Complete Setup of WordPress RSS with Mailchimp

WordPress RSS & Mailchimp

WordPress is a great tool to create a professional website and continually output new content in the style of a blog. Long time users of a blog will understand that an RSS (Rich Site Summary) feed is typically a condensed version of your blog that gets sent to tools that are specifically built to read RSS (learn more on Wikipedia).

rss icon

Internationally recognized RSS icon

If you don’t know what an RSS feed is, you should at least recognize the international symbol for an RSS feed.

Utilizing your websites RSS feed to send nice looking, automated emails with Mailchimp is a no brainer, as far as I’m concerned. Have you ever seen the default WordPress one? Ugly.

Necessary Tools

Clearly you need a WordPress website and a Mailchimp account. It might be necessary to note that your WordPress site must be self hosted (wordpress.org). If it’s on WordPress.com you most likely will not be able to install any custom plugins.

WordPress Plugins

I’ll be using (so install) the following plugins to optimize your RSS feed:

Create a List in Mailchimp

In Mailchimp you create Lists that manage your subscribers (watch Mailchimp video on creating a list here). Ideally you will create a new list for every different segment that you wish to capture. So, if you have a fashion blog and you have a band website, you will create a new list for both. Subscribers in one list are not placed into any other list (unless they organically subscribe to both lists). It is important to note that if you have a fashion blog and want to group the list into designers and readers, you will do this grouping with Groups. Watch the Mailchimp videos on Groups and Segments to learn their differences.

To create the list, click on the List tab, and click the button create list. Follow the prompts, fill in the blanks, verify your email, and before you know it, voila! You have a list ready for subscribers. If you get lost, please watch Mailchimp video on creating a List here.

Later, when we link WordPress with Mailchimp using the API key, there will be a drop down menu to select which Mailchimp List you want to add new subscribers to.

From here, we want to tell Mailchimp which merge tags are necessary for your List. These are the fields that people will have to enter when signing up to your List. To access them, click on the list you just created, then select from the tabs: settings -> List field and *|MERGE|* tags.

Mailchimp List Merge Tags

Mailchimp List Merge Tags

Discussions for what fields you’ll want new subscribers to input will be left for another time, but I feel it’s very necessary to have a name (email is mandatory). Having a name allows you to personalize emails to subscribers using Mailchimps *|MERGE|* tags where you would like this item used. For example, if you wanted to say Dear John (John being the first name of a specific subscriber), you would create a Mailchimp campaign that started off: Dear *|NAME|*, according to the MERGE tags shown in the image below.

Mailchimp List Fields

Mailchimp List Fields

protip: if you’re managing multiple maillists using Mailchimp, unless it’s you and only you that’s going to have access to them, I’d advise creating completely separate Mailchimp accounts to manage the lists. Mailchimp allows you to have a free account up to so many users, and also if you share your Mailchimp API key with somebody else, they have the power to do major damage to your other maillists. Isolation is a key to security.

Mailchimp API Key

Mailchimp’s API key is a unique key that identifies your Mailchimp account. Inside Mailchimp, this is found in the top right corner (click on your username) -> Account -> Extras (tab) -> API Keys.

If there are no API keys already created, simply click create API key. This will give you a long character string that you should copy/paste into your WordPress -> Mailchimp settings tab (back on your site). This assumes you’ve already installed Chimpy in WordPress. If you haven’t, do that now and you know where to find the API key.

Once it’s in there, click save and integration status should say connected.

Configuring Chimpy in WordPress

Once you install Chimpy Lite in WordPress, from your Dashboard head to -> Settings -> Mailchimp. Here you will find six tabs: Settings, Forms, Checkbox, Localization, Get Pro, ? (help)

chimpy-tabs

Tabs in WordPress’ Chimpy

 

Create your Mailchimp Signup Form

Chimpy creates nice to use and integrate forms for your WordPress site. You can create them in Mailchimp itself (inside Mailchimp, click on the List you want to create a signup form for and follow the instructions (watch Mailchimp video on signup forms here), but Chimpy generally works nice with your website and looks a little bit better (eliminates some of the bloat of Mailchimps signup form).

To create your Signup Form, click on the Form tab (shown above). Fill it in as you desire (I often fill in the blanks with default text, see how it looks on the site, modify, repeat until pleased), and also make sure to select from the drop down menu which List you want to create a form for (Chimpy knows all the Lists you’ve created in Mailchimp because of the API key). This is also where you must add the different form fields (ie. MERGE elements) required or desired for the Mailchimp list.

Make sure to hit save.

On the Settings tab you will find a section for Custom CSS. Inside the {} is where to place the custom CSS.

Integrating Mailchimp Signup Form into a WordPress Site

So far we’ve created our Mailchimp list we will add new subscribers to, we’ve created a signup form for those subscribers to signup to the list with, but we haven’t added the form to the WordPress site. You now need to tell WordPress where you want this list to sit.

The easy way is to add it to a widget sidebar area or footer. You can even create a Mailchimp Top Bar.

If you would like to insert it into the body of a page, click on the ? of your Mailchimp Chimpy settings page in WordPress (Dashboard -> settings -> Mailchimp). Here it will give you the shortcode to insert the code whereever you want. It will also give you the PHP code to insert it into the HTML of your sites theme. Just remember to enclose that PHP code with proper PHP format..: <?PHP chimpy_lite_form() ?>.

Creating a Mailchimp RSS Campaign

Back in Mailchimp now, we’re going to create an RSS Driven Campaign. I heavily suggest to watch Mailchimps Video on creating an RSS Campaign here.

In Mailchimp, select the Campaign tab, then drop down the arrow beside Create Campaign and select RSS Driven Campaign. In WordPress, your default RSS feed is: http://www.yoursitedomainname.com/feed/. Do test this URL out to make sure that it is indeed live. Some WordPress installs have this deactivated. Once you click next, Mailchimp will test the email for you to confirm it’s working.

Select the List you would like to send this new RSS Campaign to (the list we created above), and select the segment you desire (unless you’ve created a few segments or groups already, send to entire list).

Creating a Template in Mailchimp

Creating a HTML template for your RSS Campaign is like formatting a single page on your website. Fortunately, Mailchimp offers a plethora of pre-built templates for you to customize as you wish. If I was you, I’d select a template you like, customize it in the design tab, and save that as a custom template for later reference.

Code For Mailchimp HTML

*|RSSITEMS:|*

*|RSSITEM:TITLE|*

*|RSSITEM:CONTENT_FULL|*

Read in browser ยป

*|RSSITEM:TWITTER|* *|RSSITEM:LIKE|*

*|END:RSSITEMS|*

Recently:

*|RSS:RECENT|*

The above are the MERGE tags that I use for my Mailchimp RSS Feeds. This content goes into the body of the Mailchimp campaign you’ve created from the template in the previous step. To learn more about RSS Item MERGE Tags read here.

Once you put this code into the body of the email, ALWAYS preview and test your campaign before you send it to thousands of readers. I first use their preview mode, then send it to myself. If you click preview now, it should grab all the RSS items automatically and you should see that it is connecting to your website.

Hopefully everything looks as it should!

Problems You’ll Run Into with WordPress and Mailchimp RSS Feed

If you haven’t installed the RSS Image Resize plugin I suggested at the start of this tutorial, your images will be all wonky. Install that now if you haven’t.

If you didn’t change the MERGE tags to what I’ve listed above, specifically RSSITEM:CONTENT_FULL, you’ll only be showing a blurb of the blog post. I personally like to send the entire blog post to people to their email inbox instead of having them follow a link to your site. If you’re going to have them follow links to your site, you may as well just write them out a custom HTML campaign instead of a RSS Feed campaign. Your choice.

If your theme (and you) utilize the Featured image, also known as Thumbnail image in WordPress, your RSS feed most likely wont automatically include this. To change this, there is a simple theme function hack for this. Follow the instructions here.

Information on how creating a child theme in WordPress can be found here. I use the plugin Child Themify, but it uses the old method of calling your parent themes CSS stylesheet.

I can guarantee that anything in Mailchimp you’re trying to do, they’ve created a video for it. Find the videos here.


 

If you have any problems with this tutorial, please ask questions in the comments below.

Hope this helps!

 

 

 

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