In 2017, it’s not about if you’re using email, it’s about how you’re using email.
70% of companies are currently using a marketing automation platform. It’s not enough for small businesses just to send emails, you have to send the best emails to be heard above the noise—or even make it out of the spam box. Luckily, there’s a ton of tools that can help optimize your email campaigns to make sure you’re delivering your message as effectively as possible.
But picking one isn’t so easy. Each email marketing tool comes with so many features and integrations, it becomes difficult to sift through and find one that suits your company’s needs best. That’s why we broke the most popular email services down into four categories:
- Marketing automation
- Sign-up forms
No one is analyzing your emails. Your customers are opening them, glancing at them for a few seconds, and then deciding whether the content is worth their time. You only have a window of a couple seconds to convince someone to engage with your email content—which is why design is crucial.
Emails with good design have a better click-through rate (Campaign Monitor was able to increase theirs by 127% with some simple design tweaks). The best email services are ones that will help you create beautiful, eye-catching emails with as little effort possible.
Here’s the breakdown.
MailChimp gives you several options in how you want to design your email campaigns. You can build your own email with HTML, use a basic template that gives you layout options, or pick from a pre-designed theme template.
They have a vast collection of pre-designed theme templates, but they’re organized based on somewhat arbitrary themes, such as “stationary,” “holiday,” and “e-commerce.”
When it comes to actually building the email, they have a drag-and-drop editor that lets you pick different modules and place them throughout the page. In the editor, every time you edit a module, you get a lot of options, such as adjusting the padding size, the borders, and the line height.
MailChimp’s design is highly customizable, but it comes at a cost—it’s not very user-friendly. To get the design right, you have to switch between too many screens, and navigate through too many unfamiliar design elements. The interface that allows you to drag-and-drop is also rather clunky and often results in modules falling in the wrong places.
GetResponse has the most templates of all the email services (almost 200), categorized by industry. You can use one of their pre-made models or build your own using HTML. If you’re using one of their pre-made designs, you can drag-and-drop buttons—like social sharing, Paypal, headers, and images—where you need them as well.
However, their pre-made design options aren’t as dynamic as some of the other services’. A lot of their layouts look “corporate,” or seem explicitly like stock themes—making it more difficult to create a design unique to your brand.
ConvertKit’s design is so minimal that it is not even listed in their features. You can choose between three basic structures and modify colors, but it doesn’t offer any stock images or fully-fleshed templates. You can also use CSS to edit your emails.
Campaign Monitor offers an incredible visual interface, with drag-and-drop email design using pre-made theme templates—53 in total. The theme templates are organized based what kind of email you’re looking to send:
You can select design by category (Newsletter, Announcement, etc.), insert HTML, or use plain text, customize, and then add features—like buttons, surveys, images or video. The interface is frictionless, so you can create beautiful emails super quickly.
And the point goes to: Campaign Monitor
Campaign Monitor’s drag-and-drop interface allows for incredibly easy email design. While it was a close race between MailChimp and Campaign Monitor (they each offer dozens of beautiful pre-made templates), Campaign Monitor ultimately balances great design with ease-of-use.
The secret to effective email is sending ones that are relevant. Over 70% of email revenue is generated by personalized campaigns, instead of one-size-fits-all email blasts. But as you scale your company, you can’t send individualized, manually typed emails to every customer.
Marketing automation makes it so that you can send relevant content automatically, even as you scale. An email service with great marketing automation is one that will send relevant emails to highly specific segments—making sure that every customer gets the particular information they need.
Here’s what our 4 email services have to offer.
MailChimp offers the most options for automation of any of the email services. There are 37 different automation triggers, ranging from date-based triggers (like birthdays) to each subscriber’s activities (like abandoned cart emails). MailChimp also has hundreds of integrations (WordPress, Shopify, Salesforce) that allow you to send emails based on your users’ behavior.
They also have an easy-to-use, step-by-step interface for setting up each trigger.
GetResponse automates personalized emails through triggers based on time, action, and behavior. They’ve got an incredible user interface that uses a flowchart to describe the actions that happen after a specific kind of email gets sent.
However, getting this flowchart to work for you takes a little extra effort. You activate it by first setting up user behavior “Conditions,” designating “Actions” for those user behaviors, and then using “Filters” for further targeting. Because of this many-step process, their workflow is highly personalized, but can be difficult to set up.
ConvertKit is the easiest-to-use of all the options, but it comes at the expense of personalization. The interface is very stripped down and doesn’t offer the same kind of variation in custom fields (since it’s designed more for bloggers or individual content producers).
There are seven different available triggers you can access and tie to an action—an “if this, then that” structure.”
Campaign Monitor’s platform has an extensive list of custom fields with which you can create lists of dynamic segments. From there, automation is a three-step process. First you designate the activity that triggers the email, then the content of the email, and then a follow-up based on their actions after the initial email.
Like GetResponse, it has a visually appealing flowchart interface. However, Campaign Monitor’s flowchart is a pre-made template, which makes it easier to fill out the appropriate information.
And the point goes to: MailChimp
MailChimp has by far and away the most features of any of these services. With hundreds of integrations and 37 different triggers, MailChimp has every email automation element you could possibly need.
Your beautiful, targeted, fascinating emails won’t matter at all if you don’t have anyone on your list to send them to. Your email list might be huge, but it decays naturally by around 22.5% every year. People change their emails, and unqualified leads press the unsubscribe button—so regardless of the size of your list, you have to keep growing and cultivating it, and maintain good email list hygiene.
Each of these email services has lead generation tools, where you can put an email sign-up form on your website to gather email addresses.
Here’s what they can do.
With Campaign Monitor, you can add a subscribe button or link to a subscribe page on your website using just a bit of code. From there, you can store your leads’ email addresses—but there’s no customization options beyond the “button or link” choice.
With this feature on MailChimp, you can build signup forms to your specifications using HTML. These can go either on a website or in an email. If you have a developer at your disposal, this is a flexible tool where you can make any kind of lead generation form you might like.
Their “Forms” feature has extensive choices for design—and you don’t have to build those choices yourself. They also have many different options for where to place the lead generation tool. They’re the only service with an analytics package for forms, so that you can see which forms are getting the most leads.
“Forms” is a main feature of GetResponse—you can even change the “fields” you’re requesting from a website visitor, whether it’s an email address or a mailing address. Their interface is also clear and easy-to-use.
ConvertKit’s “Opt-In Forms” can go anywhere on your site—added to a pre-existing web page or as your own landing page. You can use them to offer gifts or incentives in exchange for email addresses (like “guides” or “ebooks”).
From there, you either integrate with WordPress or embed them on another type of site using HTML.
And the Point goes to: GetResponse
GetResponse’s features are so extensive compared to the other options—they even include their own analytics package for assessing the forms. Plus, they’re highly customizable with an easy-to-use interface (so you don’t have to keep pestering your developers).
Email marketing averages $38 ROI for every $1 spent. But that ROI could be even higher with a few success metrics. Learning which email campaigns were successful can help you repeat what you get right, and learning which ones weren’t can help you learn from your mistakes—so you don’t invest resources in that rabbit hole again.
The purpose of an email service is to help you send better emails faster, and a great analytics package will help you improve your campaigns over time.
Here’s what these 4 services have to offer.
MailChimp has the full host of analytics—open rates, click-through rates, and more. Its most unique feature, however, is a “Reports” tab where you can track your campaigns’ successes and see heat maps of where people clicked inside your email.
Their interface has interactive graphs, subscriber activity reports, trends monitoring, revenue reports, opens by locations, and other ways to visualize the success of your email campaigns over time.
GetResponse’s analytics page has the full host of analytics metrics, just like MailChimp. They also have real-time tracking and a “map” view, where you can watch as subscribers all over the globe open your emails. Their platform also helps track ROI over time, using a graph to show how well your emails perform.
Their most unique feature, however, is their side-by-side email comparison—where you can put campaigns head-to-head to see which performed best.
ConvertKit keeps their analytics easy-to-access on the dashboard, but they don’t have their own analytics feature. It’s not as extensive as the other tools—it doesn’t include click-through rate, bounce rate, or A/B testing—and it requires a few snippets of code, which the others do not.
However, their easy-to-understand visual interface in the “Subscriber” tab can show you which of your opt-in forms and incentives are working.
Campaign Monitor, like MailChimp and GetResponse, offers the full host of analytics. It also is the only service that offers spam testing—to make sure the emails you send are actually making it into user’s inboxes.
Their easy-to-read graph interface provides a visual representation of how emails are performing over time.
And the Point goes to: Campaign Monitor
While MailChimp and Campaign Monitor have very comparable features, Campaign Monitor is the only one that offers spam testing—which ensures that your emails actually get in front of the people you want to read them. The layout of their analytics reports comes down to your preference, but spam testing is such a crucial feature that it makes it hard to pass up Campaign Monitor.
Here’s the final score breakdown:
- Campaign Monitor: 2
- MailChimp: 1
- GetResponse: 1
- ConvertKit: 0
By a narrow margin, Campaign Monitor wins as the email service that maximizes efficiency and quality.
Ultimately, though, it’s a personal decision which features you want to prioritize—whether it’s ease-of-use or extensive personalization. We’d love to hear your feedback about which email services you use, and how you like them!