Why you need an email list and 7 steps to automation

Why you need an email list and 7 steps to automation

So you have started a travel blog.


And you’ve joined all the social media you can think of.

Even better.

But there’s one last piece of the puzzle before you can really rest easy.What is it?Well there’s probably plenty more pieces, but an important one key that should be setup right away is an email list.


Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and all these other platforms are great for the low hanging fruit traffic, but what happens if one day they change the algorithm and all of a sudden your traffic from one of them halved?

It’s not impossible. In fact it’s not even improbable. Actually, we’ve already seen this occur on Facebook. Facebook has openly said that organic reach from business Pages is and will continue to decline.

With more and more businesses signing up for business Pages, organic reach has had to decline so as not to clog up the user’s news feed, and also gives them an excellent source of revenue by making those that really want it, pay for it.

But that’s a discussion for another day.

The moral of the story is that you do not own your following on social media.

This is key. I have almost 16,000 followers on Twitter. If for some reason I can’t access these it doesn’t mean anything and I’m back to square one.

Now here’s the important part:

By collecting emails you are in control of your list.

You can email them as much as you’d like and no one can dictate who will and won’t see it (though Gmail is borderline I suppose).

And if for some reason your email service provider closes down, you can take your list and setup shop with another email provider and no one will know the difference.

Keep control of the people who have said “YES, please send me your content”.

Choosing an email service provider

Ok so now we are all busting to start collecting emails and we have a few options to choose from. For someone starting out there are really two options: MailChimp and Aweber.

MailChimp is free up to about 30,000 emails a month (don’t quote me), and Aweber has a free trial for a month then $19/month.

Suffice to say that MailChimp is the obvious choice for any beginner and has very gradual step ups in price once you do need some of the more complex features.

Creating anEmail List

Creating a list is the easy part and I would be surprised if you need for the following instructions to guide you through. Nonetheless, once you’ve created your account:

Step 1 – Start by clicking on Lists at the top of the page then Create List on the right.

Step 2 – Enter in the details it requests, it’s all pretty self-explanatory. The list name is just for your eyes and won’t be published, but the name of your blog would be pretty logical.

Step 3 – your list has now been created

Setting up your opt in sequence

This can actually be a little tricky, because there are quite a few options, and you have to imagine the process a user is going through to opt in. The rule of thumb is to make is as easy as possible.

Mailchimp sign up forms

Mailchimp sign up forms pages

Step 1 – Click on Signup forms. Start with General a sign up form.

Step 2 – Work your way through the Forms and response emails. A few definitions might help:

Sign up form: This will be the first page your user sees whenever they click the “sign up here” or similar button. Click here for an example…

Sign up form with alerts: The same form, will be shown if there are errors.

Sign up “thank-you page”: The page you will be directed to once all details are submitted. It is also possible to redirect the user to a webpage on your site.

Opt in confirmation email: The email the user will receive after all details are submitted.

Opt-in confirmation captcha: second page to help prevent spammy signups.

Confirmation “thank-you” page: The webpage your newest subscriber will be shown after they confirm their email.

Final “Welcome” email: The email that will be sent after the email has been confirmed.

So yes, there are a few pages to setup up, but if you look carefully, there are only 2 steps the user has to take. And yes, there are plenty more pages but you can work through those at a later date.

On each of the forms, it is very easy to make changes, just hover over a field and press edit. You don’t need to make them too complex though, just basic enough to get someone’s email, and first name, at least to begin with.

It’s more important to get it up and running than have it looking professionally designed.

Adding the email list opt-in to your blog

When I started my list, I went through a whole process to try and integrate the sign up form to the code of the blog post of the sidebar. I wanted the form right there, embedded in the post so they didn’t have to click anywhere. Then I wanted the sign up form embedded in an image in the sidebar so that not only did the user not have to make any extra clicks, but the sign up form looked really pretty.

I also paid someone on Fiverr $5 to integrate my MailChimp sign up form into a webpage that would popup when a button was clicked using Javascript.

Well I must have spent in total something like 5-6 hours working on the CSS for the image and in the end it was close, but not close enough and didn’t last long.

The web page popup and button actually messed with my own CSS so made my site look ugly in parts so that also didn’t last long.

The sign up form embedded at the bottom of posts probably lasted about 6 months but still didn’t look all that pretty and wasn’t attracting that many emails still.

Then I saw it. On a small WordPress.com blog, a simple button at the bottom of a post asking for emails. I clicked on it and was taken to a MailChimp sign up form. I entered my email and have never looked back. The image was pretty and it was a very easy process.

So I copied them.

The image took me about 10 minutes to create on PicMonkey. And it took about another 5 minutes to add it to my standard code at the bottom of every post. I still use this in every post on my Backstreet Nomad blog.

I recommend you do this as well:

  1. Create an image that says “Sign up here” (or whatever, use your imagination).
  2. Enter this image at the bottom of your blog post and link it to your sign up page (the first one you created above). Have a look at the bottom of this post here for an example of how I use it.
  3. If you have a very basic understanding of HTML, you could also embed this into your sidebar. If you don’t have a any understanding of HTML, go through my tutorial here which will give you more than you need to know for this exercise.

Sending your first campaign

At the top, click on Campaigns, then Create Campaign and you’ll come to this screen.

Mailchimp select a type of campaign to send

Choose your new list to send it to. Hopefully by now you have some emails.

Choose a name and subject for your email, all other fields should be automatically filled for you.

Select a template, it’s a much of a muchness but probably start with something simple, go with 1 column. Here are some options.

Mailchimp template design screenshot

The template is broken down into blocks. An image header, a content body, social buttons and a footer.

You can easily click and drag photos from your computer to the image header. A really pretty photo that is related to your post works well, or you could also use your blog image, whatever you think will convey your message and brand best. There is no wrong answer there.

Hover over the body of the template and press on the edit button (looks like a pencil). It can sometimes be a little confusing, but use the panel to the right of the screen to do the editing. The editing panel works much in the same way that the WordPress designer does so this shouldn’t be a huge learning curve for you.

Mailchimp designer screenshot

Create headers, drop in images, write some compelling arguments as to why the reader should click on them. But I think the best advice I can give here is keep it brief. I don’t know about you but I get about 30 emails a day. You might think this is a lot, or you might think it’s nothing. Either way, most of these are newsletters and I don’t have the time to read every one.

No introductions, just tell me what is on the other side of these links and why it is a must read.

Edit the links in the social buttons so they actually point to your social accounts, and the footer information will largely remain untouched as it is pretty automatic, standard legal stuff.

Oh and don’t forget to update the preview section at the very top. They include this to give the user a preview if the email client (such as Gmail) before they open it. You have half a sentence to make it impossible for the reader not to open it.

Testing your campaign

I want my campaigns to be perfect. I don’t want any mistakes through them and I want to know how it will look to my users.

MailChimp has a pretty robust testing facility which you can access straight from the design page.

From the top menu select Preview and Test. This screen will show you examples of what it will look like on a couple of devices and also let you send yourself a test email. Pretty easy.

Mailchimp Testing features

If you have the MailChimp smartphone App you can also select the option to push it to your mobile to view it directly without sending an email. Pretty handy.

“Open Link checker” will check all your links for you and is very handy if one of them is broken. Imagine all that missed traffic!

Lastly, a very cool feature is the ability to setup social cards. If you aren’t sure what social cards are yet, watch this space.

But the short version, it’s the rich summary info that automatically appears when you share a link to Twitter or Facebook that has cards setup. You can create a unique social card for when the campaign is shared to social media.

Twitter social cards example

Here’s an example of one of my tweets with a link to my blog, which has social cards setup.

Depending on how rigorously you think you will be sharing the campaign on Twitter (it’s just a link to the web version of the email), this step may or may not be worth your time. Yours to choose.

When satisfied it all looks grand, hit next, resolve any problems the process finds and fire when ready. An example of problem is shown below.

Mailchimp send problem screenshot
Yep…that’s a problem!

Automated email campaigns using RSS

“Ok that’s great, but it all sounds like a lot of work. Can’t I automate this like the rest of my promotion?”

Well, I don’t love your attitude to promotion, but efficiency is key to getting shit done so I do love your attitude towards automation. And YES, this is entirely possible and reasonably easy to setup.

Step 1 – From Campaigns, click ‘Create Campaign’. Click on the arrow and select RSS campaign. On the next page, type in your blog’s feed url, which will most likely be www.yoursite.com/feed and select the frequency with which you want it to go out.

(Hint: use the FAQ on the page if you get stuck). I have mine set to weekly so every post I write within the last week will be included in the digest. Click Next.

Step 2 – Select a list you’d like your blog posts to be emailed to. If you’ve only created one this step will be exceptionally easy for you. Click Next.

Step 3 – The campaign info will be largely similar to what you created in the example above.

Mailchimp RSS campaign info

Note the bits of code in format *|SOME:WORDS|*. These are called tokens, which essentially mean they are placeholders for dynamic text that will change for each email.

This one is pretty easy to work out. The last one that was sent read “The latest from Next Level Travel Blogging for 11/04/2015”.

Note that tokens do get very complex as you dig deeper and I’m not going to pretend I know what they all mean.

Step 4 – Select the template to use again like above.

Step 5 – Design how every automated post will look. In mine, I’ve used the Next Level logo as the header and kept most other defaults the same.

My thinking is that people know this is an automated post, there is no sense in trying to hide it with some generic intro that will probably get very outdated quickly. It opted to streamline.

Here’s what my design looks like in the designer:

Mailchimp RSS design example for NLTB

And here’s how it came out in Mac Mail.

Mailchimp RSS design actual email

If you want to get your nerd on and really get creative with the merge tags (tokens), hit up the Knowledgebase article with the entire list. And if you’re finding it hard to sleep, this will help with that too!

Step 6 – Test as above and confirm! Your campaign will now be sent out as often as you programmed it to with all your latest blog posts.

One Last Tip

Ok last thing before I let you go, and it’s something you can take action on right now. Mail chimp also have a WordPress plugin. It’s a very simple plugin but can be very effective.

All I use it for is to put a simple opt in check box next to the comments. You can actually see it in use below. Go on, give it a test. Leave a comment and see if it works 😉

Very subtle I know, but in all seriousness, if you have found this guide helpful and would like to know when new inspiration is published make sure to sign up. And you know that I won’t forget to send it to you because I have RSS automated emails setup for this blog!

Sign up here


Luke Marlin

Luke works a regular 9-5 job, and his salary he calls his travel fund. He and his wife spend most of their time in negative annual leave due to this expensive yet incredibly rewarding hobby.

Luke travels for 3 reasons: becoming immersed in a different culture, finding the less obvious attractions, and for hectic bragging rights back home.

Follow me on:
A Little about Luke Marlin
Australian. Travel Blogger. Seeker of all things off the beaten track. Lover of nature, road trips and sunsets. Drinker of craft beer. Learning more about our world through the immersion in different cultures.
I love Booking.com because it has free cancellation on most bookings.   Booking.com
Follow me on Twitter