Email: the best way to flag up website changes

I run loads of websites and blogs, and every one of them has an associated email list so that whenever I add something new, it gets emailed out to anyone who wants it. Some of these sites have a mailing list of almost nobody, others many thousands. Why do I do it? Because it’s not hard to set up, it’s cost-free, and there’s zero ongoing maintenance. Why would I not do it?

Many businesses run something like this for their customers and prospects, but I appreciate that just mailing out any old thing which is added to the site, to everyone you know, isn’t exactly optimal targeting, or an example of great control. However, what about your colleagues? Having a system which quietly emails out everything which is added to the website, to employees or distributors, can have huge benefits.

All you need for this is a website which creates an RSS feed. Most CMS-based sites will have this, with some producing separate feeds for different parts of the site. Check that you’ve got one, then set up an account with a free emailing service which offers ‘RSS-to-email’ (I use Mailchimp), and create your email. If you want your email to go out as soon as anything new is posted, set the system to check the RSS feed at frequent intervals. Alternatively, set up an email which checks the feed and mails out at a specific time each day, week or month. If the period is infrequent, the email may contain a whole list of additions to the site. It can include the full article, an extract, or just the title.

Once you’ve set things up, there’s nothing else to do. Members of the mailing list can unsubscribe themselves, and if you provide a form, others can join. Start off with just yourself on the list, to see how it looks.

The system I’ve just described is how we send out this email. I usually post the article on the website the evening before, and every day at 7am Mailchimp fires up, looks for anything new on the RSS feed, and if it finds something, emails it out – in this case, the whole article. On Saturdays and Sundays it finds nothing new, so nothing goes out.

I know businesses which use this system to alert just two or three people in their office about website changes. I know at least one company which uses it to send out updates to its distributors. The applicability is only limited by your own imagination.