Review: MailChimp (Email Marketing)

Before I left for SXSWi I created and sent Skribit's first email campaign to a subset of our users. There are quite a few email marketing solutions on the market but I went with MailChimp. I didn't really research any competitors or look elsewhere; MailChimp has a cool logo (great logos go a long way for marketing) and they're also a local Atlanta startup, so I figured why not.

MailChimp - email marketing made easy


First off - what did I need MailChimp for? Skribit has been ticking around for over a year and we haven't really contacted our users with the exception of running a survey (facilitated by Google Forms) by a batch of users. I figured it was time to let everyone in on what we've been working on and other such recent developments.

That being said, I used MailChimp solely for getting the word out. I did not need any of the much more advanced reporting features that MailChimp offers. That's why this is more of a "first impressions" post instead of a full review.


The next thing I needed to do was create our email list. When it comes to email marketing, it's of utmost importance not to spam people that have already said they didn't want to be emailed. Fortunately we've already had some contact preferences in Skribit's account settings so I just had to make a query to grab those specific email addresses. I ran a simple MySQL select and made use of "into outfile" to dump the results to a text file.

Creating the email list with MailChimp was a trivial event as they support various formats including Excel, Salesforce and Highrise imports as well as a regular file upload. I used the latter with the text file I got from MySQL.

Email Lists - MailChimp
Email list settings

In hindsight, it would probably be better to build out something on our end to also return full names so those can be used to personalize emails. Also, there is an issue with having essentially two lists; that in Skribit's database, and the one created in MailChimp that intelligently removes emails that bounce as well as unsubscribes. Currently, I will have to go back into the Skribit database and manually remove the users that unsubscribed via MailChimp. In the future, we could just link to a special Skribit unsubscribe link instead of the default MailChimp one. (Although I did link to the Skribit profile page where email preferences are found but that requires a login) Fortunately, their upcoming API list synchronization update will solve this issue for those interested.


There are several type of email compaigns MailChimp lets you make, including ones designed for A/B testing, but I just ended up with a normal HTML email campaign. Upon starting a new HTML campaign I was delighted to see that MailChimp somehow visited Skribit and discovered some of the dominant colors and automatically used them. After a bit of tweaking, copy writing and creating my own header image in Photoshop I came up with this email (180KB PDF of full email). Annoyingly enough, after reading it countless times and bouncing a few drafts off of others, I still managed to make a grammatical error.
Create Email Campaign - MailChimp
Creating the HTML email
Email Preview - MailChimp
Email Preview

I ended up emailing a few drafts to myself before wrapping up the email and sending it to the list I created beforehand. MailChimp also let me customize a plain text email that it sends to clients that don't like HTML email.

Before Sending

Before you can send off your new campaign, your account has to be approved and MailChimp staff would like to see your campaign. Unfortunately this is a human process on their end so it's not instantaneous, but it wasn't much of an issue. In particular, these are some of the requirements you must meet before buying any credits or sending any campaigns:
* Where'd you get your list?

Normally, when people sign up for an email marketing tool, they have a website with an email collection form, or an e-commerce site, or some way for customers to sign up for a list. But we don't see any obvious signs of that on your website. Or we do see a sign up form, but your current list(s) content doesn't appear to have been collected through the process we can see. Could you please reply, and give us some insight into how you've collected your email list? If your account area only contains testing content, make sure you update this area "Lists ==> Change list settings ==> Abuse Info & Permission Reminder" to best reflect how you collected your recipient data. Pretend one of your subscribers forgot who you are, and is about to report you for spamming. How would you remind him about how he got on your list?

* No test/draft campaign containing final content was sent or saved yet.

We like to review actual final content before allowing users to send full campaigns. That way, we can check for unacceptable content, or any violations of our terms of use and/or the Federal Can-Spam Act. Also, we've found that people who send full campaigns without testing first tend to make embarrassing mistakes. Then they actually get angry with us. So could you please send yourself or save a test/draft campaign containing final content before attempting to purchase credits?

We're sorry if this is an inconvenience for you. We know that sometimes, you just gotta get a campaign out ASAP, so approval processes like this can be a pain. But we have to do it to keep our servers clean.


MailChimp has monthly plans as well as pay as you go options. Calvin and I weren't too sure we would be sending out more than one Skribit email every couple of months so we decided to go the pay as you go route. We were only looking to sent out emails to around 6,000 users so we paid 150 for 7,500 credits, which comes out to 2 cents per email.

First thoughts - wow, this can get expensive. Imagine what it's going to cost when we start emailing five and six digits of people. Oh well, just testing it out to see what happens.


So I sent the email. I left my personal email as the reply-to so I could read through everyones replies. I wouldn't recommend that if you have a larger list. It filled up my inbox pretty quickly with replies.

As I mentioned above, MailChimp has quite a few different analytics add ons for those interested in finding specific information about their email campaign. I didn't opt for any of those so these are just the basic reports you get.

First thoughts - only 20-something percent of the people on the list even opened the email!? Wow. I will have to think long and hard about sending out another campaign compared to some, likely more effective and definitely cheaper, social media push.

Campaign Reports - MailChimp
Campaign Report Details
Email Opens by Location - MailChimp
Email Opens by Location
Email Domain Performance - MailChimp
Email Domain Performance


I didn't mention it earlier, but MailChimp has an amazing interface. I love the way they tackle various forms and such. If not for anything else, give MailChimp a shot because it's a breeze to work with. As for the pricing point - after looking around, most competitors seem to be around the same area so I can't really complain about that. But from a startup perspective - email marketing isn't cheap. I'll be watching from the sidelines from now on.

Thoughts? Have you ever run a large email campaign? What service did you use? How did you like it and how much did it cost?

Paul StamatiouPaul Stamatiou

Paul Stamatiou is a designer, developer and photographer living in New York. He has been a product designer at Twitter since 2013. More »

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"Review: MailChimp (Email Marketing)" by @Stammy