Manage a mailing list with MailChimp

Email marketing gets a bad rap. With so much spam already clogging up inboxes worldwide, small-business owners may be understandably wary of sending automated sales emails. But a well-run email campaign can yield positive results. Sending carefully targeted, well-designed emails to an opt-in audience can increase web traffic and conversions more effectively than the most active social media campaign.

Making a success of email marketing is easier said than done, however. Building a list, managing sign-ups, designing your emails and distributing them is a big job, and it gets bigger as your business expands. Enter MailChimp – a service that provides list management, drag-and-drop email design and in-depth performance reports for organisations of all sizes. And there’s no need to pay until your list grows to a substantial size, so with the aid of a free HTML editor, it’s possible to launch your first email campaign without paying a penny.

Signing people up

The first way MailChimp helps out is by storing the addresses of everyone who has agreed to hear from you in a mailing list. If you already have a list of email addresses, you’ll be prompted to import it right after creating your MailChimp account (see below).

If you don’t have such a list, or want to expand one, MailChimp can also host a handy sign-up page for you. Under MailChimp’s Lists tab, you can choose “Create forms” to set up sign-up pages where your would-be mail recipients can enter their names and addresses. To prevent the service from being abused, MailChimp uses a double opt-in process; when a new email address is entered into your web form, the system doesn’t add it to your list until the owner of that address acknowledges receipt of a confirmation email. This reduces spamming, by making it impossible to sign up people without their knowledge and active assent – MailChimp estimates that a list using double opt-in receives only around three spam reports per 50,000 recipients.

However, it gives new users a little extra work to do before they start receiving your messages. Hosting sign-ups at MailChimp’s site also limits the ability to use your own website branding, and to integrate the sign-up process into other parts of your business.

Happily, there are ways to mitigate both of these concerns, should you wish to do so. Head to the “For your website” dropdown box in the main List view and you’ll find the code for the sign-up form, which you can copy and paste into a page on your own site. The classic form comprises standard HTML, CSS and JavaScript, so customising it is simple.

The CoffeeCup web form builder makes it easy to create attractive sign-up pages

Email authentication can’t be disabled within MailChimp, but you’re free to use a different sign-up system that doesn’t insist on double opt-in if you prefer. One such alternative is the excellent Web Form Builder from CoffeeCup – a standalone service that provides you with a wysiwyg interface for building web forms, and supports the MailChimp API, so all you need to do is generate an API key and plug it into CoffeeCup’s software to have sign-ups automatically added to your mailing list. The basic version of Web Form Builder is free, but if you want to host the forms it creates on your own site, you must upgrade to one of CoffeeCup’s premium accounts, which start at $5 (around £3) per month.

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