Designing a better MailChimp signup process

In Branding, Marketing, Training by Chris Foley

Why it matters: Because you train your customers what to expect from you. Poor attention to detail now doesn't bode well for future engagements.


Why it matters: Because you train your customers what to expect from you. Poor attention to detail now doesn't bode well for future engagements.

I’m focusing on MailChimp for this article because it’s the service that I use and love, and it’s the service that I put most of my own customers on. The info in this article will apply to whatever service you’re using because the concepts are independent of platform.

Have you ever experienced this?

You’re on a site you like and you want to sign up for their newsletter. So you do. You fill out the little subscription form, and you hit submit. And then nothing. No feedback. You refresh your inbox a few times expecting some sort of confirmation message to arrive, and … nothing.

This is bad. Don’t do this on your site. You would be shocked at how often this happens.

Or here’s another version of it. Same scenario: you fill out the little subscription form, and you hit submit. Then the form disappears and you get some sort of really lame and generic message that reads something like “your submission has been received.” Gah, what?? That message isn't even about subscribing to a newsletter!

And then you DO receive a confirmation email a few minutes later but it looks like THIS:

OMG. Really? (humor added for emphasis, though this is not at all inaccurate.)

How does this even happen?

Well, it’s like this. There are many components involved when building out a website or when assembling a marketing plan. It’s always easy to spot amateur hour because the same components are left half-configured or ignored entirely. In the second scenario above, the messages that are displayed and delivered to the would-be subscriber have not been altered from the installed boiler-plate messages that come with those components. If you don’t add your own customization messages you end up with a nice, robotic: “Thank you, your message has been received.” Oh boy! Branding!

It all comes down to that people don't understand the process when they try to do it themselves, or they don't want to spend the money to have it done properly. I've also seen professionals skip these steps on behalf of their clients and in that case it's just poor attention to detail and it's unacceptable.

Pro Tip:
If ever you find yourself about to hire a professional services company to build something out for you, first go and see how they've done that thing for themselves. ie: if the copyright date on that company's site is 3 years ago, do not hire them.

Look, this is a big deal.

You’ve got to avoid making these rather simple mistakes if you want to stand out from the crowd. And don’t feel bad. Everybody is screwing this up.

All you have to do to stand out is to pay attention to each of the involved components.

And here's the good news: you've got somebody on your site (YES! You have a visitor! Awesome!) and that person wants to sign up for your newsletter (WOAH! You’re already ahead, you’ve WON!) - you’re a raging success and you’ve gotten this far. Don’t blow it so close to the finish line by treating your subscriber to a super-lame message such as this. Do you know what this communicates to them? I’ll tell you:

  1. You’ve already subscribed, so I don’t have to work on this relationship anymore.
  2. This lame-ass attempt at the subscription pipeline is exactly the level of quality and value you can expect from me moving forward. (ouch)
  3. I do not take my own brand and messaging very seriously, but thanks for subscribing to receive more mediocrity from me in the future.

It really doesn’t have to be this way.

Let’s just dissect this. Again, there are multiple components to any subscription pipeline. Let’s look at them one by one and I’ll tell you how I set these up for myself and for others. You can steal as much or as little as you’d like.

First, here’s the TOC list. Click on any title to jump directly to that section:

Step 1: Intake

This is usually a signup form. It might live in the site’s sidebar, or maybe right on the top. Sometimes it’s in the middle of a page, or in a pop-up or maybe at the bottom of each blog post. Sometimes the intake process will occur as a result of a product purchase. We’re going to ignore the product purchase method for now and focus on the other intake methods.

First, the form has to look nice. There are a lot of ways to get a Newsletter form up on your site. Some of the most popular plugins are:

  • MailChimp for WordPress by ibericode (It’s excellent.)
  • Contact Form 7 (it’s okay - popular because of how simple it is.)
  • Gravity Forms (super powerful and looks great right out of the box.)
  • SumoMe
  • ConvertPlug
  • MailChimp’s subscription form code. (takes some work to make it look good, I avoid this one.)

One of the bigger reasons that I’m such a huge fan of’s X Theme and Cornerstone is that it’s very easy to style up intake forms and systems such as those listed above are automatically covered by the theme’s default CSS and they look pretty good right away. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

I have 3 intake opportunities on my site. One is a slide-in/pop-up and it looks like this:

Another one is at the bottom of each of my blog post and looks like this:

The 3rd one is on a page dedicated to telling people about my newsletter and that form looks like this:

The better the form looks the higher your conversation rate will be. No joke! This stuff really matters.

So what? Now what?

Somebody has filled out your newsletter subscription form (you’re a winner!) and they’ve committed.

Now what? What happens next?

Well, if you’re using any of those methods listed above, there will be a default (and very bland) response that gets displayed upon successful form submission.

Instead of displaying a success message, I’ve chosen to redirect the user to a page that’s specific to this purpose and there’s a reason for this:

I don’t yet have a subscriber. They still need to confirm their subscription. In other words, I still need them to do something for me, and a page can achieve this better than some boring little message can.

Step 2: Feedback Message

Once they’ve filled out the form they’ve started the double-opt in process. Filling out the form is opt-in #1. The next step is for them to click on a confirmation link that MailChimp emails to them within a few seconds. Clicking on that confirmation link is opt-in #2 and there’s your “double opt-in” requirement.

Upon filling out the form, I send people to a page with this message on it:

Note that it serves to inform people that they will need to look out for an email and that they will need to take an action. Remember, people get bored very quickly and you need to always be selling. Some people will change their minds in the short time it took to fill out the form and confirm their subscription. Cute is always good. Humor goes a long way too.

Step 3: Confirmation Email

MailChimp will send your user an email with a confirmation button in it. If this button does not get clicked you do not have a subscriber. The deal is not sealed until they click on that button. I’ve designed this email to be cute and funny as well, and it makes a difference.

You don’t have to design your message, but you really should because if you don’t it will look like that terrible vanilla message that I showed you earlier in this post. Do not use the default messages, they are intended to be placeholders. Default messages are never going to WOW anybody and they will cost you credibility if you don't pay attention to this detail.

Step 4: Subscription Complete

You can elect to send the user to a confirmation page on your site OR you can send them to a page that MailChimp hosts in order to deliver this message. For fairly obvious reasons I prefer to send them to my own site. That page should convey appreciation and fun and should give people a sense of what it might be like to hear from you on a regular basis.

I’ve kept my page fairly simple for a reason: I sent them a welcome email immediately after signing up, and so I don’t really need to do this on a page. More on that shortly.

Pro Tip
Use the Yoast SEO box to hide this page from Google. That way the only way a person can ever hit this page is if they complete the subscription process. Then you can monitor hits on this page in your Google Analytics and each hit on this page will = a newsletter subscriber. You can then set up GA goals and have historical reporting. Good data approach right here.

Here's the message on my Completion page. It's cute, gives the subscriber feedback that the process has been successfully navigated (closure, you know?) and it serves to get them to look at some of the recent posts on my blog.

Step 5: Welcome Message

MailChimp allows you to send a final welcome email, confirming their subscription and basically telling them that they signed up on this time and on this date using the email address, etc. I find that email to be entirely too dry and it’s not customizable enough for my taste. I therefore have it turned OFF.

Instead, I’ve created an automation sequence which contains a single email message. This email goes out immediately after the subscription is confirmed, and it’s branded to match my site far better than I could do with MailChimp’s welcome email. This is very important to me, because the welcome message sets the tone for the entire relationship between myself and my newsletter subscribers.

My welcome message is branded, looks really nice, is consistent with my voice and my message, and is essentially the first newsletter that my subscribers are going to receive from me. I want to make a good impression.

The welcome message contains 2 articles that I’ve chosen to represent my voice and the tone of the messages that they'll receive in the future. It also contains a message that explains the frequency with which I send and the content that I’m going to send them. This sets expectations and works towards building trust.

I've taken it a bit farther than you maybe need to but remember, I was going for WOW. I have 3 different audiences and I have a different color scheme for each audience. This helps me keep everything straight and it also helps my audience identify where they are. I've pulled this color scheme through to my blog posts as well. My normal messages carry a dominant red feel while my freelancer support articles are teal. The messages that go out to my existing contract and hosting customers are gray.

Remember this about relationships and List Building:

Once expectations are clearly set and the user already feels as though this relationship of yours might well provide value to them, all you can do from here is screw it up! You now need to ensure that you manage your newsletter reliably and as expected but that’s just part of maintaining a relationship, isn't it?

You’ve embarked upon a list-building campaign. Someone signed up for your newsletter. You’ve won a huge battle here, but your work has only just begun. This is not the finish line, it’s the starting line. People are not there to be collected. If you capture subscriptions and then fail to send them newsletters or fail to provide value for them you are abusing the relationship and they’ll leave you.

Your plan should be to build a list of folks who resonate with your messages and not just to collect names. You need to treat your subscribers with respect and don’t ignore them. In short, you need to do your job now that you’ve advertised that you’re going to.


  • Can you commit?

    If you can’t commit to writing a good newsletter on a regular basis, do not collect newsletter subscribers. Do not defraud your subscribers.

  • Seriously?

    Take your branding and your voice seriously. If you don’t how can you expect your visitors to?

  • Model excellence.

    Include some WOW anywhere you can. Other people are doing such a bad job at all of this. All you have to do in order to stand out from the crowd is simply not suck as badly as everyone else does. Of course that's not the entire job, but it's a great start!

  • Learn from others.

    Learn from other sites that are doing things better than your site does. Innovate!

  • Be YOU.

    Remember, the better you become at being you, the more like-minded people you will attract.

  • Not the finish line.

    Subscription is the starting line, not the finish line. Having a big list of people is useless if those people have already written you off and don’t click on the emails you do manage to send them.

  • So many newsletters are real crap.

    Work at having yours not be crap.

In closing

If you want to see how my own Newsletter Pipeline works for yourself, simply fill out the subscription form at the bottom of this page. And feel free to steal any part of this for yourself. I’ll be happy to see you get better results from your list-building strategies.

Cheers, and thanks for reading!



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