How to use MailChimp, a free tutorial walk-through with video and screenshots, for any online businessWritten by 2018-01-17 10:57:01
Over the years, people have declared newsletters and email marketing dead, several times. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, email marketing has an average return of $38 for every $1 spent — which alone should show you how beneficial email can be. MailChimp is also what I use to run my own business and I love it so much I teach a full course about how to use MailChimp for business. I also earn $120 from MailChimp for every $1 I spent with MailChimp (I can’t complain at all about that return on investment).
Emailing people via a newsletter is still the most effective way to communicate with an audience. While there are lots of tools you can use to send these emails, MailChimp is the best — and probably the tool used by the most users as well. 246 billion emails were sent via MailChimp in 2016 alone from their over-7 million users.
ASIDE: In case you’re wondering… why should you listen to me, the guy who wrote this? I’m Paul Jarvis, hi! Well, I’ve already taught over 5,600 awesome folks how to use MailChimp better and my ideas about mailing lists have been featured in USAToday, Wired and Adobe. I’m also a MailChimp expert, and my email marketing ideas and strategies on their blog. I’ve run my own business for almost 20 years, and I don’t mean to brag, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who gets the ins and outs of MailChimp more than I do. I’ve not only used it for my own business, but I’ve helped 100 of clients with their own MailChimp lists when I did web design for a living. Now back to this tutorial.
Why even have a mailing list for an online business?
If the above stats aren’t enough to sway you into setting up MailChimp for your business, think about it this way:
Imagine that you own a store in the middle of nowhere. There are no roads leading to your store, so every single day you drive for hours to a populated part of the closest town and try to convince people, one at a time, to come check your store out. You may get a handful of folks convinced that you aren’t a weirdo, and who come to check it out. Out of those few people, even less will buy something from you.
That sounds completely time-consuming and ridiculous, right?
If you don’t have a mailing list that’s exactly what you’re doing every time someone finds your website, doesn’t buy from you (because there wasn’t enough information or the time wasn’t right) and leaves. You’ve got to start to from scratch to get another visitor, over and over.
With a mailing list, you’re able to keep in touch with everyone who visited your store (once you ask for permission) and let them know when you have sales or when you’ve got something new to share with them. That way, after a while, you don’t have to go out and find potential customers at all, because you have a way of talking to them directly… instantly. Even if your digital store is in the middle of nowhere (as in, no one links to it), you can still drive hoards of interested people to if they’re on your list.
Sure, you can do similar on social media, but what about when Facebook changes how you can talk to your fans, or charges you $5 each time you want to talk to them? Of if magazine advertisement that used to cost $100 now costs $5,000?
Your mailing list can’t be taken away from you. Even if you want to move away from MailChimp (gasp!), you simply export your list and move it somewhere else—your subscribers can go with you anywhere you go.
Why do I recommend using MailChimp to people who run online businesses?
- MailChimp is the easiest to setup and use super duper quickly (I’ll walk you through it below in less than X minutes).
- MailChimp is totally free for up to 2,000 subscribers – including automation, A/B testing, landing pages, and custom templates.
- MailChimp is fun: email marketing can be stressful, so their system does a great job of holding your hand when you need it and more importantly, making you laugh when you need it too.
- MailChimp plays well with others: like your WordPress or SquareSpace website, your Shopify store, your Facebook and Twitter profiles, or even your LeadPages landing page.
I 100% believe that MailChimp is the best newsletter solution out there for an online business—whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been doing business for a while.
Here’s what I’ll cover in this MailChimp tutorial
- How to create a MailChimp account
- How to setup your first MailChimp list
- How to connect your MailChimp list to your WordPress website.
- How to style the first things new subscribers see in MailChimp
- How to deliver a welcome message and bonus to new subscribers.
Now let’s get right into the MailChimp basics tutorial, since you’ve got a business to run (using what you learn below).
PSST: Want to watch this article as a video? Click play below
Free vs Paid MailChimp accounts
Which account is best for your business?
It’s simple, only upgrade to a paid account with MailChimp when you hit 2,000+ subscribers – otherwise you get almost all the same features for free (other than Inbox Preview, Delivery by Time Zone and few other minor things). Once you upgrade, you only pay for the subscribers you’ve got, so it starts at $10/month.
MailChimp also offers a $200/month PRO account, which is only useful is you’re doing super sophisticated stuff like advanced segmentation, multivariate testing, or want to run comparative reports. Heck, I’ve made over $1m from my MailChimp account and still don’t use or have their PRO account.
MailChimp Basic Terminology
Every software has it’s own words for what each of it’s features and functions are called. For MailChimp, it’s fairly obvious what each thing is, but since it varies from tool to tool, here’s a brief summary of what everything is called:
- List: this is where subscriber email addresses are stored, who you can send campaigns and automations to.
- Subscriber: this is someone (a contact) who has opted into your your list or given you consent to add them to your list. Legally, you can only add people as subscribers if they’ve given you permission.
- Newsletters: these are the emails you send to the subscribers on your list. Campaigns can either be one-off blasts to your list or automations, which can be single emails or a series of emails that get sent when something specific happens (like a subscriber buys from you or signs up for a content upgrade).
- Template: this is what your campaigns look like, and can use your logo, colours or fonts. MailChimp lets you create templates with their drag and drop creator, although plain-text emails still perform the best
- Merge fields and groups: other newsletter tools refer to these as “tags” but in MailChimp you can associate different bits of information with every subscriber: like what page they signed up from, what they bought or didn’t buy, or what they’re interested in.
Getting Started: creating your MailChimp account
For this tutorial, I’m going to use a silly username, domain name, email address, and list name: Extreme Crappy Name. You’ll be using your own username, domain name, email address and list name—which is much better than Extreme Crappy Name!
The first thing you’ll do is go to MailChimp.com and click on “Sign up for free”.
You’ll be taken to this page, the account creation page.
Once you’ve filled it in with your details, you’ll receive an email to the email address you just filled in. Open it up and click the “Activate Account” big button.
After you’ve confirmed you’re not a robot (I hope you’re not a robot!), you’ll be asked to fill in a bit of information about yourself.
Fill in your name, a bit about your business, and a business address. Note that you have to provide a physical mailing address comply with international spam laws. This is why most businesses that don’t have a separate business address from their home address use a PO BOX (get one in Canada or the US for under $200 per year on average).
I pay $160 CAD for my small box each year, and it’s worth it so that 30,000 people don’t have my home address, plus every week goodies from subscribers (like books or cards) show up from them.
From there you can let MailChimp know if you sell anything online (don’t worry you can change your mind about that later) and connect your Twitter and Facebook profiles (not required or necessary, but useful if you want to share emails to your list on your social media accounts as well).
Once that’s done, you can let MailChimp know if you want to be on their list for getting started or how to use e-commerce with their software. Both of these lists are fun and contain gobs of useful information.
From there, you’ll be taken into your brand new, free MailChimp account! At any time, when you’re logged in, if you want to go back to your dashboard, click the chimp head (he’s called “Freddie”) in the top right:
First, it’s funny to be called “Crappy” by MailChimp, but that’s the name I told them to call me by for this tutorial. We’ll worry about everything else in a minute, but for now let’s just finish optimizing our new account.
Click on your name in the top left, then Account. Here’s where all your account details live, like how many subscribers you’ve got left on your free plan.
The first thing we need to do is make our account more secure, so click on Settings, then Security.
From here you can turn on two-factor authentication using the Authy app or just SMS (SMS is easier, so let’s do that). Click Enable, then enter your phone number. When you do this, you’ll get a security text message when you log into your account, to prove to MailChimp that it’s really you (so no one can hack your account, even if they get your username and password). This is also helpful when it’s time to finally upgrade to a paid account, once you hit 2,000+ subscribers, because if you use two-factor authentication, you get a 10% discount forever.
Once that’s done, click on Settings, then Verified Domains. You’ll see you’re already verified (from that first email you clicked on), but you aren’t authenticated.
Authentication is a step most people skip, but you shouldn’t. When you authenticate, you get better delivery results because the inboxes of your subscribers trust that the email they’re receiving from you is legitimately from you. Think of it like a licence plate for email—it proves that you are who you say you are. This helps your emails to not show up in spam or junk folders, so let’s do this step. If you’d like to watch a video of this step on its own, be sure to visit my authentication tutorial.
Click View Setup Instructions, and you’ll see two DNS changes you’ve got to make to your domain via your domain registrar (the place you registered your domain).
The above screenshot tells me I need to create a CNAME record and a TXT record so I can be authenticated to send from extremelycrappydomainname.com. Don’t worry about what a CNAME or TXT record is right now, just know you’ve got to create them. Since I use Hover (others use GoDaddy, NameCheap, Gandi, etc.), I’ll show you how to add those records using that service. If you’re stuck, contact your domain registrar and tell them that you’re wanting to create 2 records for your domain and need help. Their support will help walk you through doing that. So here’s what you do in Hover: go to the domain in question, click on DNS and then Add a Record.
Leave the MailChimp screen open with the records you need to create and open your domain registrar in another window or tab.
We’ll start with the CNAME, so we’ll change the Type from A to CNAME. We’ll enter the hostname and value (target name) exactly as they appear on the MailChimp page. In the case of this tutorial, I enter k1._domainkey and dkim.mcsv.net.
Next, we’ll add the TXT record, so we’ll click Add a Record again, change the Type from A to TXT. We’ll then enter @ as the Hostname and v=spf1 include:servers.mcsv.net ?all for the Content.
We’re now done with our domain registrar, so we can go back to the MailChimp screen, and click Authenticate Domain. If everything was done correctly, it’ll show you a checkmark beside Authentication under your domain name. If not, it may tell you to wait a little while (you can come back to this screen at any time) or tell you there was a problem (in which case, contact the help desk of your domain registrar to help you).
Now that the main parts of your account are setup and ready to go (they’re secure and you’re authenticated), you’re ready to setup your very first MailChimp list, hooray!
Don’t worry, if editing domain records stressed you out, you only have to do that once ever for your domain, and it’s the one and only time you’ve got to do anything related to domains in MailChimp.
How to setup your first MailChimp list
Remember that a list is really just a place MailChimp organizes all your subscribers. You can create as many lists as you want, but subscribers count towards your total (you pay for each one after 2,000 subscribers). Note, I teach you the best way to use only one list per account, so you never pay for duplicates, in the Chimp Essentials course.
Not to be cheeky, but if you signed up for a MailChimp account, you’ve already got a list! So congrats, you’ve half-finished this setup without doing anything (go you). By default, MailChimp creates your first list with a name that matches your business name (you filled that out when you created your account) and it adds you to your list, which is helpful so you see what your subscribers see when you email them.
If you want to create more lists, click Create List, but for this tutorial, let’s just setup the list you’ve got. See the down arrow beside Stats, in the right-hand column of the list? Click it.
These are all the settings for your new list, most we can skip (for now), but the important parts we should setup immediately. Click on List name and campaign defaults, and you’ll see some general information about your first list.
If you want to change the list name (who wouldn’t want their list to be called Extremely Crappy Name), you do that here.
What’s most important on this page are three things: Opt-in, reCAPTCHA and URL (paid option) and Unsubscribe Confirmations.
- By default, MailChimp uses single opt-in, meaning if someone signs up for your mailing list, they don’t have to confirm they want onto it by clicking an email (that’s double opt-in). You can read about the benefits and drawbacks of each here. We’ll leave it set to single opt-in as that’s the most common.
- reCAPTCHA requires contacts to confirm they aren’t robots. This is handy for both the singularity and to prevent spam signups. If you’re not worried about either, you can leave it off. That way real humans interested in joining your list have to jump through less hoops to get onto it.
- The Campaign URL is something that’s created every time you send out a campaign. So each send to your list creates a webpage on MailChimp’s server that looks exactly like your campaign. This is handy in case you want to share that campaign on social media or your website, or even better, if your subscribers want to share your campaign on social media or their own website. If you have a free MailChimp account, don’t even worry about it, MailChimp generates a URL for each campaign randomly and automagically. If you have a paid account, you can create your own URLs.
- You might be tempted to turn on Unsubscribe Automations (by checking the box, it’s so tempting!). If you do this, know that it technically breaks CAN-SPAM laws and can ruin your email addresses reputation because people generally mark those as spam, teaching everyone that your email should go to spam (which it shouldn’t, right?). So leave that off. ALWAYS.
How to set up MailChimp sign up emails
Now that the important settings are set, let’s give your new list some style.
Click on Signup Forms, beside Settings, and let’s get started. Then click General forms.
MailChimp is amazing because it lets you customize your signup process to match the style of your business, so logo, colours and fonts, all without touching any code.
Now, if you want to direct people to a signup page that MailChimp hosts for you for free, this is it. Except right now it’s ugly and grey.
So let’s give it some style by clicking on Design it. From here you can change the background, fonts, colours and form elements to match your own website. Do that until you’re pleased with how it looks.
Now, if you want to change any of the writing on the page, like “Subscribe to list” click on Translate it, and update the default text (not many people know to do this, so congrats on that!). Here’s what my own extremely crappy list signup page looks like.
Now if you want to send new subscribers a final subscription welcome message or even a gift (like a PDF download), click on the dropdown under Forms and response emails and select Final welcome email and make sure Send final welcome email is checked (FYI: in Chimp Essentials I show you how to create different onboarding emails based on content upgrades and specific product purchases). From here you can add some custom content by editing the area called Your subscription to our list has been confirmed.
If you want to add a download, like a PDF or audio file, to the final welcome email, then click the content box (outlined in red dashes) to edit the content, then highlight the words you want to link to (in the case above, it was “bonus PDF”) then click the link icon, which looks like a chain. Change the Link to dropdown from Web address to File and you’ll be taken to MailChimp’s uploader. Drag whatever file you want to link to onto the screen and boom, it’ll put in the URL to the file into the link box for you and you’re done.
Now the necessities of your mailing list are setup: you’ve set the options up, you’ve styled the form to match your brand and maybe you’ve even added in a little bonus for subscribers. Go you!
How to connect your MailChimp list to your WordPress website
A good thing about MailChimp is that there are so many ways to put a signup form onto your website. Let’s cover a few of the main and best ways to do it, although with WordPress the sky is the limit since there are infinite plugins.
Let’s look the best ways to get people to signup for your list:
Landing pages: this new MailChimp feature makes it easy to create a stunning page that you can link to from your social profiles, guest posts or even from your website. To create one, go to Campaigns, then Create a campaign, then Create a landing page. Once you give it a name, you’ll be able to style it and update any text you’d like. By adding a short blurb, and maybe a great background image (get one from Unsplash), you’ll be good to go to share the URL anywhere:
Once you’ve happy with the design, you can give it a Page title and hit publish. From here, just copy the URL you’re given anywhere you want to share your list:
In the future, if you need to update the text, the design or anything else, just un-publish it, make your changes, and publish it again.
As I mentioned, these landing pages are great to use in your social media bio’s and from guest posts.
WordPress Plugin: I could talk about how there are literally 1,000s of plugins to connect MailChimp to your WordPress site and discuss the pros and cons of each, but really, mc4wp is the best plugin because it works well and offers great support (they even support the free version of their plugin). Their free version works great if you need basic features or just a single form you want to use on pages on your website. The PRO version is only $59/year and offers the ability to create multiple forms, has reporting features and even integrates with some ecommerce stores—it’s what I use on every single website I’ve got.
To install mc4wp, go to your WordPress dashboard, click Plugins, then Add new, then search “mc4wp” and click Install Now and Activate.
MailChimp for WP will show up in your sidebar now, so click it. It’ll ask for your API key, which is fancy way of saying it needs your mailing list’s secret handshake. Click the link Get your API key here, and you’ll be taken back into your MailChimp account. On this page, click Create an API key.
Now copy it and paste it back into the mc4wp page in your WordPress site and click Save Changes.
Now your MailChimp account is connected to your WordPress site! If you click Form now, on the left, you can create a form that you can use on your homepage, blog posts, etc.—anywhere on your website. Give your form a name, select the right list (if you have more than one), and click the blue Add new form button.
Here’s your new form—you can change the text if you’d like, or leave it as-is. If you click Preview, you’ll see what the form looks like in your WordPress theme (hint: the PRO version lets you style the form without any programming). You can also click Get shortcode and paste that info any post, page or custom post. For now, let’s click Save Changes, and create a widget.
If your WordPress theme supports widgets, as most do, the easiest way to use mc4wp is to add it as a widget to your sidebar or footer. So if you click Appearance on the left, then Widgets, we can do that.
Now, if you simply drag the MailChimp Sign-Up Form widget to the widget area you want to use it on, you’ll be good to go. The subscriber form will now show up on every page that displays the widget area you added it to.
If you’d like to use your new mc4wp form on a specific page or post, grab the shortcode from the Form page and paste it into your content, like so:
Now you’ve got a fully functional sign-up form on your WordPress site. Go you!
Popups: setting aside the massive conversion about popups, how they can effect your search ranking and how they can potentially be annoying to visitors, they can also work well. I’ll leave your decision to use them or not use them up to you and what’s right for your business.
Phew, with that popup disclaimer out of the way, if you want to use them, here’s the easiest way to use a popup on MailChimp, since they offer you the ability to create them directly inside your MailChimp account. You can then add the code they give you to any website running on any content management system. Another easy way (which I won’t cover here) is to use the boxzilla plugin, from our new friends at mc4wp.
To add a popup using what MailChimp gives you, click on Lists, then Signup forms from the dropdown on the right of your list, beside the word Stats. Now click on Subscriber popup and you’ll see this.
Since the default is incredibly boring, we should customize it, just like we customized our signup process and the landing page. So use the customizations on the right to give your popup some style and pizazz. One thing to note is that you may way to use On exit for the Display setting, as Google can punish websites that show popups immediately.
Once you’re happy with the settings, click Generate Code and copy it, and click Publish. You can then paste that code into your WordPress site (or Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, etc.). Note that the popup only shows up once a year for each person who visits your site, so it won’t be super annoying.
Beyond these 3 simple ways—when you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to supercharge your signup forms with advanced techniques which will turn your simple list into an email marketer’s paradise, by also collecting other information about subscribers, like where they signed up, what they bought or didn’t buy, and what they’re interested in. That’s covered in my Chimp Essentials course.
Now you know how to use landing pages, popups and a plugin to put your MailChimp signup form onto your website and out into the world. Make sure it’s easy for other folks to find and that there’s a good reason for them to sign up (i.e. always think about what’s in it for another person to join, instead of just “Signup for my list!”).
How to use MailChimp to send your first email to subscribers
Now that you’ve got a way for people to get onto your mailing list, it’s time to email them! This can be scary or stressful, but if someone signed up for your list, they only did that because they actually want to hear from you. So let’s create your first campaign.
In your MailChimp account, if you click Campaigns, then Create a Campaign, you’ll see several options: Create an Email, Create an Ad, and Create a Landing Page. Click on Create an Email, since that’s what we’re doing here and keep Regular selected (since we aren’t getting wacky with Automations or A/B testing in this tutorial).
Before we get started, give it a name. This name is for your internal purposes only, but for ease and speed, you can just name it what the subject line will be. Now you’ll see a screen with all the campaign options, so let’s go through them one at a time.
To start, we need to define who this email will go to, so we’ll click Add Recipients. The easiest thing to do is just pick your list and keep All Subscribers on list selected. This emails everyone who’s signed up. To get fancy/advanced, you can send campaigns to a segment or group.
Once that’s saved, click on Add From, right below it. This shows your subscribers who sent the email (i.e. you or your business). Give the name something they’ll recognize, for example, if they signed up on the Extremely Crappy Website, I’d put “Extremely Crappy Website” as the From name.
Next we want to Add Subject, and give our campaign a good subject line and preview text.
What makes a good subject line? Briefly, consider two main factors: What would make someone want to open the email? And, what’s honestly inside the email? Legally, you’ve got to be honest and not mislead with a subject line, but you’ve also got to think about what’s in it for the subscriber? They get tons of email a day, so what could catch their attention and click on your email?
Preview text is the little bit of text that appears under or beside the subject line in most email clients. Here’s what the preview text looks like in Gmail, where the preview text is “Before sending your campaign, your domain must be validated” and the subject line is “Verify Your Domain Before Sending”:
Now that the To, From, and Subject are setup, it’s time to move onto the main course, the actual email campaign, so click Design Email and we’ll get started.
MailChimp comes with a whack of email designs for you to use, they let you create your own styled templates, and even simply reuse a previous campaign’s style. Let’s create a new campaign style since this is our first email to our list.
From every text I’ve ever run (and most tests other experts have run), simple is always best. That means, less images, less text, less design, less elements. By doing this you ensure your emails are more likely to be read all the way through and then more likely to be clicked on. So let’s select, Simple Text, which is the last template on the list.
Now we can click on any element on the left to edit the text, from the header to the footer, and on the right you can edit or add new elements. If you feel overwhelmed with options here, do two things: add your content and change the link colour to match your website, that’s it. That’s more than enough to send a great email.
Once you’ve got your campaign written, you should preview it, so click on Preview and Test, then Enter Preview Mode.
You’ll be able to see exactly what your new campaign looks like on a desktop screen and a mobile device. This way, if anything looks or seems wrong, you can fix it. Once it’s ready to go, click Save and Continue (once you exit the preview screen if you’re in that). Now your email is ready to send!
You can click Schedule if you want to send it sometime in the future, or Send if you want to send it right now, so let’s do that. This is your moment of glory!
Here’s what it would look like when your subscribers receive it:
What’s next for your MailChimp list: Going beyond MailChimp basics
Congrats, you’ve now got the basics of MailChimp and email marketing down, GO YOU! This is just the first step though, as with most things, the basics are a solid start to a journey of learning. What I love about MailChimp is that it’s easy to get started (through this tutorial) and as you get more confidence and become more advanced, it’s there for you with amazing expert features.
The best resource for learning how to use MailChimp for your online business is my course Chimp Essentials (Is it considered braggy if it’s true? Just sayin..) I show you exactly how to do things like avoiding duplicate subscribers, tracking all sorts of data for each subscriber, creating great and personalized funnels and automations and much more. Join over 5,600 students who’ve already signed up and gone from MailChump to MailChamp.
If you’re looking for more free resources, that’s cool too. Here are a few articles I’ve written on other features in MailChimp:
- Three most powerful automations
- Automating potential leads
- Automated emails for business repeat customers
- Dear FNAME, newsletter personalization isn’t what you think it is
- This is the exact opposite of every “grow your list” article
- Which is better, ConvertKit or MailChimp?
- How to make money from your MailChimp mailing list
- Drip Campaigns
- Segmentations & Groups
- Surveys and Polls
- Plain text is always best
- WordPress Plugins
Join 6,257 students already taking their MailChimp mailing list from a business expense to a source of revenue.
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