time. Before, the manual setting of every newsletter took about 30 minutes. I.e. with sending one email a week the automatic newsletter saves about 2.5 hours a month for a client.
In the future this channel can be developed further and enhance the communication with the subscribers.
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