Should you be using Mailchimp’s own forms?
I know it came with the carriage, but I’m not sure we’re are using it the right way?
Free doesn’t necessarily mean good
I recently decided to upgrade my phone… (which was a rather painful process!).
After much discussion, I settled on what I wanted, the tariff, the options and the support and then signed my life away on several forms.
I then received my phone and walked home a happy man…
Of course, the packaged headphones which came free with it left a little to be desired (I felt like I had my head in a bucket of water!)….
So I went out and got some nice headphones that sounded much clearer!
Just because it came free, it didn’t mean it was right for me and didn’t mean I had to use it…
…which is kinda like Mailchimp’s built in forms…
Mailchimp Forms – Hot or Not?
Mailchimp is one of the best ways for businesses to get into email marketing. It’s free for nearly all functions and has everything you need to get rolling.
It’s easy to design and send emails, and get people into your database so you can send stuff.
…it’s even gives you the ability to create forms which you can use to link to, or even embed in your website – and which handle the entire subscription process (including, if you want it, the double opt in).
..and they’ve even added landing pages (and are testing websites), which overcome some of the challenges you have with embedded forms of getting them displayed on your website – so you can have a nice pretty page that your lead generation activity can be linked to (you can even add in a facebook pixel to track visits!).
…and for most of us, that’s fine.
However, if you are looking to develop a full “marketing” system of which Mailchimp will be a key part… then you’ll quickly realise that Mailchimp forms aren’t going to get you where you need to go.
So with that in mind, i’ve identified 5 reasons you should and 3 reasons you shouldn’t use forms either hosted or created within Mailchimp…
…and why in this case… 3 is bigger than 5.
…but before that, here’s a quick insight into the different types of forms that Mailchimp offers you “out of the box”…
The Mailchimp Form Options available for Free
Out of the box, Mailchimp offers four different form options for you to use.
- The Standard hosted form – This is the basic one that MailChimp hosts on it’s own servers for you – every audience has one (…but you only get one per audience).
- Embedded forms – Mailchimp coded forms which you generate and then can add the code to your website.
- Pop Ups – These are like embedded forms, but appear as pop ups on your website (and again you can add them via the code)
- Landing Pages – Created and held within Mailchimp (although you can use your own domain), you can design them (with much more flexibility than the standard hosted form) and have more than one for each audience. You can even add tags when someone completes the form.
Each has their own advantages/disadvantages and it’s really down to you to decide how/when/where you want to use them.
Five reasons why you should use forms created within Mailchimp…
So what’s good about Mailchimp Forms?
- They’re free!!!
When you are starting out, using Mailchimp for many is an easy decision to make as most of the system is completely free to use… and this includes the forms that are provided… so you can easily add people to your audience via these forms (while you put your feet up and relax!)
- They’re easy to make look pretty
OK, so the hosted form can look a little ‘old fashioned’ at times, but you can still brand it and add text and images, and if you’re ok with CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), then making the embedded forms look good when added to your website should be simple. Plus the landing pages are very easy to make look good using Mailchimp’s regular design system (which you should be familiar with as it’s the same one you use to send campaigns).
- They handle the full sign up process
Mailchimp makes it very easy, and within their forms section have all the options you need to sign people up and manage the process, including the whole double opt in side of things (if you are using it), welcome to the audience emails, profile updates and unsubscribes – and of course, all of them can be made to look fully branded.
- You can make lots of different landing pages and link them to automations
At times, it was a struggle to create a nice looking form – but then came Mailchimp landing pages and you could easily create lots of different forms and pages, all connected to the same audience… and either use the “signup source” field or tags to identify people who completed that specific form and send them a welcome email (and thus you could send a document/leaflet just to them – as you’d be able to spot those who completed a specific form which mentioned they’d get the document/leaflet amongst everyone else joining your audience).
- They are GDPR friendly
It seems a long time ago now, but in late May 2018, GDPR became a reality and ensured we needed to track when and how people signed up. Although it was a bit delayed, Mailchimp added functionality into their forms to allow for “consent” to be tracked for a variety of different types of communication and ensured that this was stored within the system so you could prove it if required.
All of these are strong reasons to use MailChimp created forms…
BUT… all these things being equal, does that mean you should use them?
Three reasons why you shouldn’t use forms created within Mailchimp…
Well, much like my headphones – just because they are free, doesn’t mean you should use them.
There are a number of “shortcomings” when it comes to Mailchimp forms that if you are looking to be a little more dynamic and creative in your marketing, may cause you to consider other options out there (3rd party form tools).
So here are my 3 big reasons why you should consider other options…
- You can’t use hosted/embedded/pop up forms to ‘update’ records
The biggest single issue with Mailchimp forms is that if someone is already in your audience, Mailchimp doesn’t update their information when they complete the form. It rejects the form and says “this email address is already subscribed” and gives the option to update their profile.
So if you’ve got two different forms connected to your audience each offering a different incentive for joining your mailing list, people can only complete one. If they try and complete the 2nd after they’ve completed the first, they’ll be rejected and sent to the update profile page. Not ideal if you’re creating lots of different “entry points” into your marketing system.
(n.b. There are work arounds for Mailchimp landing pages which makes them a bit more flexible… but all the other forms you’re stuck with the same problem)
Of course, if you’re only ever going to have one form, then this shouldn’t be an issue… (but who wants just one form?)
- You can’t (easily) add people directly to groups or tags
If you’ve read any of my articles, you know that I’m very passionate about having a single audience and using groups/tags as a way of segmenting your database… and for me, that means automatically adding people to a tag or group when they complete a form.
If you use Mailchimp hosted forms (the standard form or pop ups), you can’t add people to tags or groups at all when they complete a form (there is a way of doing it by using automations, but it’s a pain).
If you use Mailchimp’s embedded forms, then you can do it for groups, but it requires a bit of coding work (watch this video to learn how to use hidden groups) AND you’ve still got the aforementioned inability to update people.
- You can’t embed hosted forms on your domain
I know this sounds a bit obvious, but you’ve really got two options when you create forms in Mailchimp. You can create a pretty landing page, but can’t add this to your own URL (Unless you pay to add your domain… or you can embed a form into your website and domain… but need to know code to make it look pretty). You can’t have your cake and eat it with Mailchimp forms.
OK… so nowadays, domains aren’t as big a deal as they used to be and so although inconvenient, reason 3 is probably surmountable… but the other two are deal breakers in my book (especially if you are using embedded or hosted forms).
The Landing Page Exception
In my view, there are many, many better options when it comes to using forms to let capture people’s data then Mailchimp’s built in solution.
…however, over recent months, I’ve found myself regularly using Mailchimp’s Landing Pages as a way of capturing information and must admit that once you accept certain design limitations, they are actually pretty good!
From a technical point of view, the fact you can auto tag people who complete the form… AND they don’t have the “update” issue, in that someone can fill in several landing page forms and Mailchimp won’t cause an issue with updating their information, makes them usable.
It’s still frustrating that there are limitations in design and the templates haven’t been update for a while, but for certain projects, I find myself gravitating towards using them.
…so for everything I’ve said about Mailchimp’s forms not being great… their landing page solution is the one exception to the rule (and we’ll wait and see how their new website solution works)…
…So Should you use Mailchimp forms…
The fact is that considering that Mailchimp is free for pretty much everything, then for many businesses who aren’t into building an effective marketing system, and who just one one point of entry into their system and just do “newsletters”, then there’s no need to consider anything else but Mailchimp forms.
They’re free… easy to access and make what could be a very complicated process, quite easy to use.
However, if you are considering building a marketing system and grow your business effectively, then the two key problems (updating and tags/groups), in my mind suggest that you should look elsewhere for your form solutions (or stick with Mailchimp landing pages).
Most 3rd party tools, whether form creation software, plug-ins or other tools will “update” records and also allow you to assign people to tags/groups automatically… and thus become powerful elements of your marketing system, plus they’ve all got some great “additional” benefits that make them easy to use.
Which 3rd party tool to use… well that’s a whole different story!
I’m off to listen to my phone via some nice bluetooth headphones… whilst the free ones collect dust in the drawer.
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Robin Adams is a business owner who is passionate about helping businesses build effective marketing systems that work and don't waste money. Having a lifetime of Marketing experience (he's got a degree in Marketing before there were degrees in Marketing!) and having worked for big and small businesses and both client and agency side, he understands not only the theory, but the systems that are required to underpin everything.
51% marketer and 49% Chimp, Robin is the main man behind chimpanswers.com and the Mailchimp Answers Facebook Group - the world's biggest Mailchimp User Group. Connect with him on Linkedin.
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