What is Email Marketing?
In our roundup, we examined the best tools available based on how easy it is to create emails, to build subscriber lists, to set auto-responders, and to pull other communication-based tools, like social media management and web analytics software. To that end, we selected Campaigner and MailChimp as the best pure-play email marketing services. If you need a more complex tool that can build comprehensive workflows designed to automate the email marketing process, we recommend new additions to this roundup—HubSpot and Pardot, two tools that are better served as marketing automation systems. What’s the difference? Email marketing tools are excellent for one-off communications; for example: if you’d like send someone an automated email response when they join a subscriber list, on their birthday, or when you promote a new product. Marketing automation tools are better served for prolonged email-baed interactions; for example: guiding someone from a subscriber list to a product purchase, to a thank you email, to a a new product promotion—all without having to lift a finger after the workflow is designed.
Packages, Setup, and Support
And that leads us right into understanding service pricing and packaging. The services we reviewed range from about $5 per month to as much as $20 per month for a range of features. Many email marketing plans include unlimited email sends each month and bill you based on the number of subscribers. If you have a small list, look for a company that offers a free plan, a low-cost plan for several hundred subscribers, or even a pay-as-you-go plan. On the flip side, many of these services also offer high-volume plans with up to 100,000 or more contacts. Sometimes this requires a custom plan that has to be arranged directly with a sales rep. If you’re willing to commit, some companies offer discounts if you pay by the year rather than month by month. A few offer money-back guarantees.
Getting started shouldn’t be daunting. Generally, you’ll know right away whether you like a user interface (UI) or not, and most of the contenders I reviewed offer free trials so you can poke around before dropping any cash. Luckily, most of these services have modern-looking graphics and uncluttered layouts. These are not the complex business software interfaces of yore. Be careful though, as some free trials require a credit card, which means you need to be sure to cancel your trial before you’re billed if you’re not happy with the service.
Be sure to look at the tech support offered by each of these companies, as I felt many weren’t as available as I would have liked. You’ll find that some offer 24/7 phone support, live chat, and email help, while others leave you to rely on online documentation and limited live support hours. The best services offer a combination of self-serve help resources—where you can search FAQs and articles to find your own answers—as well as live support via chat or phone when you can’t solve an issue yourself. We cover all of these concerns in our reviews, plus you can get an overview in the feature chart above.
Managing Subscribers, Creating Campaigns
Whether you already have a list of subscribers or are starting from scratch, email marketing services can help. All of the services we cover let you add contacts manually using copy and paste or by uploading CSV or Microsoft Excel files. Some integrate with third-party software enabling you to import Gmail and other webmail contacts, Salesforce.com$25.00 at salesforce.com and other customer relationship management (CRM) data, or other software where you might have contacts stored. Depending on the size and location of your list, third-party integration could be key. Verify whether you can export contacts as well (and how easy it is to do so) should you leave the service. Managing users who unsubscribe should also be easy so you’re not accidentally contacting anyone who has opted out of your newsletters.
Next up is building an email newsletter. The best services offer several ways to do this; you can import your own HTML, start from scratch, or use a pre-designed template. Most of these services have drag-and-drop UIs that let you choose exactly the elements you want to include, as well as image libraries in which you can store assets such as your logo or company photos. Tools that let you test your emails for spam are also essential since there are some seemingly innocuous terms that may send up red flags and drop all of your hard work into your subscribers’ junk folders or, worse, get your emails banned before they ever reach their recipients.
Email Responders and Campaign Tracking
Beyond sending basic newsletters, the best email marketing services offer custom auto-responders which help you stay in touch with your contacts with automatically generated emails based on special occasions (such as their birthday or anniversary), welcome emails for new subscribers, or thank you emails for recent purchases.
The most advanced email marketing services offer custom workflows where you can specify triggers based on actions (such as opening an email or making a purchase) or on inaction (such as ignoring emails). With these services, you can also set up a series of emails (such as tutorials) to be sent to segments of users, and you can pause or stop a campaign at any time. You can also move contacts into new segments once they have completed tutorials.
Of course, sending out campaigns is no help to your business unless you can track your successes and failures and make adjustments based on your learnings. All of the services covered here offer some level of tracking, whether it’s simple open and click rate data, color-coded charts and statistics, or even integration with Google Analytics.
As a growing business, you may also be looking for a CRM solution, and you’ll find that the more advanced email marketing services have begun to crossover into CRM. It makes sense: Both types of software deal with managing and communicating with customers. A handful of these services are one-stop shops, either offering both email marketing and CRM out of the box or as add-on services.
The Best Email Marketing Software:
$199.00 at Infusionsoft Infusionsoft is an easy-to-use CRM and email marketing platform geared toward small businesses. It’s not the cheapest or the most in-depth, but the goal-oriented platform succeeds at helping businesses hit measurable sales and marketing goals. Read the full review