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Using Mailchimp for Email Marketing

Mailchimp has long held a leadership position in the email marketing space. While it does offer a free plan, we splurged for the “Grow” plan so we could try out the system’s analytics, reporting, and other features. The pricing structure may be unclear, but the software itself is quite easy to use. Because of its robust feature set and usability, we’ve awarded Mailchimp our Editors’ Choice designation in our email marketing software roundup. It joins the ranks of our other pick Campaigner, which is also quite effective. Simply put, Mailchimp has just about everything you’ would need to get started with effective email marketing campaigns. If you need even more functionality, then you can upgrade to the Pro plan, which starts at $199.

Mailchimp’s pricing doesn’t compare too well against the competition, as we calculated how much it would cost a small business with 2,500 contacts in its marketing database to get started with Mailchimp. The answer? It’s $30 per month, which is quite an upfront investment, although AWeber$19.00 at Aweber is similar as it offers a comparable plan for $29 per month. On the other hand, $30 probably isn’t a dealbreaker for most businesses and you definitely don’t want to skimp on email marketing software. Fortunately, there is no cap on how many messages you can send with the paid plans.

Mailchimp’s mobile app lets you craft and send campaigns from an Android or iOS device. You can also add promo codes to your emails, landing pages, and even re-market via Google Ads. Mailchimp has added a few features, including Alerts for pay-as-you-go customers, Inbox Preview, and chat support for paid customers. Pay-as-you-go customers can opt into Alerts when they are reaching a certain threshold and can automatically reload credits when they’re running low. The company also added Facebook and Instagram ad campaigns, product recommendations, and free marketing automation to its services.

Inbox Preview is an add-on feature that lets you know how your emails will look across more than 40 desktop, web, and mobile email clients since each service displays HTML in slightly different ways. Mailchimp users pay for this feature by using tokens that can be purchased in bundles of 25 for $3 per piece. Paid monthly users get 25 tokens per month and Pro users get 1,000 tokens per month. Unused tokens expire at the end of each 30-day billing cycle, and the free token balance resets on the billing cycle renewal date.

Email Marketing Packages

Mailchimp takes a very creative approach to pricing. Many small businesses will pick up Mailchimp because it provides professional email marketing services for free—up to a point. The Forever Free plan lets you send 12,000 emails per month to up to 2,000 accounts. This works if you have a fairly small subscriber list and send newsletters less than six times per month. If you email your subscribers more frequently, then you will soon outgrow this plan. The monthly plans let you send unlimited messages and pricing varies by the number of subscribers. Its Growing Business plan (its lowest subscription plan) begins at $10 per month for up to 500 subscribers. Pricing then rises to $15 per month for up to 1,000 subscribers and $20 per month for up to 1,500 subscribers. You can enter the number of estimated subscribers on the handy calculator available on Mailchimp’s website to get an exact price. For example, a monthly plan for 5,000 subscribers costs $50 per month.

Mailchimp also offers a pay-as-you-go plan that’s designed for businesses that discover the free plan isn’t enough but for which the monthly plans aren’t quite right either. Under the pay-as-you-go plan, you pay for each email and the rates vary by volume: the more you buy, the lower the price. For example, 300 credits cost $0.03 per email while 200,000 credits cost $1,000 or $0.005 per email. Mailchimp’s online calculator helps you determine how many credits you need to purchase. There are specialized pay-as-you-go plans, such as high-volume cost per mile (CPM) pricing plans; these are handy if you have a large list. These plans start from $2,500 and go up to $10,000.

Mandrill is a paid add-on for monthly users that handles transactional emails and messages triggered by specific events, such as password resets, receipts, and other notifications. One thing to remember about the pay-as-you-go plans: If you cancel your account or Mailchimp shuts you down for spamming, then you will not get refunds for unused credits.

Setting Up a Mailchimp Account

You start with Mailchimp’s free account by creating a username and secure password. Mailchimp doesn’t let you start with a paid account right away because it wants to make sure the account is correctly set up and won’t be used for spam. Mailchimp takes spam concerns seriously; you have to first activate your account by clicking on the link in a confirmation email and then entering a CAPTCHA code on the screen. Mailchimp also requires a valid URL for your website so, if you don’t have one yet, then set up a blog or website, stat.

From the dashboard, we clicked our name on the top right-hand corner to enter the Account Settings screen. This screen displays to how many people you are sending messages and how many messages you’ve sent this month. The free plan is generous enough to fit the needs of most small businesses. But let’s assume that your email marketing strategy requires a bit more. You can’t upgrade just yet, however, because Mailchimp wants to see the full list of subscribers you’re contacting, with appropriate permissions as well as a saved draft of a campaign. All of this is so that Mailchimp can verify you’re not a spammer. We made sure to complete these steps. After Mailchimp reviewed our account, we were able to upgrade to a paid plan. While other tools do care about spamming, Mailchimp is more aggressive about its checks.

Setting Up a Marketing Campaign

Mailchimp does a great job helping businesses get started on the platform. The dashboard lays out the steps very clearly: import your list, create and send a campaign, and start building your audience. As the first step in creating the list, we entered the sender email address, sender name, and a quick explainer on how the subscriber wound up on this list. We then had the option to import our list from a CSV or TXT file, copy and paste from a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, import from email marketing platform Constant Contact, or grab the information from third-party providers such as Capsule, Eventbrite, FreshBooks, Google Contacts, Google Drive, Highrise, Salesforce, Zendesk Support, and multiple products from Zoho. For our test, we connected Mailchimp to our Google account.

We specified from which fields to grab our Google contacts and clicked the “Import List” button. While the import happened in the background, we worked on a campaign. Before we could define a campaign, we had to decide if everyone on our list was going to get this email or if only a segment of them were going to get it. Creating a segment is easy since you can manually copy and paste in a list of recipient email addresses, use a segment you have previously created, or create a series of filters to create a subset of contacts.

We set tracking options such as who opened the messages and which campaign links were clicked. Mailchimp has an enhanced tracking option that works by linking to our website’s Google Analytics (GA), Highrise, or Salesforce$75.00 at salesforce.com accounts, or by tracking user engagement via Clicktale. You can also send Mailchimp information about which links the recipient clicked and what orders were placed. You can also post on Facebook or Twitter after sending out an email blast.

Remember how I said Mailchimp is serious about keeping spammers out? There is an option here to verify the “From:” email address. Until you do that, you can’t proceed with the process.

Crafting the Email

Mailchimp offers various campaigns. The Regular campaign is an HTML email with a plain-text alternative. The plain-text campaign uses no pictures or formatting. The A/B testing campaign lets you test up to three different variables in a campaign to test which type of messaging has the most effective results. Pro plan users can test up to eight variables. The RSS Campaign lets you send content from an RSS feed on a set schedule.

The email is template-driven and Mailchimp offers nine layouts, five intent-based templates, and 90 themes. There is also an HTML editor to design your own template. The Email Template Reference Guide has code examples and other tips for designing effective emails. That said, unless you have an in-depth understanding of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and HTML, we would avoid the HTML editor and stick with the templates. The editor isn’t that easy to use despite the Help materials. The templates are simple to use though. We dragged and dropped social-sharing elements, footer blocks, buttons, images, and other page elements into the layout screen to design our email.

Let’s say you upload an image and then realize it’s not quite right for your email layout. The built-in photo editor lets you add some special effects and crop, resize, and adjust the brightness, saturation, and focus of the image. Once done, a checklist appears to verify that all of the tasks were completed.

These campaigns can be sent immediately or scheduled to be sent later. Paid plans let you send messages in batches so you don’t melt down your website with the responses. Mailchimp also includes Timewarp, which is a feature that delivers messages according to your recipient’s time zone. It’s great if you want everyone on your list to receive the message at 9 a.m. their local time. Editors’ Choice Campaigner lacks this feature.

The “Track Out-of-Office Messages and Other Emails from Recipients” makes it easy to define auto-triggers for when to send emails based upon certain events and times.

Tracking Campaign Performance

When we clicked the Reports tab, we saw a list of all Sent campaigns. We clicked “View Report” to see the campaign reports. We could see how many messages were sent, how many were opened, and how many links were clicked. The reports don’t automatically refresh and there’s no Reload button. We just reloaded the website manually from the browser.

There is also a delay with these reports. We opened several messages but they did not show up on the report, even after 10 minutes. We did see an almost immediate refresh for clicking on a link, though. It’s a given in email marketing that emails won’t be flagged as opened if the recipient has images turned off in the email client, and it’s no different with Mailchimp.

We do like the fact that we can look at individual subscribers and tell who our most-engaged customers are, at least in terms of who opens all of our messages. There should be a message that says “This page will not refresh automatically” and that it isn’t real-time tracking.

Mailchimp Elements

If for any reason you need to stop sending newsletters and promotions, then you can pause your account temporarily so you won’t be billed. But you can pause your account only twice a year so carefully plan your hiatuses. And if you are no longer satisfied with Mailchimp, then you can permanently delete all of your mailing lists, email campaigns, and reports. There are options to export and backup your data, which is nice.

Mailchimp feels a little disconnected, though. When we started a campaign, we specified to which segment or list we wanted to send the emails. If we had to create a new segment, we were directed to that window. Once done, we returned to the main dashboard. It would be nice to be redirected back to where we were in the campaign creation process. Mailchimp says we should not have been redirected to the dashboard, though; instead they said we can create a segment in the Campaign wizard.

But we like the way Mailchimp lets you take information from multiple sources to create your lists. If you have GA or an e-commerce platform, then that information from Mailchimp can be sent to those tools. You can integrate with other tools such as Salesforce and SurveyMonkey$25.00 at SurveyMonkey to create powerful messages.

All About Self-Service

Mailchimp relies on self-service to address most customer questions and issues. You can look through guides, Knowledge Base (KB) articles, and tutorials for information. There is an “Email Us” button to reach technical support and billing but it’s a little hard to find.

The Help materials—dialog boxes, support pages, and tutorials—are tremendously helpful and straightforward. Mailchimp used to have funny status messages and cute icons all over its UI. Those have been cleaned up to be more helpful, more professional, and less playful. For example, back in 2009, the status message that confirmed the campaign had been sent was, “You, my friend, just kicked some email bootay!” but now it’s a more staid, “High Five!” or “Done and done!” accompanied by an animated image. It appears Mailchimp decided to tone down its irreverence to attract more straight-laced businesspeople.

Refreshed UI and other new features

Since our original review, Mailchimp has gone under something of a brand refresh. In addition to a new logo and brand colors used throughout the system, the company has overhauled the platform’s user interface (UI). According to a representative from the company, the development team wanted to make the platform feel lighter and more simple.

The platform’s UI had already been a breeze to navigate, and we’re happy to report that the company has only improved the look and feel of the platform. Pages load very quickly, and every page looks simple and uncluttered. Simply put, the company has improved on a good thing.

Good Marketing Tool With Which to Start

Mailchimp is tremendously easy to use and it’s a great entry point for small businesses that are just getting started with email marketing. The analytics are straightforward, showing opens, bounces, clickthrough rates, subscriber behavior, and more. Mailchimp has everything you need at a price most businesses can afford. With such easy-to-use services, there really is no excuse for a small business to shy away from email marketing.

Mailchimp is our Editors’ Choice for basic email marketing services. For businesses with large subscriber lists or a mature marketing strategy, Mailchimp Pro offers advanced user segments, comparative reports, and many other tools. It’s also worth considering Campaigner, our other Editors’ Choice for email marketing tools, which offers advanced tools at a range of prices.

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