I’ve heard repeatedly by popular and wildly successful bloggers that they’re either very grateful that they started establishing their subscribers early or how disgusted they are that they didn’t get their mailing list growing earlier. I don’t really have any idea how I’ll ever use one but perhaps that’s just part of the learning process. All the same, I’m going to attempt to get a mail/subscriber list going.
I think what I need is called an Email Service Provider. There are a lot of options out there. Some of my favorite online personalities swear by one or another so choosing the right one is obviously important. However, since I don’t really understand how I will utilize this and simply don’t know what I’m doing, I’ve decided that any cost whatsoever is more than I want to pay. That reduces my options quite a bit and makes it easy for me to decide on MailChimp which is free for the first 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. At this point I cannot fathom that many subscribers, I think I averages less than 2 page views per month…and both of them are usually me.
So I signed up for a free account on MailChimp which was actually very easy. The WordPress plugin that they recommended on their site is questionable though. It is not tested to be compatible with the version of WordPress I am using (I’m on 4.5…not out of preference, but out of ignorance at this point: Update? Sure, I’ll click that.). So I picked one based mainly on downloads and ratings. I ended up with MailChimp for WordPress. It seems to be OK for what I want, which right now (because I don’t know any better) is simply a widget in my sidebar that allows visitors (hahah) to subscribe to a mailing list for updates. I can already see that some advanced features require you to pay for a premium account, but I will ignore those features for the time being.
Linking widget to MailChimp
After installing the plugin, I can add a widget to my site. You can see it over there on the right sidebar. The widget obviously requires some way to connect with my MailChimp account so I created an API key on MailChimp’s site. I think I might have had to create a “list” on the MailChimp site first? I am still not familiar with all the terminology (and unfortunately it varies between Email Service Providers) so please excuse my ignorance here. I was largely fumbling around until something did something. (This is what you get when you don’t really understand the need for something so the goal is pretty vague.)
All the same, I found that I needed to create a “form” to associate with the widget. This is really an HTML form. The default one that came with the widget was fine, but it did not exactly match the feel and flow of the rest of the site (nor the “Search” form already present), so I viewed the HTML source for the existing one and basically copied some of the formatting CSS code for my mail subscription form. I eventually found the correct combination of keywords and made the new from look like it was actually supposed to be on my site. Great, the landscaping is done…but does it work?
So I went ahead and tested it out by submitting one of my many email addresses. What do you know!? After a few minutes I got an email requesting my confirmation to join the list! It appears to work. I confirmed my request and could see on MailChimp that I have a subscriber. I see this as a minor success!
I foresee a TON of tweaks to this whole thing. I can modify the verbiage, update the confirmation page, set up what happens after the confirmation email, etc. I also still have to figure out how to have MailChimp mail the list when a new post is made…or is that something I need to do manually? I need to learn about Campaigns and Lists and a ton of other email specific topics. As long as it took me to get this going, I think it might be years before I figure out the rest and maybe, just maybe, get any value out of it.
WHAT I LEARNED:
- Unfortunately I really fumbled through this one over the course of a few days as I got around to it. So all I learned is that I have a lot to learn…