Good Design Showdown: MailChimp v. FreshMail

In no way am I affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this post. This is just my take from having to put in a new email capture form recently.

It’s not that MailChimp isn’t a quality service. Feature rich and packed with add-ons, you can get whatever you want out of MailChimp. But because they are the biggest they’ve fallen behind on the functionality of their design.

I recently had to put in a new email subscribe. Of course I went right to MailChimp. But it had been over a year since I’d had to work with their platform so I struggled finding a couple of necessary components to the subscription flow of a sign up form.

The standard subscription flow of an email list goes like this:

1. You enter your email into a box and hit subscribe.

2. You are then redirected to a page from the mailing list service provider.

3. You then go into your email and click the link that came in to prove that you did indeed subscribe to the list.

Let’s start with the beginning of the process with MailChimp. In this project, and every other project I’ve ever done I’m just looking for stripped-down boiler-plate code that puts a users email into a list that I can use later. Stripped-down, boiler-plate being the operative words here since I’m going to style it according to whatever site I’m working on.

After getting to the main page I’m pretty sure that what I’m looking for would be under the embedded form tab. Under this tab there must be a simple endpoint for me to assign to the form action. Cool, let’s click it.

Eh, this is not really what I want. I’m not saying this won’t do what it’s supposed to but there’s too much here. Too much = more to detangle = more time spent setting up something that should be quick and simple.

The last thing I want to do is comb through 23 lines of code (Yes, I counted.) for something I know for sure can be written sufficiently in no more than 10. The bare-knuckle variety must be under the advanced tab. Let’s roll with that.


Fine, I’ll Google for it. I’m sure it’s out there somewhere.

Bingo. Found it…

You’re really telling me to “View Page Source” in the answer? 500+ employees and that’s your direction? Alright, I’ll give it a quick shot but as a human who guards his time religiously if it doesn’t work right off the bat I’m going to go see what your competition has to offer.

No dice. Two tries later and an hour and a half total now and I’m still nowhere near completion.

The next thing I Google is “MailChimp alternatives”. Lo and behold there are a lot. Here are my must-haves: a decent free tier (at least 500 free subscribers) and embedded forms. Eleventh on the list, the first candidate that fits my bill, FreshMail.

A quick sign-up and we’re off. The first thing that I notice is that the design is modern. It moves a little slow¹ but things are where I expect them to be in 2017. This is intuitive design. Main menu on the top, sub menu on the side.

I click on Subscribers then create a list and go into it.

This feels better. But don’t let me down. I have a limited amount of time on this planet. I click on sign-up form.

Way better. The template code they provide is 8 lines. This compared to the 23 lines from MailChimp. I don’t have to wade through it. I can plug and play with my own styling. Now let’s hope it does what it needs to.

Copy, paste, and a quick test confirms that emails are going where they need to go. But the one thing I definitely want to change is the confirmation email, that needs to have some personalization to it. This is where FreshMail shined in terms of usability.

In such a simple way that it doesn’t seem worth mentioning but the menu under sign-up form flows like a normal subscription system. And it’s right next to the form you just created.

This is in contrast to MailChimp. Where we have to navigate through 3 pages and a minimum of four clicks to get where we need to go.

I’m probably not the most patient person in the bunch but MailChimp makes a lot of assumptions about who is using their platform. Given all of the competition they face it’s hard to imagine that those assumptions aren’t costing them a significant number of new/returning users. Myself included.

I’m sure FreshMail has some issues somewhere. But it worked immediately. It took me less than 45 minutes to find their service and then embed, style, and test the form. Bonus points for the < 30 minutes it took customer support to check the delivery status of some emails that were bouncing.

Sold. Where do I sign.

MailChimp where you at?

¹The layout gives the impression that this really should be a single-page app. If the site didn’t have to reload the menu components for every page, performance would improve significantly. Unfortunately, every button press requires a fresh page load and you usually get a spinner for a split second. But I digress, tech debt is a real thing.

Originally published on my blog