Want a free year on Tuts+ (worth $180)? Start an InMotion Hosting plan for $3.49/mo.
Most websites and businesses maintaining a mailing list of their users and customers as a means of contacting them directly with newsletters and special offers. MailChimp is the leading service on the web for automatically handling this, but it can still be a bit overwhelming to start using. But no worries. The new MailChimp add-on for Google Docs lets you design an email using the document tools you're already used to, then send it through MailChimp with a list of contacts you already have in a Google Sheets spreadsheet.
In this tutorial I'll show you how to design an email to send to your subscribers in Google Docs, personalize it for each recipient, then how to connect it to your Google Sheets mailing list and send the emails via MailChimp. Finally, you'll learn how you can track how well your subscribers respond to your mail.
Let's get started.
Planning Your Email
Before you get started with designing your email you should make sure you've got an idea of what you want it to look like. A quick Google search for 'email newsletters' will reveal pages of inspiration for layouts and designs. For this tutorial we're going to produce a simple two column email.
It's a good idea to sketch out a wireframe plan for your mail in order to show its basic structure. You can do this with pencil and paper, or use Google Drawings so you've always got it for reference.
In Drive go to Create > Drawing. Click the Shape icon in the toolbar and select Shapes followed by the square. Now draw a rectangle onto the page to represent each element of your newsletter. You'll need to reselect the square tool for each box.
Click the Text box icon and draw a box in each of the rectangles you have drawn. Type in what kind of content will go in each box. Creating a wireframe is more useful for more complex designs, or if you are going to be collaborating with someone else on the design on your email.
Design Your Email
Click back on the Drive tab in your browser and select Create > Document to open a new doc. Click in the top left corner where it says Untitled Document to give it a title.
First you need to draw the tables in the document. As per our wireframe we need the top row to have one column, the second row to have two columns and the third to have one column.
In Google Docs tables must have the same number of rows in each column. This means we will need three tables to fit our layout. Insert the first. Go to Table > Insert table and choose 1x1. Click below the table that has been added to your page and then add another table measuring 2x1. The repeat with a third table measuring 1x1.
To make the left column of the middle table about two thirds the width of the page click on the table border separating the two columns and drag it to the right.
Your basic structure is now in place and you can start adding your content.
Click in each of the tables and enter all the content you need, including titles, sub-headings and body text. You can leave it unstyled for now. The height of each row will increase to fit your text.
Make sure you leave room for personalising the email within your message. For example, open the main newsletter text with the word Hi, then later on you can use MailChimp to insert the recipient's first name alongside it so they get a personal greeting.
Styling the Text
With your text in place you can start styling it up. Highlight your title, then click on the Styles option in the toolbar and select Title. This will assign the default Title style to the select words.
To adjust the style change the size and other attributes such a Bold or Italics. To change the font click in the Font option and either choose one from a list or click More fonts to add extra ones.
Once you have changed the style click on the Styles drop-down again, followed by the arrow next to Title. Click Update 'Title' to match will update the Title style (for this document only), ensuring it remains consistent each time you use it. You can do this for all of the styles within the document.
To add images to your document you simply have to drag and drop them from your desktop into the correct position in the file. This assumes you're using the Chrome browser—in other browsers you'll need to position the cursor in the right spot then select Insert > Image from the menu bar.
Images can be resized in the document, but it's preferable to resize to roughly the right size first in Photoshop or your graphics package of choice. Also, use the 'save for web' option to ensure that the file size is kept as low as possible.
Your logo goes in the top table. You can also add one or more images to the main body content of your newsletter. Drag it into the document and use the handles in the corners to tweak the size to fit. A small menu will also open with the options In line (the default), Wrap text and Break text.
In line simply leaves the image exactly where you placed it, whether between paragraphs or in the middle of a sentence. Wrap text enables you to position the image in the left or right hand side of the column and having the text flowing alongside it down the other edge of the column. This is good for small detail images. Break text will display the image on its own, with text above and below it. This is better for larger images.
Formatting the Tables
The final part of creating your email document is to format the tables. Each table needs to be formatted separately. Click in one of them and go to Table > Table properties.
Click on Table border and set the colour to white to give effectively hide the border and give the design a clean look. Also, set a background colour to help separate the various parts of the newsletter. Click in the right column of the middle table and choose a subtle colour; do the same for the footer, choosing black this time and changing the text colour to white.
You could also set the background colour of the header table to match the background colour of your logo.
A Note About Responsive Design
It's worth noting that the use of tables in this design give a fixed width to your newsletter, and won't adjust to different screen sizes. This format will look great on a desktop, laptop or tablet display, but if you think most of your subscribers will be viewing your mail on a smartphone then you should consider not using tables at all, and having all of your content in a single column just as you would a regular Word document.
Merging With A Mailing List
With your email complete you're now ready to send it to your mailing list, which you can do using the Merge by MailChimp add-on.
Go to Add-ons > Get add-ons. Search for Merge and install it by clicking the button labelled +FREE.
Now click Add-ons > Merge by MailChimp > Send email and a popup window will open. There's three steps to complete. First, choose the Google Sheet file that contains your mailing list. All of your available Sheets will be displayed, click on the right one followed by Select.
A sidebar will now open in your document containing the Merge app. In the Data source tab check that the correct Header row has been selected. This is the row in your spreadsheet that contains the headers (eg name, email address, phone number) rather than the data itself.
Also check that the Email address column setting is pointing to the column in your spreadsheet where the email addresses are stored.
Personalise the Mail
Next, add dynamic content to your mail to personalise it. Open the Merge Tags tab. The headers for each column of your mailing list will be shown. Adding any of these to your email will add the corresponding data for each of your subscribers. For example you can mention their name, or home town, or anything else your mailing list signup form asked them about.
When creating the main content for our email we opened with Hi and left a space alongside it. Position the cursor here then click in the Merge tags tab First Name (or whatever tag you've got that corresponds to this). The body of your email will now open with Hi *|First Name|*, where *|First Name|* will be changed for whatever each of your subscribers filled in in that field. (Again, the tag will reflect the header in your spreadsheet, so it may be *|Name|* or *|Firstname|* etc.)
Click on the Email info tab and enter a From name, a Subject line for the email (this is what the recipient will see in their Inbox, so make sure it's strong enough to get them to open it), and your address, which is required to conform to spam laws.
Test And Send
Finally, at the bottom of the Merge sidebar click Preview to see what your email will look like, Send a test to send a copy to yourself, and Send email to send it to your list when you are ready.
Tracking the Response
Once you have sent your email the Merge sidebar turns into a tracking function. It is quite a rudimentary feature, giving you a quick breakdown of how many of your subscribers opened the email, how many clicked the unsubscribe button and how many mails bounced. To get more detailed analysis you need to use the full version of MailChimp instead.
Merge by MailChimp is a quick and easy way of sending a mass email to all your subscribers. While it is not as full featured as the full service offered at MailChimp.com, it's a great simple way to use the document tools you're already used to in Google Docs to send mass emails to your customers and more.
Let us know how you put MailChimp Merge to use in the comments below—or let us know if you need any assistance with using it!