Learning to master email marketing is one of the most important things you can do as a small business owner. And a crucial part of making this happen is to invest in a great email service provider.
Many businesses have adopted Mailchimp as their ESP of choice. And it’s especially prominent in the startup world.
But is there a good reason why it’s so popular?
I was curious to see what made Mailchimp tick, so I decided to signup for a paid account and give it a spin.
First Published on: May 21, 2016
Last updated: Nov 19, 2016
What is MailChimp?
Started in 2001, MailChimp is one of the largest email service providers out there.
With its fun logo, easy to use interface, and forever free plan, Mailchimp now has attracted more than 14 million customers and counting.
Plus, people love Mailchimp’s ability to create beautiful newsletters.
But as I dug deeper into Mailchimp, I found that the service was lacking in many ways. They haven’t been innovating as rapidly as their competitors and many prominent bloggers and marketers were switching away from Mailchimp to other services.
While it gives you the barebones essentials to do email marketing, it lacks many of the advanced features needed to really take your email marketing to the next level.
In this Mailchimp review, I will first show you how the service works. And then follow with an in-depth comparison with other popular email service providers to show you how Mailchimp stacks up.
How MailChimp Works
MailChimp is similar to most other email service providers you may have tried. It has all the tools you need to collect leads, create emails, and send them out.
In Mailchimp, you create Lists to group a set of subscribers.
So to get started with Mailchimp, you’ll need to build some forms to get subscribers onto your Lists.
There are a few different ways to build signup forms in Mailchimp.
First you can build a form using Mailchimp’s editor. Once completed, it will provide you with some code which you can embed in your website like in your sidebar or below a post. Or you can use the Subscriber popup option to create a popup style optin form.
Honestly, the default Mailchimp form builder is pretty weak. You can customize only a few basic things like the background of your form and what fields to include.
However, even basic things like changing your form’s fonts is not possible in the default editor.
Both will let you design forms that better fit your brand, and they include better templates and advanced features like split testing that will help you get more signups.
Fortunately, Mailchimp works very well with these two products, so there is not much need to work with the Mailchimp form editor.
A key concept of Mailchimp are campaigns. This is where you will setup the emails you want to send.
MailChimp provides a step by step wizard type workflow interface for setting up campaigns.
The first step is to pick your campaign type.
A regular campaign allows you to send HTML emails (along with plaintext). Or you can just send a plaintext campaign that has no pictures or special formatting.
Mailchimp also has a nice RSS campaigns feature. This is especially useful if you want send updates to your subscribers whenever you write a new blog post.
The next step is to pick which subscribers in your list to send to. You can of course send to your entire list or create a segment based on a set of conditions.
Some interesting segments you can create are:
- Subscribers who have opened a specific campaign
- Subscribers who have opened any of the last 5 campaigns
- Subscriber has replied to a specific campaign
- Subscribers has accomplished a specific goal
Segments can also be saved for future use.
The third step is to input your campaign info. This includes naming your campaign, your subject line, and whether you want to enable various tracking options. For example you can track opens, clicks, ecommerce link tracking and more.
Once this is done, you need to create a template. Template’s are Mailchimp’s preset layouts you can use for the emails you send out. You can pick from one of Mailchimp’s pre-made themed email templates or create your own.
MailChimp includes a fairly easy to use drag and drop email form editor. The Components tab on the right hand side allows you to drag various components like text blocks, images, buttons, videos into your emails. And you can re-arrange them as you please to achieve the design you want.
To change the look of your template, switch to the design tab where you can set background colors, borders, and other style elements to make your emails pop. Mailchimp also recently added web fonts which gives you more ways to customize the look of your email.
Finally, the last step allows you to review all your campaign options and warn you of any problems in your campaign. If everything is all good you can choose to send this campaign immediately or schedule it to go out at a future time.
One of the most appealing features of Mailchimp is its Forever Free Plan.
The plan is available for those who have less than 2,000 subscribers or send less than 12,000 emails each month. That translates to about six emails per subscriber per month, which can work for many of you.
While the free plan is nice for trying things out, if you really want to get the most out of Mailchimp, you’ll have to upgrade to a monthly paid plan.
This unlocks Mailchimp’s automation features which is supposed to make your life as an email marketer simpler.
With Mailchimp’s automation, you are provided with a set of pre-made automation workflows that are categorized by industry type.
Currently, MailChimp has automations for E-Commerce and Retail, Education, List Activity, Integration, Transactional, Date Based, Software, Nonprofit, and Music.
For the E-Commerce category, one of the automations is an abandoned cart email workflow. If you have an online store, using this automation will allow you to send follow up emails to potential customers who have added items to their shopping cart, but have yet to purchase.
There are also automations for helping onboard new customers, sending welcome emails and more.
Automations can be edited, although in a somewhat limited way. You can edit any of the provided workflows and change out the triggers or actions if you like.
MailChimp has a bunch of different pricing options. It can actually be a little confusing, so make sure to read the pricing page carefully before deciding.
I’ve already touched on the Forever Free plan which is good for people with under 2,000 subscribers, but with limited features.
The other option is a monthly subscription where you pay based on how many subscribers you have in your account. For example, between 0 and 500 subscribers you’d pay $10 a month. If you got up to 10,000 subscribers you’d pay $75 a month.
If you don’t like paying monthly, you can also Pay as you Go which is a payment option unique to Mailchimp. This allows you to purchase credits and pay per email you send out. So if you wanted to buy 1,000 credits it would cost you $30 ($0.03/per email). The more credits you buy at a time, the less you end up paying per email.
Finally, there’s an addon option called MailChimp Pro which is an additional $199 a month. This gives your account advanced features such as Advanced Segmentation, Comparative Reports, Multivariate Testing Campaigns, Compliance and Delivery Insights and Priority Support.
Should Mailchimp be the email marketing platform you choose for your business?
As I was doing research for this review, I couldn’t help but compare it to several other email service providers we have already looked at on this blog.
It doesn’t have some of the essential features I feel you really need to compete in the email marketing space now. Especially when it comes to its marketing automation capabilities.
Plus, Mailchimp also does one thing I hate which is that they charge you for duplicate subscribers. There are many scenarios where you might end up having the same subscriber on multiple lists, and being double charged for them is a big negative in my opinion.
Lets take a quick look at where else Mailchimp is lacking when compared to some of it’s competitors.
MailChimp vs ActiveCampaign
ActiveCampaign has been one of our top picks for awhile now, because it can pretty much do it all without making a huge dent in your wallet.
Unlike Mailchimp’s rather inflexible, pre-made automation templates, ActiveCampaign offers an extremely nice visual automation editor that allows you to make simple or sophisticated workflows.
ActiveCampaign also supports tagging, which Mailchimp does not. Tagging makes list segmentation super simple, and combined with automations can make sure you are always sending out the most targeted emails to your list.
Mailchimp does have a better email editor than ActiveCampaign, but other than that it can’t really compare. Price wise, ActiveCampaign is even a bit cheaper, especially as your lists get bigger and you get a full 14 day free trial to test it out.
David Kadavy, author of Design for Hackers wrote a very informative post detailing why he switched from Mailchimp to ActiveCampaign.
MailChimp vs ConvertKit
What makes ConvertKit stand out is that it manages to be simple, yet still quite powerful. While its automation capabilities aren’t as dynamic as ActiveCampaign’s, it still handles many of the most important use cases most people would need. And it has a much lower learning curve.
What I like about ConvertKit compared to Mailchimp is the flexibility that it gives you.
Mailchimp limits you to 1 form per list. So if you want to have multiple content upgrades on your site, you will need to create a new Mailchimp list for each content upgrade you make. With ConvertKit, there is no such issue since you can use multiple forms and segment based on tags.
ConvertKit forms are much more customziable and come with lots more options than Mailchimp’s. ConvertKit allows you to create inline, modal, and slide in forms. And you can trigger them on exit intent, scroll percentage or via 2-step optin as well.
The main upside Mailchimp has over ConvertKit is price. ConvertKit doesn’t have a free plan, and it is relatively more expensive at certain subscriber tiers.
I liked this post by Donnie Lawson from Just A Girl and Her Blog, detailing why they switched from Mailchimp to ConvertKit.
MailChimp vs Drip
Drip has a very powerful visual automation editor, which is very comparable to ActiveCampaign. It has both tags and lead scoring built in which makes for a very powerful combination.
Mailchimp’s lack of flexibility in its automation offering stands in stark contrast to Drip’s.
What has drawn many customers to Mailchimp in the past is it’s forever free plan. However, Drip has its own Starter plan which is completely Free for under 100 subscribers. What’s great about this free plan is that it’s not limited at all, so you can thoroughly try it out to see if it will work for you.
Drip is comparatively more expensive than Mailchimp for most pricing tiers.
Richard Patey wrote a great post about why he switched from Mailchimp to Drip.
Mailchimp by itself, is certainly a solid email service provider. It provides all the basics you need to add email marketing to your business. And if you’re new to the email marketing game, it’s Forever free plan does make a compelling argument to try.
It’s email template builder is quite good, and it also integrates with most other products and services since it is so popular.
However, if you compare it to other email service providers out there, Mailchimp is looking a little long in the tooth.
Especially when you look at the marketing automation side of things. Its automation capabilities are lacking without basic features like tagging.
That’s why so many prominent bloggers and marketers are switching away from Mailchimp and using other services.
If you don’t want to be stuck with Mailchimp, check out our post on the best email marketing service providers to find a more viable Mailchimp alternative instead.