Everyone knows that email is one of the best converting tools in your online marketing arsenal. As a sales tool, it kicks arse, as customers have already opted in to hear your message, and are far enough down the relationship chain to care about your message.
There are a shed load of email marketing systems out there to choose from, but an often overlooked way of emailing your customers is to use the bloggers best friend – WordPress.
WordPress? I hear you cry. That’s right! WordPress supports email marketing out of the box. Betcha didn’t know that little nugget.
Well, actually I’m cheating a little- you need to do some jiggery pokery with it first, (which I’ll show you here) but it is possible to use it as an email marketing engine, best of all – without any cost. Wowser!
Setting up your categories
The first thing we have to do is to setup our categories. These are going to be secret, i.e. hidden from our main blog audience, and only used to published to our newsletter subscribers. Doesn’t really matter what the category is called, just add a new one in your WordPress admin area.
Hiding the new category from your sidebar
We aren’t going to want to show this hidden category. It’s really a piece of cake, download the php sidebar file from your wordpress theme. This is the piece of code you are looking for. Basically the parameters passed to this function decide what is shown, and what is not. We need to find
<?php wp_list_categories(‘show_count=1&title_li=’); ?>
Basically this little playboy shows the count of posts in each category (show_count), and sets the title and style of the outer list item.(title_li). You can get the full parameter list for this function here. We are going to use “exclude” to remove the secret category, but first ticket we have to find out what the category Id is in the database. Easiest way to do this is to hover over the category, and you’ll see this in the toolbar..
<?php wp_list_categories(‘show_count=1&title_li=&exclude=1082’); ?>
Change your sidebar, and reupload it. This will get rid of it in your navigation. Step two. done.
Turning the category into an rss feed
Its a (relatively) unknown fact that you can generate rss feeds out of your main categories quite easily by adding either a querystring like:
or if you are using permalinks add /feed/
For the newly added category that you’ve added, even though you’ve removed it from the sidebar, it will still be available via RSS. Copy and paste it and save this URL for later.
Hiding the category from your main feed
So, we’ve hidden categories from the main sidebar of the blog, and found the corresponding rss feed for it. Time to remove this for any of your visitors subscribed via RSS. This is an optional stage, as it just makes sure your website and subscribers are seeing the exact same thing. You could of course expose your secret newsletter content to your RSS subscribers if you so desired, but in many cases – that kinda defeats the purpose of having an exclusive newsletter.
There are a couple of ways to do this. The easiest being to just add an extra parameter to your feed link (removing the secret category).
<a href="http://blog.whatever.com/?feed=rss2&cat=-1082">RSS Feed</a>
If you are using Feedburner (like half the blogging community) – myself included, you’ll have to login to the Feedburner admin to do this.
Just plug the URL above into the Feedburner dashboard. Click on Edit Feed Details to get the original URL to ammend.
Creating your Newsletter
Ok, so now we’ve removed the newsletter category from the main blog, and removed it from your RSS feed. Time to use the URL we saved earlier.
It’s a very simple solution. Just setup a new Feedburner account, enable email subscription and use that URL as the feed URL.It’s now only limited to one specific newsletter category, that isn’t exposed anywhere on your blog, or in your main RSS feed now.
Feedburner offer a subscription form, to allow you your audience to signup for email updates, which will be sent out periodically, so all you have to do now is assign the newsletter category for content within your WordPress admin, and your newsletter will be sent out to subscribers within 24 hours.
If you (or your client) are on a very tight budget, this little tinker will quickly and easily facilitate your RSS to email on the cheap. You can use the technique for loads of things, for example you may want to expose certain parts of your blog to certain audience segments. I’ve also used Feedburner creatively with Yahoo pipes and other RSS feeds in the past to quickly and easily create newsletters from content around the web for free! Just let your imagination go!