Email Marketing Software Review
Why Email Marketing Software?
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 an application to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 applications.
If you've been thinking about expanding your email marketing efforts but have held off because you're wary about the cost or how complicated the technology is, we have good news. Creating quality emails and managing long contact lists is simple using email marketing software. The software is affordable and easy to use, regardless of your level of experience.
The emails you create display well on all devices, including mobile phones, tablets, and computers. In addition, even basic, no-frills versions can help you manage your growing and changing list of contacts by automatically adding new subscribers, or opt-ins as they are called, removing unsubscribers and sending automatic responses. Each of the 10 products on our lineup of the best email marketing programs provide tools so you can create quality emails that successfully bypass spam filters and reach your customers or readers.
To help you increase your email success rate, all of the applications on our lineup include tracking and sign-up features. Tracking tools allow you to see how many of your emails were opened, forwarded or bounced. Some even track if your info is shared via social media. Sign-up features allow you to create sign-up forms that you can add to your website, blog or social media pages to help you increase your contacts legitimately.
If your target audience is multilingual or doesn't read or speak English, many applications offer non-English language options, and many support special characters for creating emails in a variety of languages. While most programs create emails using HTML, you do not need to know code to create your emails. All of the applications we've reviewed provide a simple-to-use creation tool that allows you to create nice-looking emails without having to know or plug in HTML code.
Email Marketing Software: What's Included with Your Pricing Plan
Many email-marketing packages include a range of features, including email-creation tools and contact-management features. Pricing is based on the volume of emails sent or your list size rather than by the application's feature set. On our matrix, we've listed the base monthly cost each application charges to send an email to 500, 5,000 or 10,000 contacts.
All of the programs on our lineup allow you to import HTML emails that you may have created in different programs. They also include a code editor so you can adjust the code if desired. For those not familiar with HTML, many programs include a simple email-creator tool that allows you to create an email from scratch or from a template. With this tool, you can import and edit your own images. It's simple to add and edit text, including changing fonts and colors.
If you prefer to have someone else design a custom template and theme for you, five of the email marketers on our lineup – iContact, Constant Contact, AWeber, VerticalResponse, and Mad Mimi, offer design services. We've indicated on the matrix which applications offer design services, and you can check with those companies to see what they charge.
While many entry-level products do not include advanced list and reporting options, most versions include some. All of the email marketing services we reviewed allow you to import lists; track who has opened your email; and manage unsubscribes, groups, and segments. Most allow you to insert social media buttons with your emails and some will even track social shares. Email services also include features to help you create quality emails that bypass spam filters.
Email marketing services offer a variety of pricing models, and your actual monthly cost can vary depending on the number of emails you send and the size of your contact list. If you exceed your contracted allotment, you'll be charged for the extra volume. Usually it is not much, just a few dollars per block of users or emails, such as $2.00 for an overage of a block of 1,000 contacts. Your plan may also be adjusted depending on your volume. So, for example, if you go over your plan size, you'll be charged the price of the plan that accommodates that particular volume.
Conversely, if your activity decreases, some companies will automatically adjust your bill to a plan with a lower rate. Most applications will notify you know if you are nearing your plan limit for the month.
Most services base their fees on the following:
By List Size
Services commonly charge by the number of people on your active contact list. Some will also include those numbers on your inactive or unsubscribe lists as well. Many services that charge in this manner allow you to send an unlimited number of emails. Some, such as MailChimp, offer free services for short lists of up to 2,000. A few services charge by list size but may limit how many emails you can send out each month before you're required to upgrade to the next level.
By Email Volume
Some services, such as Pinpointe, include email volume in its pricing. For example, a monthly plan may support 5,000 contacts with an email send limit of 40,000, which allows you to send up to eight emails to your list each month. This pricing method is not as common as the one based on list size; however, the service will charge you extra if you exceed the limit.
Pay As You Go
Many services offer a pay-as-you-go option that allows you to purchase blocks of credit that you can use as needed. This is a good option for businesses that operate seasonally, for example. This method does not charge a monthly fee and many allow you to roll your existing credits over into the next year.
Most applications offer high-volume options for those with extremely large mailing lists, such as over 10,000, who send a lot of email messages weekly. If you need high-volume services, you usually have to contact the company and negotiate a contract. Professional users can also ask about obtaining a unique internet protocol (IP) address. Dedicated IP addresses afford high-volume senders certain benefits but there are also some important considerations as well; you'll want to check with the service to determine if a dedicated IP is right for you.
You'll find that services offer a variety of payment options. If you send out frequent emails – such as more than once per week – you'll benefit from a company that allows unlimited emails. Or you may find that a service that bases its pricing on a combination of the size of your contacts list and the number of emails you're allowed to send to each month suits your needs. Short-term businesses or seasonal businesses may prefer a pay-as-you-go method. Either way, be aware that you will need to pay for overages.
Advanced Email Marketing Software Features
We did not review advanced or pro versions of email marketing software for this review; however, you may wonder what additional features upgraded versions offer.
Advanced versions are surprisingly affordable and offer a number of beneficial features. For example, some offer A/B testing even to basic accounts. This type of testing can help you learn how wording your emails differently or tweaking your email subject lines affects your email open rates.
While most basic versions include automated functions, such as auto responders and triggered responses, advanced versions allow you to change certain parameters, such as your target audience, for a more narrow, targeted distribution. For example, you can send emails to a specific region of the U.S., a particular international country, or to a specific demographic such as young parents or retirees. Of course, to do this, your lists need to be more detailed and in-depth beyond a person's name and email address so you can target specific customers.
With social-media functions, advanced versions can track how many times your information is shared. Some applications even offer tools for helping you build an attractive Facebook page.
Advanced versions also offer the ability to work with or integrate with Salesforce, Google Analytics, eCommerce technologies, Outlook or QuickBooks.
Most services will allow you to upgrade at any time as your needs expand.
What We Tested, What We Found
For our review of the best email marketing software, we put each application though several tests mimicking actual use scenarios. We rated how easy it was to assemble and import a list of contacts, and to create and send out an email to that list. We also tested delivery rates with multiple email clients.
To test each application's email-creation features, we imported an HTML-coded email created by our design team and another email we created from scratch using the software's email-creation tools. We created emails with the needed elements to boost our chances of bypassing spam filters, such as including a physical address. We tested how simple it was to perform routine tasks such as editing text and altering images within an email as well as how simple it was to import existing HTML-coded emails.
The best email software is simple to navigate and is continually updated. To that end, we tested and rated each application's dashboard and user interface. We assessed how the various tools and reports were presented in the dashboard. We considered how up to date the software was, how interactive the dashboard was as well as how simple it was to find assistance if we ran into a problem.
Another component of our review focused on list management. We evaluated how easily you can import contacts and how unsubscribes are handled. Creating sign-up forms was also considered as well since they are integral in helping you legitimately increase your list size. Our team also evaluated how simple it was to create certain segments within contact groups. Segmenting helps you better target your email correspondence and can provide a more personal experience for your readers.
Once our emails were created, we sent them to a range of email addresses using different email clients. We sent emails through Yahoo, Gmail, Outlook, Zoho and GMX email addresses to test deliverability and see how the emails would appear when opened.
As you might expect, the hardest client to deliver through was Gmail. Nearly half of our test emails were not accepted by Gmail, not even in the social or promotion tabs. This is something that all marketers have to work around since Gmail is such a popular email client and many use if for business as well.
Of the emails that were received through the various clients, they appeared nearly identical to the original. This is good news if you're worried that the look and message of your email will be drastically altered once you hit Send.
Benefits of Email Alongside Social Media Marketing Efforts
Nowadays, if you want to boost your company's visibility and sales, you need to use both email and social media marketing hand in hand. Everyone, including the smallest of micro businesses, should have an online presence. And utilizing social media to increase your contact list is smart.
Customers like to engage with you in different ways. Some will use check-in tools to post to social media, others will read your newsletters online and some may just want to text you to communicate. Customers are fickle and so is social media, but with email marketing, when you obtain a customer's email address, you'll likely have contact with them longer and have better control of your communications. With email marketing, you don't have to worry about whether an online platform is going to remain popular; most people do not change their email address often.
With email, you also are not subject to policy changes beyond your control that affect how you communicate with your customers or readers. Plus, you have the added benefit of knowing that even if people don't open your email, they will likely see the subject, so it still provides additional exposure.
Increase Sign-Ups & Opt-Ins
Email marketing software can help you increase your contact list legitimately. These services are not designed to help businesses spam as many people as possible, rather, they help increase opt-in communications. Using these tools, you can attract interesting readers who want to see your emails.
But what if you're just starting out and don't have established contacts? The email services we reviewed offer tools for creating sign-up forms that can be posted to your website and social media pages. Some will even create pop-up or "squeeze"-type forms to entice your readers to submit their email information, often for a discount or other type of incentive. Using these methods, your customers provide consent for you to communicate with them while you gather email contact information to increase reach.
Due to spam laws and basic email etiquette, most services nowadays will ask you, before you are allowed to send out an email, if the people you are sending the email to have agreed to receive correspondence from you.
In addition, all of the services on our lineup help you manage opt-outs or unsubscribes by including an unsubscribe button with each email footer so people can quickly no longer receive emails from you.
To learn more about how to improve your email success rate, see our articles about email marketing.
Mobile & Tablet Email Optimized Emails
Increasingly, people are viewing emails on their mobile devices rather than on PCs. Therefore, you will want to look for email services that offer dynamic or responsive email templates that adjust to the screen your customer views your email on.
All of the email services we reviewed offer responsive templates that adjust your emails to suit the screen size of the device they are opened on. However, if you are creating your own template or purchasing a custom design, be sure to test it on numerous screens first before sending out your emails.
Our Verdict & Recommendations
When considering a new email marketing software solution, evaluate your list size, what you plan your list size to eventually be and how often you plan to send out emails. Using this information, you can find a solution that fits your budget. You'll also want to think about what related functions you may desire, such as integration with social media services or contact management systems. Once you put together your volume expectations and feature parameters, you'll easily find a system that works for you now and as your list grows.
MailChimp is an excellent option for those just starting out. You can start using it for free until your contacts exceed 2,000. We also found it simple to use. iContact provides personal coaching and design services if you are looking for one-on-one assistance and template customization. Constant Contact provides live and online classes for those looking to learn more about email marketing. If you have a small list but want advanced features, AWeber offers a range of tools with its paid plans.
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.