Why Use Email Marketing Services?
The top performers in our review are iContact, the Gold Award winner; Constant Contact, the Silver Award winner; and MailChimp, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing software to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 applications.
No matter how big or small your business is, it can benefit from email marketing. Through newsletters and periodic emails, you can keep your loyal customer base informed of what's new with your business. Expanding your contact list is important too, and you can attract new customers with discounts and deals offered in those emails. Creating those emails and managing your contact list can be daunting, though, without a management system.
Email marketing software makes it easy for you to extend your digital reach, improve the content of your emails and maximize your time. The best email marketing services are affordable and don't require you to have extensive technical know-how. They also offer a variety of features to help you target specific demographics and bypass spam filters, which can improve the effectiveness of your emails.
All of the email marketing services we tested in our review include tracking tools you can use to see how your recipients respond to your emails. An automatically generated report lets you know whether a customer opened the email or forwarded it, or if the email client rejected your email. Some email marketing applications, such as iContact, track social media engagement through your email campaigns as well.
You can save time with these marketing services by taking advantage of autoresponders and triggered responses, which all of the software we tested includes. An autoresponder is an automatic response to a specific event, such as a welcome email for a new contact who signs up for your newsletter or emails. You can set up triggered responses for specific events or days, such as holidays or a contact's birthday.
If you're not particularly tech savvy or simply don't want to spend time designing emails and newsletters, you can use the templates that email marketing software includes. Most of the programs we reviewed offer responsive templates that resize according to whether your reader is opening your email on their computer, tablet or mobile phone. If you prefer to create your own emails or have a template you already like from another email service, you don't have to worry about losing that design when you migrate to new email marketing software – all of the applications we tested and reviewed allow you to import those designs and templates.
The majority of these email marketing programs help you grow your audience with sign-up forms you can host on your website, blog or social media pages. To make sure you're reaching the right audience and giving them what they want, you can categorize your contacts by region, city or other demographic information you have. Every service we reviewed includes an auto-unsubscribe option through your emails, which ensures your customers can opt out if they no longer want emails.
Some of the email campaign services offer advanced features, such as A/B testing, also known as split testing, so you can compare your readers' preferences for one email over another. Other advanced options include custom email design services, as well as social media monitoring and surveys to give you an idea of how your email campaign is affecting your customers' perceptions or buying habits.
You can directly affect your business' success with thoughtful, well-crafted and smartly designed email campaigns. Learn how to improve your emails and get more shares, likes and clicks in our articles about email marketing.
Email Marketing Solutions: Pricing Plan Basics
Marketing doesn't have to be expensive. Each of the email marketing services in our review offer pricing plans to fit any budget and any size of business. The bundles are different from service to service, and yours can be based on how often you email or the size of your contact list. Many of the email marketing services we tested offer custom pricing plans for large enterprises that have bigger contact lists and send more frequent emails.
We detail three different plans that focus on the size of your contact list, rather than the number of emails you send per month. In our example, we show what each company charges for you to send four emails per month to 500, 5,000 and 10,000 contacts. What you get from each email marketing program varies as well.
If you're just starting out, you may not need all of the automation that an established business with a sizable contact list needs. Many of the services in our review offer the basics you would need for a successful email marketing campaign in their lower-priced plans. MailChimp, for example, offers responsive templates, sign-up forms and reports in its least expensive bundle. When you need more features, you can upgrade to get more automation, segmentation and integration, so you can set up autoresponders, categorize your contact list to target demographics, and set up MailChimp to work with contact relationship management services such as Salesforce.
When you're ready to choose a plan, you need to assess your business's email marketing needs. Then you can choose the bundle of services with the right features to fit your business and your budget.
Number of Contacts
Many of the online marketing services we reviewed base their prices on the size of your contact list. Generally, these pricing plans start lowest for lists of 500 or fewer contacts. You can send an unlimited number of emails with these plans typically, such as with VerticalResponse. As your contact list grows, so does your monthly fee for your email campaigns. Read the fine print of your agreements, because some of these services may include the numbers on your unsubscribe or inactive lists in addition to your active readers.
Although none of the email marketing services in our review offer plans based strictly on how many emails you send per month, some limit the emails you can send along with the size of your contact list. So, if you choose the lowest-priced plan with Pinpointe and have a contact list of 5,000, you're limited to 40,000 emails per month – or eight emails per month for your whole list. If you need to send more emails than that, you can work with the marketing company to get a custom quote.
Pay As You Go
Some of the email marketing companies we tested offer flexible pricing plans that allow you to pay for email credits as you need them. This is an ideal solution for businesses that send emails only occasionally or seasonally. VerticalResponse is one of the email marketing services that charges you for a credit package. The more you buy, the less it costs per credit. For example, you can purchase a package of 1,000 email credits for $25, or 50,000 for $500. This is also a good solution for when you have an unexpected extra email to send out to your contact list at the end of the month but don't want to upgrade to the next plan.
If your business is well established and has more than 10,000 subscribers, you likely fall into another category altogether and need to arrange for a custom quote. The cutoff number of contacts is different for each company. For example, iContact has plans for businesses with 10,000 contacts, but it requires you to talk to a representative to set up a plan for any more than that. MailChimp offers pricing plans for those who have mailing lists well into the millions, even. Its offer of unlimited emails per month drops off at the 50,001 subscribers mark, though, and you have to keep your emails at 612,000 or fewer.
If you plan to ramp up your email marketing for your business and expect to send more emails than in the past, you should look into plans that offer unlimited emails per month. A pay-as-you-go plan is a good way to add credits to your account if you don't fall under the unlimited email plans, or if you only send emails once per month or less frequently. If your contact list grows or you need to send more emails than your plans allots, expect to pay extra at the end of the month.
Free vs. Paid & Advanced Features
You can find free email marketing software or free plans that let you send a limited number of emails to a small list of subscribers. However, these free plans are also limited in the features you can use. For example, Benchmark offers a free plan for up to 2,000 subscribers and 14,000 emails per month. You can take advantage of basic features, such as responsive templates, sign-up forms and A/B testing, but you miss out on advanced features, like full A/B testing features and tracking tools to help you learn which of your subscribers are opening your emails and clicking on the links.
As you need more automation or advanced features, such as surveys and polls or trackable coupons, you can upgrade to a higher-priced plan. Usually, these upgrades also expand the number of contacts you're allowed to email and integration with other applications, such as Google Analytics, Salesforce and eCommerce technologies.
What We Tested, What We Found
To find the best email marketing services, we tested each application as if we were running an actual email marketing campaign. We sent HTML-designed emails to our contact lists that included email clients Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, Zoho and GMX. Then we rated the services based on the success rate of delivery. Those services that were able to deliver emails to our contacts' inboxes more often scored higher.
We also considered how easy the programs are to use, from creating email campaigns from scratch or by template to importing a fully designed email. Our testers, who have limited HTML and design software experience, also used the email creation tools to create an email within the program. The email marketing applications with simple-to-use text and image editors scored higher.
It's important to choose an online marketing service that has a clean and intuitive interface so it's easy for you to find the tools you need quickly. Those that are designed well mean you won't waste time trying to find the solution or the support you require. Also, you want an email marketing service that stays on top of any reported bugs or updates to other programs that integrate with the software. It's necessary that the service you choose keeps its application up to date and running smoothly.
Once we sent the emails through all of the programs, we compared them to the original email we sent to make sure they appeared as we intended. All of the emails we sent and downloaded showed up in a timely manner, and they looked almost identical to the HTML-designed email we started with.
The email client that made it the most difficult to push emails through to the inbox was Gmail. Almost half of the test emails we sent were not delivered to the primary Gmail inbox, promotional tab or social tab. Mad Mimi, Pinpointe, Benchmark, Campaigner and Constant Contact all managed to make it past Gmail's spam filters, although not without issue. Some of our emails ended up in the promotional tab, or delivery was inconsistent.
Social Media & Email Marketing
Although social media seems to have taken its place at the top of the advertising food chain, email marketing remains a vital method to reach your audience – especially when you combine your email and social media efforts. When you use email marketing services, you can post sign-up forms on your Facebook and Twitter pages to grow your contact list. You can also schedule posts on the most popular social media platforms and track your followers' engagement with your posts, which helps you learn what works and what doesn't to get your readers interested in your business.
Your efforts on social media may work one day but not the next for a variety of reasons. Social media users may move on to the next big thing in messaging, or a platform's company could change its policies in how you communicate with your audience. Once a customer subscribes to your newsletter or emails, you're likely to have a long-term reader. Most people do not change their email address often, and even if they do not read your email, they're likely to see the subject line, which keeps your business's name fresh in their minds.
Build Loyalty & Increase Sign-Ups
Everyone loves a good deal. When you add exclusivity to the package, you can quickly develop a rapport with a reader and get a loyal customer coming back for more. Email marketing services make it easy for you to connect with your readers from the beginning and throughout your business relationship. These services allow you to set up sign-up forms that offer new customers bonuses or discounts when they agree to receive periodic emails from your business. To ensure that new customer becomes a returning customer, you can also use triggered responses to send them personalized emails on their birthday, or for milestones like being a newsletter reader or member for a year.
You're likely to have some customers opt out of future emails. Email marketing services help you make it easy for those readers to unsubscribe through a link or button at the footer, or bottom, of every email you send them. You can then manage your unsubscribers as necessary.
Our Verdict & Recommendations
Every email marketing solution we tested has its own unique benefits, so regardless of which service you choose, you're getting a great application. However, some of the services excel in email delivery, design or options.
The best email marketing service is iContact for many reasons, not the least of which is the sheer number of features you get when you pay for a plan. You get time-saving automation features and advanced previews of your HTML-designed email, and you can choose to pay iContact to design custom email campaigns for you. It's also exceptionally affordable when you consider how much you get with your plan.
Constant Contact is another one of the best email marketing solutions. It offers all of the same services as the top-rated application, and it's well designed, which makes it easy to use for anyone, regardless of their level of technical expertise.
MailChimp is your best bet for an affordable and extremely easy-to-use email marketing service. In addition to all of its automation features, easy-to-use image and text editors, and low prices, the company offers live classes to its users so you can get the most out of your plan and its features.
If you're on a tight budget but have tens of thousands of readers to reach every week, Mad Mimi is a great choice. It's the lowest-priced service we tested, and it reliably gets emails through to your customers' Gmail inboxes. Benchmark is another good choice, especially if you need to integrate your email marketing services with Facebook, PayPal, Salesforce or Tumblr.
When you're ready to switch from one email marketing solution to another, these services are ready to provide you what you need to get started. Regardless of how small or large your business is, one of these services can meet your needs.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the units in our comparison by accessing the free-trial versions or by utilizing demo logins provided by the email service directly. The email software companies had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.