Managing a Mailchimp email list

Despite what people have said in the past, emails are still very popular was to communicate with your audience (even if your audience are technical savvy blog readers and RSS subscribers like web developers and designers).

My first foray into email marketing was a disaster! I set up a mail chimp account and proceeded to import all of my gmail contacts to my first list, I figured if I had them as a contact I’d been in touch with them before and they wouldn’t mind hearing from me again.


It wasn’t until I had sent my first email that I realised it had not just added the contacts I’d emailed in the past, but also anyone that might have been on a cc’d in a reply. WOOPS.

After having my account locked and banned after a huge number of unsubscribes and a few complaints I had learned a valuable lesson.

Lesson 1, earn your subscribers

My second attempt was through the creation of the Responsive Design Newsletter. I had already set up a Facebook Page and Twitter account so when I created the new list I already had an audience to approach for subscriptions.

The first ever email went out on the 20th April to a whopping 12 subscribers, and a week later we had 39. Things progressed slowly at first and that is certainly to be expected. You should never expect a newsletter to have a huge following before you’ve sent out at least 10 emails (unless of course you’re Brad Frost).

I never thought the day would come when I would approach the 2000 subscriber mark, the point at which Mailchimp stop giving you free stuff and ask you to pay. For me that happened between edition 25 and 26 and was all thanks to a tweet and link from @chris_coyier from CSS Tricks. We jumped from 1170 to 2495 subscribers in that week, and with that I decided to begin to pay more attention to the behaviours of the subscribers.

Before I go on, just a side note about Chris Coyier. If you don’t already know who he is… he’s the guy behind and 1/2 of Shop Talk Show. If you don’t know what those things are, you need to go and check them out because you’re really missing out. Chris is like the Justin Bieber of the web development world where one tweet can send your site crazy, your twitter followers up, and your subscribers through the roof. I know both @jake_bresnehan of Web Designer Weekly and Zoran Jambor from CSS Weekly have had very similar things happen and it’s all down to the Chris Coyier Effect.

But I digress.

With this surge in subscribers I had reached the paypoint of having more than 2000 subscribers and although I’m not wealthy by ANY stretch of the imagination I could afford to shell out the $50ish a month to send the emails out. Between the surge of issues #26 the numbers have continued to climb at a quick rate and now at issues #39 we’ve pushed up to 4747 subscribers. At the 5000 mark it jumps to $75 a month and beginning to make it a pretty expensive hobby.

Calling all elephants, please come into the room

So there’s something I’m not talking about at the moment, and that is monetising the blog. I can almost hear you screaming

“Justin, you’ve got 5000 that are willing to listen to you each week, for F’sake sell them something, or let other people sell them something”.

Well good point. Fair play. I never got into this with the intent for it to make any money, it was simply something I enjoyed researching and wanted to share all the work I do curating the links with anyone that wanted to listen.

I have, however, begun to sell advertising on the website but have left the emails untouched for now. That will probably change if the numbers continue to climb because subsequently the costs will continue to grow also.

With that in mind I still believe it is worth looking at your lists and culling the “dead wood” (I apologise to any of the subscribers that might fall into that category… but seriously… dead wood).

Identifying Dead Wood

To identify the dead wood in the list I applied a segment, and this particular segment is made up of three stages.

  1. Any subscribers that didn’t open a recent campaign; AND
  2. Any subscribers that have a rating of less that 3 stars; AND
  3. NOT subscribers that have subscribed within the past 2 campaigns.

These rules came about with a lot of testing. I noticed that a few subscribers had NEVER opened an email. That seemed strange to me, but I can only put it down to really really clever spam bots or people that don’t know where to find the unsubscribe button (you have to open the email first obviously). Unfortunately there isn’t any segment to show those users so I chose the “subscribers that didn’t open a recent campaign”. Now the down side to this is that some people could have gone on leave for a few weeks and not opened any recent campaigns (especially over the xmas and new year period).

The next part was the star rating. Anyone that hadn’t opened or clicked on a link get a 2 star rating by default. If you’ve clicked a link or opened a few emails then you at least get a 3 star so that removes any of the holiday makers that have looked at the emails in the past.

Finally I noticed that a few recent subscribers were in that segment. Obviously users that had subscribed since the last campaign had not opened a recent campaign nor was their star rating above 2 so I set the filter to exclude anyone that had subscribed within the past 2 campaign dates.

Voila. I had a list of 412 subscribers.

A screenshot of the segment I set up to find non-active users
A screenshot of the segment I set up to find non-active users

Now I haven’t actually done anything except add these users to a group. My plan is to submit another email to that group only with a catchy but not too spammy subject line. I’ll make the UNSUBSCRIBE button a central feature as well as an UPDATE DETAILS button. If the user wanted to unsubscribe they can do so immediately but if I had targeted them accidentally they could update their details to show that I was in the wrong.

Once that email has gone out I can run another segment on users within this group that have updated their details and remove them from the group, and anyone else left I will unsubscribe manually.

But that’s less subscribers

Yes, but they’re costing money to have them on the list!

Aside from making you feel good because your number of subscribers are so high there is not point in having dead wood on your email list.

Thank you to all the subscribers, and if you haven’t done so yet SUBSCRIBE NOW!

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