Emailing pre-filled Google Forms to a Mailchimp audience

Or: How to pre-fill Google Forms with the data from a Mailchimp database

Yesterday I wrote about how we should always present forms as web (HTML) pages, not in a proprietary and inappropriate format, such as a Microsoft Word document. This reminded me that I recently distributed a form to members of a local voluntary organisation with their details pre-filled, and several people asked how that was done. I thought it might be worth describing here, in case anyone could use it.

We were sending an email to a group of people via the Mailchimp email application, directing them to a form created in Google Forms. However, as we were only asking responders to make a basic selection from a list of items on the form, it seemed harsh to force them to type in their personal details too, especially as we’d used these to send them the email in the first place. So the task was to pre-fill the form with the responders’ personal details, leaving them just to tick a box and press ‘submit’.

As this was a regular mailing, people quickly became used to the ease in which the form could be completed, and the response rate remained extraordinarily high.

Please note that at the time of writing, it was necessary to be using Mailchimp’s ‘Classic email builder’, as the ‘New’ builder would not accept the mail-merged URLs required.

  1. The first thing you’ll need is the data field names (or ‘merge tags’) from Mailchimp that you want to pre-fill in the Google Form. These will be things like *|FNAME|*, *|LNAME|*, *|EMAIL|* and any other (including custom fields) that you may use in your Mailchimp database (we also use *|PHONE|* for example). There’s a list of the default ones here.
  2. Now let’s create the form. You will need a Google account, of course. If you do not have one, you will need to create it. Once your account is set up, go to your Google Drive (the home for documents).
  3. Set up the survey form. Click ‘+ New’ and ‘Google Forms’. Double-click on ‘Untitled Form’ and replace the text with the title of your form. Click on ‘Form description’ and write in any instructions for people who are going to fill in the form. You can edit this at any time.
  4. If you are going to pre-fill email addresses as one of the answers in the form, don’t check the ‘collect email responses’ option (under ‘settings’), but set the email address up as a normal field.
  5. Click on ‘Untitled Question’ and enter your first question. Try to keep this short, as it will be the column label in the spreadsheet of responses. This might be something like ‘Your Name’ if the first thing for responders to fill in is their name. If you need to elaborate on how people should answer, click the three dots and ‘Description’, which will give you additional descriptive text to put under the question. Select the question type (it will say ‘Multiple choice’ by default). For example, if the question is for people to fill in their name, select ‘Short answer’. If the question type is ‘Multiple choice’, ‘Checkboxes’ or ‘Dropdown’, replace ‘Option 1’ with your first answer option, then ‘Option 2’ with your next answer option, etc. If the question must be completed, click the ‘Required’ slider.
  6. When done, to create the second question, click the ‘+’ in a circle in the block of icons to the right.
  7. At any time, click the ‘eye’ icon top right to preview the finished form. At any time, click the ‘palette’ icon top right to change colours.
  8. When done, you’ll want to create the link for Mailchimp with the pre-filled name, email address, phone number, even pre-checked boxes. Click the three dots top right and “Get pre-filled link”. You’ll then be shown your form, and you can paste in the Mailchimp merge tags representing the data you want pre-filled, such as *|EMAIL|* in the email field and *|FNAME|* *|LNAME|* in the full name field, if you have one. You can pre-tick boxes or select options too. When done, click ‘Get Link’ at the bottom. This will give you the link to include in your Mailchimp email.
  9. Finally in Google Forms, click ‘Responses’ above the form to see the responses. If the form has not been used, it will say ‘0 responses’. Click the small green cross icon to see the spreadsheet. In the ‘Select response destination’ panel which appears, ensure ‘Create a new spreadsheet’ is checked and click ‘Create’. Ensure ‘Accepting responses’ is on. Test the form using the link you created. Get someone else to try it too! All a test entry will do is add a response to the spreadsheet. You can go back and edit the form at any time by going to your Google Drive where you should see both the form and the responses spreadsheet.
  10. Finally, use the pre-filled form link however you wish in the Mailchimp email. I recommend not quoting the URL directly (it will be very long) but linking some text to it, or even better, a button.
  11. In the Mailchimp ‘Preview’ screen, there’s an option to ‘Enable live merge tag info’. This will insert real data into the form link, so you can click on the form link and be taken to your form with sample data filled in. If you see a Mailchimp merge tag in any of the pre-filled fields instead of live data, go back to step 8 in the Google form builder and correct the merge tag.

You can of course test the email with a test segment of your audience first, then duplicate the campaign for the full audience if it seemed to work as you planned.

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