Back to Basics: E-Mail Marketing & RSS

With 93% of all American adults using e-mail as their primary online communication tool, any content distribution strategy will need to include e-mail marketing solutions. So it is no wonder e-mail subscriptions for blogs and other sites are important and need to be optimized.

Three features any e-mail marketing system should have:

  • RSS Feed driven newsletters,
  • support for CRM sy

    stems and
  • a flexible API that allows access to the open/click statistics per subscribers.

Among the many companies offering e-mail marketing services, I have only found one that has all features and then some. We looked at Feedblitz, JangoMail, Constant Contact and MailChimp. Our clear favorite, (and, we are not getting any money from them or other perks), is MailChimp. It is easy to use – very important for our clients -, it offers back-end integration with a reliable, extensible API, and offers integration with major CRMs, such as Salesforce, Highrise and Batchbook. The flexibility is quite impressive. We have built various web sites that integrate via the API. Our site registration process synchronizes the MC subscribers list, and allows access to open and click statistics per subscriber. We have published our API Wrapper for Coldfusion as open-source, to remove barriers for other developers to use the system.

With MailChimp you can manage an extensive action and reaction history with your contacts. You are able to target specific groups of subscribers, and be more flexible in managing relationships. The closer you are able to target your communication, the higher the probability is that your service suits your recipients needs. We embraced MailChimp wholeheartedly after they also allowed for RSS driven campaigns to automate notification of your lists of updates on your blog. We have integrated quite a few news pages with MailChimp ,and our clients have been very happy with the outcome and the increased traffic to their websites.

Examples for an RSS feed campaign in Mailchimp

Examples of an RSS Feeds campaign in Feedblitz

Examples broadcast e-mails

MailChimp + Salesforce: Get Integrated!

E-mail marketing and contact management come together…sort of

Last week, I talked about Pauli Systems’ designation as an approved MailChimp Expert, (people and companies who know about e-mail design, coding and programming), and why  MailChimp has been our preferred e-mail marketing vendor for some time now.  This week, I follow up with our experience, to date, with MailChimp + Salesforce integration.

Salesforce is probably the most widely used Customer Relationship Management (CRM) on the market today, and includes a package specific to non-profits, who, by completing a very simple application process, can qualify for 10 free user licences. Salesforce offers almost unlimited customization possibilities, along with superior scalability — as your organization grows, Salesforce will keep up with your evolving contact management requirements.  

So, we were excited to hear when MailChimp announced last year that integration with Salesforce was available, albeit, with limited functionality.  At the time, we decided to “test” the integration, using one of our non-profit clients as our “guinea pig”.  In this case, the client was already using MailChimp for his e-marketing needs, and had recently decided to add Salesforce to his arsenal of marketing tools, as his contact management system of choice.  Perfect!

At the onset of our testing, it became obvious that the integration primarily allowed for a one-way flow of data from Salesforce to MailChimp, i.e., you can import your contacts from Salesforce into a MailChimp list, so you can send an e-mail campaign to them. (Note to self: in future releases, they’ll introduce functionality to sync data both ways.?) On the MailChimp side, you are able to activate an advance tracking option that allows you to track and send basic campaign stats back to Salesforce,  (track opens, clicks, etc), that are captured in the “Notes” section of the contact record. Based on our initial run-through of the functionality, we could easily select and send contact records to our MailChimp list, but the campaign tracking feature was hit or miss; a record might be generated and passed back to Salesforce, but the open and click data was not updated on a consistent basis. Also, there’s no way to customize the data you would like to capture from a campaign and send to Salesforce, (let’s say I included a survey in my MailChimp campaign; currently, there is no way for me to configure the data tracked, so that I can see who completed the survey and their respective responses).  So, there’s still quite a lot that needs to be developed before we can say there is full integration between the two applications.  Baby steps!
MailChimp Connector for Salesforce
Through our designation as a MailChimp Expert, we were  able to participate in an online user community, MailChimp Jungle, and in weekly webinar sessions, hosted by MailChimp, to foster interaction within their expert pool, and to ask questions and share ideas, best practices, likes/dislikes, etc. As a result of these interactions, we learned that MailChimp is ramping up its efforts to complete development of the integration with Saleforce, (due to popular demand!). We shared some of our findings, based on our experience testing earlier in the year, and were then asked if we would be interested in participating in the requirements gathering, and eventual beta testing of the beefed up functionality. We said “you bet!”
At this time, I have had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with the development team leading the effort to provide a more full integration between MailChimp and Salesforce, and it was encouraging to hear that other experts are chiming in and providing similar feedack about the features their clients need, and are expecting to have at some point in the future. And, the future of MailChimp + Salesforce integration will hopefully arrive sometime in early to mid-2011.  Stay tuned…
Puzzle piece image courtesy of

Pauli Systems is your MailChimp Expert

Is your e-mail marketing effort in need of a little TLC? Look no further than Pauli Systems, an approved “MailChimp Expert”.  MailChimp Experts are people and companies who know about e-mail design, coding, and programming. MailChimp has been our preferred e-mail marketing vendor for some time now, so, when they launched their Expert program earlier this year, it was a no-brainer — tell us where to sign up, and we’re there! As a designated Expert, we provide consulting, custom template setup, API work, as well as manage your overall e-mail marketing program. It’s important to note that the process to become an approved Expert requires that references (who are already using MailChimp), are provided at the time an organization completes the application. This way, MailChimp can verify that you know how to use their application, and will be able to successfully help others.

Why is MailChimp our e-marketing vendor of choice?

(And, before you go there, it’s not because of the large check MailChimp writes us each month — because they don’t.) Plainly put, MailChimp offers ease of use that is unparalleled, which is a key benefit for our clients. Whether a client is starting an e-mail marketing program from scratch or is moving from another e-marketing vendor to MailChimp, MailChimp’s intuitive layout and flexibility mean they’re up and running in no time flat.  Also of key importance to our clients is MailChimp’s ability to integrate with Customer Relationship Management systems CRMs), such as Salesforce, Highrise, and BatchBook, to name a few. And, using the MailChimp API, we can configure a registration/subscription process on a clients’ website, that synchronizes with their MailChimp subscriber list. Then, within MailChimp, you have access to dashboards and reports, that let you see the performance of your individual e-mails, and allow you to drill down into open and click statistics per e-mail and per subscriber.

Another cool feature MailChimp offers is a module called “Analytics 360”,  that allows you to pull and consolidate stats from your website traffic tools (such as Google Analytics) right into your MailChimp campaign reports page. Upon clicking the Analytics360 link, MailChimp goes to work for you pulling in your website stats and displays them on a one-stop-shop page. You can see not only how many people might have opened your message and clicked on links, you can also see site traffic, site traffic by geographical region, list growth, top referrer sites, top content viewed on a website, and, if enabled, instant ROI results for every e-mail campaign you send.

Mailchimp Analytics360

You can also target you e-mails to  specific groups of subscribers within your subscription list, offering you greater flexibility in managing those relationships.  Keep in mind, the more focused you are able to target your communication, the higher the probability that your message will be of relevance to the recipient and actually read.  In addition to individual e-mail campaigns, MailChimp also provides for configuration of RSS-driven campaigns, so you can generate automated e-newsletters directly from your website and/or blog posts.  This is particularly noteworthy, since RSS-feed automation is a relatively rare specimen among e-mail marketing systems, and MailChimp’s got it. More communication means more traffic to your website.

Website, Blog, E-News, Mobile in Unity: A Re-design

Advocates for Aviation Safety Foundation, Inc. 

A comprehensive online presence was built with the five channels available: website with a blog, which feeds into an e-mail newsletter, as well as Twitter posts. Supportive of promoting the FAA Safety Team’s aviation seminars and events, AFASF provides an Event Search widget for other sites to use, and for airmen and women to be able to use on their mobile phones, as well.  We re-designed the website for the Advocates for Aviation Safety Foundation, and consolidated content taken from their previous website, as well as a related blog, to support a streamlined/cohesive marketing effort. An e-mail marketing infrastructure was setup to support distribution of a weekly electronic newsletter feed, and other miscellaneous communications to subscribers. In addition, a desktop widget will be developed that will allow users to search for aviation safety seminars and events by zip code, and will display aviation safety news.

Avoid Failure to Launch – 7 tips to successfully introduce your new website to the world!

Months of careful planning, objective setting , design review, content building, and preparation have all come down to this moment’s time to go live and unveil your amazing new website to the world! Of course, as part of your launch strategy, you may be considering an electronic message blast to your core constituency, to get the word out, and build enthusiasm (= get traffic in the door), for the new site and your business. You know, tell them about the whys, whats and goals for providing them with another must visit place on the web.  Sounds simple enough, right? Not so fast.

In your zeal to introduce your website, you may inadvertently shoot yourself in the foot right from the get go. How? Not focusing or narrowing the initial communication to your users/constituents, sharing too much information too soon, or by treating the launch itself as a “trial run”, just to name a few.  Here are 7 tips to help avoid “failure to launch”:

Tip 1: Don’t treat the launch as a beta test. Go forth with gusto!  

Like the saying goes, “there’s no time like the present”, and all those months of planning and prep have led to the present.  Seize it, announce your website with confidence, and avoid the temptation to put it out there on a “trial” basis. For example, in your launch announcement, refrain from

  1. language that implies (or, says so directly), that the new site is not yet ready for prime time, and
  2. including a survey at the end of the message, to gather comments and suggestions.  

Instead, don’t set expectations amongst your users and visitors that the site is in a “test” phase; let them cozy up to the new site, (and, e-newsletter if applicable), before hitting them up for feedback.  Launch it, and let it catch on. (More on this in Tip 6.)

Tip 2: Don’t tell the full story right out of the gate.

Give them a reason to keep coming back. You may have a mountain of information you’d like to share, but the announcement message is not the place to do so. For example, if you have several initiatives and projects in the pieline at the time of launch, resist the urge to include a detailed description of each. (We know you’re excited, but…) Instead, include a brief blurb or teaser about one  or two of them, and then link to the related page or post on your website.  Then, be sure to consistently update your content with all the exciting happenings and progress being made on those initiatives, to keep interest growing.  This is of particular importance,  if you will be incorporating a regularly scheduled e-newsletter into your communication strategy, as well as hooks into social media outlets, such as your Facebook page.

Tip 3: Have content ready to publish for at least a month

This ties into Tip 2 re: not telling the whole story on the first day. Keep in mind that the early stages of a new website are filled with many tasks, including generating fresh content. One timesaving deed you can do for yourself is to have content ready to publish, so that you can follow up your launch with great content. Consider drafting a publishing schedule, so you can visualize what you have in the pipeline, as a means of staying ahead of the game. This also frees you up for the many other activities involved in this stage of your website’s growth.

Tip 4: Drop hints about the upcoming launch to build anticipation

An “under construction” message on your current website is a great way to accomplish this. It lets people know that  something new is coming soon, and helps to bolster the launch announcement. This type of subtle hinting can pique the interests of your long-time supporters and constituents. And, those are the people that count the most when your website launches.  If you don’t have an existing website to post an “under construction” message on, get the word out the old-fashioned way…talk about it every chance you get!

Tip 5: Show site visitors a roadmap of what’s to come

This ties into Tip 1 re: treating the launch as a test. No one gets a new site right on the first day. Unless you release your website, anything you think your users will want and need is just a guess. The people who will best help you figure out what works for your users are your users. Including information and posts on your website about your plans for improvements to the site, what’s already in the works, etc., is an excellent way to entice your visitors to make suggestions, and share their preferences with you.  

Tip 6: Solicit feedback down the road

Once your new site has been up and running for awhile, (perhaps a month or two), survey your constituents, (i.e., the folks you sent the initial announcement to + any new subscribers to your mailing list since the site launched), to find out what they like, what they don’t like, what they’d like to see, suggestions for improvements, etc. There are a number of online survey tools you can use to easily and quickly create a survey for no or low cost, such as SurveyMonkey or SurveyGizmo.  you can then embed the survey on your website, send as a link in your e-newsletter, or send as a separate e-communication.  Of course, it goes without saying (but, I’ll say it anyway), if you take the time to draft and send a survey, take the time to read the responses and “listen” to your users. Let them help you create the best web presence for your company or organization!

Tip 7: Provide easy ways to contact you

When you first launch a site, you have to give visitors ways to communicate with you easily. Your initial visitors are early adopters, and as such, they’ll be critical and will help you find things that might be wrong with the site. Make sure you include an e-mail address folks can send comments/questions to in your initial launch announcement, and, of course, include a “Contact Us” page on the website itself.  

Featured Image: Photo by Bill Jelen on Unsplash

Get the Word Out: E-Mail Newsletters

E-mail newsletters are hotter than ever. They’re a great extension of your business’ or organization’s communication toolkit, and offer you, and your clients, an excellent channel by which you can reach potential and existing customers.

Of course, before you create and send your e-mail newsletter, you’ll need to have relevant and timely content, or news, to share with your readers. The more content and news you generate, the more readers, or subscribers, you’ll be able to attract and keep. Bottomline, content and news drives subscriptions! The quality of your content also sets the tone for how much readers will respect you as a source of trusted advice. If the content has obviously been copied, scraped, or lacks substance, it’s likely your readers won’t view you as an authority.
Making it as easy and intuitive to subscribe to your newsletter is important. After all, users are giving you permission to contact them. You wouldn’t want to mess that opportunity up! Make sure the sign-up (subscription) form is in a prominent, easy to locate place. Consider putting it close to any social icons you have displayed, such as twitter or Facebook? This indicates that this is an extension of your communications with the user.
Next, within the sign-up form, provide a short blurb explaining what the communication is about. This gets you and your users on the same page, so that they’re clear on what to expect from your content.
Finally, ask only for the user’s email address and name, followed by a big button with a verb label: “Subscribe.” Very simple, yet packed with just the right information! How frustrating is it when you attempt to sign up for an e-mail newsletter, only to be confronted with a form that asks for your address, age, phone number, mother’s maiden name, favorite pet…? All we really need is their email address and, if we want to push a bit further, their name. They are giving you their attention, so at least respect them and don’t ask for unnecessary data.

Prior to sending any e-mail broadcasts, you will want to make sure you are acting as a ‘responsible’ e-mail marketer, and will need to familiarize yourself with the “CAN-SPAM Act”. This is a law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations. For more information about the CAN-SPAM Act, click here.

Congratulations! Your sign-up form is up and running, and you’re ready to send out some content — time to figure out what the focus of our newsletter will be. Is your goal to build a following for your website content, announce upcoming events, keep members apprised of current happenings, etc.?  No matter the focus or goal, you’ll want it to be as readable and scannable as possible.

Jakob Nielsen, a leading web usability consultant and ‘guru’, has this to say about how much time users spend reading a newsletter:

“Users spend 51 seconds reading the average newsletter. The layout and writing both need superb usability to survive in the high-pressure environment of a crowded inbox.” Click here to visit Jakob’s site.

Now that you’ve got solid content, and readers who want to subscribe to your newsletter, you’ll want to take advantage of one of the numerous e-mail marketing services available, such as MailChimp, ConstantContact, JangoMail, AWeber, to name just a few.  You can integrate these services into your site design via your online subscription form and setting up an RSS feed, or you can build a contact list within the service itself, and use as a standalone. The benefits of using one of these services is that they are generally low-cost and feature-rich, including access to e-mail campaign statistics, and the ability to integrate with other services, such as Eventbrite, SurveyGizmo, Salesforce, and more.