Venture Harbour’s annual email marketing software review is among the most cited in the industry. With over 350 email marketing tools considered, we spend hundreds of hours each year testing email marketing providers and analysing customer reviews. Some links below are affiliate links & we may receive a commission (at no extra cost to you).
Choosing the best email marketing software can be daunting. Yet, most marketers want the same thing: An easy-to-use, reasonably-priced email marketing tool that offers a range of features to engage prospects and increase sales.
We’ve separated the wheat from the chaff for you, eliminating the overly expensive and frustratingly complex email marketing tools from your decision process.
What is the best email marketing software?
The best email marketing software for you depends on your budget, contact list size, and requirements.
Before we dive into an in-depth comparison of each email marketing tool’s features, email templates, user interface, cost, and technical considerations like deliverability, security, GDPR compliance, and integrations, here’s a quick tool you can use to find the right email marketing tool for you, followed by a quick overview of our top 10.
Five years ago, ActiveCampaign was an underdog in the email marketing space.
Since then, ActiveCampaign has built what I consider to be the best product in the marketing automation space, shooting them ahead of the old market leaders like Mailchimp, Hubspot, and Infusionsoft.
While this may sound like hyperbole, ActiveCampaign finished 1st or 2nd place in all nine categories that we analysed, from deliverability rates and customer support response time to integrations and affordability.
They’re used by over 75,000 organisations, making them one of the largest email marketing tools by size. What I find particularly impressive about this is that, unlike competitors, ActiveCampaign’s pricing starts at just $9/month making it accessible to both small businesses, and remains competitive even for larger enterprise organisations.
We use ActiveCampaign as the CRM, marketing automation & email marketing tool across all of our ventures here at Venture Harbour, and we love it.
You can try ActiveCampaign out with a 14-day free trial here.
Constant Contact was founded in 1995, making them one of the oldest email marketing companies. They’re also one of the largest, with over 200 million emails being sent from their platform per day.
With the exception of their email templates (which aren’t the most inspiring), everything about Constant Contact is generally quite good. The product is definitely not as innovative or well-maintained as ActiveCampaign, but if you just need a basic email marketing tool, it’s a good option.
Unlike other email marketing tools, there are no bells or whistles with Constant Contact. You’re probably not going to be blown away by any of their features, but equally, there’s nothing too underwhelming either.
If using ActiveCampaign is like driving a Jaguar or a Mercedes, Constant Contact is perhaps more like a Volkswagen or a Toyota. Nothing fancy, but it works.
SendinBlue is best-known as one of the leading transactional email services. Building on this reputation they built an email marketing automation product.
We use SendinBlue at Leadformly for triggering transactional emails (e.g. forgot password emails and invoice receipts). While I can’t comment on their marketing automation features in detail, they have an exceptional developer API that made integrating their email sending functionality into our application a breeze.
While SendinBlue didn’t fare too well in the deliverability study below, we found their deliverability to be quite good (93-96%). Therefore, if you’re looking for an email marketing tool to integrate into your software, SendinBlue is a great option to consider.
In 2006, Hubspot IPO’d on the New York Stock Exchange, making it the first email marketing service to go public. Their software is used by 48,000 companies, mostly small businesses.
So what’s good and what’s not?
Hubspot pioneered the word ‘inbound marketing’ and built an all-in-one CRM, email marketing automation, content management system and landing page builder platform for small businesses. While this is their strength, it’s also their biggest drawback.
Hubspot, in my view, tries to achieve too much with none of it being done really well. Their automation platform is extremely limited in comparison to ActiveCampaign’s, and their CRM often feels overly complex.
However, the advantage of Hubspot offering everything in one place is that Hubspot’s analytics are excellent. Want to see an email campaign’s conversion rate from leads captured at that expo you sponsored last year? No problem.
Another major downside with Hubspot is price creep. Hubspot may appear very affordable to start with, but the pricing can quickly get out of control.
One former client of mine started using Hubspot for about $50/month, but after adding a few extra features and growing his list he was soon paying $2,000/month which had to be paid annually. For many small businesses, there’s a big difference between $50 leaving the bank account and $24,000 – especially when other tools can offer similar (or better products) at a fraction of this amount.
When Mindvalley was looking for an email marketing tool their COO spent six months testing email marketing providers, and Ontraport came out on top.
Ontraport is a good product with a fantastic user community, and it has undergone several major updates over the past year or so. Starting at $79/month for just 1,000 contacts, it’s on the pricey end of the scale (for comparison, ActiveCampaign charge $17/month for 1,000 contacts).
From conversations with current and former Ontraport customers, it seems Ontraport has found their niche in information product small businesses (such as coaches and fitness gurus). Outside of these niches, there may be better email marketing tools that cost less.
SendX is a relatively new contender in the email marketing space, but this hasn’t stopped them from scooping up numerous awards from G2Crowd & Capterra.
SendX prides themselves on being a simple email marketing solution aimed at non-marketers. One of their most unique features is “Opti-Send technology” which automatically resends campaigns to contacts who didn’t open the first email, boosting open rates. This has been considered a best practice in the email marketing space for many years, yet is surprisingly manual to set up in most email marketing tools.
Out of all of the email marketing tools in this article, SendX is the second most affordable at three different price points (explained in more detail below), though their lowest priced plan starts at $29.99/month which we felt is relatively expensive as a starting price (ActiveCampaign, by comparison, starts at $9/month).
A final footnote is that SendX accepts cryptocurrency and blockchain companies (many popular email marketing tools block them due to spam concerns).
Benchmark may not be the most powerful email marketing tool out there, but it is incredibly easy to use. They were also ranked #1 for customer support by PC Magazine in 2015. In our customer support test, Benchmark was the third-fastest company to respond to a support ticket.
Benchmark is the kind of tool I’d suggest to my mum if she were looking for an email marketing tool to communicate with her day care clients. It’s easy to use, has great support, and it just does the basics quite well.
Their drag and drop email builder, while fairly standard these days, is beautifully simple and makes building email campaigns a breeze.
If you’re just after something simple that enables you to send out mass emails, Benchmark might be a good fit.
Before moving to ActiveCampaign, GetResponse was the backbone of all of our email marketing activity at Venture Harbour.
In 2015, I flew out to Gdansk in Poland to visit their HQ, hear about the product roadmap, and devour delicious żurek bread bowls and suspiciously oversized shots of Polish vodka with their wonderful team. It was an exciting time, and I could tell that this was a company that cared about their community.
Unfortunately, it was around this time that GetResponse started to slip behind. ActiveCampaign, Ontraport, and other marketing automation providers were gaining popularity, and GetResponse just wasn’t keeping up. By switching to ActiveCampaign, we saved money AND got access to a more powerful email marketing tool. It was, sadly, a no-brainer.
While GetResponse did eventually launch its own marketing automation feature, it’s still not as feature-rich or intuitive as others on the market. Despite our perspective, GetResponse is used by over 350,000 customers, so they must be doing something right.
Founded in 2013, Sendlane is a toddler in email marketing provider terms, which has its pros and cons.
Sendlane have built some unique and interesting features, like machine-learning open predictability to optimise your email send times, and advanced segmentation.
On the downside, Sendlane had the worst Zapier integration among all of the email marketing tools in this article, and there was almost no documentation available on their website about security besides two sentences in their terms of service.
As you might expect for a relatively new company, Sendlane is not quite as well-developed as their older cousins, and so they’ve clearly focused on developing a more competitive set of features. Perhaps to compensate for this, they do have exceptionally good customer support!
iContact is another all-around email marketing tool that falls into a similar category to Constant Contact and GetResponse.
Acquired by Cision (the PR firm behind PR Newswire) in 2012, iContact pride themselves on being easy to use and offering a range of managed email marketing services for those who don’t have the time or expertise to manage email marketing in-house.
Choosing the Best Email Marketing Software
There are nine factors to consider when choosing the best email marketing software for your business. We have reviewed all ten of the email marketing tools above on each of these nine factors below.
1: Email marketing features – You can assume that all of the tools in this article offer all of the features you’d expect (pre-built email templates, multiple contact lists, a visual email campaign builder). But some go above and beyond with email A/B testing, automatic send-time optimisation (to maximise your open rates) and little extras like support for inserting emojis into subject lines.
2: Cost & value – Some email marketing tools may seem affordable when you have just a few thousand contacts, but become eye-wateringly expensive as your list grows. We’ve highlighted the pricing of the providers at three different list sizes so that you can predict price creep and avoid tools that will eat up your profit.
3: Ease of use – With some email marketing tools it’s taken me almost 3 hours just to make an email marketing template look acceptable on a mobile device. While all email marketing tools advertise visual email builders & easy-to-use interfaces, some are better than others. We’ll review some of the best below with screenshots to compare them side-by-side.
4: CRM & marketing automation features – Unless you’re a large enterprise, it probably makes sense to combine your email marketing tool and CRM (customer relationship management) system in one. This will save you time connecting them together & will make triggering automated emails to the right people at the right time a breeze. As such, we’ve also compared the CRM & marketing automation functionality of the top email marketing services below.
5: Email analytics – The faster you can determine what’s working (and what’s not) and adjust course, the better. Sadly, reporting is where many popular email marketing tools fall down. We’ve outlined the most important reports to look for, along with screenshots of some of the top reporting dashboards.
6: Support – The paradox with customer support is that the better the tool – the less you’ll likely use its support. In this section, we tested the response times of all ten email marketing companies head-to-head.
7: Security & compliance – If you have European citizens on your email list, you need to ensure that you’re email marketing tool is GDPR compliant. If you’re capturing particularly sensitive data (or are of a certain size), you may need to consider higher security standards. In this short section, we’ve briefly compared the security features & compliance standards (such as HIPAA, GDPR, ISO). If this is gobbledegook to you, don’t worry – skip straight over this section.
8: Deliverability – What good is an email marketing tool if 15% of your emails end up in the spam folder? Fortunately, none of the providers mentioned in this article are that bad, but some are better than others. We’ve compared them all in a head-to-head deliverability test below.
9: Integrations – If you want to save yourself hours of mundane repetitive tasks, it’s important that you can automatically connect your email marketing software to the other tools used in your business – from your accounting software to your CRM (if separate). In this section, we compare which email marketing tools have the best blend of quality and quantity of integrations.
Best for Email Marketing Features
If you try any of the email marketing tools in this article, you’ll find that they all offer the standard features that you’d expect from an email marketing tool, such as visual email campaign builders, pre-designed email templates, and autoresponders.
Only a handful go above and beyond with additional email marketing features designed to save you time and get better results. Here are our top three email marketing tools that go above and beyond, along with some of the notable features they offer.
Automation A/B Testing – While most email marketing tools allow you to split-test subject lines, send times, and content, ActiveCampaign are one of the only services that allow you to split-test entire sections of an automation sequence.
This means you can split test radical changes like sending 10 emails to new leads versus only four, to see which sequence has the highest conversion rate.
Conditional content – ActiveCampaign are one of the only email marketing services that allow you to include conditional ‘IF X is true, show Y’ content blocks inside email campaigns.
We use this for localising pricing (i.e. show $ in the United States, £ in the UK, and € in Europe), and displaying different recommended articles to different customers based on their plan or engagement level.
Global variables – We have over 200 automated emails setup in our ActiveCampaign account. What happens if, for example, I want to change something in my email signature? Or update the pricing of one of our plans?
With other email marketing tools, you’d have to go into each email and manually update the changes one-by-one. This is where global variables are a big time saver. Instead of inserting the actual price in an email campaign you can enter %price% and it will replace all variables with the actual price when the email is sent out.
Downloadable automation recipes – ActiveCampaign are one of the only email marketing tools that offer a range of automation ‘recipes’ for you to pick and choose from. Instead of spending days building an elaborate sequence of upsell emails, you can just use one they’ve already made, and then adjust the content so that fits your brand.
In addition to saving a lot of time, these recipes are a great source of inspiration.
Smart Content – Similar to the conditional content feature offered by ActiveCampaign, Smart Content allows you to hide and display blocks of content in your email campaigns based on where a contact is in your buying cycle, or which lists they are in.
Subject line emojis – Using emojis in subject lines have been found to increase open rates by as much as 45%. While you can technically put emojis in the subject line using almost any email marketing tool, Hubspot makes it a little bit easier by having an emoji button next to the subject line box.
Progressive Profiling – Let’s say a lead visits your website on day one and exchanges her name and email address to download a whitepaper. The next day, they come back to your website to learn more.
Instead of showing the same form asking for their name and email address, Hubspot allows you to identify this lead and show a different offer, or ask a different set of questions to learn more about them over time. This is called Progressive profiling – and it allows you to send more personalised email campaigns as you gather more information on your leads.
Postcards – Ontraport are one of the only email marketing services that offer a (paid) integration with a postcard writing service, enabling you to send handwritten postcards to your customers at scale. While it might seem gimmicky (and also a bit pricey) it’s unusual, and in some industries could be quite effective.
2. Best for Cost & Value
What differentiates a $100/month tool from a $20/month tool?
Sometimes very little, sometimes a lot. Hubspot, for example, may charge 10-20X more than most email marketing tools but they offer a built-in landing page builder, social media marketing tool and much more. On the other hand, ActiveCampaign offers an enormous amount of value while remaining one of the most affordable email marketing tools on the market.
Comparing email marketing software based on cost alone is a dangerous game. That’s why it’s important to look at all nine factors in this article to ensure that you’re buying the right tool for the job, rather than the cheapest.
“There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man’s lawful prey.” – John Ruskin
Caveats aside, here’s a detailed comparison of the monthly cost of all ten email marketing tools at three account sizes ordered from most affordable to least.
|Tool||Monthly price for 2,500 contacts||Monthly price for 10,000 contacts||Monthly price for 100,000 contacts|
It would be remiss not to point out that cost and value are not the same thing. Hubspot, ActiveCampaign, and Ontraport offer all-in-one marketing & sales platforms with many features beyond email marketing, while the rest are simply mass-emailing tools.
Don’t let the tail wag the dog
Your email marketing tool is something that you ideally don’t want to change often, therefore it pays to choose a tool that offers not only what you need today, but what you’ll need for the next 2-3 years.
Therefore, my advice is to take this section with a pinch of salt – perhaps if by the end of this article you’ve narrowed your selection down to two or three tools, this may help decide on which is most affordable.
Ultimately, it’s important that you choose the tool that is going to give you the best opportunity to grow your business.
3. Best for Ease of Use
All of the email marketing tools featured in this article are designed for non-technical business owners, so whichever tool you choose you’ll be in good hands.
Some are indeed easier to use than others, and this can mean one of two things. Either, their product is relatively simple with no bells and whistles (such is the case with Benchmark, iContact and Constant Contact), or despite being very powerful they’ve built a well-designed platform that is easy to use (ActiveCampaign).
My litmus test is: Would I recommend this to my mum? These three tools pass that test with flying colours.
Rather than explain how easy to use these three tools are, I’ll let screenshots do the talking for this section.
Constant Contact Screenshots
All three of these tools offer a free trial, so you can see just how easy they are to use for yourself. Here are the links if you want to start a free trial with Benchmark, ActiveCampaign, or Constant Contact.
4. Best for CRM & Automation Features
Unless you’re a large enterprise it probably makes sense to use an email marketing tool that also has an in-built CRM (customer relationship management) and marketing automation functionality.
The reason for this is that email marketing works best when emails are triggered to the right people at the right time – and the data required to enable this is often stored in a CRM system. While you can make this work with a separate CRM, integrating the two is an extra step that could be avoided.
This requirement technically rules out half of the contenders in this article, who do not offer inbuilt CRM solutions: Sendlane, iContact, Constant Contact, Benchmark and SendinBlue.
Of the remaining five, the three most impressive combined CRM/email marketing automation solutions are:
Hubspot is the undisputed leader in this category. As an all-in-one sales & marketing platform, they offer a full CRM system, as well as in-built tools for blogging, social media management, landing page creation, and… well, you name it they probably offer it.
Their CRM system is extremely powerful, yet straightforward to use. You can view deals in a pipeline format (as shown above) or as one long list in a table.
Because Hubspot contains so much data on each of your leads, you can use their marketing automation platform to build email sequences that use CRM data to trigger emails to contacts based on their behaviour.
Frankly, Hubspot’s email marketing automation builder is not the best I’ve seen – but in tandem with their CRM, it’s a powerful feature.
As you can see below, ActiveCampaign’s CRM system is very similar to Hubspot’s in design and functionality.
Similarly to Hubspot, ActiveCampaign tracks your lead’s activity on your website (or app) and can automatically move leads into different stages of your pipeline based on which pages they’ve visited, whether they’ve bought a product, clicked on an email etc.
You can also deep-dive into any lead or customer’s profile to see a full history of every interaction that person has had with your company since they first gave you their email address.
Where ActiveCampaign really shines is with their marketing automation builder. We’ve already touched on this in previous sections of this article, so I won’t go into too much more detail, however, I will point out that my entire team have been able to build complex automation sequences in ActiveCampaign with almost zero training.
There’s nothing particularly notable about Ontraport’s CRM that hasn’t already been highlighted about Hubspot or ActiveCampaign’s CRM system. As you can see from the screenshot below, they all share a familiar design and feature set.
Ontraport’s marketing automation builder is equally familiar, although there are two features that you might not see elsewhere: Fulfilment lists and membership site actions.
If you don’t run a membership site or ship physical products, these features won’t be relevant to you, but if you do, they might well be worth considering. In short, Ontraport enables you to automatically add contacts to a fulfilment list, automating shipping related tasks like printing receipts and shipping labels.
Similarly, Ontraport also allows you to automatically grant (or revoke) access to a membership site based on a contact’s behaviour. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Ontraport is a popular tool among information product marketers, and so their membership site integrations and features are a reflection of this focus.
5. Best for Email Analytics & Reporting
Most email marketing tools offer very little when it comes to reporting functionality, to the point that understanding what emails are generating a positive return on investment can be a surprisingly difficult question to answer.
In our review of the top ten email marketing tools, we were most impressed by the email analytics and reporting offered by these three companies.
Hubspot has an unfair advantage.
As an all-in-one marketing platform, it should come as no surprise that they offer a huge variety of reports, answering every marketing question imaginable. To give credit where it’s due, these aren’t just vanity metrics either; Hubspot does a very good job at answering the difficult questions that actually provide actionable insights.
Of course, this kind of reporting comes at a cost (Hubspot’s not cheap, as we’ve already covered) but you do get a lot more insight compared to just knowing how many people opened or unsubscribed from your email campaigns.
Their campaign reports are easy to digest and surprisingly insightful. Interestingly, Hubspot is one of the only email marketing tools to report on the time people spend reading an email.
ActiveCampaign recently introduced ‘Goals’, which may just be my favourite new feature. Goals enable you to track the conversion rate of every email and automation campaign – and the time it takes for someone to convert.
ActiveCampaign also provides easy-to-understand reports to quickly identify how your emails and automation sequences are performing at both a macro and granular level.
On the CRM side, ActiveCampaign provides a handful of useful reports to visualise your overall marketing and sales funnel so that you can identify where to invest your email marketing efforts to plug the biggest leaks in your funnel.
Sendlane’s reports are far from visually inspiring, but they do effectively answer the most important question every email marketing wants to know: How much money did this email generate?
Using event tracking, Sendlane is able to track every purchase or conversion on your site back to the email that drove that action – enabling you to gauge the performance of each email.
On top of this, Sendlane provides all of the standard email analytics you’d expect in a relatively busy, but digestible, dashboard as shown below.
6. Best for Customer Support
The preferred method of support for most email marketing vendors is email or live chat. To test which company had the fastest support response time, we sent the same email to all ten email marketing companies and recorded the time it took them to fully answer our question.
Two of the companies (iContact and Ontraport) took more than 24 hours to respond, while half of the tools in this article responded within 20 minutes. Sendlane were the fastest responder – providing an answer within 3 minutes, followed by ActiveCampaign and Benchmark.
Out of the ten email marketing providers, four of them also offered phone support in addition to email support (Hubspot, ActiveCampaign, Constant Contact, and iContact).
After calling all of their support lines and expecting to be put on hold for an eternity, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself speaking to a human in less than two minutes in all four cases.
7. Best for Security & Compliance
If you capture sensitive personal data or, due to your industry or size, require an email marketing provider that has particular security and privacy compliance certifications, we’d suggest either:
As you’d expect, the larger and older email marketing providers tend to be the best option when it comes to security and compliance. All three of the services above provide extensive documentation on their websites about their security and compliance measures.
For a more detailed comparison of which security/compliance certifications and features these three email marketing tools offer, we’ve created the table below.
|ISO 27018 (cloud privacy)||Yes||No||No|
|ISO 27001 (information security)||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|ISO 27017 (cloud security)||Yes||No||No|
|EU-US Privacy Shield||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|HIPAA||Yes (enterprise account only)||No||Yes|
Here are some useful links to learn more:
8. Best for Deliverability
In order to give you the best deliverability rates possible there are a few things email marketing services tend to do:
- Flag clients for review if they receive too many complaints or bounced emails
- Remove problematic clients
- Monitor blacklists
- Manage the reputation of their IP addresses.
In the most recent email deliverability study by our friends at EmailToolTester, ActiveCampaign had the highest % of emails reach the inbox out of the ten tools they selected. This was followed closely by Constant Contact.
It should be pointed out that email deliverability does fluctuate based on many factors, but the study above did keep many factors like authentication and email content consistent to show a true comparison.
9. Best for Third-Party Integrations
These days, most email marketing tools integrate with Zapier (a third-party tool that allows you to then send data to over 1,000+ third-party apps & tools) rather than building their own smorgasboard of integrations.
But as you’ll see below, not all Zapier integrations are created equal. The best email marketing tools for integrating with other apps are:
In Zapier, every ‘zap’ (integration) has two parts: A trigger and an action. For example, let’s say you want to build an integration so that every time someone subscribes to your mailing list (the trigger), they’re automatically added to a Google Spreadsheet (the action), this can be built in 2-3 minutes using Zapier.
Broadly speaking, the more triggers and actions an email marketing tool provides, the easier it is to automate tasks. Below is a list of the top ten email marketing tools, ranked from highest number of triggers, actions and searches to lowest.
|Type||Zapier Triggers||Zapier Actions & Searches|
There are some tools (such as GetResponse and Ontraport) that also offer a handful of native integrations, in addition to their Zapier integration.
While this is mostly just a legacy feature from pre-Zapier times, the native integrations can enable connections that are not possible on Zapier. Our recommendation would be to search on Zapier for the tools that you currently use, and if they’re all on there, choose one of the email marketing tools above that provides the most triggers and actions.
Conclusion: Your Turn
My business coach would often say to me “progress over perfection”.
His point was it’s more important to take the next step and make progress, rather than waste lots of time trying to get the perfect result.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve already absorbed 100+ hours of research, which means you’ve done more research than 99.99% of marketers choosing an email marketing tool. In short, you are ready to make a decision and choose an email marketing tool.
If for whatever reason you’re still not sure which email marketing tool is right for you, my advice is to create a free trial with one of the top three tools and see if it feels right for you. If not, try another one.
Which email marketing tool do you use?
As mentioned at the start of the article, we use ActiveCampaign for all of the ventures at Venture Harbour and have done for the past five years.
Before this, we used GetResponse (but decided to move as it took them over two years to release a marketing automation product after most email marketing tools offered one).
What is email marketing automation?
Email marketing automation is where a sequence of emails are automatically sent to contacts based either on a time schedule or depending on their actions and behaviour. The aim of email marketing automation is to send the right message to the right person at the right time, to maximise email marketing performance.
How did we determine which email marketing tools to include?
Our method for determining which email marketing software to include in this annual review, is as follows:
1. We created a list of all the email marketing tools we could find that reasonably could be considered for this article. In total, this amounted to 350+ email marketing tools. We gathered the aggregate rating and quantity of reviews from three reputable review sites.
2. We then ordered all of the tools by aggregate rating and total reviews, multiplying them together to create a popularity score. We then eliminated all but the top 30 email marketing tools by popularity score. Anecdotally, these tools tended to be obscure copycat tools with small customer bases.
3. We then manually reviewed the top 30 tools, scoring them on the nine criteria in this article based on our experience using them, setting up trial accounts, and reading their customer reviews. The top 10 email marketing tools made this article.
There are some caveats to this method, such as the mixed objective/subjective selection process. We feel that this combined approach provides the best balance of leveraging our expertise with objective data to reduce bias. However, it is not a perfect system and each year we try to improve these criteria.