First Comes the Blog

Let’s face it, this whole blogging thing is here to stay… and I couldn’t be happier! I still love reading blogs and in my daily travels across the information highway, I come across all different kinds of styles and flavors of writing and topics. I still can’t believe how much stuff there is out there, and how many really talented people there are, doing amazing work. They also provide me endless chances to look at photos of dogs.

I also love working on blogs. Designing, coding, writing, you name it. It’s a constant learning experience that lets me be simultaneously creative AND dorky. The core challenge in building a really high quality blog is that you not only have to build a really high quality blog, you also need to build your audience, and make sure folks have lots of different ways to be notified about all your good content. The default WordPress install loads several different feed options for syndicating content. Probably the most widely used is RSS. Interestingly enough, I feel like RSS has always been widely underused.

Feedburner email options

Like most WordPress bloggers, I started out by running the RSS to email feed for MyUntangledLife.com through FeedBurner. I put a feed icon and a sign-up box in the sidebar, patted myself on the back for a job well done and called it a day. That definitely gets the job done in terms of syndicating and managing the feed, but let’s be honest… by default this option is U.G.L.Y for sending out email updates. It also doesn’t give proper attribution to the authors, there aren’t very many configuration or segmenting options, and it certainly doesn’t convey the look and feel of your blog. In other words, I hate everything about it.

I realized early on that what I really wanted for this blog was more of a newsletter, a SUPERnewsletter! My criteria was simple, I just wanted something that would:

  • auto-populate via single or multiple RSS feeds when new posts were added,
  • auto-email on a daily, weekly or monthly basis,
  • allow us to segment feeds and mailing lists,
  • give authors their proper shout-outs and branding,
  • incorporate the overall look and feel of the blog,
  • add some social networking, related posts, and other blog bling.

Enter Mailchimp RSS to Email Campaigns

Mailchimp RSS to EmailMailChimp RSS to Email and MyUntangled Life campaigns can do all of this and so much more. The default options are easy to setup and an improvement alone, but I wanted images, the featured images, to be exact! WordPress Post Thumbnails open up a new way to have fun with your MailChimp campaigns and MailChimp gives you an option to use the merge tag *|RSSITEM:IMAGE|*, but I really wanted the images to show in the feed itself as well. A great little piece of code from Digging into WordPress adds this function and just like that, you’ve given your feed some syndication bling!

// show post thumbnails in feeds
function diw_post_thumbnail_feeds($content) {
	global $post;
	if(has_post_thumbnail($post->ID)) {
		$content = '<div>' . get_the_post_thumbnail($post->ID) . '</div>' . $content;
	}
	return $content;
}
add_filter('the_excerpt_rss', 'diw_post_thumbnail_feeds');
add_filter('the_content_feed', 'diw_post_thumbnail_feeds');

I didn’t want to send out full posts in our emails, but I’m a control freak and auto-truncating post summaries mid-word with an […], and such, makes me twitch and doesn’t make for very compelling copy! I also knew we’d have posts that don’t always contain a lot of text, (like, I don’t know, perhaps an occasional haiku from the world’s greatest bloggin’ dog.). So another little tweak for a better MailChimp campaign involves the use of the WordPress excerpt. Manually populating the excerpt for each post allows us to pull a custom and complete summary for our homepage. Use it in combination with the MailChimp *|RSSITEM:CONTENT|* merge tag and you’ve got yourself the beginnings of a really nice looking blog newsletter!

Even More to Go Bananas Over

Once you’ve got the basic setup and styling down, start digging into Mailchimp segmentation and other functions. Maybe you want to give foodies the chance to sign up for foodie-only blog posts and recipes, or maybe we’ve got some folks who don’t want to read this type of pseudo-geeky stuff! Wait, what?! You can build on this existing infrastructure by creating category or author based feeds, combined with conditional merge tags and now you’re talking! Throw in a mashup of recent posts from related feeds, or the latest from your facebook wall or twitter feed and WOWEE you’ve got a lot more than just an email with a link to a blog post going out to the world…automatically!

A few little tweaks under the cage and a little bit of planning can turn your blog content into an email marketing campaign you’ll go ape over, but you don’t have to be a blogger to benefit from the MailChimp RSS to Email feature. Since almost everything is or could be syndicated, you could use this type of function to alert folks to new products via an RSS feed from your shopping cart software. Or maybe you’re a photographer; in that case, why not set up a monthly portfolio newsletter that feeds from your Flickr or Picasa account? The possibilities are endless – stop reading and start monkeying around already!!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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