10 Best Email Marketing Software & Email Automation Tools of 2018

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 are the top ten email marketing software providers.

#1 ActiveCampaign

Best overall email marketing tool


Five years ago, ActiveCampaign was an underdog in the email marketing space.

Since then, ActiveCampaign has arguably built one of the best products in the email marketing space, shooting them ahead of the old market leaders like Mailchimp, Aweber, and Infusionsoft.

ActiveCampaign homepage

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 now used by over 60,000 organisations, ranging from bloggers and startups to marketing teams at companies of all shapes and sizes.

For what it’s worth, we use ActiveCampaign as the main 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.

#2 Constant Contact

Best for no-frills email marketing


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. 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.

#3 Hubspot

Best for high-value B2B marketers who require great tracking & analytics


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 impressive all-in-one CRM, email marketing automation, content management system and landing page builder platform for small businesses.

Hubsot is quite complex and tries to achieve too much with none of it being done really well (IMO). However, the advantage of having 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.

A 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.

#4 Ontraport

Best for information product businesses


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.

#5 Drip

Best for small eCommerce sites


Drip is often praised for the simplicity of its email automation builder, which was quite unique back in 2013/14. Since then, visual automation builders have become the norm, making Drip’s offering a little bit less unique.

Drip was also acquired by Leadpages in 2016, who re-positioned the company to focus on eCommerce email marketing. Priced at $49/month for 100+ contacts, Drip is also one of the pricier options for basic email marketing automation.

While I’ve never found myself personally recommending Drip, it is a popular tool with relatively good reviews, so I wasn’t surprised to see Drip make the shortlist of top email marketing software.

#6 Benchmark

Best for non-tech-savvy marketers


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.

#7 GetResponse

Best EU-based email marketing software


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, Drip, 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.

#8 SendinBlue

Best for transactional email & developers


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.

#9 Sendlane

Best for insanely good customer support


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!

#10 iContact

Best for managed email marketing


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.

ActiveCampaign templates

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.

1. ActiveCampaign
2. Hubspot
3. Ontraport

ActiveCampaign

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.

ActiveCampaign split testing

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.

ActiveCampaign conditional content

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.

ActiveCampaign automation recipes

In addition to saving a lot of time, these recipes are a great source of inspiration.

Hubspot

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.

Hubspot smart content

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.

Hubspot subject line emojis

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.

Hubspot progressive profiling

Ontraport

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.

Ontraport postcards

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.

ToolMonthly price for 2,500 contactsMonthly price for 10,000 contactsMonthly price for 100,000 contacts
SendinBlue$39$66$173
ActiveCampaign$39$111$299
Constant Contact$45$95$335
Sendlane$36$104$449
GetResponse$25$75$490
Benchmark$31.99$81.99$494.99
iContact$32$189Custom
Ontraport$147$297$597
Drip$49$149$1,049
Hubspot$143$1,537.50$4,275

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, Drip).

My litmus test is: Would I recommend this to my mum? These three tools pass that test with flying colours.

1. Benchmark
2. ActiveCampaign
3. Constant Contact

Rather than explain how easy to use these three tools are, I’ll let screenshots do the talking for this section.

Benchmark Screenshots

Benchmark contact lists

Benchmark campaign designer

Benchmark automation

ActiveCampaign Screenshots

ActiveCampaign lists

ActiveCampaign email builder

ActiveCampaign A/B Test

Constant Contact Screenshots

Constant Contact lists

Constant Contact email builder

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:

#1 Hubspot

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.

Hubspot CRM

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.

Hubspot automation

#2 ActiveCampaign

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.

ActiveCampaign CRM

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.

ActiveCampaign CRM profile

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.

ActiveCampaign marketing automation sequence

#3 Ontraport

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 CRM

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.

Ontraport fulfilment

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.

#1 Hubspot

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.

Hubspot reporting

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.

Hubspot campaign report

#2 ActiveCampaign

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 goals

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.

ActiveCampaign reporting

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.

ActiveCampaign deal reports

#3 Sendlane

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.

Sendlane reports

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.

Sendlane reporting

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.

Three of the companies (Drip, 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.

1. Sendlane
2. ActiveCampaign
3. Benchmark

email customer support test

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:

1. ActiveCampaign
2. Hubspot
3. Constant Contact

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.

ActiveCampaignHubspotConstant Contact
ISO 27018 (cloud privacy)YesNoNo
ISO 27001 (information security)YesYesYes
ISO 27017 (cloud security)YesNoNo
EU-US Privacy ShieldYesYesYes
GDPR CompliantYesYesYes
CAN-SPAM CompliantYesYesYes
HIPAAYes (enterprise account only)NoYes
TLS encryptionYesYesYes
Segmented accountsYesNoNo

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 and Drip.

1. ActiveCampaign (96%)
2. Constant Contact (93%)
3. Drip (89.8%)

Deliverability study

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:

1. ActiveCampaign
2. Drip
3. Hubspot

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.

TypeZapier TriggersZapier Actions & Searches
ActiveCampaignFree1310
DripFree166
HubspotFree88
iContactFree67
GetResponsePremium65
Constant ContactFree33
OntraportFree41
BenchmarkFree21
SendinBlueFree21
SendlaneFree01

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.

Start a free trial with ActiveCampaign
Start a free trial with Hubspot
Start a free trial with Constant Contact

Job done.

Questions, Answered

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.

61 thoughts on “10 Best Email Marketing Software & Email Automation Tools of 2018

      1. Being Sendy users ourselves, we were also little bit disappointed with the limited reporting options offered by the app. So we built an extension which will help you to build dashboards, per-list reports, calculate conversions, etc.

  1. A very useful summary, thanks Marcus.

    I’ve had some success using Mailchimp in the past although eager now to try others services.

    I found MC relatively easy to use and navigate once I understood some of the terms
    relating to (all) mailing lists such as auto-responders, lists, groups, A/B testing.

    One positive for mailchimp is I found their guides/tutorials very good.

    I’m in the process of expanding and evaluating services such as Aweber on another site and interested in other providers too.

    Two questions:

    1. With any of these services are you able to manage multiple sites/lists of subscribers under one account, even if those lists/subscribers/topics are unrelated?

    2. Any thoughts on Feedblitz as I see people starting to use that service now too?

    Thanks for the very insightful evaluation.

    1. Thanks Rob!

      Mailchimp are pretty good – probably one of the most intuitive services to use. The main disadvantage is their double opt-in, which results in losing ~20-30% of people who go to sign up to your mailing list but don’t confirm in the email.

      I’m pretty sure that all of the services reviewed let you manage multiple sites under one account. Aweber, Mailchimp, Sendy, and Get Response definitely.

      I haven’t heard of Feedblitz – just looking at their website now. Appears that they’re a Feedburner replacement specialising in RSS-to-email (sending your blog subscribers an email about latest posts). Their pricing looks a bit steep (considering Feedburner was free) – so I’d probably choose Mailchimp or Aweber over them? That way you can message up to a few thousand people free of charge.

      Hope that helps!

      1. Hey Marcus,

        George from Sendicate here. We’re an email newsletter web app that aims to fix the current complex on boarding and newsletter sending process. We also allow single-opt in on lists if ya want :) Got RSS to email and all the bells and whistles too, we just try and make the user flows simple. Check us out.

        Cheers,
        George

  2. Really well written post Marcus!

    It’d be great to hear what some of the email marketing software providers have to say in response to this review and what *they* consider to be their strengths over the competition.

    Out of interest have you come across SendBlaster or Vertical Response? My company trialed SendBlaster a while back and I remember being quite impressed with the overall ease of use. Vertical Response was the other one we looked at which we’d heard good things about but ended up not going with for some reason or another.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on them if you’ve come across them before.

    1. Thanks Jason

      I agree, it’d be great to hear from some of the guys in the space to know what differentiates them in their view.

      As for SendBlaster and Vertical Response, I’ve definitely come across VR in the past but not sure about SendBlaster. The name rings a bell but I can’t think where from, and from their website it doesn’t look like one that i’ve used.

      Vertical Response looks interesting – although again I can’t quite figure out what really separates them from the other more popular services.

  3. I dug Aweber and getresponse when I used them. Smart post Marcus! Now I use my gifting club’s email service, and have moved a bit away from email marketing. But overall helpful read here and a must for most marketers.

  4. I have very few mail customers but would like to get started on this. If I use mail chimp to get my first 2000 email addresses over the next year or so ( obviously for free! ) can I then migrate them into Get Response when I am ready to start paying a monthly fee? I am a musician so it is more for my fans than for selling.

    1. Of course – I did a similar thing when I was building the newsletter for TheMusiciansGuide.co.uk. It’s relatively easy to export and import between the various email marketing services, so you should be fine.

      Have you looked into Radio Airplay or FanDistro? They’re both really good tools for collecting the email addresses of fans that like your music. I remember reading a case study that Brian Hazard of Passive Promotion / Color Theory wrote where he got thousands of fan email addresses using Radio Airplay.

  5. Let’s keep in mind that these are all different cases:

    – Desktop-based email marketing software (installed on your personal computer).
    – Serviced model or Saas (like MailChimp and others presented here).
    – Self-hosted (installed on your own server like Email Marketer and nuevoMailer).
    – Hybrid: self-hosted using 3rd party SMTP relay services (quite trendy lately).

    There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each model has pros and cons.
    Low-mid volume, occasional senders and not so technically literate users will probably do better with the serviced model (or a desktop based solution).
    Medium to heavy users are more likely to go for a self-hosted solution and usually the hybrid approach.

    1. Hi Panos,

      That’s a good breakdown of the different types of email services. I aimed this post at the large majority of people who would just be looking for a Saas service like Aweber or GetResponse, but you’re right that there are many alternatives.

  6. Marcus,

    Thank you for this article, it’s been a great help for our company while we’re in the process of moving to a different ESP.

    I wondered, what are your thoughts on solutions like Mailigen, Vertical Response, Mad Mimi, and Campaign Monitor? I know there’s a never ending list of possible email software companies that you could compare, but these ones in particular interested me as they seem to offer many similar services to those that you mentioned. Have you come across them before, and if so would you advise using them over GetResponse?

    Another question I had was to do with email delivery rates. Do you know of any way to gauge the quality of an email marketing software company’s delivery rates before becoming a customer and running your own test? I’d love to see a comparison like this post focusing on quantitative metrics like that. Perhaps an idea for a future post?

    James

    1. Hi James,

      I’ve heard of several of the providers you mentioned, but I haven’t used them on any projects so I can’t really comment. From a quick browse of their websites they all look fine, but nothing jumps out at me in terms of a unique proposition.

      In terms of delivery rates, I know there are websites like SenderScore, which provide some information on delivery rates, but it’s good to remember that those numbers are never static. If a company like Infusionsoft upgraded their servers, or changed the IP address that they send mail from, the stats would immediately become outdated.

      Similarly, it’s probably worth taking any numbers provided by the email services with a pinch of salt, as they’re more than likely to be a little bit on the generous end of the spectrum.

      In my experience, it’s not something you really need to worry about unless you’re sending 100,000’s of emails per month, as the difference it makes is very minimal.

      Hope that helps,
      Marcus

  7. Great timing, Marcus. I signed up for free trials with Mailchimp, GetResponse and Aweber about a week ago and was just doing some research to confirm my thoughts.

    I agree with you that overall GetResponse are the best of the bunch. However, I did find that Mailchimp’s UI was way better and easier to use. It’s just a shame that they force you to jump through hoops with double opt-ins, and their payment structure was a little bit off putting.

    What I’d like to know is whether any email marketing software provider allows you send emails that look identical to if they were sent from Gmail. I find that the best newsletters are those that look like it came from a friend. If only Mailchimp or Aweber didn’t force their logos and HTML style in every campaign I imagine they’d get way better open and click through rates. Do you know of any services that do this?

    1. Hi Kevin,

      It sounds like you’re after plain-text email campaigns, which all of the services reviewed above offer as standard. Instead of creating a HTML campaign, you should be able to select plain-text from a drop down menu and go from there. That should disable all of the logos, and formatting that give emails the ‘newsletter template’ look.

      Marcus

  8. Great review Marcus!

    I’m currently looking for an email marketing service for a mailing list of about 80,000 subscribers. I run an information product business in the fitness industry with a large number of customers buying our ebooks and online courses every day. I’m particularly interested in GetResponse, although I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on the flexibility of their service for creating autoresponders, and integrating with a checkout service (we use WooCommerce).

    I see that you’ve recommended Infusionsoft, which I was also looking at. Do you have any strong opinions on which one would be better for our kind of business?

    1. Hi Peter,

      It really depends on your budget and how much automation you need.

      GetResponse would be a great pick, although their automation is quite limited at the moment. For example, you can setup standard autoresponders, and autoresponders based on behaviour such as “opened previous email”, but it’s very hard to separate customers from non-customers etc.

      With Infusionsoft (or other marketing automation alternatives like Ontraport, Marketo, Pardot), you’d have a lot more flexibility with automation, but that may be overkill depending on what you’re looking to do.

      The main thing to consider is that Infusionsoft starts at $199/month + a one-off $2,000 fee for a kickstarter package. Realistically, you’ll likely end up paying $300-$400 per month for one of their more advanced packages. GetResponse is $450/month for 100,000 subscribers.

      In terms of integration with Woocommerce, i’m pretty sure you’d have more luck with Infusionsoft. It looks like they have a plugin called ‘InfusedWoo’ in their app marketplace here: http://marketplace.infusionsoft.com/app/infusedwoo

      Hope that helps,
      Marcus

      1. It sounds like Infusionsoft is probably the direction we need to head in. If it’s more affordable than GetResponse and has better automation, then it’s a bit of a no brainer.

        While we don’t need full blown automation, it’s important for us to be able to send different campaigns to customers based on whether they have/haven’t bought certain other products. Based on what you’ve said, and what I gather from their website, this seems out of GetResponse’s depth.

        Thanks Marcus, I appreciate the advice.

  9. This is so helpful! We’ve been using an old school bespoke email program at our company for years and have finally come to the realisation that we need to enter the 21st century!

    One question – do you know how easy it would be to connect a tool like Aweber or GetResponse to a customer database? We would hate to lose our list of customer data during the move, so that’s a big concern for us.

    1. Thanks Nina, sounds like a much needed upgrade ;)

      Do you know whether your current email service allows you to export subscribers? If so you should be fine. All of the email marketing tools reviewed in this post allow you to import subscribers from a CSV file, so providing you can get all of your existing subscribers into a spreadsheet you’ll be absolutely fine.

      Marcus

  10. I’m currently looking for a hosted email marketing service that offers SMS services and integrates with Salesforce. We have a customer database of over 250,000 users and need to be able to send them SMS messages as well as emails at roughly the same time as appointment reminders.

    I’ve spent a long time looking at the different options, and there doesn’t seem to be anything exactly what we’re looking for (without requesting customisation), but before I give up hope I wondered whether you knew of anything?

    1. Hi David,

      Check out Pure360 – from their website it seems like they have both SMS services and integration with Salesforce. I can’t vouch for their service as I’ve never used it, although I did used to live about two minutes from their offices in Brighton! The other option would be something like Infusionsoft. I’m pretty certain that they have SMS functionality, and would be very surprised if they didn’t integrate with Salesforce.

      Hope that helps.
      Marcus

  11. Great post Marcus,

    I’ve always been a mailchimp user myself, and I have to say I really like their UI but I’m always open to new options. I’ve dabbled in a couple of the other email marketing providers like Pure360 – but find them so clunky and annoying to use (despite them looking really pretty and having great templates) that I always end up going back to good old mailchimp. I haven’t used GetResponse yet, I’ll give their free trial a shot :)

    1. Thanks Kelly, Mailchimp have definitely come a long way with their UI over the years, it’s just their service that hasn’t caught up ;) I haven’t had the chance to play around with Pure360 as much as I’d like, but I’ve heard the same things echoed by several friends who use their service. Looking at their client list, I think they’re more aimed at large companies though.

  12. I really enjoyed this article but could anyone tell me a little bit more about MPZMail? It’s not on this list, however I know a fair few people who are moving from MailChimp. I’ve had a look around and it seems to be pretty good.

  13. @Frank – I’ve never heard of them, and a quick Google search for your name + MPZ Mail reveals you promoting them on Quora. I’m not sure why you’d ask for more information on them if you’re already a user recommending them to others? Are you affiliated with them by any chance?

  14. Hi Marcus,

    Thanks for the article, it was also interesting and inspiring to see your other ventures in diverse fields. Would like to connect 1:1 in the near future. Meanwhile, even I had done a similar comparison as I myself handle email marketing for my organization. Do check it out as well as for the readers of the blog since it covers 2 additional players.

    Cheers,
    Karan

    1. Hi Karenpreet, you’re welcome.

      I took a look at your comparison – good work. More than happy to connect anytime if you want to drop me an email.

      Marcus

  15. Hi I am new to direct email marketing. Sendy looks like a good pick based on this post. Thanks, Marcus for this article.

    Just a question, is it possible to export back only the delivered emails back to our database or via a .csv file.

  16. Great review Marcus! Have you looked into contactpigeon.com? They are a new e-mail marketing platform that offers data driven campaigns with thorough segmentation and automation features.

  17. If you want cheap, easy and something you can grow with, I recommend MailChimp. You can even start out free with them. Later, if you decide to change platforms, it’s relatively easy to transfer your list.

  18. I have a database of 2000 emails that I have marketed to for some time now from a pop 3 email without using a service.

    I imported it to mail chimp and it wants a double opt in. How can I bypass that.

    Once I start using mailchimp then people can easily unsubscribe if they don’t want the email.

  19. I’m shopping to upgrade my email marketing software. Just got off the phone with Constant Contact. Can’t believe they don’t offer A/B testing!

  20. Wow such a detailed review! I have tried MailChimp before and I found it too expensive. After that i’ve signed up to Mailerlite and got hooked. It’s either free or cheapish depending on your subscribers’ lists. With other email software providers, you’d need to make an investment even if you’re running a small shop or a blog. And let’s be honest, not everyone of us can afford it :)

  21. Excellent article. The best and non-bias review I’ve read about email marketing software thus far.

    I’ve been shopping around and will probably go with Get Response. Initially I was looking at Mail Chimp since they had the 2000 free subscribers but it appears, in the longer run, it’ll be better with GetResponse.

    Haven’t used email marketing as much as I should. Previously, we tried using ImnicaMail because of their pricing but it was as good as not having an email marketing campaign; all our mail was sent to spam (since they did not manage their customers’ list for spam). Thought email marketing wasn’t effective until I found out our emails were being sent to the spam box. Learnt my lesson there.

    Thanks again for the useful article.

  22. Thanks for the article Marcus. We have about 25000 subscribers and currently use Mail Chimp. We’re looking to change though, for three reasons – we’d like to integrate with a CRM, want to send smarter, automated emails and gather customer activity data, would like a service with actual customer support.

    Mailchimp advertises that they do automation etc, but I can’t seem to find where to set up anything very smart. Also their customer support is non-existent. Seems impossible to contact a human.

    Do you know if mailchimp actually does offer what we’re looking for, or we’re better to move to something like active campaign? Appreciate your comments ;)

    1. Hey Karlie,

      I haven’t used Mailchimp for many years as they just don’t seem to have kept up (particularly around marketing automation), but technically I think the answer is yes – they can do what you’re after.

      However, I guess the real question is whether they’re the optimal solution to do what you’re after, in which case the answer is likely no. We’ve just updated this guide with some more up-to-date comparisons, which hopefully should answer your question!

    1. Drip made the cut this year!

      I hear lots of good things, but (and I may be going crazy) I recall Drip offering a $1 signup offer when they were acquired by Leadpages and so a lot of people were commenting on how good it was for a dollar. It seems to have gone back to the old pricing and repositioned slightly to eCommerce email marketing. I’m sure it’s an excellent product.

  23. Hi Marcus..

    Thanks so much for these summary articles. I’m teetering on the edge of a blog and was sooo confused until I found this and your other articles on the topics needed to establish my site.

    Your info is presented in clear and informative manner.. When I launch I’d like to refer readers to your articles.. Is that okay?

  24. I’ve often seen Mailchimp is lacking in showing Popups (I really don’t care about those who don’t prefer Pop Ups).
    One more thing I want to add that Mailchimp’s Workflow is not as effective as Getresponse have.
    I have reviewed both of the services for myself and found Getresponse much better than Mailchimp and even from others too (Cost effective).

  25. A very useful post, thanks Marcus!

    I’ve had used email services from different service providers in the past for my own online business although now I have moved to Benchmark Email and using there services.

    I found almost every service providers relatively easy to use but almost everyone lacks in providing support to there client and now-day’s support is like backbone of any service.
    Benchmark Email provide chat & call support apart from email support and that to 24*7 and because of limitless support from Benchmark Email I am sticking with them.

  26. Hi Marcus,
    Thanks for the review.
    It looks like it’s been a while since the review has been written 4 years ago (according to the most of the comments above).
    Please advice on how it’s relevant up to date?
    We are looking for a mail marketing tool for b2b software services company.
    Would appreciate your feedback.
    Thanks!
    Oleg

    1. Hey Oleg,

      We’ve just posted our 2018 update! A few new tools have made the cut, and a couple of old ones removed. All of the data has been updated as of October 2018, so that should be useful.

      For B2B software, I’d probably look at either Hubspot/ActiveCampaign? We use ActiveCampaign as our email marketing tool for Leadformly, which is a B2B SaaS service.

      Marcus

  27. A very thorough and well-written blog on Email Marketing software tools. These are some very decent tools which will prove helpful for novices like us. Thanks for the blog Marcus.

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