Email marketing should always play an important role in your business. It will often grow to become your most reliable traffic source and the best way to cultivate a relationship with your readers. Your email list is a long term asset, that you need to consistently invest your time in and treat carefully.
That is why picking the best email service provider (ESP) for your email marketing is extremely important and you should do some extensive research before deciding on the one you want to go with.
Any decent ESP will enable you to manage your email lists, collect emails, and send out both manual and automatic email blasts. You will also need to make sure that any emails you are sending out are reliably landing in your subscriber's inbox and your chosen service should provide responsive support in case anything goes wrong.
Another important consideration are marketing automation capabilities. Automations can greatly improve your ROI when done correctly and it's important that you pick and email service provider that supports this.
There are many different services out there, and it can be a challenge to figure out which one is the best for your business.
Continue reading to find out the pros and cons of each, and see which one we ultimately pick as our top autoresponder.
ConvertKit came on strong a couple years ago and has grown rapidly to become one of the top email service providers for 2017.
It all started when Pat Flynn switched over to ConvertKit from InfusionSoft and started touting the ease of use of ConvertKit's marketing automation capabilities.
Using ConvertKit he was able to easily segment his massive subscriber base, and publish more targeted emails to grow his business.
ConvertKit specifically caters to professional bloggers. So it includes all your standard autoresponder features like creating web forms, sending email broadcasts and reports.
What I like the most about ConvertKit is that it is a joy to use. The interface is wonderfully designed and it is easy to navigate around to find what you need.
Take ConvertKit's drip courses for example. Everything is layed out beautifully on a single page which allows you to visualize and edit your email sequences.
But the power of ConvertKit is it's automation features. While not as flexible and powerful as ActiveCampaign, you can still accomplish a lot with its set of Triggers and Actions.
These automations allow you to do things like
- Tag customers who bought your product
- Segment subscribers by who clicks specific links in your emails
- Automatically transition people from one email course to another
Marketing automation is really the next level of email marketing, and ConvertKit is one of the few email service providers that includes this.
Price wise, ConvertKit is slightly more expensive than the other email service providers on this list. For up to 1,000 subscribers, the price starts out at $29 a month and it increases up from there.
There's also no free trial, but it does include a full 30 day money back guarantee.
ConvertKit has been adding new features at a rapid pace and I'm very interested in seeing how it continues to evolve.
ActiveCampaign is probably the most advanced email service provider I've had a chance to use. It's chock full of features including the ability to do email automation.
Which you might not realize you need yet, but once you try it, you may find out you can't live without it.
There is a lot to take in when you first login to your ActiveCampaign account. The dashboard is made up of different widgets which provides a birds-eye view of all your email marketing campaigns. You can drag the different widgets around and add or remove them as desired to make a fully customized view.
You can import your contacts in from a wide variety of different services with a click of a button. I personally like the way the contacts are presented. If an email on your list has a gravatar associated with it, then you can see your subscriber's image which is a nice touch.
ActiveCampaign includes a basic web form editor and drag and drop email builder. The web form editor is somewhat limited, as you can only do some basic styling to it.
A campaign is the term used by ActiveCampaign for any single email you send out. A campaign can be one of 8 different types including your standard email blast, time based, automation based, split test, date based and more.
Where ActiveCampaign really shines is with its automation capabilities. It has a really simple to use interface for creating some fairly sophistic email automation workflows.
For example, lets say you have a membership site that has both free and paid accounts. Whenever anyone new signs up to your site, they are added to your email list. Nothing special there.
However, when one of these members pays for a premium account, you can automatically trigger an event that starts an automation. You can then tag this user as a premium user and send them an email offering them a premium member bonus gift. Since a paid membership renews yearly, you can add a wait action of 11 months and then send a reminder email to the user to renew their membership.
This is just one simple example of what you can do with ActiveCampaign's email automation features.
Compared to ConvertKit's automation features, it's quite a bit more sophisticated and powerful. It includes conditional branching and wait delays so you can create some really interesting workflows.
Other services that have these sorts of automation features like InfusionSoft will set you back more than $200 a month. However, even with all of it's advanced features, ActiveCampaign is very competitively priced.
Aweber used to be one of the most popular autoresponder service out there. I'm actually still a subscriber of Aweber for many years now and have been constantly impressed by the reliability of their service.
What got me using Aweber is that all the top marketers were using and recommending it. Now, many years later, I still look in my inbox and I see that the majority of my favorite bloggers are still using Aweber like Brian Dean and Ana Hoffman.
The best word I can use to describe Aweber, is solid.
Aweber is a fairly easy autoresponder to use. They recently update their user interface with bigger fonts and buttons to give it that more contemporary look. The site provides step by step wizards for all the essential functions which makes it quite simple to get around.
Aweber's web form editor is one of the better ones available. Forms are very customizable, and most every element on your form can be modified. You can start your form from scratch, or pick from one of the many templates as starting points.
There is also a drag and drop editor for publishing emails. Different modules can be dropped in to make great looking html emails. You also get access to a decent selection of stock photos which can help give your newsletters that extra zing.
The Aweber autoresponder is pretty standard. It lets you send time based emails which means you can specify specific intervals at which each email in your follow-up series is sent.
Aweber also includes basic split testing. You can create different variations of your emails and collect stats on each variation. It's not as well implemented as ActiveCampaign or GetResponse, but it does the job.
Aweber has click tracking and goal tracking which requires you to place a snippet of code on your pages. Analytics are decent and will display a wide variety of stats and basic graphs that show who opened your emails, and what links they clicked on. Aweber also has a very good API which is why you see a lot of 3rd party addons that work with it.
Aweber has been the slowest of the email service providers to embrace the new trend of marketing automation. They've introduced their campaigns feature, that adds some simple tagging. But overall, it really lags behind the others.
GetResponse touts itself as the "Worlds Easiest Email Marketing".
With its new Autoresponder 2.0 features, I'd have to agree. I really like what GetResponse has done to update itself recently, and I now consider it the most well rounded autoresponder in this whole roundup.
Getting started with GetResponse is dead simple. There is a free 30 day trial and you don't even need to pull out your credit card. Just sign up and go.
The first thing you will notice is that the interface is very friendly to use. Lots of big buttons and the site is easy to navigate.
GetResponse's web form editor is quite powerful, and on par with Aweber's. Everything is fully customizable and there are plenty of templates to choose from as a starting point.
The email builder makes it easy to create great looking html emails with little effort. You can pick from different email layouts to start with and drag and drop modules as you need them. GetResponse has also partnered with IStockPhoto so you can access high quality stock images to include in your emails.
Where GetResponse really stands out though is its autoresponder capabilities.
You can choose from 6 different autoresponder types: time based, clicked, opened, subscribed, goal-reach and data-changed. Time based is the one you are used to but the other types can be used in other special situations as well.
For example, lets say send out an email blast that includes a link to your latest blog post that talks about your upcoming product launch. By choosing a click based autoresponder, you can automatically have GetResponse send out a followup email to only the people who clicked the link in your email.
Since you are emailing only your subscribers who have shown interest, you are sure to see higher conversions. And conversely you are not bothering the rest of your list who hasn't indicated an interest in your new product launch.
GetResponse also has the best management for your standard time based autoresponders. You are presented with a graphical calendar view of all your follow-ups so you can see exactly when and where each follow up will be sent. I really like the email previews which are a nice touch.
You can drag emails around and you can see the current stats for each email. It's all very intuitive and makes setting up your followup series very easy to deal with.
It used to be hard to recommend GetResponse because it lacked any marketing automation capabilities. Not anymore though. GetResponse now has marketing automations similar to what ActiveCampaign offers.
There's a fully featured drag and drop visual automation editor that allows you to easily wire conditions (triggers) and actions together. It fully supports tagging and even advanced features like lead scoring which is very cool.
Price wise, GetResponse is very good, and it is cheaper than every autoresponder service in our roundup. You can also get an additional 18% GetResponse discount if you purchase a yearly subscription (instead of monthly).
Each of the email service providers we have looked at, have their own strengths and weaknesses.
I originally started off with Aweber and I still have an account with them and it is still quite reliable. However, it lacks a lot of the advanced features that you'd like to see now. Their campaigns feature was supposedly their answer to marketing automations but it's too simplisitic in my opinion and doesn't hold up to the competition.
GetResponse was my top pick last year for best autoresponder 2 years ago. It's the most affordable email service provider on this list, and it's pack full of features. It sort of lagged behind in introducing marketing automations, but it has it now, and I'm curious to see how it improves over time.
For someone who is new to email marketing, I do recommend giving ConvertKit a try. It has a very low learning curve, yet has the marketing automation features that will help you grow as your business does.
But for the best overall email service provider in 2017, I have to go with ActiveCampaign. It is the best overall in terms of ease of use, features, advanced capabilities and pricing.
Still, a lot of this is personal preference. That is why I always suggest that you at least give two or more of these autoresponders a try. Most of them have free trials so you can easily test them out before you commit.
Got an opinion on your favorite email service provider? Feel free to leave a comment and let us know.