How to create a free automatic newsletter with RSS and Mailchimp

How to create a free automatic newsletter with RSS and Mailchimp

This article forms part of a series teaching you how to increase direct bookings. If you run a B&B, guest house or hotel, this is for you. Sign up for the free newsletter.


In a previous post I showed you how to make the most of your website’s RSS feed.

In this post I want to show you how to create a free newsletter.

You’ll use Mailchimp, the world’s finest newsletter provider, along with your site’s RSS.

Your newsletter will send out an email on Monday mornings, but only if you’ve written one or more blog posts.

Your newsletter will lack the polish of a handcrafted newsletter, but you’ll have only content to worry about, not delivery. This is a big deal. The more content you post to your website, the more reason you give people to visit your site.

Why Mailchimp?

Mailchimp’s free plan allows you 2,000 newsletter subscribers.

That’s a good number of free subscribers. By the time you exceed that number, you’ll be able to afford the Mailchimp paid plan.

Let’s begin…

Create a Mailchimp account

Visit login​.mailchimp​.com/​s​i​g​nup.

The Mailchimp signup screen

Enter your details.

For the purpose of this post I’ve created a test account. We’ll set up a newsletter from scratch.

Once you’ve added your details, check your email inbox for an activation email.

Click on the Activate Account button inside the email that Mailchimp sent you, to activate your Mailchimp account

You might need to log in again.

The Mailchimp login screen, where you log in using your username and password

General settings

Once you’re logged in, Mailchimp might greet you with a setup page, depending on how he feels. If he does, add your details.

A note on adding details to your Mailchimp account: be thorough. Add EVERYTHING. Don’t mess around with email. If you don’t look trustworthy, you make it easy for people to think you’re a spammer. Some email services filter spam. It’s hard, if not impossible, to recover from having been marked a spammer.

Go through the Mailchimp welcome sequence and add all your details

Add your business name and website address. You can use any web address you want

Add your physical address

Tell the monkey whether you sell anything online. In our case it's a no

Connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts to Mailchimp, if you so wish

If you want to receive emails teaching you how to use Mailchimp, sign up on this page. Freddie is the Mailchimp mascot

If Mailchimp doesn’t open a setup page, visit your profile page by doing the following…

Click on your name at the top right of the screen

Click the Profile option in the dropdown

On the next page you’re greeted with your profile page. Add all your details here.

Your Mailchimp account is ready. Let’s take a closer look at the system.

Mailchimp structure

If you’re new to newsletter systems, you’ll think Mailchimp’s a gorilla. Let’s break down the monkey into its components.

Lists

The Mailchimp Lists page showing the list I created

You can’t send a newsletter if you don’t have a subscriber list. Mailchimp lists are where you’ll find your subscriber info, such as their email addresses.

You’re allowed multiple lists within one account. This is handy if you run two or more newsletters and want to keep subscribers separate.

I’ll share with you in a future post how to grow your subscriber base. Subscribe to receive updates.

Campaigns

The Mailchimp campaigns page showing the campaign I created

A campaign is what you send to subscribers. Mailchimp allows you to create two types of campaigns, email or advert. (We’re not going to look at advertising.)

You can create four types of email campaigns:

  • Regular
  • Plain-​text
  • A/​B Test
  • Automated

We’re creating an automated newsletter.

Templates

The Mailchimp Templates page. I didn't save any templates for future use, since we're setting up an automatic newsletter which doesn't require a special template

Templates allow you to change the look of your Mailchimp newsletters. You can style your newsletter, unless it’s a plain text newsletter, to look gorgeous. You can save your own templates too.

You can add some styles to an automated newsletter, but it doesn’t allow for the same amount of style as a standard email.

That’s OK. We want people to click through to the website to read our blog posts. If we get people to do that, we’re happy.

Automation

Mailchimp’s automation options allow you to send a series of emails triggered by a specific date, event, or subscriber’s activity.

We won’t be looking at these options.

Reports

Mailchimp shares stats, like how many emails were opened, and by whom.

If you upgrade to Mailchimp Pro they give you access to advanced reporting.

We’re happy with standard reporting for now.

Let’s get going with our Mailchimp auto-​newsletter.

Create a list

This is the heart of your newsletter centre. This list contains the details of your subscribers.

Click on Lists in the top menu. Once on that page, click on the Create List button top right

Complete all details on this page to create a new list

The message showing that your list has been created successfully

This is what the Lists screen looks like when you add a list. You can add more lists. This is handy if you run more than one business but want to use a single Mailchimp account to manage all newsletters

Your list is empty. You don’t have any subscribers.

Add a subscriber manually

You can add subscribers manually, but this could get you into trouble.

But let’s add a subscriber to illustrate how it’s done. Let’s say your better half has agreed to receiving your newsletter.

On the lists page, click on your list's name

Click on the Add contacts menu item

Click on Add a subscriber

Complete the details and click the Subscribe button

The message showing you that you've successfully added a subscriber

Set up an automatic campaign

Now we’ll set up the email template. It’s a free newsletter built from your RSS feed, so you set it up once and leave it. The Mailchimp monkey does his thing to deliver your newsletter on time. Your job is to keep adding content to your blog.

Let’s do this…

Click on campaigns in the top menu. This takes you to the campaigns page

Click on Create Campaign

Click on Let us guide you

Click on Connect with new contacts

Click on share blog updates

Name your campaign and click the Begin button

Add your RSS feed. Choose a time to send your newsletter. Choose whether your post images should be resized. Click on the Next button

Mailchimp allows you to segment your lists. We’ll keep it simple. We’ll send the campaign to everyone in your list.

Choose entire list. Click the Next button

On the next page you’ll notice a bunch of extra options. For instance, connect your Facebook account to post to Facebook automatically. Be aware that auto-​posting functionality is available through your WordPress dashboard too. You don’t want auto-​posting set up to post the same thing twice in quick succession. My advice is to do your auto-​posting, if at all, from the WordPress dashboard.

The Personalize the To” field’ is a must-​have. It makes your newsletter seem personal, as if you wrote it for the reader alone.

Add or edit a Campaign name, Email subject, From name and From email address

On the next page you choose your template.

Choose your template layout. I use the Basic 1 Column. Click the Next button

On the next page you set up your template. Again, this is a matter of personal taste. But I’ll share with you the information I use in my automated newsletter.

This page has two panes. On the left is a preview of the newsletter, featuring editable (or removable) sections. On the right are elements you can add to the newsletter.

To edit a section, hover over it in the preview pane on the left.

Hovering over a section highlights the section and allows you to choose move or editing options

Clicking on the edit button on a section in the left pane brings up the editing options for that section in the right pane

Let’s add an image to the top of the newsletter. For branding.

Click on the Browse button in the left pane

Click the Upload button

I’ve created a GORGEOUS heading image in a high tech photo manipulation program. Took me months to complete. I’ll upload it here…

My newsletter with a featured image

Next we’ll add an intro paragraph.

Click on the edit button for the main text block

Clicking on the edit button in the left pane opens the editable text in the right pane

Click the Source button in the right pane

Highlight all the text in the text box by holding down the Ctrl button and pressing the a button

Press the Delete button and remove all the text from the text box

Copy the following bit of text /​ code.

Paste the code into the blank text box. You’ll need to change the link and name of your accommodation establishment. You can make other changes too.

The first line in that code says, If there’s a name, say, Hi’, followed by the subscriber’s name. If there’s no name, say, Hi there’.” You can edit the rest of the message, or remove it.

Click the Save & Close button below the text box

Next we’ll change the main body text to pull in your RSS feed.

For this we use Mailchimp’s built in shortcodes. Some examples:

  • *|RSSFEED:TITLE|* = Your RSS feed’s title
  • *|FNAME|* = The recipient of your newsletter’s name (if they supplied their name)

Click and hold down your pointer on the Text block in the right pane. Drag it over to the left pane and drop it between the Body and Footer

Click the Source button in the right pane

Highlight all text in the text box and press the Delete key

Copy the following code.

Paste it into the text box in the right pane. It updates the text box in the left pane

This block tells your newsletter to display your latest RSS feed items. At the top is the title, then content, then the article’s featured image, then a link that clicks through to the original article.

Let’s edit your social and website links below the content.

Click the edit button on the social share bar. This pops open the options for the links in the right pane

In the right hand pane you’ll notice services such as Twitter and Facebook. You can add and remove services here. You can even place a link to your website.

Let’s add a block of share buttons.

Drag the Social Share block from the right pane to the left pane and place it between the RSS code and links block

Now recipients of your automatic newsletter can share your email with others

Let’s add LinkedIn as a sharing option.

In the right hand pane, scroll down and click on the Add Another Service button

Click on the dropdown menu

Click on the LinkedIn option

Click the Save & Close button. Notice the LinkedIn share option in the left hand pane

That’s your automatic newsletter, set up and ready to go.

Send a test email

Let’s send a test email to see what it looks like.

Click on Preview and Test in the top menu

Click on Send a test email

Enter your email address in the box

Click the Send Test button

Open your email client and find the email that Mailchimp sent. If it’s not in your inbox, check your spam folder.

This is what the test email looks like

You’ll notice that the email text starts with Hi << Test First Name >>”

A real recipient will see their own name there.

Your email newsletter is ready.

Click the Next button, bottom right

The next page displays an overview of all your settings.

Click the Start RSS button

Click the Start Campaign button
Click the Start Campaign button.

Mailchimp showing you that your campaign is set up and ready to be sent

For your newsletter to work, you need to add blog posts to your website. Mailchimp takes care of creating and sending the newsletter.

How to gather emails for your newsletter

In one of my next blog posts I’ll share with you how to gather email addresses. There are many ways, both free and paid.

I’ll show you how to use your website and Facebook to drive newsletter signups.

In conclusion

Mailchimp + your RSS feed offers you a wonderful way to send out content to people who want to hear from you.

Why’s this important?

We want to increase your direct bookings and decrease your OTA commission. Creating an automatic newsletter forms part of the strategy.

The beauty of an automated newsletter is that you don’t have to do double duty to get news out. You set up your newsletter and keep adding content to your blog. Mailchimp takes care of delivering that news to subscribers.

Visit Mailchimp and sign up for their service.