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How to Use MailChimp RSS-to-Email with WordPress

This post will teach you how to leverage MailChimp RSS-to-Email campaigns to notify subscribers when you update your WordPress blog.

Bloggers depend on a variety of channels to notify their fans when they post new content. This includes RSS feeds, social, and in-browser notifications, and the topic of this post: email subscriptions. Bloggers using the WordPress platform often depend on the Jetpack Subscription plugin to do the heavy lifting. Jetpack leverages to manage lists, construct, and deliver notifications to subscripers. And it works. Kind of. But Jetpack’s Blog Subscription plugin can only take you so far.  It’s insanely rigid, more or less impossible to customize, and really not a great experience for your customers.  It just doesn’t feel like a professional solution.  So what does?  Try using MailChimps RSS-to-Email feature. All you need is an active MailChimp account and the ability to make some minor changes to your WordPress site.

How to Integrate MailChimp RSS-to-Email with WordPress

Obviously you need a MailChimp account to get started. So if you don’t already have one, go ahead and register for a free account now.

In order to setup MailChimp Blog Subscriptions, you first need to create a list to hold your blog subscribers. Read Create a New List to learn all about Lists on MailChimp and how to create them.

The Lists Management screen contains the Create List button which you will click to start a new list.

First, create a new list in MailChimp to store your blog subscribers

Create a MailChimp Form to Add Subscribers

Now that you’ve created your Blog  Subscribers list you need a way to for users to add themselves to the list. In other words you need a Blog Subscription form.  There are a number of ways you can do this.

You can of course manually code a form and the requisite client and server-side code to send submissions to MailChimp.  The code to do this is not complex, but it’s also well above the skill of the average non-technical WordPress user. But if you do go this route I applaud your efforts!

The second option is to use the sign-up form options provided by MailChimp. On your Lists Management screen you’ll see a drop-down menu to the right of each list, and under that menu you’ll see Sign-Up Forms.  The Sign-Up Forms option provides a variety of customizable forms that you can copy and paste into your website.

Finally, you can use a WordPress plugin like MailChimp for WordPress which will help you easily integrate your lists with your website. If you happen to be using Gravity Forms they have a terrific MailChimp add-on as well.

Use the MailChimp Signup Forms tool to create forms that you can easily embed in your site.

Use the MailChimp Signup Forms tool to create forms that you can easily embed in your site.

Setup an RSS-to-Email Campaign

The final step required to get MailChimp to email your subscribers when you update your blog is to setup an RSS-to-Email Campaign. To setup an RSS-to-Email Campaign click the Campaigns tab, and then click the dropdown next to Create Campaign and choose RSS Campaign. Unless you’re using a plugin which overrides the default RSS feed for your site, your RSS feed URL should be where is the site address you have configured in WordPress.

After you add your RSS feed address, you can configure a schedule for how often your RSS feed will be scanned for new posts.  Unlike JetPack Subscriptions, MailChimp cannot send out updates as soon as you update your blog, and this is probably it’s greatest failing at the moment.  However you can schedule daily, weekly, and even monthly emails.

Setting up the template for RSS-to-Email is just as easy as setting up any other mailing in MailChimp.  Simply drag the RSS Header and RSS Items widgets onto the template, and you’re ready to go.

After you've created your list and added a signup form to your site, create a MailChimp RSS-to-Email Campaign to tie it all together.

After you’ve created your list and added a signup form to your site, create a MailChimp RSS-to-Email Campaign to tie it all together.

Pros and Cons

The benefits of using MailChimp RSS-to-Email campaigns over Jetpack Subscriptions are obvious. You have full control over the process, what emails your subscribers receive, what they look like, and what they contain. On a recent project which used Jetpack Subscriptions, the client was very frustrated with the limited control we had over the emails being sent to her subscribers. This is actually the situation that led to me investigating MailChimp RSS-to-Email.

The cons are a little less obvious.  Jetpack Subscriptions have the benefit of being tied directly to your WordPress install. This means that Jetpack can do it’s thing as soon as you publish a new blog post.  Your MailChimp Campaign isn’t directly connected to WordPress. When you setup your campaign you tell MailChimp a time and a schedule at which it should check your RSS feed for updates.  MailChimp will generate and send your mailings only on the designated schedule and not on-demand.  If that’s a deal-breaker, then MailChimp RSS-to-Email may not be the solution for you.  However I would hope that they make this available in the future.


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WordPress Scheduled Posts and Time Zones

I’m doing some work for a celebrity chef who has a ton of cooks in her kitchen. One of them is responsible for her blogging and social media strategy. She wants to queue a bunch of content that will be released on a slow, steady drip. The WordPress Scheduled Posts features is normally the perfect tool for this job.  Scheduled Posts didn’t work on her first attempt. Unfortunately the post she scheduled for New Years day remained in draft mode the morning of January 1. What went wrong?

How to fix WordPress Scheduled Posts by Setting your Time Zone

The answer is simple.  The developer that initially setup the client’s WordPress site left the time zone configured to UTC while the the client and her entire support team are on Eastern Time.  Solving the problem was as easy as setting the time zone in the WordPress General Settings screen by going to your Dashboard and selecting Settings > General from the main menu. Choose your time zone and then click Save Changes. WordPress lists time zones by UTC offset.  If you’re not sure of your offset, you can consult a helpful time zone chart here.

This image shows you how to fix WordPress Scheduled Posts by setting your time zone in WordPress

Follow the steps shown in thie image to set your time zone in WordPress.

Help Web Design Clients Take Great Web Photography - Facebook

Help Web Design Clients Take Great Web Photography

I love when a web design client can provide great web photography. I’m not a photographer, and hiring one can eat up a small business’ online marketing budget fast.

Fortunately today’s technology allows anyone to take a pretty good photo, and letting the client do it themselves is a great way for me to give their customers a media-rich, immersive web experience  without breaking their budget.

Before a web design project begins you should communicate expectations for client-provided photography up-front to avoid wasting time editing or re-shooting photos later. Taking a great photo for the web requires special consideration.

In this article we’re going to talk specifically about photo orientation, scaling, and cropping.

Photo Orientation for Web Photography

Landscape orientation  is almost always better than portrait orientation when you plan to use your photography online.

The image gallery I’ve included below shows photos I took of a Jack Daniels bottle sitting on my desk (FYI, it’s legal  and often encouraged to drink and design!) The gallery also includes some “meta-photography” showing how you hold your camera or smart phone to take photographs in portrait and landscape orientation. I’ll be referring to this gallery throughout the article.

Portrait and Landscape Orientations Explained

Portrait Orientation

Portrait orientation is when the height of a photo is greater than its width. A portrait orientation photograph is what you get when you hold your smart phone or camera vertically.

To visualize the ratio and scale of portrait orientation, think of a picture of an individual framed and hanging on your wall, or a page in a book.

Landscape Orientation

Landscape orientation is when the width of a photo is greater than the height.  A landscape orientation photograph is what you get when you hold your smart phone or camera horizontally.

To visualize the ratio and scale of landscape orientation, think of a family photo taken in a wide orientation to fit all the members in frame, a photograph of a natural landscape, or the size and scale of most computer monitors.

Why Landscape Orientation Photos are Preferred for the Web

When you’re taking photos for the web, landscape oriented photos are almost always better. This isn’t an absolute rule, but it’s a pretty good guideline. Here’s why.

Landscape Orientation Fits the Flow of Most Websites

We read most websites from left to right, and top to bottom by scrolling vertically. All of our devices build on this basic truth. If you turn your phone or tablet, the screen rotates so the pages still flow left-to-right and scroll vertically. Landscape photos fit this layout well. You can fit the full image on-screen without scrolling, and because the text is already laid out left to right in a wider orientation, your photos will flow with the text. Portrait oriented images often take up most of the screen and can leave the user wondering if there’s still content left below them.

Image Galleries

If an image will display inline with your content, landscape orientation is usually best. But if the image is part of an image gallery the rules are often more flexible. Talk to your web designer to see what works best before you start snapping photos.

Coping with Automatic Cropping

Most website building tools (like WordPress) automatically scale and crop your images to specific ratios. This means that if you don’t plan your images could get cropped in a way that leaves them ugly, confusing, or ineffective. Talk to your web designer before you begin snapping photos.

I recommend framing your photos with the subject centered and with ample space around it if cropping occurs. The goal is to keep the subject visible regardless of how the image gets cropped by your website. Take a second look at the image gallery above. The landscape oriented image of the bottle works well when cropped to a square or rectangle. The version taken in portrait orientation doesn’t work well, because it’s cropped in the middle of the bottle.

Social Media and Sharing

Every social media site has specific rules about how they scale and crop your photos.  Facebook accepts photos of any size, but they scale and crop your images based on the their purpose and context. Most of the image sizes used by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other popular social media services are landscape oriented or square. Once again, this means that you’ll find portrait-oriented images difficult to use for things like profile photos, header photos, cover photos, thumbnail photos, etc.

Social Media Image Resources

I’ve provided a Pinterest board that I use to collect resources related to social media image sizes.  Browse the pin board and see for yourself how your images get scaled and cropped for different purposes across all of social media.


Exceptions exist for every rule. Use portrait oriented photography when it’s right. It makes perfect sense to use portrait orientation on the photos of employees on a Meet the Team page.  An artist or photographer showing off their artwork in an online gallery isn’t going to want their work cropped into an aspect ratio that doesn’t fit their vision.


Video should always be recorded in landscape orientation. No exceptions. Online video hosting services such as YouTube and Vimeo always display videos in landscape orientation. If you record a video in portrait orientation your designer will have to crop it to landscape orientation (resulting what’s likely an unacceptable loss of video content), or your video will display with big, ugly black margins to either side.

Communication is Key

Letting web design clients provide their own photography is a great way to offer them a beautiful website you can all be proud of, give their customers a rich and immersive experience, and give their wallets a break.  This is especially true today when most of us have a pretty good camera built right into our phones.  But communication is key. Let your client know what orientation will work best for their photography, what sizes it might be scaled and cropped to, and how they can account for it by orienting and framing their photos when they take them.

Final thoughts: I’m a freelancer. I work alone, and there’s every chance that I could be taking my own opinions a little bit too seriously. If you’ve got a different perspective on correct photo orientation for the web, framing the subject, or any other topic I’ve covered I’d love to hear it.

Six Ways to Find 404 Errors On Your Website

404 Not Found: even if you’re not a web designer or a programmer you’ve probably seen this error before. But if you have been living underground in the disconnected world of the mole people for a few decades, 404 Not Found is the error code on the web that means you’ve tried to access a resource that doesn’t exist.

404 errors need to be dealt with. When a customer experiences a 404 it’s a missed opportunity for you and a bad user experience for them. When a search engine experiences a 404 error the missing resources could be removed from their index, and it could be translated as a signal that your website is unreliable.

But before you can fix a 404 Not Found error you need to know they’re happening. This article explore six easy ways to discover 404 errors on your own website.

1. Find 404 Errors Using Server Logs

One of the easiest ways to discover 404 errors is by utilizing your hosting environment’s access logs and error logs. Every hosting environment is different so unfortunately I can’t explain where to find yours, but a Google search should prove fruitful. Searching for “cpanel raw access logs” turns up a plethora of helpful pages for the CPanel hosting environment.

Your log files may need some massaging to be useful. Most are text files that can be easily opened in Excel and then filtered by HTTP response code.

The Pros: This method should show you all 404 errors that occurred on your site in the time frame covered by the log.

The Cons: Your hosting environment’s log files can be difficult to read and utilize unless you know your way around a spreadsheet.

The raw access logs from this website. These file contain lots of data and need some help to be useful.

The raw access logs from this website. These file contain lots of data and need some help to be useful.

2. Find 404 Errors Using a Spider or Link Scanner

This method doesn’t actually find 404 errors. It discovers broken links on your website so they can be fixed before they generate 404 errors. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

An easy way to find potential 404 errors is by scanning your website with a spider or link scanner. A spider indexes your site the same way that a search engine like Google does: it starts with a URL and scans the code for links, and then works through that list recursively. There are lots of programs and online services that can scan your site for free, and will provide a list of broken links that exist on your site.  My two favorites are Xenu Link Sleuth and Screaming Frog SEO.

The Pros:

Using a spider to locate broken links on your website doesn’t actually find 404 errors: it helps prevent them.  By scanning your site, discovering, and fixing broken links you’ll prevent your visitors from visiting URLs that don’t exist and reduce the number of 404 errors that occur on your website in the future.

The Cons:

Anyone can link to your website, and you don’t have control over the URLs that they link to. Just because you fix all of the broken links on your website doesn’t mean that other websites, or even search engines, don’t have active links to broken URLs on your website. You won’t be able to discover or fix those using a spider.

A report from Xenu Link Sleuth. Xenu requests every URL of your site and returns the status code, among other things.

A report from Xenu Link Sleuth. Xenu requests every URL of your site and returns the status code, among other things.

3. Find 404 Errors Using Google Analytics (and Yoast SEO)

This one is a little WordPress-specific, but you can do a similar trick with other content management systems.

If you use the Google Analytics by Yoast plugin, it automatically tags 404 errors so you can find them in Google Analytics using the Content Drilldown tool. Just go to Behavior > Site Content > Content Drilldown and do a search for 404.html.

The Pros: 

It’s right in Google Analytics where you would expect to find this sort of data. Because it’s in Google Analytics you can export your list of 404 errors to do something useful with it, like construct a list of URL to redirect.

The Cons:

It’s WordPress specific. It requires you to install yet another plugin on your website to basically embed a few lines of JavaScript for Google Analytics.

Yoast SEO automatically registers your 404 errors in Google Analytics.

Yoast SEO automatically registers your 404 errors in Google Analytics.

4. Find 404 Errors Using Google Search Console

Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) provides a window into how Google sees your website. Under the Crawl Errors Google Search Console provides a list of all connection errors that occured while Google attempted to index your site.

The Pros:

Google regularly spiders your site and attempts to index any URLs that it finds, as well as any URLs it already had in it’s database. If any URL stops working, whether it’s new or historical, Google Search Console will let you know.  These reports can be exported to CSV, so you can do something useful with them, like create a redirect list. This is also helpful because essentially Google Search Console is discovering broken links before actual humans are, so check regularly and act on it.

The Cons:

If you have any pages that you’ve intentionally prevented search engines from indexing either through robots.txt or through a noindex tag, Google will not index them and, therefore, not check to see if the links still work. Google Search Console only displays 404 errors generated by Google’s crawler and not actual users.

Using Google Analytics to Find 404 Errors

Using Google Analytics to Find 404 Errors

5. Find Errors Using SEO Redirection (or another 404 Management Plugin)

This tip is WordPress specific, but most content management systems have a similar feature or plugin.

There are lots of plugins that can help you discover and fix 404 errors. I use SEO Redirection as well as it’s premium sibling, SEO Redirection Premium. These plugins track 404 errors that occur on your website and help you easily resolve them by redirecting the broken URL to an existing page. Yoast SEO’s premium version also has this feature built in. Yoast SEO Premium will hook up straight to your Google Search Console account, and allow you to redirect 404 errors discovered by Google from within the plugin.

The Pros:

WordPress can become your one-stop shop for discovering and dealing with 404 errors and broken links. And if you’re willing to pay for a premium plugin, you can really automate the process.

The Cons:

WordPress specific, and all of the problems that come with installing plugins. To make the most of this method you should  purchase the premium version of one of these plugins. But trust me: they’re worth it.

404 Errors Caught by SEO Redirection Premium

404 Errors Caught by SEO Redirection Premium

6. Find 404 Errors with Other Services

There are a host of other services that can help you discover 404 errors including and Moz. I only bring these up for the sake of thoroughness. There’s absolutely no reason you need to sign up for a paid service just to discover broken URLs and 404 errors, but these services do a lot more than that and are worth investigating.

The Pros:

Another set of eyes scanning your website for errors can’t be a bad thing. Plus these services offer far more than just 404 error reports.

The Cons:

Services like Moz don’t come cheap. So don’t use them unless you’re looking for more than just a 404 error detector.

Moz 4xx Error Report

Moz 4xx Error Report


So what do I do?  I use a combination of all of the methods above. A link scanner or spider like Xenu helps you proactively discover and fix broken links within your website, but can’t help you with links from other sources like other websites or Google. Google Analytics helps you discover URLs that are actually breaking as people attempt to view them. Google Search Console helps you discover broken links that Google either has in their index, or is trying to index. WordPress plugins like SEO Redirection and Yoast SEO Premium help me easily deal with 404 errors as I discover them. And of course, I already use Moz for other reasons, so I take it’s 404 report into consideration as well.

In another post, I’ll be talking about how to handle 404 errors on your WordPress website once you find them. Stay tuned!

The Most Exciting Feature of WordPress 4.5 Beta 1

The news just broke that WordPress 4.5 Beta 1 was just released. It seems to me that this released doesn’t provide too many sexy new features. There are a number of new Customizer integrations, such as Theme Logo Support and a Responsive Preview feature. But the new feature that excites me is the addition of the wp_add_inline_script() method, which complements the already existing wp_add_inline_style() function. The new function provides a standard way to include inline JavaScript.

Why does this matter? Adding inline styles through this method can guarantee that dependencies have been loaded before the code executes. That alone is important. But I’m excited by the potential this function brings to the table. As themes and plugins adopt it, caching solutions should be able to lock into it and move the inline scripts to external files that can be cached and even offloaded to a CDN rather than re-downloaded for every page view. I’m sure we’ll see solutions like Super Cache and Fastest Cache integrating quickly.