Manage a mailing list with MailChimp
Once you’ve assembled your basic template, you can choose which parts will be editable within MailChimp by adding a few snippets of MailChimp-specific code. A text container cell defined with MC:EDIT=”mainbody” will be replaceable without you needing to revisit the original HTML each time you want to update the text. Similarly, an IMG MC:EDIT=”imagename” SRC=… tag will create an image box whose contents can be changed in the MailChimp editor prior to sending, so you can easily update the images in every email campaign you send. Bear in mind that images should be referenced in HTML with absolute URLs (“http://www.pcpro.co.uk/image.png”, for instance).
You can use MailChimp to host images, too, which will save your web host from a sudden influx of traffic if 10,000 newsletter recipients all attempt to download the same images at once. This involves nothing more than hovering over an image box in a template and clicking Edit. A dialog will appear, offering a drag-and-drop target that allows you to upload JPEG and PNG files. You can host images elsewhere, of course – other options include entering a URL, using Flickr, and browsing iStockphoto for paid-for professional options.
When creating your template, we suggest you use the least complicated HTML editor possible to minimise unnecessary auto-generated CSS and HTML code, which may yield unpredictable results when viewed in a mail client. Don’t attempt to create a layout in Word or Publisher and export it as an HTML file; the code is likely to be cluttered with unnecessary tags and certainly isn’t guaranteed to display properly. One handy, free alternative is Mozilla’s open-source SeaMonkey Composer, which lets you type and edit text in a wyiswyg environment and, using the tabs at the bottom of the pane, switch to Source view to check and clean up your code.
Testing and troubleshooting
Once your template is looking good in MailChimp’s internal editor, it’s time to check how it will look to your recipients. This is a bigger job than it sounds. Different email clients handle HTML code and layout in different ways: for example, Outlook 2013 renders email using Word’s HTML engine and will ignore background images. Testing on the myriad versions of Outlook, Apple Mail, Mozilla Thunderbird and the multitude of web clients out there would be a nightmare.
The answer is MailChimp’s Inbox Inspector tool, which quickly and automatically creates previews of how your email will appear in a variety of clients. For users signed up to one of MailChimp’s monthly paid-for accounts, Inbox Inspector is free.