A year or so ago, we were experimenting with recipe plugins. This is a whole article (or series) in itself, so I don’t want to bog this post down too much with detail, but essentially we were planning to switch to a plugin which used custom post types for each article and associated recipe. At the time, we were using Jetpack Subscription to email out post excerpts to our blog subscribers, and unfortunately, custom post types weren’t (and still aren’t) supported by Jetpack. So we decided to move to a subscription method that would give us more flexibility. I’d used Mailchijmp for other clients, but had never linked it to a WordPress blog, so I was curious how we would go about it.
Click here to go straight to the nitty gritty. Otherwise, read on for background information.
For those who have no or little familiarity with either of these two options, here’s a quick recap. Jetpack is a WordPress plugin with a number of essential features, including social publicity, site statistics, a content delivery network to speed up image loading, and other security and integration benefits. One feature is Subscription, where you add a signup form to your blog and subscribers receive an email every time you publish new content. The email generally contains the post content up to the “read more” link, so readers need to click through the email to your website to see the full article. It’s a simple solution that works really well for a lot of bloggers and has advantages over other options (it’s integrated into your WordPress Dashboard, and it’s free), but has some downsides. You can’t design or customize the email that gets sent out. You can’t leverage your subscription list into a more full-fledged customer relationship management (CRM) system and send out other kinds of information (although you can export the list out of Jetpack and into a different system). You can’t see how many people actually read the email or clicked through to your website. And it doesn’t support pages or custom post types.
What about Mailchimp? This is effectively a newsletter-sending system (with minimal CRM) that can be linked to WordPress, meaning that when you create content on your blog, it gets fed into a scheduled mail-out in Mailchimp. There are other newsletter/CRM solutions such as Constant Contact, Zoho, and ActiveCampaign, but Mailchimp is one of the most popular, and has a stable body of plugin integrations. Since Mailchimp itself is not wholly built into WordPress, but has to be configured using its own site, there’s a little more work involved in setting up what they term a “campaign” (effectively, a newsletter to your subscribers). With Mailchimp, you can collect more information about your readers (name, location, interest groups), you can send out information separately from your blog posts (eg, to distribute exclusive content to your subscribers), and you can design your newsletters so they’re more customized than the generic Jetpack versions.
When you use Mailchimp to send posts to your subscribers, the mailout isn’t done immediately when the article gets posted. Instead, you must set up a scheduled campaign – for example, 9am every Friday – and this timed task checks for new content on your blog since the last mailout and sends it out according to the template you’ve created for the newsletter. How Mailchimp knows which content is new relies on something called RSS.
RSS (“real simple syndication”) is part of the internet that most people don’t even really know is there. Most websites that publish new content on a regular basis (news sites, blogs, and so on) also publish a companion file, called an RSS feed, which is publically readable but really designed for software that takes that information and presents it in a structured manner. This sort of software is called an RSS reader, and you can think of it as a way to curate the updates from several sites that you’d like to see, all in one place. Apple News on your iPhone? That’s an RSS reader. Google News? That’s another. Every WordPress site, including your blog, also uses this scheme to broadcast its new content. You can usually find your feed at yourblog.com/feed (eg, https://nerdswithknives.com/feed ). It’s in structured XML format (a little bit like HTML code) so it’s not super-friendly for humans to read, but it’s designed for software, which loves structured code.
So whenever you publish a new article, your RSS feed is also updated. Mailchimp’s scheduled campaigns