As a digital agency, we’ve used a lot of email marketing tools over the years. In this post we want to share with you an in-depth review of the following services, based on our experience.
|Service||Pricing*||Ease of use||Email templates||Free trial?|
|$24.65 /mo||5/5||5/5||14 days||Go to Website|
|$25 /mo||4/5||4/5||30 days||Go to Website|
|$35 /mo||4/5||3/5||2,000 contacts||Go to Website|
|$49 /mo||4/5||4/5||No||Go to Website|
|$49 /mo||2/5||3/5||500 contacts||Go to Website|
|$55 /mo||3/5||3/5||60 days||Go to Website|
* Pricing is based on 2,500 subscribers.
It should be immediately obvious that there’s no one-size-fits-all email marketing tool. The best tool for you will depend on your budget, the size of your list, whether you require marketing automation, which integrations you require, and much more.
The table above provides a good starting point, and enables you to toggle between the best beginner and advanced email marketing tools. In the next section, we’ll take a deeper dive into the pros and cons of each of these tools – starting with my favourite: ActiveCampaign.
If there’s one tool that I recommend above all other solutions it’s ActiveCampaign.
ActiveCampaign is the backbone of all of our ventures here at Venture Harbour. It’s easy to use, and easily the most feature-packed email marketing / marketing automation tool for small to medium-sized businesses. On top of that, it’s also one of the most affordable tools.
What sets ActiveCampaign apart is the fact that it has its own CRM system for managing leads, and marketing automation for nurturing your leads into customers. In short, it’s an all-in-one platform for handling small business sales and marketing. Unlike some of the other tools that do this, ActiveCampaign is affordable starting at $9/month – a twentieth of the starting cost of tools like Infusionsoft, Hubspot and Ontraport.
The best thing about ActiveCampaign is the ability to create marketing automation sequences affordably and with ease. For those unfamiliar, marketing automation is the ability to create pre-built sequences of emails that are sent out to people on your list when certain conditions are met. See a quick example of an automation sequence I’ve built in ActiveCampaign below.
What’s particularly powerful about this is it means you can look at any person in your list and see a full history of which emails they’ve opened, replied to, which pages on your site they’ve visited, and much more.
You can then build automated email campaigns to different segments of your list. For example, if someone on your list hasn’t bought your product but suddenly visits your pricing page, you could instantly trigger a targeted email campaign to that person based on their behaviour on your website.
Here’s an example of what an individual contact’s page looks like in the CRM contacts section.
On top of this, ActiveCampaign enables you to add conditional content to emails, so that you can personalise your emails based on information you’ve collected on your leads / subscribers. You can also create ‘goals’ in ActiveCampaign, and even score leads, so that you know how ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ a prospect is based on their activity.
ActiveCampaign’s customer support is extremely responsive. While I’ve probably submitted less than three tickets in total, every one of them has been responded to in under an hour.
They also have a Zapier integration, which means that you can connect ActiveCampaign to 600+ other services, including Salesforce, LeadFormly, QuoteRoller, Xero, Calendly, Acuity Scheduling, Evernote, GotoWebinar and much more.
To be honest, there aren’t a lot of bad things to say about Active Campaign.
In fact, the only weaknesses that I can think of are things that all of the other email marketing tools also struggle with, so I’m not sure it’s fair to single ActiveCampaign out.
One area they could be improved is their reporting. While it has all of the insights you’d expect to see, I find that it’s not as easy as it should be to interpret my stats.
The second con is that ActiveCampaign currently don’t allow you to A/B test different emails in an automation sequence. Although this is something that they’re going to be releasing shortly (I cannot wait).
And… that’s where my list of cons ends.
To summarise, you’re going to be hard-pushed to find a better all-in-one email marketing, marketing automation and CRM solution than ActiveCampaign without spending in excess of $1,000 / month. And even then, ActiveCampaign will give them a run for their money.
Over the years, I’ve used ActiveCampaign as the backbone for our agency, as well as for managing Leadformly’s sales pipeline (a B2B software company we run). Last year, I also implemented ActiveCampaign as the CRM for a fintech firm I advise who have a global sales team managing hundreds of deals. In every instance, it’s worked beautifully.
As a long-term customer of theirs, I can vouch for ActiveCampaign as being arguably the best email marketing & CRM tool for small / medium-sized businesses.
ActiveCampaign starts at $9/month and has a 14-day free trial.
GetResponse comes in at a close second place.
So, what’s so great about them? In short, they get the important things right.
GetResponse’s pricing is very affordable (and, unlike other services, stays affordable as your list grows). Their platform is easy to use, and importing your lists takes seconds.
They have 500+ beautifully-designed email templates (all optimised for mobile), making it easy for beginners to create professional looking newsletters and autoresponders. Their customer support is impeccable (all of the issues we’ve had have been solved quickly with no fuss).
For more advanced users, GetResponse have done A/B testing very well. Whether you want to split test the body content, subject line, sender name, or even the time of day, GetResponse make this really simple. Their API is also very good. At Venture Harbour we’ve had to do a lot of custom integration using their API, and we’ve never had any problems. Of course, they also have many off-the-shelf integrations with services like WordPress, Salesforce, PayPal, Zendesk, and Shopify.
There are a lot of other specific features that I love about GetResponse (TimeTravel, single opt-ins, good deliverability rates, mobile inbox preview, landing pages etc), but the gist is that they’ve put a lot of thought into the important things that really matter.
So, let’s move onto what I don’t like about GetResponse.
Firstly, their form builder is below average. While it does the job, I always find myself spending longer than I’d like customising forms in their not-so-intuitive form builder section. Secondly, there are a few things (like deleting a list) that are unusually hard to do. In fact, even after using GetResponse for over three years, I’d have to Google it to find out how to find the list delete page.
Besides the minor user experience issues, the main reason why we don’t use GetResponse on every project at Venture Harbour is due to marketing automation.
GetResponse have fantastic autoresponders and a good automation tool that allows you to automatically remove/move contacts between lists when certain conditions are met (e.g. removing a contact from a list called ‘leads’ when a lead makes a purchase). Beyond this though, their automation rules are quite limited.
For some of our projects we require more automation functionality than this, which is where we would typically turn to a service like Ontraport, Infusionsoft, or ActiveCampaign (we’ll review these in a moment).
Considering that GetResponse is around one tenth the monthly cost of these more powerful email marketing tools, it’s definitely my pick for any project that needs to send out newsletters, autoresponders, and segmented emails.
In terms of GetResponse versus services like Mailchimp and Aweber, we originally had four sites using Mailchimp and one using Aweber. While I prefer the general features and ease of use of GetResponse over these services, my own experiments also suggest that GetResponse have superior deliverability and opt-in confirmation rates – meaning you get more subscribers, and more emails landing in your contacts’ inboxes.
If you’re interested in trying GetResponse, they have a generous 30-day unlimited free trial.
Before migrating our lists over to GetResponse, Mailchimp was our go-to tool for creating newsletters and autoresponders. Our decision to move away from Mailchimp was primarily due to them enforcing subscribers to double opt-in (which was reducing our list size by about 15%), and the fact that we could do virtually everything we needed in GetResponse for almost half the price.
Since then, Mailchimp have made a lot of changes. While I still personally prefer GetResponse, Mailchimp’s user interface is very well-designed and stupidly easy to use. In addition to this, their functionality has actually become quite powerful.
So, what are Mailchimp’s pros and cons?
For me, there are three things that really stand out about Mailchimp. The first is that it’s probably one of the easiest email marketing tools to use. Their campaign builder makes building campaigns a breeze, even for the total beginner. Importing and exporting your list is also made really easy.
Secondly, they’re the only email marketing service to offer a 100% free account. This catches a lot of people out though, as it doesn’t allow you to access many features. If, for example, you want to use autoresponders – you’ll need to upgrade and pay for that.
The free account also has a low send limit and contact limit. It’s great if you just want to send a few newsletters to a few hundred contacts though. Just bear in mind that Mailchimp can become (relatively) expensive when you need to upgrade. Mailchimp also offer two payment types – pay as you go or a monthly subscription. While expensive, the pay as you go plan is good if you’re sending emails sporadically.
Finally, Mailchimp has a huge variety of integrations. There aren’t many services that Mailchimp can’t connect to. Whether you need to connect to LeadPages, Instapage, WordPress, Hubspot, Unbounce, Facebook, or virtually any other popular marketing tool – Mailchimp will integrate with them.
One of the biggest disadvantages with Mailchimp is that they force users to double opt-in to join your list (first by opting in on your website, and then again by confirming their email).
While the rationale for this is sensible (it reduces your email bounces and helps Mailchimp keep their email delivery servers whitelisted), it does impact the size of your list.
From our experience, we found that around 15% of our (legitimate) subscribers were failing to confirm their email address, resulting in them not being added to our list. This was confirmed when we saw an immediate increase in our list growth when we moved over to GetResponse and began using single opt-ins.
Another disadvantage with Mailchimp is the homogenisation of their email templates. Because so many marketers use Mailchimp, their newsletter templates look familiar. While you can obviously customise them, they somehow always have seem to look like a Mailchimp newsletter.
Finally, Mailchimp is quite pricey for such a basic email marketing tool. They’re able to justify this because they have the most well-known brand in email marketing. While not ludicrously expensive, it is about 40% more expensive than GetResponse – which offers a very comparable (if not better) overall product.
ConvertKit are a new kid on the block, but lately they’ve been getting rave reviews from the blogging community.
Designed specifically for bloggers, ConvertKit includes a range of unique tools to make it easy for bloggers to build their list and promote their content. Being new to ConvertKit myself, I decided to learn more and see what’s driving their positive reviews.
It’s immediately obvious that ConvertKit is extremely well-designed, with a lot of attention paid to the small details. For example, one thing I particularly like is that the bar chart that displays how many new subscribers you’ve received is broken down into chunks to show which blog posts or traffic sources are driving your list growth.
In addition to the usual range of web forms, email blasts (which ConverKit calls ‘broadcasts’), and automation, ConvertKit also has a dedicated section for building email campaigns around web courses. For bloggers and information marketers, this is an invaluable feature.
Similarly to ActiveCampaign, the automation features in ConvertKit are kept very simple – but not at the expense of functionality. With a simple ‘if this happens… do that’ style automation builder, it makes it easy for anyone to build a range of segmented drip campaigns.
Finally, ConvertKit has a lot of non-standard integrations with services likely to be used by authors, publishers, and bloggers. For example, they integrate with BookLaunch, Gumroad, and lots of membership site plugins.
While not unreasonable for such a targeted service, ConvertKit is on the higher end of the price spectrum. In fact, for 2,500 subscribers ConvertKit is double the cost of GetResponse.
Besides this (and the lack of a free trial), there’s not a whole lot bad to say about ConvertKit. For authors and bloggers, it does everything it needs to. ConvertKit starts at $29/month, and you can learn more about their product here.
Despite looking a bit outdated, Aweber sits in a sweet spot of being cost effective and easy to use. It has all the important features you’d want, without being too feature heavy.
For those starting out, it has great reporting to help you learn what does and doesn’t work. Their email campaign creator is great at walking you through how to setup your signup forms and newsletters.
If you’re more advanced in your email marketing, Aweber has some good features, such as split testing. Split testing enables you to send different variations of a campaign to different segments of your list. This allows you to compare and improve your open and engagement rates.
They also offer auto responders, RSS-to-email, and a ton of third-party integrations. Perhaps their most useful integration is with WordPress. Their WordPress plugin enables you to add email signup forms to your website in a single click.
The thing that I love about Aweber is that it’s so simple, yet still has everything you need to get the job done.
I’ve switched between Aweber and Mailchimp for some of my own projects several times. Despite Mailchimp’s slick design, I find the functionality and reporting of Aweber much better.
With Aweber, you’re not locked into any long-term contracts. Their pricing starts at $19/month, and allows you to send unlimited emails to up to 500 subscribers.
Aweber is a bit more expensive than GetResponse. Although only by $4/month, so it’s really a matter of preference.
InfusionSoft is an interesting option.
In some ways it’s wrong to compare it with services like Aweber and GetResponse, as it’s not just an email marketing tool. Infusionsoft is a full sales and marketing automation tool. Email marketing is just one of the many tools provided.
That said, it’d be naive to not feature Infusionsoft in this post. For many businesses, their platform is a complete game changer.
So let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room; InfusionSoft is expensive. Their pricing starts at $199/month, plus you have to pay for a kick-starter package that costs $1,999.
For most marketers and business owners, this is way out of budget. For some, though, this is a fraction of the return that Infusionsoft generates for their business.
InfusionSoft is a full CRM system, with marketing automation and eCommerce tools. So what can you do with InfusionSoft that you can’t do with other tools reviewed here?
In short, you can automate your sales and marketing based on customer behaviour.
I was speaking to a friend recently who was telling me that his company created a virtual sales person on Infusionsoft. Bruce, as they named him, keeps in contact with thousands of customers for them. He checks in every few weeks with different messages depending on what each customer has or hasn’t done.
For example, if someone adds a product to their shopping cart but doesn’t checkout, an email can be triggered reminding them to complete their order.
Perhaps you want to automatically send discount coupons to customers on their birthday? Or, maybe you want to create funnels that turn your non-paying subscribers into customers. With Infusionsoft this is all possible.
It’s a complex tool that’s as powerful as it is addictive. The biggest complain I hear from Infusionsoft customers is that you can spend days creating sequences!
If you’re interested in learning more, we’ve written a more in-depth review of Infusionsoft here. In general, Infusionsoft only becomes a good investment when you’re turning over at least $150k per year. It also only really makes sense if your business revolves around selling products online.
If you’re just starting out with email marketing, InfusionSoft is almost definitely not the right fit.
I’ve never been a fan of Constant Contact, as I find their user interface a bit dated, and their overall service very mediocre. That said, it’s been 3-4 years since I’ve used their service on a client and it does appear that they’ve picked their game up somewhat.
Constant Contact’s selling point used to be that they were the most cost effective solution. Many of our clients used them because they were free (in return for including a Constant Contact logo at the bottom of every email).
It seems that’s changed, as their prices are now quite expensive relative to some of the other options.
Constant Contact charge $50/month for 2,501-5,000 subscribers. To put this into perspective, GetResponse only costs $25-$45 for this amount of subscribers.
That said, Constant Contact do have a few interesting features worth mentioning. First of all, they offer every customer a personal marketing coach to assist with any questions or problems you have.
For first timers, email newsletters and auto responders can be quite a challenge to set up, so I can see how this is quite a valuable feature.
Constant Contact appear to be creating a one-stop shop for marketers. With event registration tools, feedback forms, and surveys, it looks like they’re branching out.
This is a brave move, considering that there are excellent free tools like Eventbrite and Survey Monkey.
In general, I find Constant Contact’s offering just a bit too dull. There’s no clear USP or compelling reason why I’d use them over competing services.
While they may not be very well-known in the email marketing space, SendinBlue have a reputation as being one of the best and most reliable transactional email services.
If you’re just looking for an email marketing tool, I would probably not recommend them over something like ActiveCampaign, but their email marketing and marketing automation tools are certainly not bad. If you’re looking for a tool that combines transactional email with email marketing, SendinBlue are worth considering.
It’s clear that there’s no such thing as a one-size fits all email marketing service.
While ActiveCampaign made our #1 spot, and is the tool we recommend most frequently at Venture Harbour, there may be instances where you might want to use something else. The right tool for your business will depend on your company’s specific requirements.
I hope this article has been useful and has given you some ideas around which tools you might want to explore in more detail.
If you still have any questions about email marketing software then feel free to post them in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them for you.
Image Credit: Johnny Hughes
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