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Email Service Providers
The Best ESPs Reviewed

Top Recommended

WebsiteDescriptionBest for Business TypeScore
Potato Pick
ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign is one of the best email marketing tools out there for the price point. Many businesses have switched to ...

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Services/ECommerce
$9/month & up VISIT SITE
2 MailerLite

MailerLite

MailerLite offers a great free starter program for up to 1,000 subscribers. All features are included in the free plan, ...

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Services/Blog
Starts Free VISIT SITE
3 Mailchimp

Mailchimp

Mailchimp is an excellent starter email campaign management program for those on a tight budget with only a few ...

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Services/Blog
Starts Free VISIT SITE
4 AWeber

AWeber

AWeber is a solid choice for a small business who wants to be up and running quickly with a reliable service. While not ...

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Affiliate Marketing
$19/month & up VISIT SITE

Price Comparison

ESPFree Plan0-500 Contacts500-1000 Contacts1000-2500 Contacts
ActiveCampaignN/A$9/month (Lite)$49/month (Plus)$99/month (Plus)
AWeberN/A$19/month$29/month$29/month
MailerLite1000 Contacts unlimited emails$0/month$0/month$10/month
Mailchimp2000 Contacts 12000 emails$10/month$15/month$30/month

How To Pick The Right Email Marketing Tool

Buying Guide and Advice

What Is Email Marketing?

Simply put, Email Marketing is direct email correspondence between a business and a customer.

That’s the basic definition, but, Email Marketing goes far beyond emails and the stigma that most people associate to it which is “spam”, although it should never be spam.

Email Marketing could really be better explained as a virtual Santa Claus. It knows what your customers have done. It knows if they have opened your email or deleted it, it knows if they clicked on the links, it might know what pages your customers visit most often, and it is analyzing all of your customers’ behavior automatically to determine what messaging to send next… right… now. A little creepy, right? Welcome to the age of information.

Since your Email Service Providers (ESPs) can be this smart, they are able to create a relationship between a business and its customers that is more personal than ever before, at least in the online world.

Forget Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and even Google. Those are random shots in the dark. Sure, someone might be interested in a picture you have that leads them to your site. Maybe they like your article, maybe they don’t. There’s no loyalty though and that’s where Email Marketing and Social Media differ. Social Media and Search Engines bring you visitors, Email Marketing is about retaining loyal Customers, using behavior triggers and targeting.

The amount of effort you put into Email  Marketing can make or break your business. It’s your lifeline to your customers and without it your business’s heart doesn’t beat.

While each business has their own unique approach to exact content and delivery timings, all businesses typically have some type of customer outreach program where they communicate something by email. This is what Email Marketing is.

Email Marketing usually takes form as one of these: Welcome/Subscribe, Newsletter, Advertisement, Special Event, Request, Purchase Confirmation, or Follow-Up.

Click on the + button to read more about any of these terms below:

Welcome/Subscribe:

A greeting welcoming the customer to the company’s contact list. There are usually instructions for how to “unsubscribe” included on this as well.

Newsletter:

This is typically just an update from the company and is usually delivered on a repeated routine schedule. Newsletters can highlight new products or new articles, or provide schedules of upcoming events/promotions. These are intended to bring new information to customers that the business thought was important to share. This might be a How-To or a Best Practices Guide, which provides valuable information to customers in hopes that they associate trust and value-add with that company.

Advertisement:

 If you’ve ever signed up for any company’s email, chances are you have seen an advertisement or promotion from them. These could show up in the form of a discount coupon or a new release. Some companies publish a weekly “Top 20 Deals” for that week to get you interested in clicking on the deal. If the company is smart they’ve personalized it a bit based on what you like or have purchased before. This is what we call “targeted advertising”.

Special Event:

 If a company has semi-annual sales, special VIP-member first peeks at new items, or some other date-driven event, sending a special event notice can be a compelling message to customers to “act now” or within the time-frame given. The sense of urgency can play a critical role in the mind of a shopper. If they feel they might miss out or not get something in time there is more of a drive to purchase right away, and good marketers know this. This could also be something that only happens on a certain date, like an Art Exhibit opening or an open house of some kind.

Request:

 A request could be anything from a non-profit asking for a donation to a company wanting your review for a purchased product. This might take the form of a survey or quiz. With requests the company is usually asking the customer for information or something else (volunteers, money, likes on Facebook, etc.).

Purchase Confirmation:

A confirmation that the customer’s order went through and any tracking or delivery info that might be important to mention. Usually, companies also thank the customer for the purchase.

Follow Up:

 This is usually a post-purchase check in on if the product met the customer’s satisfaction or not. This might also include a discount for another future purchase or a refer-a-friend incentive. Some companies will ask for a review, especially if they are selling on a marketplace like eBay or Amazon.

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Why Email Marketing Is Important For Your Business

The importance of building a subscriber base and creating relationships with them right away cannot be overly-stressed enough.

While you might be lucky to get a few hundred random visitors poke around on your site every day (if you are just starting out this number is great), just having a number of people land on your site and not want to be there really holds no value whatsoever.

The value comes from visitors who are interested in what you have to say and sell.

Ask any successful online business owner and they will tell you an engaged visitor is worth more than any number of quick user hits from people who never return.

You absolutely MUST build a visitor list for the following reasons:

It’s Your #1 Advertising Tool – If you’re not capturing an email list and building an email marketing strategy you are missing out on the top method of customer communication. Email marketing beats out every other source of traffic, because it’s not a random hit or miss approach, it’s targeted to people who already like you and want your information in their inbox.

It Provides the Largest ROI – Statistics don’t lie. Numbers prove without a shadow of a doubt that there is significant ROI value in Email Marketing, when done correctly.

The average return for email marketing is $38 for every $1 invested, or an ROI of 3800%  – (salesforce)

It Brings the Highest Engagement – If you can successfully send information routinely that visitors want to read, your open rates, click-through rates, will continue to increase and your brand’s reputation will begin to strengthen.

It Allows you Stability & Longevity – There’s absolutely no guarantee that any online strategies that are working for you today will be around tomorrow. The internet is moving faster than ever and social media strategies as well as search engine algorithms literally change by the second. You have to be adaptable if you are in business these days which means eventually you will find a way to regain your position for whatever has changed, but if you don’t want to interrupt your steady, regular, income-generating traffic, you will have prepared yourself by maintaining and grooming your Email Marketing list. It’s your business’s life vest because it can always be relied upon and you control it, unlike all other traffic channels.

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What To Look For In An Email Service Provider

  • Usability. Remember to look for features specific to what you need, and avoid overly-complicated solutions that are too involved for a novice to understand without a lot of training. Chances are as a small business you will have a hard time utilizing advanced functionality for a while, so start small and grow into your next solution as you need it.
  • Customer Service. If you are waiting a week to get a response from customer service you might be missing out on sending notifications to your customers about the weekend sale you are running. If poor customer service runs the risk of losing you business, it should be weighed into your decision on which ESP you pick. Check out the knowledge base before you sign up and see how well documented most things are.
  • Limitations per price band. This one is easy from a contact perspective, but make sure you understand what the price band you are opting for will restrict. It may exclude certain functionality you will want, like free or trial versions which only offer minimal features.
  • What Type of Business The Tool Is Meant For. This one is really important. If you have an e-commerce site make sure you find something that will work well for e-commerce and is compatible with the other tools you plan on or currently do use. A lot of ESPs are not Affiliate Marketing friendly, so if this is how your business model works and you need to include affiliate links in your emails, make sure you find one that works for that. (Aweber is a good one for Affiliate Marketing).
  • Integration. Your existing CRM and what it pairs best with. Some applications are simpler but will work with hundreds of integration options, while some are restrictive on what they work well with.
  • Metrics. How does it work with your analytics software? Can you track success metrics like click-throughs, open rates, course completion? Are you able to track specific pages visited and trigger emails based on these pages?
  • Responsiveness. People are spending less time on computers and way more time on mobile devices. Chances are the emails you send are being read on a mobile device, since 33-77% of email open-rates are on Mobile devices. Mobile device display readability is mandatory and the ESP you choose should be able to accommodate responsive emails.
  • Workflow and segmentation complexity. If you need to send different campaigns to different target groups based on sophisticated workflows such as, “send X amount of times, then if this works send X this way”, you will need a program that can handle complex logic. Make sure the tool you pick has this capability, if required.


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Email Marketing Common Terms & Definitions

You should be a bit familiar with some of these terms before you choose an Email Service Provider so that you know what you are getting or not getting. For those who are brand new to Email Marketing, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the new terms and concepts.

Here is a list of common terms and definitions to help you decide which items might be best for your business:

TermDefinition
A/B TestingA test that separates out 2 or more versions to measure the impact of each. Usually there is an original version called the Control, and an experimental version called a Treatment.
Auto-ResendSome ESPs have the ability to detect unopened emails and resend these to the recipients upon admin request. This function saves time re-creating content that can be used again.
Auto-RespondersA series of emails sent automatically and typically triggered around a specific event such as a new subscriber. Also known as a Drip Campaign.
Auto-SubscribeWhen customers use the Subscribe form they are automatically added to your contact list and sent a “Welcome” email, as well as unsubscribe instructions.
CAN-SPAM ComplianceThe CANSPAM Act, a law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations.
CRMCustomer Retention Management, sometimes also called a Loyalty Management System. CRMs allow you to store and manage your customers’s contact information and sometimes demographics for them (if collected). CRMs can range from extremely complex databases to just an Excel spreadsheet with customer information.
Double Opt-InVisitors have to confirm their email address through another confirmation link from their email inbox after selecting to subscribe on your site.
Drip CampaignA sequential and specifically timed series of emails intended to familiarize customers with your brand and potentially lead them to make a purchase.
Dynamic ContentDynamic Content is content that is targeted and personalized to customers and their interests.
Landing PageA page hosted by the email service provider that allows people to subscribe, unsubscribe or take other action to interact and become contacts.
Lead ScoringA calculation that evaluates and scores your contacts so that highly engaged contacts are segmented separately from those with low engagement. Highly scored contacts can be targeted with different messaging for more personalized campaigns.
Pop-Up FormsA pop-up form which presents itself upon certain defined activities, such as when a visitor’s mouse moves up to close the page/tab or when a visitor has been on the site for X amount of seconds. These are also called “opt-in” forms.
SegmentationGrouping your customers by specific criteria into “buckets” which will determine the different campaigns and subjects they will receive emails on.
SurveysA tool to request information from your visitors or customers in the form of a survey. This could be post-purchase to evaluate the ease or difficulty of the transaction.
Visual Workflow Automation DiagramSimilar to a Visio flowchart, you can graphically illustrate the workflow path an email campaign will take and assign values. This allows for relatively complex workflows to be created. An example workflow might be: “Send (x) email upon subscribe, wait (x) days, then send follow up email (x) if visitor has not made a purchase”, but this would be represented in a diagram format and makes it easy to visualize the path your workflow is taking and when.
WYSIWYGWhat You See Is What You Get – What your campaign looks like in your editor is the same thing seen by the email recipients.


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Tips For Your Email Strategy

✔️  Start early. It’s never too late to begin your Email Marketing, but ideally you should be doing it from the minute you start your business or website.

✔️  Start small. Build up your email marketing skills slowly and in bite sized pieces. You don’t need an overly complicated system right out of the gate.

✔️  Put a lot of thought into what you send to your loyal subscriber base and the timing around when you send these. Your customers are like frightened puppies, you want to tantalize them with treats so they learn to trust and like you, and not smother them with annoying behavior so that they run off first chance they get.

✔️ Emails to your customers should deliver value. They should never be filled with spam or seem like sales pitches. No one should aim to send junk blasts out hoping you might hit something. We call that “spray and pray” and the bottom line is, it doesn’t work. 

✔️  Once a subscriber unsubscribes they will probably never come back. Treat each subscriber like gold, because ultimately, they are.

✔️  Personalize and target your customers as much as you can. Receiving a generic “here’s some deal” email is so much less effective than something sent to you directly that uses your name, mentions things you’ve looked at or bought, and speaks to you like a friend rather than a cold, careless, corporation. There is a whole science behind this, but if you just speak genuinely to your subscribers, you will see a better response.

✔️  Test and preview your emails before you send them out. Many times you will find errors or images change position once they get delivered, so it’s a good idea to send a copy to yourself before you hit your subscribers.

✔️  Segment your subscribers in a well-organized way to make them easier to manage. You might separate people into groups by location, age, category interests, frequency request, etc. Whatever your method, just make sure you are able to tailor the messaging to that group accurately. For example, if a customer has signed up to receive updates about your artwork, don’t send them emails about the cat toys you also sell. They will be annoyed and confused, and will most likely hit that “unsubscribe” button pretty quickly.

✔️  Automate, automate, automate. In football, the fans are known as the 12th man – in Email Marketing, automation could easily take the place of 1-2 full time employees. The more you can automate things (and do this well), the more you will streamline your business, gain efficiencies, eliminate redundant manual tasks, and just make life a whole lot easier on yourself. When it comes to tools that offer better automation (and your company is mature enough to recognize and understand how to utilize these properly), they are well worth the money and could potentially be the best investment you can make.

There are many great Email Service Providers that can help your business grow and correspond with your customers effectively. We have identified our favorites at the top.
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