Despite years of predictions to the contrary from more than a few self-proclaimed “experts”, it appears that email marketing isn’t going anywhere soon — it’s actually on track to bring in about $11 billion in revenue this year. Admittedly, it’s probably not the “go-to” strategy for reaching the younger demographic, but for everyone else, email marketing is very much alive and well.
A big part of email marketing’s continued vitality can be attributed to its evolution. In its earlier years, the medium developed a nasty — and deserved — reputation for dropping thousands upon thousands of unwanted and often illegitimate offers into the inboxes of exasperated consumers. To an extent, it still does, but the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 definitely cleaned up the landscape, requiring that email marketers refrain from using deceptive subject lines, provide a physical address, tell recipients how to opt out of future emails, and honor any such requests without delay, among other things.
Email marketing has also been helped immeasurably by the introduction of quite a number of platforms that help emails to reach their intended recipients more efficiently and take a lot of the guesswork out of reaching the right prospects with the right message at the right time. There was a time when these platforms were primitive enough to create a sort of “take it or leave it” proposition for marketers — it’s hard to believe, but amassing email addresses and then sending out mass emails to every contact on the list via Outlook, or something similar, was once an accepted practice.
Things have certainly evolved, so let’s take a look at the Top 5 Email Marketing Platforms for businesses available today. But first, let’s qualify what features are likely to put one of those platforms on this list.
What to Look for in An Email Marketing Platform
Just as no two businesses are exactly alike, neither are their needs. A small startup will usually make low cost a top priority above all else, whereas a better-capitalized business might ignore cost almost entirely and instead favor a program with the most bells and whistles.
But there are a number of “must have” email marketing features for businesses of virtually any size.
Among these features:
Contact Management/Email List Segmentation
In order to hit that goal of reaching the right prospects with the right message at the right time, you need to be able to organize those prospects on the basis of where they are on their buyer’s journey. A new prospect who has yet to have had much contact with a company shouldn’t be receiving communication that assumes familiarity with their products and readiness to buy. By contrast, an existing customer shouldn’t be receiving messages exhorting them to purchase a product they’ve already bought. This is an essential ingredient in making sure your emails are seen as a benefit and not a nuisance.
It might seem, in this day and age, that any email marketing platform would be capable of guiding legitimate messages past overly enthusiastic spam filters — and to a large extent this is true — but there are differences among the deliverability rates of the most well-known email marketing platforms, subtle though they may be. But even a one percent difference can have a profound effect on profitability over the long haul.
Email marketing platforms exist not only to make email marketing more effective but easier as well. It’s logical to expect that the more basic the platform, the easier it will be to master, but at the other end of the spectrum, a platform with a thousand and one features is of limited use if accessing those features is a hopeless struggle. Is the platform easy enough to understand, with the next steps in any email marketing effort simple to figure out and clearly within reach? Does the platform offer a variety of USABLE templates that can easily be modified to suit your business? Both of these benefits will make things a lot easier over the long haul.
In order to get the most out of your email marketing efforts, you’ll want to test a number of variables — subject lines, the parameters of the offer you’re making, the images you’re using, and much more. The ease with which you can test these variables by altering one of them at a time and then comparing the results side by side — A/B testing — can play a big part in maximizing those efforts.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at how our list of email marketing platform favorites turned out.
There’s a reason why Mailchimp has amassed such a loyal following — particularly among small business owners. It provides an appealing combination of user-friendliness, low cost, and consistently strong deliverability rates.
While Mailchimp’s free version only allows for a max of 500 subscribers — a number you’d be likely to exceed fairly quickly — it also offers plenty of functionality, so it’s a pretty appealing option for any small business seeking to test email marketing waters. As your subscriber list grows, Mailchimp’s paid subscription plans aren’t necessarily the cheapest you’ll find, but they do carry quite a bit of value — particularly as far as the variety of integrations they offer.
Mailchimp’s audience management and A/B Testing tools are pretty easy to use, so segmenting your subscribers to correspond to where they are on their buyer’s journey and making sure that they’re receiving the most effective iteration of your marketing messages is a hassle-free proposition. In fact, the platform’s Customer Journey automation tool allows you to visually chart your planned marketing course for your subscribers as they move from contact to prospect to satisfied customers and beyond.
Also, while Mailchimp’s templates may not be quite as endlessly flexible as some of their competitors, they’re still as customizable as you’d likely ever need and are very intuitive to use.
Introduced to the public all the way back in 1998 — that’s only two years after Hotmail debuted — Constant Contact is a definite O.G. of email marketing platforms. From the start, it was positioned as a user-friendly yet effective tool for small businesses to branch out into email marketing, and, for the most part, it retains that sensibility some 35-plus years later, allowing Constant Contact to build a legion of more than 600,000 customers.
Sheer value is one of the company’s primary selling points — plans start at just $9.99 a month and even the tiers above are comparatively modest in price. But with that value comes quite a bit of utility, including a substantial array of email templates that are not only easily customizable but generally look pretty darned good right out of the box, integrations with Shopify, WooCommerce, and Etsy that will certainly come in handy for e-commerce businesses and customer support via both live chat and phone support that consistently gets good ratings.
Constant Contact even offers website-building tools that may not quite rival WordPress but are nevertheless effective enough to meet the needs of nearly all small businesses.
It’s not the most evolved option on this list, but for businesses that put the value at the top of their priorities without wanting to sacrifice the features they’ll need most often, Constant Contact is a very solid choice.
GetResponse is, like Constant Contact, one of the earlier companies to enter the email marketing platform market, getting its start in Poland before the turn of the millennium. The company initially positioned itself as a solution for small businesses with access to limited technology resources to easily create e-newsletters.
As you might have expected, the company branched out considerably from there, and it now represents a viable solution for pretty much any email marketing needs a business might have. Though not on a par with an analytical titan like HubSpot, GetResponse’s analytical tools are easy to use and as extensive as you’d probably need for tracking the metrics that matter most.
The company gets high marks for its visual campaign builder — which comes in especially handy when conceptualizing more intricate marketing campaigns — as well as a number of its other features designed to turn prospects into customers.
GetResponse isn’t an industry leader in the area of the number of integrations it offers, but it’s making steady strides in this area and likely offers a selection that’s extensive enough to suit the needs of nearly any small or medium size business.
At first glance, you’d think that MailerLite has been positioned exclusively as a value-based email marketing platform option. It’s consistently less expensive than most of its rivals, regardless of whether you’re a small business with a minute subscriber list or a much more well-established concern with an impressive list of subscribers. MailerLite’s tiers that allow up to 10,000 subscribers and 50,000 subscribers are just $87 and $289 per month, respectively.
But, at the same time, MailerLite offers an impressive list of features throughout its pricing tiers, including the ability to easily incorporate quizzes and surveys into your emails, easy-to-use segmentation tools, intuitive A/B testing, unlimited landing pages, and much more. You can even create fairly evolved websites with this platform.
While MailerLite might not dazzle you with the sheer number of templates it puts at your disposal, the collection it does offer should be more than enough to handle most businesses’ needs. As evidence, more than 700,000 users sending out more than 1 billion emails each month opt for MailerLite to cover their email marketing needs.
Customer support, often an Achilles’ heel for email marketing platforms, seems to be rock solid in MailerLite’s case. The company has an impressive 4.6 out of 5 rating on Trustpilot, with 83% of users giving MailerLite 5 stars.
At the beginning of this article, we called out the ease of use as one of the benefits we’re using for this list and, while there’s no doubt that user-friendliness is a big asset, it’s also sort of a give-and-take proposition. Even relative email marketing newbies can master platforms like Constant Contact or MailChimp in short order, but neither may have ALL of the bells and whistles to satisfy the most sophisticated marketers.
ActiveCampaign is custom-made (literally) for those more sophisticated users — especially if they’re looking for seemingly endless marketing automation options. It’s more comprehensive than most of its counterparts in that respect, offering features like triggered email campaigns, automated audience segmentation, lead scoring, and more. It also allows you to easily set up landing pages and set up personalized conversations with website visitors.
If you’re looking for a multi-channel marketing tool — and not just an email marketing platform — ActiveCampaign has you covered.
Sure, it’s not the easiest platform to learn off the bat, but it can be mastered in a reasonable amount of time. And, of course, in order to get the most out of its advanced capabilities, you will have to remain diligent in cleaning and maintaining your subscriber lists. But if your priority is to create the best possible relationship between your company and your subscribers and you’re willing to put in the work, ActiveCampaign definitely delivers.
It also does so at a fairly reasonable cost. ActiveCampaign’s most popular offering, its Professional Tier, comes in at $149 a month, allows for five separate users, and, as we’ve pointed out, packs quite a punch in the features department.
When it comes down to it, choosing an email marketing platform is a subjective endeavor. Each marketer has their own priorities when it comes to the relative importance of user-friendliness, customizability, and other features. And, of course, if you have years of use under your belt with a particular email marketing platform, it’s sometimes difficult to give it up for something else.
We’re curious — which email marketing platform are you using? Are you happy with its pricing and features? Do you plan on making a move anytime soon, and if so, which platform are you considering? Let us know. We’d love to hear from you!