Welcome to the third in our series on preparing to build an email list with MailChimp. If you missed the first two posts in the series, you can read them here.
There are other subscription providers available. I’ve chosen to use MailChimp because it has the best combination of services and low cost (free!). It’s also very easy to set up and use, all of which is no doubt why it’s currently also the most popular.
Helping People Subscribe
So you’ve set up your free account and you’ve created a subscriber list. It’s time to create a signup form.
The signup form is the connection between new subscribers and you. Readers to your blog or web site will use this form to give you something better than gold: their names and email addresses.
Creating a signup form is a two-part process. First, we’ll create a form, then we’ll make a link from your blog or website to the signup form.
Creating the Signup Form
The signup form is the form new subscribers fill out when they want to subscribe to your blog or join your email newsletter mailing list. Click on the subscribe button below to see what our signup form looks like.
Signup forms are highly customizable. There are so many options available, I could do a month of posts describing all of them. For this demonstration, I’ll be showing you how to do a very basic signup form. It will include the subscriber’s name and email address. I’ll address some of the options and why you might want to consider them next week.
For now, lets get that basic form set up.
Step 1: Log into your MailChimp account.
Step 2: You will land on the dashboard page. If you don’t see the left sidebar, click on the group of three horizontal bars in the upper left corner (red arrow). That will reveal the sidebar.
In the sidebar are several options. Click on “Lists” (green arrow, above).
Step 3: You’ll land on the Lists page, as shown below. If you have more than one list, click on the list for which you want to make a signup form.
Step 4: You will land on the page for the mailing list you selected. It should look like this and should give you several options as shown below. Click on “Signup forms” (red arrow).
Step 5: You will land on a page like this, which gives you three major categories for forms. Each one has advantages and disadvantages and you can use any one of them in most situations.
The category I use most often is the General Forms category (yellow circle on the left). It’s easiest to use and works quite well with blogs. Click on the yellow circle or on the gray “Select” box beneath it.
Step 6: A page opens with a blank form and what looks like an overwhelming number of options on it.
Don’t panic! It’s not difficult to set up a basic form and that is what I recommend. You can always go back and fine tune your form later if you want to. But first, the basics.
At the top of the page, under the Create Forms heading, is a gray box called Forms and response emails. The default selection is Signup form. This is what you want, so don’t do anything with this.
Below that is a box labeled Signup form URL. You don’t have to do anything with this, either. It’s filled in automatically by MailChimp software. You will need the code that appears there, but we’ll be back for that later.
Next is the blank form itself. The red arrow marks three categories of options. The first is Build it. This is the category you want right now.
The second category is Design it and this is where you make changes to colors, type styles, and other features that customize your form. I’ve customized each of my forms to look like the blog to which they’re attached, but you don’t have to do that. Sprucing things up appeals to my artistic nature.
Third and last is Translate it. This is handy if you’re likely to have people from multiple languages using your forms or blogs or if you want to customize a form to speak a specific language other than English.
For the moment, though, we want to concentrate on building a signup form. That option is selected by default.
Blank forms have four fields to fill in. Here’s a look at them. The only one that isn’t self-explanatory is the first one. You do not have to put anything in this box. You can, if you wish, add a brief message to your potential new subscriber, but it’s best to keep it simple.
The other three boxes are for subscribers to fill in. You don’t need to do anything with those.
Your form is now ready. Remember that box I told you to remember? The Signup form URL? It’s the second line in the illustration below. It actually appears near the top of the signup form page.
The code in this box is the URL for your signup form. This code will be copied to your blog or website wherever you want to provide a link to your signup form. For now, however, you can copy the code and paste it into word processing or text document for safe keeping.
Creating the Link
This is the link to our signup form. Danielle did the artwork. Cool, isn’t it? We’ve installed it in what’s called a widget. A widget is a handy little tool that allows you to do all sorts of cool things from add a calendar, your Twitter feed, and other neat things to your blog. Widgets are usually found in sidebars and footers. Some templates also have options for left or right side bars and a few have the option of putting a widget or two in the header.
Every page on your blog or website should ask your reader to do something. This “something” is called the “call to action.” You might ask them to buy your book or tweet your post. Or subscribe to your blog.
I have the subscription link at the upper right hand corner of all my blogs. That’s prime real estate in cyber world.
Here’s how to get your subscription link into this prime real estate.
Step 1: Sign into your WordPress account and navigate to the dashboard.
Step 2: From the dashboard, selected “Appearance” and click on “Widgets” in the drop down menu (red arrow).
Step 3: Select a Widget You will land on the “Widgets” page. The list of available widgets is on the left. The list of available widget areas is on the right. I’m using the Hemingway Rewritten template and it comes with four possible widget areas. The sidebar and three footer areas. Your template may look different.
There is a widget for text. Scroll down the page until you find it (red arrow).
Click on the text widget and drag it to the widget area where you want it to appear. It will open automatically, giving you the opportunity to set it up however you want it to appear. The default is shown in this screen shot.
Title: You can opt to leave this blank if you wish. Since I want readers to know exactly what this link is for, however, I title the widget as follows: Free Subscriptions via MailChimp.
The larger box is where you put whatever text you wish. The beauty of a text widget is that it’s very versatile. You can link to images, pages or posts on your blog or pages or posts on other blogs. Or to your MailChimp signup form.
The text you need to make the link linkable is:
<a href=”Signup form URL goes here” target=”blank” />Sign up for our email newsletter, RSS feeds or both.</a>
Feel free to copy the code above and paste into the large box on your text widget.
Signup form URL goes here. When you set up your signup form, there was a box titled “Signup form URL.” It’s marked with the red arrow below.
If you copied that code into a word processing document, now is the time to open that document. Highlight and copy the code (control-c)
Make sure the code is contained by quote marks. The quote marks tell your browser where readers should be taken when they click on the link.
Sign up for our email newsletter, RSS feeds or both. This is the text that will appear in the widget on your blog. Type whatever message you wish here. You have my permission to copy and use this text, if you wish.
Make sure that the text is between the “>” and “<”. That is a must, no matter what you write. Everything that is between those two symbols will become a clickable link.
This is how the code should look in your text widget.
Click the blue “Save” button.
Check your blog to see how the widget appears. Here’s how the signup form link looks in its most basic presentation.
To make sure the link is functioning, click on it. If your MailChimp signup form appears, congratulations!
Whenever I set up or change widgets (which I do frequently), I have a page on my blog open in another tab or window. I do this so I can see the changes as I make them without having to close and re-open either page. After each change I make to the widget, I click on the window that shows the blog page and refresh it. That shows me how the changes look and I can decide at once whether or not I like it.
Once your link is live and active, you’re all set. Readers can now sign up for your email newsletters or they can sign up to receive each new blog post in their inbox. You don’t have to do anything more than this.
But there are ways to make your signup form more useful to you and your subscribers. Remember, I mentioned the signup form we just set up is very basic. Subscribers have no options. Every subscriber will get every post you publish and every newsletter you email. You can enhance the signup form to give new subscribers many different options.
You can also pretty up your subscription link if you prefer.
We’ll talk about adding fields in the next post and changing the appearance of your signup form in the final post. I hope you’ll join me.
In the meantime, I invite you to subscribe to Indie Plot Twist by clicking here or on the link at the top of the side bar. Subscribing is the best way to make sure you never miss a post.