Founded in 1995 as a bulk email provider, Constant Contact has spent the last quarter-century growing into one of the most sophisticated and dominant email marketing platforms, with the stated aim of empowering small businesses to advertise on the same scale that major corporations do.
As email marketing has evolved, from simple bulk blasts to designed and targeted campaigns based on sophisticated automation workflows, Constant Contact has stayed (mostly) on the leading edge.
After 25 years of new developments and acquisitions, their marketing platform has expanded far beyond mailing list management and email design. They boast a website builder that can create professional landing pages where your emails can send potential customers, along with a suite of features to enhance e-commerce.
They’ve got the option to bring in more views through social media ads. They’re venturing into automation. With the addition of the page builder, the ease of getting native ads onto Facebook and Instagram, and their new partnership with Eventbrite, a single subscription can be all a nonprofit needs to create buzz.
But with all that is true, why are we writing an article on what to choose instead of Constant Contact? Simply put, because there’s no such thing as a perfect service in any niche.
Constant Contact has its own range of flaws, though perhaps none so frustrating as the choice that undermines Constant Contact’s claim to be the most friendly enterprise email marketer for lower-budget customers: there’s no free membership whatsoever.
You can put Constant Contact through its paces for a 60-day free trial, but once that’s over, you have to cough up. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, except that the price point compares poorly to alternative email marketing programs — especially Constant Contact’s top competitors, like MailChimp and MailerLite, that does include a free membership. These other tools’ price tiers rise much less steeply than Constant Contact’s at higher subscriber numbers.
So if you’ve decided you want a service that will break the bank less than Constant Contact will, what options have you got? Fortunately, a great deal — and more all the time. Let’s take a look at some of the best.
MailChimp, the rockstar of email marketing, is currently embarking on a wide-ranging campaign to build more functions on top of their flagship email marketing service.
They’ve recently added a CRM module and a website builder, both of which are competitive with longer-standing services like Drip. The size of their community is their other main distinction, with 6 million users including highly recognizable names like TED.
One area in which MailChimp has distinguished itself is its focus on continuous iteration and customer responsiveness. For as long as they’ve existed, MailChimp has been committed to building more functions on top of its flagship email marketing service. They’ve recently added a website builder and more customer relationship management functions in order to compete with services like Drip.
More than just token features to remain competitive in an increasingly crowded field, the new CRM and website builder are stellar features in their own right. Importing contacts is a much sleeker process now, and customer support has also improved, though you still can’t reach them by phone outside of a premium plan. They’ve managed to make list segmentation both extensively functional and easy to use (without a single tree diagram insight, even!).
Then there’s the matter of price. MailChimp was an early leader in the Forever Free subscription movement, and their plan with 2,000 contacts and 10,000 sends was only recently undercut by MailerLite offering unlimited sends at every level.
Their free plan also offers A/B testing and automation, which are almost always premium features for other tools. Other teams are only now beginning to offer better deals.
Who is it for? Email marketing newbies, small businesses on a budget, or podcast fans.
MailChimp limits both subscribers and send totals in each of its subscription tiers. The platform is free up to 2,000 contacts and 10,000 sends per month (note that this is all contacts, not just contacts who are subscribed to your lists).
- Beyond that, the Essentials plan starts at 500 contacts and 500,000 emails for $10/month, increasing that price starting at 2,500 contacts.
- The Standard plan scales to 1,200,000 emails, and adds social media targeting and additional users, starting at $15/month and scaling up beginning at 2,500 contacts.
- Finally, the Premium plan grants 3,000,000 monthly emails and access to all features, starting at $299/month and beginning to scale at 15,000 contacts.
- Another option is a Pay As You Go plan, where you purchase a certain number of sends in advance. Beware that you might incur charges if you go over this accidentally. MailChimp does not offer a free trial due to their free plan.
BuilderAll is a package deal marketing plan, one of a few services aiming to be a total solution for online marketing. Check out their landing page and you’ll see that the “All” in the name isn’t just talk — they offer 26 separate marketing tools, all accessible from the cloud. Some of our favorite features include dynamic landing pages, a full sales funnel, marketing automation, and a great-looking analytics dashboard.
However, we’re here to talk about email marketing, so the question with BuilderAll is whether mailing list management gets lost in the shuffle. The answer is mostly no, with a little yes. BuilderAll’s mailing feature is called MailingBoss, and it’s included as an app in the first paid subscription tier.
While it’s billed as an autoresponder, BuilderAll’s list manager and email designer also fall under the MailingBoss umbrella. There’s a consistent, great-looking interface uniting all of them, making it easy to tag leads and build the proper responses to them.
If MailingBoss runs into any problems, they arise when you get to the workflow builder, which feels like it makes everything take twice as many steps as it needs to. And it can’t be ignored that, as an individual app, it doesn’t quite stand up to stronger automators — the only reason to go with BuilderAll over Constant Contact or MailChimp is if you really want to have everything centralized.
If that is, in fact, your goal, and you’re willing to spring for the Builder-tier subscription, BuilderAll is a highly affordable marketing solution that should not be ignored. It’s ideal for lovers of centralization and is even more exciting for what it might accomplish in the future.
Who is it for? Any business owner on a budget who wants to have all their features in one place, or wants a Clickfunnels-like service for a lower price.
- The Free tier removes custom domains and lead generation. However, it includes the website and email builder, along with an e-commerce checkout gateway, A/B testing, upsells and downsells.
- The Builder tier ($19.90/month) adds 3 domains and 100 leads, along with an SSL certificate, email marketing and automation, responsive email builder, and a daily backup.
- The Marketer tier ($29.90/month) adds 5 domains and 5,000 leads, plus customer relationship management and SMS messaging.
- The Essential tier ($49.90/month) adds 10 domains and 15,000 leads, plus professional help bots and WordPress integration.
- The Premium tier ($69.90/month) adds 15 domains and unlimited leads, plus webinar hosting, live streaming, and an online course builder.
Free trial? 7 days.
ActiveCampaign was founded based on one powerful observation: as long as people are still using email instead of social media for anything, email campaigns should be personal, responsive, and distinguished from spam. Their automation platform is all about keeping the picture of customer data clear and readable and letting you send fewer emails to accomplish better results.
Like SendInBlue, ActiveCampaign allows your campaigns to expand into SMS. Some of the features that set them apart from the pack include the ability for users to share email designs with others via a personalized link, and allowing marketing actions to be triggered by data changes made within ActiveCampaign, like logging new data in a lead’s contact form. Their automation is the true draw, though, with a range of triggers, tags, and email types that isn’t rivaled anywhere in the industry.
Leveraging this power means either using one of their excellent pre-built workflows or putting together your own using their interface. To complement your campaigns, a form builder, list manager, and spam-filter A/B tester also come standard. On top of all this, they score very high on deliverability.
If you’re looking to merge sales with marketing, ActiveCampaign integrates with top e-commerce platforms WooCommerce, BigCommerce, and Shopify, and allows data to be shared from those platforms to the ActiveCampaign database.
Who is it for? Fans of having lots of automation options, or businesses of any size whose top priority is that campaign data be presented in a clean, usable form. It’s also a fantastic budget option.
These prices scale based on the number of contacts in your database. Each increases at 2,500, 5,000, 10,000, 25,000, 50,000, 75,000, and 100,000.
- Lite starts at $9/month. It includes email marketing, newsletters, marketing automation, and 3 user accounts.
- Plus starts at $49/month. It adds contact scoring, sales automation, e-commerce integrations, and allows 25 users.
- Professional starts at $129/month. It adds site messaging and allows 50 users.
- Enterprise starts at $229/month. For the highest price, you’ll get a dedicated account rep and unlimited users.
Free trial? 14 days.
ConvertKit is the mailing list manager for bloggers and content creators. As a newcomer, they’ve worked to stand out in two ways: orienting themselves specifically toward the blogging market, and making the bold claim that they’re easier to use than MailChimp. It’s true that ConvertKit leans hard toward simplicity, and succeeds, but at the expense of certain features. Let’s dive into what they do offer.
Their tag-based list organization system functions very intuitively. Tag a subscriber when you see that they’ve taken an action, and you’ll be able to identify them later as the person who took that action.
This makes for extremely simple segmentation and more effective targeted campaigns. Their WordPress integration makes this especially enticing for bloggers since you can tag users based on actions taken on your blog.
Excellent visual design is the best evidence for ConvertKit’s claim that they’re easier to use than MailChimp. The automation sequence builder and landing page editor both offer highly appealing UIs. Automation, in particular, is handled by a graphical editor that’s leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.
There aren’t many templates, and all of them are text-based, befitting ConvertKit’s focus on the blog market. Some might consider the small library a feature rather than a bug — not everybody likes the analysis paralysis that comes from having to sift through an enormous library. However, it still would have been great to have a few more templates and be able to do more with them. Forms are similarly limited.
Who is it for? Content creators who already have a following.
ConvertKit’s prices scale based solely on your number of subscribers — nearly all their plans have exactly the same features outside of the subscriber limit. The only other change between the tiers comes when you hit 5K subscribers, whereupon you earn the use of their migration concierge to get help importing your large list into their manager.
- ConvertKit costs $29/month for your first 1,000 subscribers, $49/month up to 3,000 subscribers, and $79/month up to 5,000 subscribers.
- Anything above that requires a private quote.
- If you purchase an annual plan for any level, you’ll save the cost of two months.
Free trial? Offered on every tier.
GetResponse is another of the best-known email automation tools and mailing list managers. Having started there, GetResponse has grown into an all-in-one marketing platform more similar to something like HubSpot — but we’re here to see whether their original email marketing tool deserves its positive reputation.
Their autoresponder is one of the best in the business, easily outstripping MailChimp and keeping pace with leaders like Drip. Automations can be based either on time, such as a subscriber’s birthday coming up, or action, such as a link they clicked on and then didn’t follow through.
These can combine into complex, personalized sequences, especially with the use of a new drag-and-drop visual workflow builder that really removes all limits from how deeply you can work to engage a customer. However, higher price tiers are needed to unlock their full potential.
On the visual front, they recently rolled out a series of new beta templates for emails and landing that look amazing. The old ones are perfectly fine too, and there’s a huge selection of them, but we can’t wait until the new ones are ready for wider use.
While you wait, tinkering with the old templates in GetResponse’s editor isn’t hard to do. If you’re planning to do a lot of mobile marketing, you’ll be pleased to know that GetResponse was a leader in responsive template design.
How about mailing list management? Building small subscriber lists can be done through a simple copy-paste, and larger lists through file uploads, including from third-party list managers like Salesforce.
Complete segmentation is available once you’ve built your list, and connects directly to automation workflows, for tasks such as sending an email to every customer in a certain region or with confirmed loyalty to a certain product.
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to get complete information about any individual contact once they’re in the sales pipeline — GetResponse has some growing to do as a CRM, including saving customer communication histories more effectively and making it easier to add contacts directly into different parts of the sales funnel.
Who is it for? Email marketers who already have some automation experience, and want to apply that knowledge to a more complete suite of marketing features.
Each of these tiers increases price with the size of your mailing list. At 2,500, 5,000, 10,000, 25,000, 50,000, and 100,000 contacts, expect the price to jump.
- Basic (starting at $15/month) includes email marketing, autoresponders, unlimited landing pages, access to all templates, unlimited lead funnels, and Facebook ads.
- Plus (starting at $49/month) includes all Basic features, plus automation workflows, webinars, CRM basics, contact tagging, 3 users, and 5 sales funnels.
- Professional (starting at $99/month) includes all Plus features, plus unlimited sales funnels, automation, and 5 users.
- Enterprise (starting at $1,199/month), includes all Professional features, plus a dedicated account manager and advertising consultant, and your own IP address.
Free trial? 30 days.
Founded in 2010, Lithuanian MailerLite is a relative newcomer to email marketing, but they’ve burst onto the scene with a major impact. This July, they beat longer-established competitors in deliverability tests, with 94.8% of their emails reaching their intended destination. This means 94.8% of MailerLite emails reached their intended destination, instead of hitting a spam filter or not arriving at all.
(Incidentally, the lowest scorer was Benchmark, with a dismal 41.8%. Though this was an outlier, since the next lowest was CleverReach at 79.6%.)
MailerLite focuses on being easy to use and affordable, without sacrificing feature variety. They succeed on the first two counts, though not so well on the third, as we’ll see. Their main draw, other than the enticing interface in their list manager and editors, is their “Forever Free” plan — a huge boon for smaller senders, who can access a flexible suite of features without paying a cent if their subscriber list stays under 1,000.
Be aware of what you’re getting with MailerLite. This is not the choice for people who need features beyond those that should be present in any widely available email manager.
For example, one of the most complex options in their premium subscription is a click heatmap, which signals that they’re not for users looking to implement a more complex marketing plan — especially one that includes a social media strategy, an area MailerLite doesn’t report on at all right now. Automation options also feel limited, with only very simple email triggers available.
What they do have, though, will keep any small business’s marketing plan in good hands. In addition to tools for designing eye-catching emails and editing templates, you can use another user-friendly editor to build landing pages that keep people’s attention after they click.
Whether you want to capture their information in forms, take them through to your e-commerce store, or find out where they clicked or why they aren’t clicking, MailerLite has you covered.
And of course, there’s the biggest point in MailerLite’s favor, the fact that they can be trusted with the bread and butter of email marketing: making sure your intended recipients actually see your emails.
Who is it for? Marketers who want to save a lot of money and don’t care about having advanced features. It’s also best for people who are highly concerned about deliverability.
MailerLite offers both Free and Paid plans at the 1-1,000 subscriber level. Above 1,000 subscribers, the free plan doesn’t apply — you’ll have to pay.
- If you have less than 1,000 subscribers, the Free plan grants you unlimited emails per month, access to email tech support, use of the drag-and-drop, rich text, and photo editors, mobile-responsive email design, landing pages with unlimited traffic, forms, and subscriber management and segmentation. You’ll also have access to automated responses, A/B testing, analytics, and domain registration (though not unlimited domains). Your emails will have the MailerLite logo on them.
- The Paid plan costs $10/month below 1,000 subscribers. If you go for it, you’ll remove the logo, and gain access to unlimited domains, live chat support, pro newsletter templates, and heatmaps to see where your emails got clicked.
- Above 1,000, you’ll get all these features, and the price will scale as your list does. Up to 2,500 subscribers costs $15/month, up to 5,000 costs $30/month, up to 10,000 costs $50/month, up to 15,000 costs $75/month, up to 50,000 costs $210/month, and up to 100,000 costs $360/month. You can get a 30% discount on any plan by paying annually.
Free trial? MailerLite does not have a free trial period because of its free plan, although signing up for the free plan includes 14 days of access to premium features.
SendInBlue is a lesser-known, but no less worthy of consideration, email marketer that distinguishes itself in a few different ways.
Their niche is efficient scaling, which they manage in a refreshing way: instead of charging by subscriber growth, they charge based on how many total emails you send per month and increase the price reasonably at each tier. They’re also the service that’s put the most work into SMS marketing, a sector with a lot of potential.
There are email marketing tools and SMS marketing tools, but combining them is becoming increasingly trendy. SendInBlue has made it a key feature, which definitely pays off for your business: hitting users on their smartphones is a demonstrated way to catch their attention. It can also get responses more quickly than emails — people are generally more willing to reply to a text than to sit down and fill out a form.
SendInBlue also scores high marks in the perpetual contest to be the best companion for a scaling business. While this approach leads them to sacrifice some features that an enterprise-level marketing campaigner might miss, it does leave them exceedingly friendly to lower-budget customers who want to grow and would prefer not to repeatedly find themselves in new tiers they can’t afford.
Then there’s their customer support. Usually not something to write home about, but SendInBlue gets consistent praise for having a great support team.
Customer service happens through a knowledge center, a ticketing system, and through a weekly blog dealing with common customer issues. They’ve got the best response times in the industry, and strive to be as helpful as possible (and usually succeed).
The dark side of this is that documentation is unfortunately light. Tutorials can be insubstantial, and it’s not always clear when important things — like customers interacting with your campaigns — are happening. Because of this, getting your first campaign started presents the biggest hurdle. Once you’ve done that, it’s smoother sailing.
What SendInBlue has, has worked extremely well. Like with MailerLite, most of our issues with it stem from things that aren’t there. There isn’t an easy-to-use workflow creator for automation, and A/B testing is likewise absent.
However, SendInBlue has shown a great willingness to respond to complaints like these. When customers complained about the limited number of API integrations on the platform, they responded by introducing several more, so it’s not impossible we’ll see the other things we want in the future.
Who is it for? Business owners who want to tap into the power of SMS marketing, and who don’t like being charged for having a big library of contacts.
SendInBlue’s pricing scales based on the number of emails sent per month, with the exception of their free plan, which imposes a daily spending limit. All their plans allow an unlimited number of subscribers.
As long as you send fewer than 300 total emails per day, SendInBlue remains free. After that, new tiers add both features and higher monthly send totals.
- The Lite plan allows 40,000 emails per month, and removes the daily sending limit, for $25/month.
- The Essential plan allows 60,000 emails per month, removes SendInBlue branding from emails, and features advanced analytics, for $39/month.
- The Premium plan allows 120,000 emails per month, and includes Facebook ads, landing pages, automation, and multi-user access, for $66/month.
- Finally, the Enterprise plan remains unpriced, but includes a dedicated account manager and infrastructure customized to suit your needs. Paying annually grants a 10% discount on any of these plans.
Free trial? SendInBlue offers a 1-month 99% discount on any premium plan.
Drip has a specific niche to fill in the email marketing world: they want to help you nurture leads into loyal returning customers by giving you complete information on every single action those potential customers take while in your sales funnel.
Want to know what landing pages your leads visit? What emails you sent that made them unsubscribe? Where they hang around in your e-commerce store before buying anything? What links did they scroll past? Drip knows it all.
The other half of Drip’s functionality is all about helping you act on these reports, using an extremely robust email automation system. For example, you could have different emails sent at particular trigger times to business owners who clicked through your landing page, individuals who opted into mailings on the first click, leads who visit often but don’t buy anything, and so on.
The analytics/automation connection, and how to build personal customer journeys with it, isn’t the most intuitive method of marketing — you’ll have to really know your way around tabs and autoresponders to get the most out of Drip — but once you understand the visual interface, which is actually pretty intuitive, there’s no more powerful source of marketing knowledge.
No stripped-down mailer-only service, Drip also offers a wide selection of options for nurturing customer relationships. You’ll be able to tag leads and track interactions across your whole online business, from emails to landing pages to e-commerce, and keep track of it all without trouble thanks to Drip’s user-friendly tag system.
Once you’ve tagged your customers to create a picture of them and their behaviors, you can see every single choice they make on your site, from purchases to address updates.
The key to making this useful is Drip’s wide range of e-commerce integrations that allow you to leverage the data across multiple platforms. Autoresponders are also a key part of each customer’s personal journey. If a customer is showing loyalty to one of your product lines, you can send him emails that heavily feature it. It’s an idea with huge power to take your marketing to the next level.
What’s the catch? Unfortunately, Drip isn’t nearly as focused on branding design as some of its competitors, so you sacrifice a lot of control over templates in exchange for their analytical power. They aren’t nearly as interested in newsletter branding, and so you’re restricted to their approved designs. The form builder has the same problem.
Who is it for? Marketers who love total control, don’t mind learning a lot of functions, and want to structure their campaigns around the most complete information possible.
Drip’s pricing scales based on the number of subscribers to your email list.
- They offer a Forever Free plan for the first 100 subscribers.
- Up to 2,500 subscribers costs $49/month, up to 5,000 costs $122/month, up to 10,000 costs $184/month, up to 15,000 costs $246/month, up to 20,000 costs $308/month, up to 25,000 costs $370/month.
- If you plan to have more than 25,000 people on your list, check out the sliding scale on Drip’s own website here.
- Above 150,000 subscribers, you’ll move into an enterprise pricing range, where you’ll negotiate an account with Drip directly.
Free trial? 14 days.
Now that you’ve seen some of the best-known tools on the market, how should you decide which one is right for you? You’ve got a good grasp now of what population segments each one is targeting, but we’ll run through it one more time in an easy-to-reference list.
If you’re the data-geek sort of marketer, go with Drip. Their detailed reports will tell you everything you need to know to carefully calibrate your marketing plan to the individual customer.
If you don’t have much money in your budget for email marketing, pick MailerLite. Their free plan beats out MailChimp’s in almost every area, and their feature selection is as strong as many other tools’ premium plans.
If you’re a small business trying to scale, SendInBlue is the best option. As your business grows and you no longer qualify for free plans, their pricing scheme is by far the friendliest.
If you’re a content creator who already has a following, ConvertKit is the way to go. You’ll be able to stay engaged with the people who love your work, and the price will be a much more justifiable expense.
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