How to create a custom automated RSS email newsletter with Campaign Monitor

Campaign Monitor supports the ability to automatically create and send email newsletters based on Really Simple Syndication. This guide provides a walkthrough for creating a custom RSS-compatible template.

RSS Email Message

Creating an automated email newsletter based on a site’s RSS feed is an excellent way to drive repeat traffic. It also makes it easy for recipients to forward and share with colleagues for even more exposure.

This guide shows you how to create and customize an email newsletter on Campaign Monitor that automatically sends the latest posts to an email list’s recipients. The reason I focused on Campaign Monitor is because that’s the Email Service Provider (ESP) that Coywolf uses and prefers. However, other popular ESPs like MailChimp also support RSS to email.

Additionally, if you’re an agency and you’re looking for an easy-to-use and robust RSS to email solution for your clients, I recommend checking out Tidings. Tidings creates beautiful automated email newsletters that also incorporate social posts from Facebook and Instagram.

  1. Create an RSS-compatible email template
  2. Create automated RSS email newsletter
    1. Add RSS feed
    2. Specify send frequency
    3. Import RSS-compatible template
    4. Test email newsletter
  3. Confirmation of RSS newsletter being sent

Create an RSS-compatible email template

The first step is to create a template that supports Campaign Monitor’s RSS automation. They provide a starter template that can be downloaded from their RSS to Email page. Unfortunately, the HTML template contains what can best be described as Table Hell. To support every possible email client, Campaign Monitor, like every ESP, still uses table-based layouts for their email templates.

Table-based layouts are difficult to work with and go against all modern conventions for building layouts in HTML. That’s why I refuse to use them for email templates (when possible). I’ve found that if you use a single column layout with semantic HTML elements, it will degrade gracefully. So that’s what I did for the RSS-compatible template I made for Coywolf News.

I stripped out all of the CSS and HTML, keeping only the elements required by Campaign Monitor to make the template work. The main element they use is datarepeater, which works similar to the WordPress function that’s used to list posts. Within datarepeater block, the following information from the RSS feed can be included.

For the Coywolf News template, the only options I added were rsstitle (Post Title), rssbody (Post Excerpt), and rssitemlink (Permalink). I then wrapped them with semantic HTML elements and added CSS. The template went from over 200 lines of code to just 30 lines. I also ran a Design and Spam test, and it degraded gracefully on old email clients, like Outlook 2003 (which nobody should be using anyways).

In the same spirit of providing Pro members with the WordPress Starter Theme, I’m providing a copy of the RSS-compatible template I used for Coywolf News to help you build your custom RSS-compatible template faster.

Download Starter Template (Zip file)

Create an automated RSS email newsletter

In Campaign Monitor, navigate to the Automation page and then click on the Set up an RSS campaign link on the right side of the page.

Add RSS feed

The setup process will ask you for your domain and will attempt to detect your RSS feed automatically. In most cases, it will automatically detect. If it doesn’t, you’ll be asked to provide a link to your feed.

RSS Feed Confirmation

Specify send frequency

The next step will have you specify how often the newsletter should be sent. If your site publishes multiple articles per day, you may want to consider having them sent daily. I chose to send it once a week because I usually publish 2-5 articles on Coywolf News per week. If you’re concerned about sending too many emails or you don’t publish often, you can choose monthly.

RSS Send Frequency

There’s no need to worry about sending blank or duplicate emails if you haven’t published anything new. Campaign Monitor automatically keeps track of posts that have been emailed and skips sending emails for periods that don’t have any new posts.

Import RSS-compatible template

The next step will request that you choose or import an RSS-compatible template. Unless you’ve done this before, there won’t be an existing template for you to choose from. Click on Import your own, give the template a name (e.g., RSS Email), and then select the HTML template. If you have any images or other external files that are used with the template, they will need to be compressed into a Zip file. Then click on the Add template button to save your template.

Test email newsletter

The last step is to test the email newsletter to make sure it looks the way you want. I had to do a lot of trial and error before I got everything looking correctly. It required me to update the template and import it again several times. After I finished setting up the newsletter, I navigated to the Templates page and deleted the templates that I replaced.

Confirmation of RSS newsletter being sent

Unless you specify otherwise, Campaign Monitor will send you an email message each time your RSS newsletter is sent.

Confirmation Email

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Jon is the founder of Coywolf and the EIC and the primary author reporting for Coywolf News. He is an industry veteran with over 25 years of digital marketing and internet technologies experience. Follow @henshaw