Don't get lost in the 'How' - Step 3: Capture

Why planning is so important when you start stepping up your MailChimp game

by | Aug 20, 2018

This is the 4th of a 5 part series on MailChimp planning. You can read the first post here, and then about sending, storage and the conclusion.
Alternatively, you can get a download of all 5 posts as a easily readable pdf by clicking Here.


Hopefully, you’ve read the first few parts of this mini-series, looking at the emails that you want to send and then what information you actually need (and where to put it)…

…but as with any “engine”, your marketing machine needs fuel – or in our case information.

There are many different ways of getting the information you need, and more importantly, getting it into MailChimp, but as with the other elements (sending & storage), a little bit of planning can go a long way.

So let’s look at the two methods you’ve got of getting the information you know you need into MailChimp.

The two ways of capturing information in MailChimp

When it comes down to it, ignoring all the complicated elements and bits, there are really only two ways of getting information into MailChimp:

  1. Directly – where you actually put the information into MailChimp yourself
  2. Automatically – where your ‘system’ automatically adds the information to MailChimp without any intervention from you.

The ‘Direct’ Method

Adding data to MailChimp directly is usually where you start with MailChimp.  You’ve either got a database, CRM system or even just a list of email addresses and you want to get them into MailChimp so you can send emails to this list.

…and MailChimp makes it easy to do this.

You can either be really old school and use the “ten digit interface” (i.e. your fingers and thumbs) to add each record individually.

…or you can add a list via the import function, which allows you to upload in bulk, which saves you loads of time (and over-straining your fingers!)

Both are perfectly fine as a starting point.  Several of my clients internal databases don’t have the ability to link directly with MailChimp and as such, I use the import function to update and add new records to MailChimp.

…and of course, because I’ve planned the “send” and “store” elements, I know exactly what information I need to put into MailChimp.

However, in an ideal world, we’d pay a developer to set up a direct link between their system and MailChimp so things got updated automatically…

…which in all honesty… is the dream.

The Dream – aka Automatic Data Input

Business is complicated and messy at times… and it’s not like we’ve got lots of other things to spend our time on.

…so adding data directly into MailChimp doesn’t seem like the best use of our resources… especially when there are much slicker, automatic options.

When it comes to automatic options there are two specific ways of doing it.

  1. Directly via a link with another system
  2. Using forms linked directly to MailChimp

If you’ve another data source which you are using (such as a CRM system) for a database, then you may want to consider a direct link to MailChimp from that system – so when a record updates in the system, it updates in MailChimp…. Nice!

There isn’t time or space to go into the options for this due to the huge variety of different CRM tools out there… but needless to say, you need to make sure you’re pushing the right information to the right place in MailChimp to make sure the emails you send are spot on (I may have mentioned this once or twice!!!).

Forms however, are something that definitely needs to be covered, as in most cases, they are the ideal way to gather the information you need… maybe even when you’re using another CRM tool too!

Forms make the (email marketing) world go around

If there’s one thing I learnt at a very early (digital marketing) age, it’s that forms are one of the most important tools in our arsenal.

A well designed and optimised form, asking for the specific information you need (and not stuff you don’t need), as well as tracking other details like when the form was completed and which specific form it is (amongst potentially many), is a thing of beauty.

Forms are the entry points to our marketing system. They are the point where someone moves from being a lurker in the background to being a real, identifiable person… and yet despite this, they are so often, misunderstood, misused and in some cases missing!

Make no mistake, screw up the form and the rest of your system can break down completely.

Conversely, the perfect form (or set of forms), can deliver the invaluable fuel that will have your marketing system purring like the well oiled machine that it should.

Forms Rule!

All forms are NOT created equal

OK, I love forms… but I’m actually very picky… I don’t love all forms.

When you are considering using forms, there is one key question you need to ask yourself:

“What tool am I going to use to create the forms?

…and this question could well be the most important question you ask yourself when it comes to your marketing system… data capture is that important!

So what are the actual options and what are their pro’s and cons?

MailChimp “Created” forms

When you start out with MailChimp, one of the cool things is that “out of the box” you can start using forms, whether they are the hosted core form, pop ups, landing pages, or even embedding code into your website to display a MailChimp form.

In many instances, MailChimp forms are a fantastic solution, and if you’re just starting out and don’t have any complicated set ups, then these are definitely the best way to go… but they do have a couple of limitations which make them unsuitable for more advanced stuff.

The don’t work (easily) with Groups
I always like to make sure I know which form someone has filled in by using groups to identify their entry point. Unfortunately, you can’t automatically assign to a group from a hosted MailChimp form, and you need a bit of confidence to do it with their embedded forms. There are work-arounds, but in my view there are much better solutions out there.

You can’t update a person using a MailChimp form
More fundamentally for me, MailChimp forms don’t give the option of updating a record. So if someone who’s already on your system completes the form again… it won’t update their information.
…so if you’ve got multiple lead magnets for people or multiple ways of people entering your system, you can’t really use MailChimp forms.

The bottom line with MailChimp forms is that there a great place to start, but if you’re looking at building a marketing system, you’ll quickly need to look for alternatives.

…and when you move away from MailChimp forms, there are really 3 options open to you. Bespoke Form Tool Software, Landing Page creators or Plug-Ins.

Form Tools

Because forms are so important, over the last few years several “Form Creation” tools have appeared on the landscape which handle all the messy coding side and let you concentrate on the nice design and User Interface (UI).  They also overcome the two shortcomings of MailChimp forms identified above.

Many have free trials or “free” levels so you can get familiar with the software, and the forms you create can either be linked directly to, or easily embedded in your website.

Examples include: Jotform, Wufoo, Cognito Forms, Typeform, Formstack

Landing Page Creators

Forms are important… nope… they are essential to your success online… and making a form work is not just about the form, it’s about the words and images you use around the form, which is where Landing Page creators have stepped in.

A ‘landing page’ is a complicated way of saying a single, standalone webpage, which has pretty much one goal – to get you to complete the form it has (they used to be called “squeeze pages”, as in they’d “squeeze you into completing the form).

They are incredibly flexible, easy to use and provide some tasty templates you can use to create your pages and forms and they give huge scope. I’ve built a complete website using them. Again, they do all the “coding” so you can concentrate on making them pretty!

The bad news is that they typically aren’t free… but if you’re creating lots of forms and are driving traffic to specific pages of your site, they are definitely worth a look.

Examples include: Unbounce, Lead Pages, Instapage, Clickfunnels , Squeeze Page Toolkit


More appropriate for those of us who are using WordPress to build a website (which is an awful lot of people!!), plug-ins natively integrate with your website and link directly to MailChimp. They deliver the ability to make things pretty without the coding getting in the way and you can also play with what information gets sent to MailChimp

If you’re using a WordPress website, they should definitely be on your radar and although many have functionality that unlocks after a payment, it’s well worth doing, and many have advanced options like pop ups and slick design interfaces

Examples include:  Gravity Forms (my fave), Sumo, Optinmonster, MailChimp for WordPress, Divi Bloom

Before we wrap up things, here’s a few other elements you need to consider when it comes to using forms in your system:

Do I need to Double Opt In?

Double opt in is a method of making sure that the email address that is put in the form is real. Every time a system like MailChimp sends an email to an address that doesn’t exist, it gets a black mark against it – so by using a double opt in process it reduces the chances of this happening.

Although it used to be mandatory, MailChimp relaxed this and now you can choose if you want to use it. There is continuous discussion on web forums of whether you should or shouldn’t use it (it is Mandatory in countries like Canada and Germany), but you can easily switch it on or off depending on your preference.

4 letters you can’t ignore

A few months ago, in May 2018, the GDPR came into place to help manage how data is captured and stored in EU countries.

This isn’t the place to get into the whole ‘GDPR thing’ in detail, but nevertheless, it needs to be on your horizon.

If all you are capturing is basic information such as email and first name, you don’t need to worry about using a specific tick box to confirm people understand how their data will be used, but you need to ensure you’ve got robust systems in place to secure any data you do capture, and close to the form itself you need to be clear what people are signing up to (you can’t hide this anymore), as well as having a link to an up-to-date privacy policy.

If you do this, you’re moving in the right direction of being covered (but remember, I’m no lawyer!)

This is the 4th of a 5 part series on MailChimp planning. You can read the first post here, and then about sending, storage and the conclusion.
Alternatively, you can get a download of all 5 posts as a easily readable pdf by clicking Here.
Robin Adams

Robin Adams

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 and the Mailchimp Answers Facebook Group - the world's biggest Mailchimp User Group. Connect with him on Linkedin.