Our topic this week is Email Newsletters. CodePen has an email newsletter, and so we’re dedicating this whole show to talking about how we create it, and the tools we use for managing those emails.

Why Email?

1:38 Email is a great way to communicate with your users directly. If you have a web application like we do, and you have something to tell your users, email is arguably the best way to do that.

You could also write a blog post. That’s great way to share updates and new features, but you shouldn’t expect that most of your users are going to see your blog posts.

2:31 You could also announce on Twitter, but again, not everyone that uses your site will see that tweet.


3:24 There are third party services that will let you send an email automatically a pre-determined time after someone signs up. These are known as auto-responders.

When they’re well done, timed automatic responses can be fantastic. We’re still looking into getting that set up, so maybe we’ll get into it in a future episode.

Why We Send Email Newsletters

5:38 CodePen has a very active community. There are lots of people making great content, so we want to share it with our users, but we also like sharing news about new features that we’ve added to CodePen.

People want to know what your app does. If it has new features, you should tell them. It’s also like a reminder; sometimes people get distracted, so an email can be a great way to remind them to come back and try the app.

Email can be a great way to remind your users to come back and check out the new features of your app.

7:56 We actually get automatically emailed for certain things; for example, if someone tried to post a job and something goes wrong, we get an email notification for that. That way, we can deal with the problem, and people love getting those personalized emails letting them know we’re aware of the problem and are going to work with them to get the situation resolved.

Designing the Email Newsletters

9:36 Chris designs the look and feel of the emails, and Tim runs some queries to find the most popular things happening on CodePen in the past month to include in the email. We put that stuff in the newsletter, along with a note written by Chris at the top of the email describing the content.

11:36 We’ve established that we need to send these emails to communicate with our users. But we need our users to agree to receive the newsletters, and give them the option to opt out if they want. So we have to make sure the content in the newsletter is great.

12:38 The newsletter can also be a value add to our advertisers. We can include a mention of one of our sponsors in the newsletter, which they really like.

Tools for Sending Newsletters

13:26 We started off with Mailchimp for sending email, back when we had a small number of users. Mailchimp bills monthly based on the number of users you have. It’s a great service, really easy to setup and use.

Eventually, as we grew, Mailchimp became very expensive. We now have over 200,00 people on our list, so it wasn’t cost effective for us to use Mailchimp.

When we started, our mailing list was 75,000 people, and it cost about $250/month. We were only making about $1000/month, so a significant portion of our revenue was going to that. We just couldn’t afford it.

16:20 With our list size now, if we used Mailchimp, we’d be paying about $1000. That’s a lot of money for us.

The Switch to Mandrill

16:45 We decided to switch to a product made by Mailchimp, called Mandrill.

Mandrill is like Mailchimp, but only the sending piece of it. You don’t get the nice UI or the templates, you really only get an API endpoint and click tracking. You have to do all the technical things yourself. The upside is that last month our bill was only $39.

We’ve been really happy with Mandrill. It took us about two weeks to get the system set up right, but it works great.

Building and Sending

19:46 Chris uses CodePen to design and build the emails. Mandrill doesn’t offer any assistance with building emails, so it’s up to us to get them coded properly. There are tools out there to help with this, we use one called Premailer that has a lot of features to help us get everything right.

After writing the email, we test on a bunch of different email clients to make sure everything looks good. If everything looks good, Tim sends out the email with a rake task.

Unsubscribes and Hard Bounces

23:46 We’ve got some URL’s setup to deal with hard bounces (undeliverable addresses) and unsubscribes. If someone hits the unsubscribe URL, it checks off a preference box so they won’t get any more emails, and we don’t make the user login to change that.

Have any questions about email newsletters? Leave em in the comments!

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