After years of developing and maintaining my own system for managing email broadcasts, I’m in the process of moving most of my clients over to the MailChimp service. I learned a lot by building my own system, but it probably also has something to do with a penchant for doing things the hard way. I liked the fact that my custom system handled things exactly the way I wanted. But MailChimp’s application programming interface (API) is powerful enough that I ought to be able to do all those custom things, while letting a commercial service take care of all the hard parts having to do with handling email bounce errors and spam complaints.
I have a visceral dislike for Constant Contact, which I find very awkward to use. In contrast, MailChimp is a pleasure to work with. Maybe it’s just that the chimp mailman mascot makes me think of Curious George delivering newspapers. I always loved Curious George. Freddie is a little tubbier, probably just different enough to avoid copyright infringement, and he sets a mildly goofy, cheeky tone for the whole user interface and the well-done video tutorials.
The system is affordable, and there’s even a free account you can use for lists of less than 500 addresses, provided you don’t mind a discrete ad banner for the service inserted at the bottom of your messages. Otherwise, pricing starts at $15 for lists of up to 1,000 addresses.
You can see Freddie peeking over the edge of the campaign dashboard that greets you when you log in.
The service provides a very capable web-based tool for creating and email messages and templates. In particular, I love that they make it easy for you to save your own design as a template or upload your HTML (something Constant Contact seems to go out of its way to prevent you from doing).
Here’s a peek at the built-in designer/editor:
The application does a good job of walking you through the steps of creating an HTML email, generating an alternate text layout, and scheduling broadcasts.
Like other systems of this type, it enforces rules for list quality — alerting you to excessive complaints on any particular broadcast and telling you to clean up your act. I’ve run into some issues with this on political campaigns, where the candidates supporters from his last race don’t necessarily want to keep up with his latest campaign. But it’s better to know about these issues and address them than to have your messages blocked from reaching all users on an important service such as AOL or Yahoo Mail because you’ve generated too many spam complaints.
And even when they’re serving up an error message or confirmation, the service handles it with style.