Starting a mailing list for your site

As I’ve mentioned before, at some point my plans were to create a mailing list for this website. I want visitors to be able to subscribe and get new posts as they come available. I’d also like the ability to engage with my community on occasion to share with them – and get input back from them.

Well, now is the time. By the time this post goes live I’ll have a mailing list set up for you to join our community.

This post has affiliate links for the two mail services that I use. It’s no cost to you but helps our site if you sign up from our links. Thanks!

Where do I start?

To have a mailing list we need some sort of service that will handle the mailings. There are some basic requirements I have. Your requirements might be different but I want the ability to:

  • create custom forms so people can join various ways
  • create custom email templates so the contact from me can be made visually appealing (though I admit I’m not a great designer)
  • let people to unsubscribe easily
  • choose a double-opt-in subscription process
  • provide visitors free incentives via subscription forms
  • email the list at my discretion – not only when new posts release

Two very popular options, and a third

The two most popular options for getting started with a mailing list are AWeber and MailChimp. I’m not going to do a comparison review of the two but will say from a little research they seem similar. One difference that stands out to me is that MailChimp has a free plan option. That’s a pretty big deal when just getting started.

A third popular option is ConvertKit. I love the features that ConvertKit provides and I actually use it on another site. It’s $29/month though. That’s NOT a lot of money for what they provide, but to just get started I want to spend as little as possible.

So I’m going to give MailChimp a go for now.

Getting started with MailChimp

Well, that was pretty easy. It only took a couple of minutes. Here are some screenshots of the process walkthrough that I just completed a moment ago.

Step 1. Click Signup For Free on their homepage

Step 2. Enter your email, username, and password. Then click Get Started!

Step 3. They’ll send an email confirmation to you to activate your account

Step 4. Once you click the email link, click the button to confirm you’re human

Step 5. Enter in some information about yourself and your site. A mailing address is going to be required. It’s not just MailChimp but all email services require this. It’s part of the anti-spam laws.

Step 6. Now decide whether or not to sign up for any of their lists. I chose to subscribe to the Getting Started list that says it will help walkthrough the process of getting set up.  We’ll see what they send. Meanwhile, I’m plowing forward!

Creating a list

Looks like creating a list is the next logical step. I know I’ll need to define the list that I want to assign people to, so let’s get started there.

From the main homepage once logged in to MailChimp I see options to Create a List or Import Subscribers. Since this is a new list I’m going to create one from scratch.

The next page allows (requires) you to enter list details. Specifically:

  • List name
  • Default from address address
  • Default from name
  • Short text to remind people how they signed up for your list
  • Confirm the contact information you entered during signup
  • Choose how you want to get notified of subscribe/unsubscribe actions. Not at all, daily summary, or one-at-a-time

Click Save and that’s done!

Creating a signup form

Seems the next step should be to create a form so people can sign up. I clicked that option and see a message that I need to confirm the email address I entered as the default from address.

But first, let’s verify that email address…

I have the message “You must verify you have permissions to send from” and a link next to it to verify the domain. Click that link. Then click send verification email. Wait for the email to arrive.

After a couple minutes without an email I checked my spam folder. Sure enough, there it was. Not sure why that happened but if you don’t get the email in your inbox, check your spam folder.

Click the email link or enter the verification number and you’ll be verified and ready to move forward.

OK. Click on signup forms again, and now we’re making progress.

Embedded Forms

This sounds like the option I want. The description is “Generate HTML code to embed in your site or blog to collect signups.” – perfect!

By default the Classic form has Email, First Name, and Last Name. I only want first name and email address. Everyone’s requirements will be different, but for my purposes I can’t think of why I’d need anything more than that.

I clicked on the Form Builder link and removed the last name field from the form. While in there I also dragged the First Name field to the top of the form. So now it shows First Name on top then Email below. That was pretty easy. I then clicked back to signup forms, and Embedded again, and the Classic form now just has the fields I want.

Form options

First off there are multiple forms to choose from. If you click on any of the options it will show you a preview of how it looks. The options are Classic, Super Slim, Horizontal, Naked and Advanced. I’m going to stick with Classic for now.

Form options allows you to change the title at the top of the form. By default it is “Subscribe to our mailing list” and there is an option not to show it if you don’t want a title. For now, initially at least – might change it later – I’m going to set the title to “Join our community to stay informed”. Made the change and the preview updated. Nice.

There is also an option to show only required field (right now only Email is required) or show all fields. I’m leaving the default of showing all fields.

Additionally there are three checkboxes:

  • Show interest group fields (turning this off for now)
  • Show required field indicator (leaving this on)
  • How format options (no idea so far what this does – leaving it on for now)

The form width can be specified if you want. The text states that it will adjust itself to the available space if a width isn’t provided. That sounds good to me. I want a responsive signup form anyway. Leaving that blank.

Enhanced your form

Three options to “enhance your form” exist. These checkboxes show the option to disable JavaScript, Include an Archive link, Include MoneyRewards Link. I’m leaving all these of these disabled.

Protect your form

That’s nice. There is a built-in option to use CAPTCHA to minimize spammers from trying to take advantage of the form. This will add a “not a robot” checkbox to the signup form. Sounds good.

I don’t see a Save button so I guess it saves automatically.

Adding the MailChimp signup form to the WordPress sidebar

Moving back over to the WordPress admin pages now so I can add the newly created form to my default sidebar.

Click Appearance in the left-hand menu and then Widgets.

On this page you’ll see your defined sidebar and also any widgets already set up in the sidebar. You’ll also see a list of widgets that are available to add to the sidebar.

Adding or removing widgets from a sidebar is as simple as dragging and dropping it where you want it. To add this signup form I’m going to drag the Text widget from the left over into the sidebar and place it in the order I want it.

Once you drag over the text widget, it will expand. There will be a title section (that I left blank) and a text section. For the text section, go back to your MailChimp form design page and highlight the HTML below the preview. It actually states “Copy/paste onto your site” so you’ll notice the right area.

Copy everything in that box and then paste it over into the text widget on your WordPress Widgets admin page. Click Save at the bottom and that’s it.

Check it out by opening your site and going to a page that has that same sidebar displayed. Your theme might or might not show the sidebar on the homepage by default, so be sure to go to a page where it exists. You should see the signup form right there were you placed it!

Boom! Done!

Now I have a way for people to subscribe to the site. Of course right now all this will do it add them to the list. We still need to send out notifications to the list. So after you complete the steps above, read how to automatically send emails to your list when new posts are released.

If you want to add a list to your site and start building your community, head over to MailChimp now to get started.

Happy blogging!


Brad Kingsley

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