While I’m not the resident email expert at our agency JB Media (I’ll leave that to Email Marketing Manager Kirsten Campbell), I do manage the email newsletters for the JB Media Institute. I’ve learned a thing or two over the past couple of years, including how daunting it can be to hit the “send” button to a list of more than 2,000 people. Ah!

For September’s Digital Drop-in, I focus on some tips and tricks for managing a MailChimp account based on my personal experience—particularly managing and growing email lists, creating effective subject lines, and designing email campaigns. While the information I share in the webinar is specific to MailChimp’s features, many of these best practices can be applied to any email marketing platform.

Understanding the Language of MailChimp

Like many online software platforms, MailChimp has its own terminology that you’ll need to understand to fully grasp all the features available to you. Here are four essential terms that appear within MailChimp:

    1. Campaigns – This is what is actually sent to your users. So think of this like a newspaper or a flyer you might receive in the (snail) mail. MailChimp runs behind-the-scenes reports on how well it was received.
    2. Templates – Templates are the “printing press” of your e-newsletter on which campaigns are built. You can replicate templates and tweak them again and again. I share two examples we use for the Institute: a newsletter template (reads kind of like a newspaper with many sections, photos, etc.) and a personal appeal template (reads more like a letter).
    3. Lists – People who receive your campaigns are organized by lists. Lists can be broken down into more detail using groups and segments. More on that later!
    4. Reports – MailChimp features robust analytics data (even at the free level). Reports not only reveal the results of your campaigns (such as links clicked, open rates, and unsubscribe rates), but also provide valuable data about your contacts (e.g. how often they open your emails, what time they opened your email, etc.)


How Should You Manage Your Lists Within MailChimp?

Each list within MailChimp works independently of one another. For example, if one person appears on two separate lists, MailChimp views that person as two separate subscribers with data unique to each list. A person in two lists is considered two contacts. With their Forever Free plan, MailChimp allows you to have up to 2,000 subscribers across all the lists in your account, so having duplicate people across multiple lists will fill up your free user space quite quickly if you don’t watch out!

The way I see it, there are two schools of thought when it comes to list management within MailChimp. On the one hand, you can create several lists that speak to separate audiences, meaning the profiles of the contacts within one list are very different and distinct than another list. One example would be lists based on geographic location or frequency of purchases. However, if you anticipate any crossover of contacts within your lists (that one person may end up on several lists), I highly recommend having one master list (instead of multiple) and utilizing the groups and segments feature to manage your contacts and break them down into smaller sections based on information, such as interests, geographic location, or preferences.

Whether you choose many lists or one large list that contains several groups and segments, know that putting the work in organizing your lists on the front end will save you not just time but money in the long run. You also may pay more for more people. It comes down to budget. While MailChimp does a lot of the grooming for you, I recommend reviewing your inactive subscribers every quarter and determining if you’d like to pay to have that subscriber or not.

Here are some things to consider when you’re creating or updating your lists of contacts within MailChimp:

  • Who are the audiences you want to reach with your messaging?
  • What types of messaging do you want to send to each list?
  • How often to you anticipate sending emails to each list?
  • How does your messaging differ from one list to another?

Digging Deeper into MailChimp Lists: Utilizing Groups and Segments

I made the decision to organize most of our JB Media Institute contacts in a large “master” list broken down into groups, sub-groups, and segments after a particularly embarrassing email marketing faux pas by yours truly.

In short, I had previously organized different Institute audiences into their own unique lists (for example, I had an “alumni” list, a “bootcamp attendee” list, a “friends of JB Media Institute” list, etc.) Some people appeared on one, two, or even three of these lists, so when I sent out the same email campaign to all three lists, those people who appeared on multiple lists received the same email multiple times. Yikes! It was then I realized how common these overlaps can be and that I should utilize groups and segments for our email lists. MailChimp does not recognize when it has already contacted somebody who is in a separate list with the same campaign if you try to send it to them again.

So, what are groups and segments? Let’s define!

Groups within lists file your contacts into categories. Think of them as tags. To avoid the faux pas I just shared, I should have had a master list and made one person a part of the “alumni” group, a part of the “bootcamp attendee” group, and a part of the “friends of JB Media Institute” group, as one person can be a part of many groups.

Groups are helpful for excluding people from receiving certain campaigns. For example, suppose I want to send a campaign to people in the “alumni” group but NOT the “bootcamp attendee” group. With the group feature, I can easily remove one group with a single click before I hit the “send” button. Groups can easily be edited, built upon, and added to over time, unlike segments.

Segments within lists are often speaking more toward a certain behavior your contact might take or has taken. Segmentation can be automatic or manual. For example, I had a segment of people who had signed up for and attended a marketing conference last year (I manually created this segment). As you can imagine, the messaging of a campaign for past attendees would differ from leads who we’d like to come this year and have never been. The segment of past attendees I shared was “static segment,” meaning this segmentation of people won’t change. The conference was over; the people who came were the people in this segment, and it won’t be added to. While I don’t cover this topic in the webinar, MailChimp does have some built-in segmentation options you can explore to help manage your list (for example, it will help you segment people who haven’t purchased from your site in a while, or haven’t opened your email in a while).

Tips for Growing Your Email List

Want to grow your email list? Of course you do! Email is one of the best ways to get the right message in front of the right audience. Let your website or your social media channels do the work for you! Here are some action steps you can take today to increase your email list signups:

  1. Have the signup form/widget on all high traffic pages, including your homepage, in an easily visible area (i.e. not at the bottom of your page, where it’s hard to find!)
  2. Be clear about the content of your email newsletter. What can people expect to receive if they join your email list? For the JB Media Institute, we are typically sharing resources, info about events, and upcoming trainings.
  3. You can integrate your signup form with your Facebook page or within other third-party websites or mobile apps.

Get Your Email Opened with Effective Subject Lines

There is a lot of information online about best practices for writing email subject lines, so I am sharing what has worked well for me and not necessarily covering the full gamut of what is recommended. These tips include:

  1. Keeping the subject line somewhat short, if you can. Use active language that inspires people to do something. Puns like “Fall into Savings” are cute, but they’re now pretty generic and don’t inspire people to take a specific action.
  2. Make sure you note in the subject line if you’re offering a discount or coupon inside. Don’t assume people will just open your email and find that offer. (And I recommend not using dollar signs in your subject line, as this can trigger spam filters.)
  3. Utilize merge tags to add personalization in your subject line. This article from MailChimp gives further insight on merge tags.
  4. A/B testing is free within MailChimp. With this method, you create two subject lines, and MailChimp will send a small cross section of your list the same email with two different subject lines. Whichever line performs better with open rates, MailChimp will choose to send it to the rest of your list.
  5. Utilize the preview text when setting up your MailChimp campaign. This is the text that actually appears next to or under the subject line that gives you a quick summary of what is included inside the email.
  6. Remember who your “from” name is within MailChimp. For example, we often send emails from sender “JB Media Institute.” To include the words “JB Media Institute” in subject lines, then, would be redundant and a poor use of valuable character real estate!

Email Design Best Practices – What’s Worked for Us

Lastly, my presentation included some pointers on designing your email campaigns and templates to inspire people to connect with your brand and to take action. As you design your emails, remember:

  • You want to make the experience from your website to your email campaign fairly cohesive, so try to utilize the same fonts (if possible) and the same font colors.
  • MailChimp will default to certain colors for hyperlinks or for buttons and you can absolutely adjust these using specific, branded colors from your color wheel. For example, the default button color in MailChimp is a nice, sky blue. I think with buttons, or times when you’re wanting people to take a specific action, you should experiment with colors (bright, bold colors usually help to inspire action).
  • Make sure images are linkable to the content they pertain to. Sometimes people will think an image is a button, so it’s best to make your images link to something off the page related to the content the image is representing.
  • The order of content matters. Put your most important info up top, and your subject line should speak mostly to that content. No one wants to through a super long email!
  • Not all emails campaigns need to be composed of multiple sections. For example, if you’re reminding people that a discount code is about to expire or an event is about to happen, just keep it short and sweet.
  • Preview your newsletter in mobile view since people are not always just opening up emails on their desktop. This is a feature across free and paid MailChimp accounts to preview your campaign on mobile, tablet, and desktop.
  • Use the Click Map feature (under Reports) to see which layouts are working best and where exactly people are clicking within each campaign. You may find there are more clicks happening at the top of your email than at the bottom. Maybe they aren’t clicking your “social share” links at all. This info can help you “clean up” your campaign layouts.

Remember, email marketing is just one piece of the content marketing puzzle. For more on content development and distribution, including email marketing best practices and more, check out our Introduction to Content Marketing Course. Take up to three months to complete the course at your own pace. Click send with confidence!