See updates at bottom…(11/1/15)
By now everyone knows it’s important to stay in touch with your existing and potential clients on a consistent basis. An emailed newsletter reminding them about your business is a good way to do this as long as there’s value added for them and not just selling your services. I’m writing in response to questions from many of my clients who are struggling to figure out the best way to accomplish this. They want their emails to be easy, affordable and look as good as their websites. My goal is to explain what to look for and point you in the right direction.
While Constant Contact clearly holds the name recognition as the oldest email marketing tool, there are many other options to from which to choose. They range from using Outlook (not recommended) to hiring a designer to create every issue (expensive) and everything in between. The most basic and affordable way to go is installing a script that resides on the same server with your website. You buy it for $50+/- and once installed and configured you never pay anything again. For this reason I’ve recommended ListMessenger to my clients for years. It allows me to design a “donut” template in html to match any website, and after some basic training, you can easily fill the donut hole yourself each issue. There are two reasons some of my clients are now opting for other tools. One is that ListMessenger does not yet offer “click-through tracking” and other metrics you might want to use in your marketing strategies. And the other is that while it’s possible to do sophisticated layouts such as changing sidebar content and teaser messages that click to continued articles on your website, these would require a designer be involved every time, which defeats the purpose.
At the next level, you’re looking at a huge range of options that are all pretty similar. They all import your contact list without forcing them to opt-in again, provide a way to take subscriptions on your website, offer double-opt in, easy unsubscribing and are hosted on external servers, not with your website. AND, they all charge some kind of monthly and/or per piece fee. While they all provide the requisite statistics, few, if any, offer adequate design control. You must use their templates and manipulate them. Some have more flexibility than others. But this is one of the reasons I do not like Constant Contact. I’ve also had poor customer service experiences with them.
Another variable to consider as you look at the options is how big is your list and how often will you send out emails. If your list is relatively small and/or you plan to send less frequently, the best approach for you might be the pay-as-go model where you buy credits you can use as needed. Not all of them offer this model.
Here are some examples. AWeber costs $19/month up to 500 even if you don’t use it every month. If you pay for the year it’s $193.80. But if your list is bigger your cost goes up by $10/month up to 2500. That’s $30/month if you use it or not. With Campaign Monitor there’s no setup fee and no monthly fees. You simply pay $5 per mailing plus .01 per address. So if you skip months, no cost. If you send to 500 people it’s $10. If you send to 1000 it’s $15. Much cleaner. And if you use MailChimp it’s entirely free for up to 1000 email addresses and up to 6000 messages a month.
Currently I have clients using Vertical Response, Constant Contact, and Mail Chimp. I’m particularly impressed with Mail Chimp and Campaign Monitor for their ease of use and customer service. I was doing the research to prepare this article thinking I would present an organized grid of information. But this quickly became unwieldy. There are many existing comparison charts with reviews. At this link you can easily compare the 15 they list including Constant Contact, Vertical Response & Mail Chimp: https://www.business.com/categories/best-email-marketing-services/
This link simply explains why Vertical Response is significantly better than Constant Contact…and I agree if you’re only considering those two. http://sporkmarketing.com/blog/396/3-reasons-vertical-response-is-better-than-constant-contact/ And this link has a pretty thorough review of several of those I’ve mentioned above though it was written in 2008 so the prices are not accurate: http://community.contractwebdevelopment.com/constant-contact-vs-icontact-vs-vertical-response. The lengthy comments following the post offer many individuals personal experiences with these tools which lead me to a few new options included below.
So, here, for your own investigation, is a list of the websites I think are worth considering, listed in alphabetical order:
And one final thought. Whatever you do, be sure you are in compliance with the CanSpam Act.
UPDATE October 2014: Someone contacted me to offer his own updated version of this. I continue to advocate for MailChimp for my clients who are mostly well under their size limit and find it simple to work in for no charge. But in case you want to see the most up to date list here is his review: http://inmarketingclub.com/email-marketing-services/
UPDATE: March 2015: I recently learned about a WordPress plugin that let’s you accomplish this task within WordPress. Free for up to 2000 (same as MailChimp) it may be worth checking out. I haven’t had time yet but wanted to mention it…MailPoet. I also just came across this fresh article comparing MailChimp and aWeber. Also note that MailChimp has just discontinued offering live chat and support for free accounts.
UPDATE: November 2015: Just learned about ConvertKit especially for those trying to grow their audience.