The Best Email Marketing Services
How We Found the Best Email Marketing Services
40 Hours of Research
10 Services Tested
2 Top Picks
The Best Email Marketing Services
There are hundreds of email marketing services to help you and your business engage with your audience, but far fewer have proven track records. When you’re communicating with customers (or potential ones), you want to be sure your service won’t let you down. We set out to find the email platforms that combine advanced tools for every stage of a campaign — from execution to analysis — with simple interfaces and resources to help you get the most from your email marketing efforts.
How We Chose the Best Email Marketing Service
Popular platforms for small businesses
We looked at the top 10 services based on market share and general popularity, collected after scouring through reviews in publications and consulting with nine digital marketing strategists. We focused our search on email platforms that were geared toward small businesses and beginners — that means free plans and lower-tier paid options.
After building lists, designing emails, managing campaigns, and poring over results for nearly 40 hours, we found that nearly all email marketing services offer the same capabilities: tools to help you grow your contact list, execute marketing campaigns, and analyze the results of your efforts. The differences are in the details, so we evaluated how easy it is for us to perform the same tasks on each service.
“80% of features in all email marketing platforms are similar, but it’s that 20% that makes a world of difference.”
We added individual contacts, copy and pasted groups, and imported files to find out how simple it is to build your email lists. If you’re just getting started with email marketing, this may not seem important, but if you’re migrating large numbers of subscribers from one email service to another, the ease with which you can import contacts will save you significant amounts of time and energy.
We created custom sign-up forms and segmented contacts into groups to evaluate each service’s ability to collect and manage subscribers. Unlike adding contacts yourself, list management capabilities allow the email marketing service to do this for you based on subscribers who opt into your mailing lists from your website.
We tweaked templates and built emails from scratch, edited photos with in-service editors, and tested preview capabilities for both desktop and mobile platforms to ensure your emails are able to grab your subscribers’ attention at first glance. While most services offer simple drag-and-drop editors for designing emails and sign-up forms, capabilities vary: Campaign Monitor, for example, provides a variety of templates for sign-up forms but restricts the amount that they can be personalized.
After compiling our subscriber lists and designing our email, we executed a test campaign using A/B tests and automation workflows. These tools allow you to find the messaging that resonates best with your subscribers and enables the service to follow-up with customized emails that keep customer engagement going.
In the era of big data, KPIs are a major component in optimizing ongoing business strategies. We looked at each service’s ability to analyze our email campaign’s performance using metrics like open rates, click through rates, and unsubscribes.
Some of the services we tested were extremely intuitive; others were far from it. If you’re new to email marketing, you’ll probably need assistance at some point along the way. We evaluated each service’s customer support tools, including live chats, FAQs, and resource databases that will help you manage campaigns both simple and complex.
The 2 Best Email Marketing Services
Why we chose it
With the addition of automation, MailChimp’s Forever Free capabilities now surpass the service offerings from some of the industry’s top paid contenders. Automation is a huge plus and enables you to send emails for a variety of actions (like welcoming new subscribers or wishing old ones a happy birthday) without doing anything yourself. More than half of the email marketing experts we interviewed said that automation was one of the key features to look for in an email marketing service, and its absence was one of our biggest knocks against MailChimp before.
User-friendly design functions
Designing emails with MailChimp is easy at every level. For beginners with little-to-no design experience, MailChimp offers elegant and versatile templates that can be customized with a drag-and-drop editor, guaranteeing that you’ll find a preset layout or theme to fit your vision. If you’ve already designed the email you want to send or have an in-house developer, MailChimp also allows you to paste in custom code or import HTML and zip files. For those users who are somewhere in between, all of MailChimp’s templates can be personalized by adding bits of custom HTML into the existing themes — it even includes links to an article on HTML email basics with best practices for design and development.
Robust report and analysis features
Given the robust features at the planning and execution phases of email campaigns, we had high hopes for MailChimp’s analysis and reporting — and we weren’t disappointed. Reports include all the standard performance indicators, but it also includes analysis pulled from the millions of emails sent through MailChimp. This enables you to see how your campaign stacks up against the industry average, a level of detail that’s rare among free services. Add to that an integration with Google Analytics and an interactive map that shows where in the world your emails are being opened, and you’ve got a service that seems impossibly comprehensive for a free plan.
Points to consider
Forever Free is lacking when it comes to customer service. MailChimp provides customers with extremely comprehensive articles, videos, and other resources to make all the details of your email marketing easy. But for customers on the Forever Free plan, that’s where the buck stops. There’s no phone number to call if you’re experiencing difficulties with your service, and email support is only available for the first 30 days of your subscription. After that, you’re on your own.
As with any free plan, there are limits to the size of your audience. MailChimp’s Forever Free plan allows up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month, which will likely be enough if you’re a small business owner or running your own website. But if you know your business will be expanding soon (or if you already have more than 2,000 subscribers), this may not be enough to serve your needs. Even without these features, MailChimp’s free service is far and away the best email marketing service for the least, and has the capabilities to compete with some of the best paid services as well.
Why we chose it
Automation workflows, which send pre-designed emails to subscribers after completing certain actions (like clicking a link or purchasing something from your website), aren’t exactly difficult with MailChimp, but after using GetResponse’s workflow tool it’s clear that the latter has found the superior way to automate.
Rather than relying on a series of commands listed one after another, GetResponse utilizes a more engaged and visual approach: Users drag and drop actions into the workflow, directly linking triggers and commands in a way that feels more like completing a connect-the-dots than setting up automated emails. This simplifies what can be an otherwise complex process and makes for one element of the GetResponse user experience that beats out MailChimp in terms of convenience.
Efficient A/B testing for landing pages
GetResponse adds another layer to the functionality of landing pages with A/B testing that can further increase the efficiency of your campaigns. According to McKinsey, “Customized landing pages — which send the user directly to the item or offer featured in the email — can increase conversion rates by more than 25 percent.” While minor, this feature demonstrates just another way that GetResponse has taken standard email marketing features a step further.
We were impressed by GetResponse’s customer service. After finding an error in our account registration, we called the support line and were helped immediately by a representative who was extremely polite, understanding, and who never tried to upsell us. Maybe it was just compared to MailChimp’s lack of service options (email support is only available for the first 30 days of the Forever Free plan), but we found ourselves particularly grateful to have our concerns addressed promptly and personally.
Points to consider
GetResponse isn’t nearly as easy to use out of the gate as MailChimp and requires some learning to ensure you’re getting as much out of the platform as possible. This can be especially frustrating for beginners who want to ramp up quickly. However, if you’re more experienced, GetResponse should be easy to master thanks to extensive resources like a comprehensive article database, FAQs, research white papers, and courses on optimizing your experience. And if you get stuck, GetResponse offers both email support and live chat options to keep you out of the marketing weeds — for all of its customers.
Email Marketing 101
The future of email marketing is mobile
According to a 2017 study, 55% of emails are now opened on mobile devices, which means providing a marketing experience that works on both desktop and mobile platforms is more essential than ever. Both of our top picks include the ability to automatically convert your desktop designs into mobile-friendly formats, and most other major companies do as well — Whichever service you choose, make sure it provides this function so that your emails will read the way you want them to, no matter what platform they’re being read from.
Look for quality contacts over quantity
It’s easy to assume that marketing success depends on the number of people you’re reaching, but an effective email marketing campaign also depends on the recipients themselves. That means you should regularly evaluate the quality of the subscribers on your lists to make sure they’re still worth engaging. After all, sending repeated messages to someone who isn’t opening your emails will quickly turn you into more of a nuisance than an asset.
Both MailChimp and GetResponse offer scoring tools to gauge the quality of your contacts, which makes it simple to determine who you should be contacting; used in tandem with automated workflows, you can easily set up segmented campaigns based on the quality of your subscribers, sending targeted messages to different recipients in order to increase engagement.
Focus on clicks, not opens
While open rates are an important metric to monitor (how else will subscribers read the message you’ve so painstakingly composed?), click-through rates provide a much better reference point for email success. This data allows you to see the extent of your subscribers’ engagement beyond whether or not they opened your email, since we’re all familiar with opening emails just for the sake of marking them as ‘read.’
Different industries have different standards for email success, but MailChimp says the average click-through rate across all industries is 2.43%.
Email Newsletter Service FAQ
What is a good open rate for emails?
Open rate is a great way to assess if your email campaign is successful. According to MailChimp, the average open rate for emails across industries is 20.81%. To get this average, the company looked at users ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies and had campaigns with at least 1,000 subscribers.
How does email marketing compare to social media marketing?
It’s easy to think of email as little more than a means of communication, but for businesses, email marketing is one of the most effective ways to grow an audience. According to a report by consulting firm McKinsey, email is 40 times better at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter combined. And marketing research group eMarketer finds that email campaigns have a return on investment that’s more than four times the ROI of search, display, or social media.
Is an email’s subject line important?
Yes. Subject lines play an important part in getting your customers to open your emails. Rubin Manzoor, Content Marketing Manager at Contact Monkey, says “emails need to have an interesting subject line to grab readers’ attention.” Sometimes it takes more than one try to get it right — it’s good to test a few different options. According to Hubspot, “47% of marketers say they test different email subject lines to optimize their emails' performance.”
The Best Email Marketing Services: Summed Up
More Software Reviews
Email marketing isn’t the only way to get your business off the ground. Check out a few of our other software reviews: