Three Things You're Probably Doing Wrong in MailChimp
MailChimp is a hugely popular email marketing platform, and for good reason. It's easy to use, it's free if your list has fewer than 2000 subscribers, and packs in a lot of awesome features, even if you're on the free plan.
However, over the 9 years I've been working with my customers to help them use and deploy MailChimp, I have frequently met people who aren't using it as effectively as they could be. They muddle their way through the process of setting up an email ... and breath a sigh of relief when they press the Send button.
Yet there are many things they could be doing to use MailChimp more effectively. Here are three things that I frequently come across where MailChimp users are "doing it wrong".
1. You're using Lists when you should be using Groups
In MailChimp, you store your subscriber in something called a list. MailChimp requires you to have at least one list, but you can have as many as you want.
However, the fact that you can have multiple lists doesn't necessarily mean that you should.
One good reason to use multiple lists is where you have two or more completely separate audiences, and you will always sent different emails to each list. But if you have any cross-over at all between your lists, you should consider merging them into one list. Otherwise, you risk sending the same email to somebody twice.
A good reason not to use multiple lists is that MailChimp counts subscribers in each list separately. So, if you have two lists of 1500 subscribers, but 200 of those subscribers are in both lists, then you're paying for them twice (or, if you're on the free plan, you'll hit the free plan limit earlier than you need to).
Another reason not to use multiple lists is that it makes segmentation and marketing automation with MailChimp a lot harder. Imagine you have two lists - Dog Lovers and Cat Lovers. Some people are on both lists. Let's say you want to send an email campaign to everyone who is both a Dog Lover and a Cat Lover. You can't! You have to send a separate email to both lists. If everyone was in the same list, this would be a piece of cake.
Reason three to use just one list is that when someone is on two lists, they have to unsubscribe separately from each list. You know how annoyed you get when unsubscribe from a company's mailing list, but the emails keep coming? Don't be that business.
Finally, every business is different. There are some business scenarios where multiple lists are appropriate. But think carefully before you go that route.
Here are some pro tips for working with Lists
- If you've got more than one list and realise you only need one - don't panic! It's possible to merge two lists together. The process can be a little tricky, especially if you have a lot of subscribers in both lists. You also can't use MailChimp's Combine Lists tool to merge a list for which you have sent a campaign in the last 7 days.
- Even if you're OK with having multiple lists, be aware that MailChimp treats the subscribers on two lists as two separate people. This can make targeting them tricky, since there may be some information in one list that doesn't exist in the other. And remember that unsubscribing from one list doesn't unsubscribe customers from the other lists in your account.
- I recommend against creating additional "holding pen" lists into which you import new lists of subscribers (e.g. people who signed up for your prize draw at the local home show) until you establish that they're "good" subscribers. It is good practice to treat these new subscribers with caution since they may all immediately unsubscribe and then complain they never signed up. This dents your reputation with MailChimp and could get you banned. However you woudld be better off adding them to your existing list in a new "Home Show" group, and then send them an email thanking them for their entry. Make sure to apologise if they didn't intend to subscribe, and make sure they know they can unsubscribe immediately using the link in the email. This won't stop them unsubscribing, but hopefully reduces the chance of them complaining.
2. You're not using Groups effectively (or at all)
Groups are used to segment your database. Remember the Dog Lovers and Cat Lovers I mentioned earlier? That scenario would have been much easier with one list and two groups. Subscribers could have belonged to both groups, which would have made it easy to send an email to someone who loves both dogs and cats.
Groups in MailChimp allow you "tag" individual subscribers in different ways. The idea is that you create one or more Group Categories (e.g. Favourite Food, Type of Car) and then create Group Names within each.
When you send an email campaign, you can define the audience for the campaign by specifying that only members of certain groups should be included.
Groups can be public or hidden. Both types can be included in your signup forms, but subscribers will only see the public groups. For example, you might let your subscribers choose from a list of the services they're interested in hearing about, but they won't see the groups that you use to identify whether they have purchased from you recently. Subscribers can also see your public groups when they edit their preferences for your list.
MailChimp lets you have 60 Group Names per list. That might sound like a lot, but what if you wanted to create a group where subscribers can specify which country they are from? You'd need over 120 group names to do that. In this case, you can actually add a Country field to your forms, and use that as part of your audience definition. So it's important to think carefully how you will use Groups before they get away on you.
Here are a couple of pro tips for using Groups in MailChimp
- Make sure you know what the subscriber preferences screen looks like, in case you're giving away more information about your customers than you realise, or have some public groups that should be hidden. This could be embarrassing for you at best, and the source of a customer complaint - or legal action - at worst.
- you can import data about your subscribers from a spreadsheet. This is a great way to assign subscribers to groups, particularly hidden groups. A good way to do this is to export your list from MailChimp to a spreadsheet file, open the list in Excel and manually tag your subscribers into different groups, and then import them back into MailChimp. MailChimp can merge the incoming list with existing subscribers and update those records.
3. You're sending the same emails to everyone in your list
Segments allow you to split your list up in different ways so you can send emails that are better targeted at their recipients.
If you're not using segments, then you're probably sending the same email to everyone on your list. This is usually a waste of time! It's unlikely that you can write one email that is interesting to everyone and relevant in your list.
Whilst it can take more time to write different emails for different segments, your return on investment is likely to be higher. The more targeted your emails, the more likely it is that someone will take action based on that email, since it is more likely to be relevant to them. Not only that, but you can write shorter emails because you know exactly who your audience is.
Don't get Groups and Segments confused. Groups make segments a lot more useful, but segments don't need Groups to exist. With segments, you can specify multiple criteria to classify your subscribers - including but not limited to groups.
To create a segment in MailChimp, you would choose one of your lists and then define one or more segment using one more more conditions. This example shows the start of a segment which includes anyone who joined your list after your last campaign. You might use this segment to send a welcome email to your new subscribers.
A handy feature of Segments is Auto-Update. This keeps the segments current based on who currently meets your criteria, which means that when you send an email to that segment, it will only be sent to those people who currently qualify for that segment.
In the example above, Auto-Update would mean that the segment would continue to grow as more new people subscribe.
I mentioned that Segments don't need Groups to be useful. Segments can be created based on a wide range of criteria. Some of the conditions you can choose when defining a segment can be seen below:
- MailChimp provides the Subscriber data conditions (Date added, Location, etc) automatically. Note that you'll get more options here if you are on a paid plan, and a huge list of options if you are using the MailChimp Pro service.
- In this example, my list has one group - BNI Member, but I could have as many groups here as I like (up to the limit of 60 as I mentioned earlier).
- The Merge fields includes the standard user fields in MailChimp, plus any custom fields you may have defined. For example, if your signup form asks people what their favourite food is, you could define a segment that only includes people who like lasagne.
- E-commerce fields will only be useful for defining segments if you have an ecommerce store AND you have connected it to your MailChimp account.
Here are some pro tips relating to segments.
- Consider defining segments as anyone who meets one condition but not another and make sure these segments are set to auto-update. An example might be a Reactivate customer segment that includes someone who has spent over $10,000 via your ecommerce store, but has not made a purchase in the last 6 months. You could use this segment to regularly send a special "Come back, we miss you" email campaign. Anyone who makes a purchase following this campaign will be removed from this segment automatically through auto-update.
- Consider making a lot of small, tightly defined segments, and send them messages that are highly specific and relevant to those segments. Although it may seem like more work, since you have to write more emails, you are likely to have a much higher conversion rate because your emails are much more targeted.
- Use define segments based on customer actions or behaviour. For example, you could define a segment as anyone who opened a specific email campaign between certain dates but did not make a purchase in that time, and then use that segment as the audience for additional followup campaigns. Note that you'd need to be subscribed to MailChimp Pro to take advantage of this.
- Segments are defined for Lists. If you have more than one list, you'll need to define your segments in each list. Also, if you have groups in one list but not another, you won't be able to use the same groups to create segments in each of your lists.
If this post helped you understand MailChimp better, you may also like our one-day course called Mastering MailChimp which covers topics like this in more detail. Check out the course outline here.