MonkeyBrains! The Official MailChimp Blog about email marketing and monkeys

Monkey Brains   WWW

« January 2006 | Main | March 2006 »

How to Write an Effective Survey Questionnaire

Thinking about sending surveys in your email newsletters?

Here are some survey writing tips at the MarketingProfs website.

And we highly recommend (no relation to MailChimp) to build and host your survey. We create our surveys on SurveyMonkey, then it generates links that we place into our MailChimp email newsletters.

They have templates with built-in color schemes and stuff, but if you're a design-it-yourselfer, and you absolutely positively must customize everything (like me) then you can use HTML to rig the look and feel of your surveys virtually any way you want.

February 28, 2006 in Emarketing, Business | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

BlogStudio's Free Blog Templates

If you're thinking about starting up a blog for your small business, we found out (through the DivaMarketing Blog) about these very nicely designed free blog templates by BlogStudio.

February 28, 2006 in Emarketing, Business | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

New Security Feature in Thunderbird Triggered by Click Tracking

Just noticed a new feature after downloading Mozilla Thunderbird 1.5 (a nice, free email application from the makers of the Firefox browser).


Some of the regular email newsletters I receive were getting these mysterious "might be an email scam" alerts. Since these were perfectly legitimate emails, I thought this was weird...   

Here's a screenshot of what I was seeing:


If I click the "Not a Scam" button, the alert goes away.

Turns out that in Thunderbird 1.5, there's this new feature that looks for when the actual URL of a link in the email (in the "behind the scenes" HTML code) is different from the text description of the link (what the user sees).

Scammers do this all the time. They'll place a link in an email, such as "Verify Your eBay Password" but if you click it, you get taken to some evil website, where they steal your password, or download spyware onto your computer.

This is called "phishing" (more info on phishing here). And here's a link to an article on CNET that discusses the new Thunderbird feature.

When click tracking looks like phishing

But legitimate email marketers often track clicks for all the links in their messages. And in order to track clicks, the URL of a hyperlink has to be altered by the email service provider, to point to a "redirect script" (see, "How click tracking works" in our knowledge base). When someone clicks a link in an email, they're taken to a server that counts the click, then is instantly "redirected" to the final destination.

That means if you send an innocent email newsletter to your subscribers with a complete URL spelled out in the email (for example, "Please visit us at" ) and then you enable click tracking for the email, that link would set off the scam alert in Thunderbird.

Is this anything to lose sleep over?

Not at all. As long as your emails are nice and professional looking, recipients won't get suspicious of your emails when this alert pops up. When I got these alerts for BusinessWeek's email newsletter, my first impression was, "That's weird, Thunderbird goofed." I never thought for an instant that, "ohmygod, BusinessWeek is scamming me!" A good reputation always wins over spam filters, scam alerts, and junk buttons.

However, if your email templates look like something you picked up at the dollar store, or something you let your 9-year-old son design, or something you hacked together yourself in Microsoft Word, then having "scam alerts" is probably going to work against you for sure. But instead of trying to get around this alert, put your time into getting a professional email template built (and if you need some help getting started, here are some free HTML email templates for you).

Finally, a quick look-see through Thunderbird's support forum reveals some comments from their developers admitting that the feature could use a little work, so I'd expect this to be refined in some upcoming releases. I think it's a great new feature, but they could at least make it "learn" who to trust, just like their spam filter.


February 28, 2006 in Tips, Tricks, Best Practices | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Accidental e-mail congratulates 7,000 on admission to UC Berkeley law school

Check out this article from ComputerWorld. If you send email marketing long enough, you're going to make a mistake every now and then (ahem, I've made my fair share). This guy accidentally sent an acceptance letter to 7,000 law school applicants (ouch). He handled it the best way you can: admit you goofed, and make fun of yourself. Don't feel bad, guy. It happens to everyone.

February 27, 2006 in Emarketing, Business | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

HTML Email Design, Coding, and Delivery "Survival Guide"

We just posted the 2nd edition of our "HTML Email Design Guide." It's a whopping 50-page document that covers everything a beginner needs to know about delivering email newsletters and promotional campaigns.

We wrote the 1st edition back in 2001, and it's been downloaded over 50,000 times since (whew!). But 5 years have passed, and things have changed in the email marketing world. We thought it was time for a re-write (and at the very least, a snazzy new cover)...

So what's changed?

For starters, HTML email pretty much just works now. As long as we keep email designs nice and simple, most email applications display HTML email fine these days (just stay away from complex tables, CSS-positioning, JavaScript, Flash, or DHTML). There are tiny little quirks here and there in some email applications (we detail them in the PDF) but those problems can be avoided easily with simple, straightforward design.

New Challenge: Accidental Spam Filtering

A lot of people would have you believe that "email deliverability" is a huge problem that plagues email marketers, and you should be scared out of your wits (and they just so happen to be selling "deliverability services" on the side). Deliverability is indeed something to be concerned about, but we don't think you need to lose any sleep over it.

As long as you take some time to understand how spam filters think, and avoid making simple mistakes  that make you look like an outright spammer, your emails will be delivered just fine (see blog post: "Let's Dissect Some Spam!").

Take a holistic approach. Learn the basics about anti-spam technology, and don't spend all your time obsessing over every single word and element in your email to "avoid the spam filters." For instance, the phrase, "click here" looks suspicious to some spam filters. Should you instead say, "Apply Pressure to Left Mouse Button Here?" That would be ridiculous (and ironically, even more spammy). Just know that spam filters look for little clues, and they often use a points-system to "grade" your email. One little "click here" isn't going to hurt you. But say it 10 times in your email, in ALL CAPS, and colored bright red, and you can kiss your open rate goodbye.

In the new guide, we go over the different spam filtering technology out there, how they work, and what you need to consider when creating your email campaigns.

HTML Email Design and Coding

Back in the old days, you had to worry about email applications that would break your designs, delete hyperlinks, remove HTML tags, or display gobbledy-geek code all over the screen. We're happy to report that nowadays, HTML email is pretty well supported, except for some CSS stuff here and there.

The new design covers the following HTML email design and coding topics:

  • The tools you'll need to get it done right
  • Keeping designs simple
  • Rigs and hacks to make your email display correctly
  • What works, what doesn't
  • Email applications to test your templates in
  • Known issues with each email program

Email Marketing Basics

After figuring out how to design and code your own emails, what next? We included some "getting started" information on how to measure your campaign performance, segmenting your list to send more focused campaigns, and how to experiment with different variables to increase your open and click rates.

Other Useful Resources in the Guide

Even after you've learned to design your email, code it, choose an email vendor (ahem, like MailChimp), learn all the best practices, and before you learn how to experiment and maximize ROI, there's even more stuff you need to set up and prep before you send your first campaign. For instance, has your company setup an abuse@ email address? And have you registered it with anti-spam organizations? Have you setup a feedback loop with AOL? Have you prepped your organization internally? That's why we included our "My First Email Campaign Checklist" in our guide. It lists all the little tiny details you should square away before you start email marketing. Finally, we listed a bunch of our favorite email marketing tools, sites, blogs, and newsletters in a big, long list of resources.

Download the guide here (along with free HTML email templates, if you like)...


February 24, 2006 in MailChimp News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Scent Trails in Your Email Marketing

ScentGrokdotcom's got a new article posted on the concept of "scent trails." If you're unfamiliar with the concept of "scent" and online conversions, it's about using visual cues and keywords to lead people down the right path on your website (to buy, subscribe to, or download something). Online usability expert Jared Spool's got an e-book on "scent" here.

Be sure to scroll down and read the example of the "art store" email campaign they received, and how it did a poor job at using scent to convert someone to buy.

You learn from the article that a successful email campaign's about more than just throwing together a pretty email, and hitting "send."

You've got to write a relevant subject line, which leads people to open the email, which leads people to click to your landing page, which leads people to your "buy it" page, which leads to the cash register going, "cha-ching!"

So how's your scent? Yeah, I realize that sounded kinda funny. But take a look at your email campaigns. Are you building emails in conjunction with your website to effectively lead people to the "cha-ching?" Or are you just sending out pretty emails, and hoping people will buy something? How are your click rates? In MailChimp's campaign reports, you can see exactly what links people clicked ("Clicks by URL"). For example, if lots of people clicked a link to a product page, but sales didn't go up, how might you tweak your website and emails next time?

If you'd like some ideas on how you can tweak your website to convert browsers into buyers, you should check out the book, "Call to Action." I've got a copy myself, and I've used a lot of their ideas on our MailChimp site. We've seen a definite boost in conversions since I've tried some of their ideas, so I highly recommend it (even though the cover's hideous).

February 22, 2006 in Tips, Tricks, Best Practices | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Apple Entourage HTML Email Bug

We noticed a weird bug in an older version of Apple's Entourage, and how it displays HTML email. The bug is gone in the latest version of Entourage 2004, but we thought we'd post the weirdness, just in case you come across it with one of your newsletter recipients. Here's what happens...

It happens if you send an HTML email with nothing but text and hyperlinks. Let's say you just wanted to code a typical "news alert" email with a list of links to articles. No fancy graphics, or anything. Entourage v.X will strip the hyperlinks out, and actually display the URL next to your links.

Here's what it should look like, as seen through MailChimp's preview window:


But here's how it came through in Entourage v.X:


Ready for the weird part?

If you just add a graphic to the email, or a <TABLE>, then the links work correctly. Here it is again, after we added a graphic to the code:


Like we said, the bug's gone in Entourage 2004, but some people out there (yours truly) still use the old version.

It's something to remember if you ever want to send an email that looks like plain text (because some people like those better), but you're coding it in HTML email for better formatting. Some people do that for news alerts, or transactional emails, just to keep things "lite."

At least throw in a small logo, or use a table to structure your layout.

February 20, 2006 in Tips, Tricks, Best Practices | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

MarketingSherpa's Email Awards 2006

If you're an email marketer, be sure to enter your work in the MarketingSherpa 2006 Email Awards. There are 12 categories you can enter, like "best viral campaign," "best newsletter" and "best welcome email." Grand prize is a fabulous gold cup (plus all the "fame and glory").

February 20, 2006 in Emarketing, Business | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack - Great Place for Email Newsletter Ideas

Newsletter_archive_org If you're ever looking for ideas or inspiration for your email newsletter, you should check out They're archiving email newsletters (contributed by volunteer recipients) just like the WayBack Machine archives old websites (check out this embarassing link to our old MailChimp site --- like an old high school picture or something!).

I was just browsing around the email archives, and was amazed at all the big name emails we have access to now (and we don't have to opt-in to them all!). I was looking at emails from Hershey's, MSNBC, Starbucks, and more. The ones that caught my eye were National Geographic's and Barnes and Noble's. They both had website search boxes in their emails. Hmm, that's something to test again. Last time we investigated, forms worked fine in HTML email as long as you use the "GET" method.

February 16, 2006 in Emarketing, Business | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

E-newsletter Tip: Send kooky gifts

We sent our first MonkeyWrench newsletter yesterday, and besides my screwing up a mail-merge tag, things went pretty well (those who subscribe to my newsletters know that I always manage to screw at least one thing up pretty bad in each issue). If you aren't subscribed, here's a link to its archive. We included some interesting stats from our customer database in the email...

  • 12.2% - the average bounceback rate (all types) across all campaigns (over 100 recipients) over the last 6 months
  • 0.56% - Average unsubscribe rate across all campaigns (over 100 recipients) over the last 6 months

If you're a MailChimp user, you might log in and look at your stats to see how you compare.

Free Gifts Don't Need to be Fancy
We really enjoy sending gifts to people. So in each newsletter, we pick one subscriber, then send something kooky and monkey related. This issue, the folks at quintandquint won a 30lb box of banana candy. Interestingly, that was one of the highest-clicked links in the newsletter.

On the subject of gifts, prizes, and giveaways, we recently ran a big MailChimp survey, where one lucky respondent would win an iPod Nano (I know, 110% of the population already owns one). We started out using a stock product photo of the iPod (the kind you see on every website that's giving one away). But when we replaced it with a photo of a monkey puppet holding the actual iPod box, participation in the survey spiked. I guess the photo made the prize look "real."

What's weird is we got more emails and live chats about "where can I get a monkey puppet?" than the iPod.

If you run a regular email newsletter, you might consider giving away a free prize, or gift. And the "gift" doesn't have to be gigantic and expensive. It can be a sample of your product. Hmm, unless you're selling private jets. Even then, you could give away aviator sunglasses, or maybe some, "I have a private jet and you don't" bumper stickers. As long as it's relevant in some way to your subscribers, and to your company. Sometimes, it's the tiny, offbeat gifts that work best.

February 16, 2006 in MailChimp News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

MonkeyBrains! is the official MailChimp Blog. MailChimp is a product of The Rocket Science Group.