What is MailChimp, and what is it good for? Of course, everyone does things differently, so I thought I’d offer a brief rundown on how I use Mailchimp to manage my mail-outs in a very basic way, and how it might be useful to you. This is not a review or an IU official endorsement. It is a slice of life that perhaps you can learn from. If you want to know more about creating a newsletter, see Jim Devitt’s post, Developing the Perfect Author Newsletter.
MailChimp is an email marketing service. You write your email; they send it to everyone you want and keep track of what happens to it after that. As far as the sending part, they don’t do much that you couldn’t do in your normal email program. For the analytical part, they provide information that I have no idea how to find myself, and this is the main reason I use the service. And on top of it, my newsletters look more professional.
Creating a Mailing List
The first thing you do is choose your recipients. Once you have put these in, either by entering them individually or importing from another program (not that hard), they are always available. You can divide them into separate groups and segments and manipulate them in many ways. However, if all you’re doing is sending a message to everyone, you just check the appropriate box and move on.Choosing the Template
Now you create your letter. The main advantage here is that when you or I send a letter on our computer’s mail program, it looks like a plain old email. With MailChimp, you can create a professional-looking post with your company logo, pictures, hot buttons and all sorts of stuff on it. MailChimp provides a number of templates, from simplest text like a normal email to several complex sets of columns and boxes. Once you have made your choice you get a preview of what your blank email will look like, on both computer and mobile. If you like it, you move on to filling the blanks.Writing the Letter
You write your email by filling in text boxes and dragging-and-dropping the various elements available, with options for links and alternate text for clients whose machines don’t load images. And if you don’t understand what “alternate text” is, neither did I, but there’s a chimp in a convenient popup “Help” image that explains it.Checking It Over
Once you’re happy with what you have made, you move on to the Preview and Test mode, which again gives you a preview for computer and mobile screens, this time with all your material on it. You can also send a test email to yourself or a friend to see what it looks like in the real world.As with the rest of the program, there are all sorts of extra things you can do, many of which I haven’t explored myself, but they aren’t necessary to the average user.
When you have checked and double-checked you push the “Send” button. Now you get to “high-five” the Chimp, and the email is sent to all your chosen recipients.
Once your message is sent you wait a day or so and then check your reports. The basic information you get for each post is number of opens, number of clicks on the buttons or hypertext in the post, and a comparison to industry averages for these.You can also do Comparative Reports, Automated Emails, and Inbox Inspections. I have no idea what these are because I don’t use them, but I’m sure that if I wanted to find out, the impish Chimp would pop up and tell me all about them.
- On a legal basis, it is required (at least in Canada) that mass emails have an “unsubscribe” button at the bottom. It is certainly polite wherever you live. MailChimp takes care of this process, including ratting on the miscreant, so you know who has abandoned you. The chimp also writes a sympathetic little message to the tune of “These things happen, don’t worry about it.”
- There are also signup forms available that can be easily inserted into your website or Facebook page in various ways. This means MailChimp takes care of your subscribers from cradle to grave, so to speak, and all you have to do is connect with them.
- You can get an app to run MailChimp on your mobile device as well. I found this more difficult to use, but when you’re travelling, it’s worth it.
- The last advantage for some of us is that the MailChimp people, as you may have already gathered, are a relaxed bunch with a quirky sense of humour. While providing a professional product, they keep you amused and entertained with the antics of the Chimp.
My final comment: This is a great basic service, not too difficult to use, and in my experience very reliable for the casual user. It is free up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails a month. They have a professional level (and some other pay levels) available for a monthly fee, which I assume provides all sorts of bells and whistles that I don’t understand or perhaps need, but I am grateful for those professionals who pay for it and keep the service operating free for the rest of us.
To keep things fair, I’ll now give you some information on Constant Contact
In his article entitled Developing the Perfect Author Newsletter, Jim Devitt says he prefers Constant Contact, a service that provides basically the same services, so I joined and checked them out. There are some differences:
- Constant Contact is free for the first 60 days, but then you have to pay $20 a month for the basic, $45 for the professional level.
- I found Constant Contact simpler to use, even on the first try.
- Constant Contact has a catalogue of templates of all sorts, from the basic ones like MailChimp, to various holidays, occasions, merchants, and other ideas.
- Constant Contact has a big library of photos at $2.99 each per use. They have more for the Pro level customers.
I have no information on the reliability of Constant Contact, but at a first look-through, it seems to be a good service. However, it provides more than I need for more than I want to spend. MailChimp has been very reliable and does everything I want for the best price: free. Both look like they have room for me to expand as I learn more about their services, and should my requirements increase.
However, if you go to Top Ten Reviews, neither of these services is even mentioned. There are ten more in that article that someone else can look at and report back on. Top Ten Reviews is a site worth exploring, because their reviews look thorough and logical. However, as with all the other commercial reviewers, you have no idea whether they have been paid or are biased in some other way.
Since this is Indies Unlimited, you can be pretty sure I’m not getting paid. And like Jim, I’m happy with familiarity. I’ll stick with the Chimp.