Setting Up RSS Newsletter Campaigns in WordPress Using MailChimp
What is a RSS Newsletter Campaign?
If you’re reading this, you may already know what RSS is, or at least be vaguely familiar with the concept. RSS, which stands for “Really Simple Syndication,” is defined by Wikipedia as
[A] type of web feed which allows users to access updates to online content in a standardized, computer-readable format.
In a nutshell, it’s a “feed” of content that is meant to be read by a RSS aggregator/reader. This is a really simple (see what I did there?) way to compile new content from your favorite blogs into one convenient source.
It can also be used to create newsletter campaigns to send new blog posts to your subscribers. Mailchimp offers RSS campaigns to do just that. In this post, I’ll walk you through setting up a RSS campaign in Mailchimp so that you can send out periodical digests of your website’s blog posts to your newsletter subscribers.
Why Create a RSS Newsletter Campaign?
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of creating a RSS newsletter campaign, let’s look at why we’d want to do this.
There are numerous reasons and benefits to sending your subscribers periodic emails with your blog’s new content.
- Share new content with the world! The main purpose of a RSS campaign is, of course, to share your fancy, new content with anyone who wants to read. By sending it out to your targeted list of subscribers, you’re putting your content in front of people who are likely to read it, or at least glance at the title to consider reading it (make sure your titles are solid).
- Engage your audience. You can send your audience a curated list of content that is beneficial for them, and include things like tips and calls to action that will provide some value for them. Providing value (stuff that really helps) is the best way to develop a brand that people enjoy, and want to interact with (e.g. purchase from).
- Keep yourself motivated. Years ago, when I ran my own RSS campaign, I had a decent amount of subscribers who would consistenly follow my content, and read the emails. Knowing this encouraged me to keep creating new content, because I knew I had readers who enjoyed it. It was a rewarding experience for me, and it motivated me to continue.
Creating a RSS Campaign in MailChimp
First up, let’s find your RSS feed URL. This will be required to create the campaign, because MailChimp needs to know the source from which to pull the data. Your feed’s URL is the same as your website (where you publish the content), followed my “/feed”. For example, if your website is yourwebsite.com, the your feed URL is yourwebsite.com/feed. Pretty simple!
With our feed’s URL in hand, let’s create the actual campaign. Log in to your MailChimp account, and click the “Create Campaign” button.
In the window that launches, type “RSS” into the search field, and click “Share Blog Updates.” You’ll then be prompted to name your campaign, and select a list of your that will receive the emails. If you don’t yet have a list, you’ll need to create your first! When you’ve named the campaign and selected a list, click “Begin.”
Next, you’ll proceed through setting up the campaign. This involves adding your feed URL, frequency of delivery, and whether to resize the images in your feed to fit the email template you select.
MailChimp offers the nifty feature of being able to send emails to your entire list, or to segments of a list. This is nice, because it allows you to refine your lists based on different criteria, and target those segments with different emails.
If you’ve ever used MailChimp to send a newsletter campaign, the next few sections will be familiar to you. The Campaign Info settings are where you’ll set things like email subject, sender info, etc. There are a lot of settings here, so I won’t go into their details. However, MailChimp includes links for you to read up on any setting you don’t understand.
Now it’s time to get to the fun part – creating the look of your emails! MailChimp offers a ton of different options here. My personal preference is to select a basic layout (I usually go for a single column layout), and customize the design options. If I feel like getting real fancy, I’ll even code my own template!
If you’re looking for something more appealing out of the box, MailChimp also offers a bunch of pre-styled templates for different purposes, so browse away!
Once you’ve selected a template, your next step is to edit the design. This is where you’ll add your own content, tweak colors, etc.
The most important thing to note here is that you need to add content blocks to display your RSS items. You can do this quickly by inserting MailChimp’s “RSS Items” block into the content editor. If you want more granular control over how the items are displayed, you can, instead, use a text block with RSS Merge tags (which is basically what the RSS Items block is). For example, using the RSS Items block markup as a starting point, you can add a text block, and insert the following markup:
*|RSSITEMS:|* <h2 class="mc-toc-title"><a href="URL|*" target="_blank">*|RSSITEM:TITLE|*</a></h2> *|RSSITEM:CONTENT|* <br /> <a href="URL|*" target="_blank">Read on »</a><br /> <br /> *|END:RSSITEMS|*
Note the first and last lines of that code block. Those merge tags designate a loop of the items (everything in the middle will be repeated for each feed item) in a feed, and all the merge tags in between will pull in data about each singular item (e.g. item title, URL, etc.). By using merge tags within a text block, you can directly modify the markup and styling of each feed item.
Before proceeding, you should absolutely send out test emails, and preview your email using MailChimp’s preview features. Never send emails until you’re sure you know how they’ll look!
Lastly, you’ll be prompted by MailChimp to confirm everything about your email. Once you’ve confirmed all the info, you can officially launch your RSS campaign. MailChimp will queue it up to send at the time(s) you selected. Note, however, that the RSS campaign emails will only be sent when there is new content in the feed. If you’re not posting new content, no emails will be sent.
That’s all there is, folks! Pretty simple, right? MailChimp makes the process of setting up RSS campaigns really easy, and you can be up and running in just a few minutes, without any technical messes.
I want to leave you with one important note. Years ago, when I launched my first RSS campaign (with only a superficial knowledge of what RSS was), I wondered about how I could automatically send emails via MailChimp as soon as I published new posts in WordPress – meaning, send new posts to my readers immediately. MailChimp does not offer this feature in their RSS campaigns, and after thinking about it, that makes sense. RSS campaigns are meant to aggregate new content on a recurring basis, and send out emails as a sort of “digest.” If sending out instant emails upon publishing new content, those emails become more of a “transactional” email – sending an email after a specific action. While the distinction may be faint, RSS campaign emails aren’t really for immediate updates. If your goal is to send immediate emails when you publish new content, you’ll need another solution, such as JetPack Subscriptions.