ONTRAPORT Review: Is This High-End Email Platform Worth It?

Although the ONTRAPORT name may not ring an instant bell, the company has been around for over a decade and placed tenth on Inc’s “Top 100 Software Companies” ranking.

ONTRAPORT is a full-featured email marketing platform that comes with extensive marketing automation capabilities and a built-in CRM for managing your contacts.

ONTRAPORT Review

Last updated: March 16, 2018
Initially published on: March 16, 2018

tl;dr Summary
ONTRAPORT is a really powerful email marketing platform that’s packed with futures However, it has one glaring flaw that makes it less accessible to many businesses.

The service offers a couple of different pricing tiers.  The Basic package is targeted toward a 1 or 2 man business who might be using services like MailChimp or ActiveCampaign.

Then there’s the Pro package which is more along the lines of an Infusionsoft or Hubspot type platform.

In this ONTRAPORT review, we are mainly going to focus on the Basic package and see how the service compares with the lower end email service provider market.

What is ONTRAPORT?

ONTRAPORT describes itself as a “visual marketing automation and reporting platform.” Although it has email marketing as the central component, it’s a full-lifecycle customer relationship management (CRM) system that works around visual campaign maps that can track every detail of your interactions with customers.

What this means in practice is that ONTRAPORT provides extensive functionality for building signup forms, landing pages, and multiple forms of marketing communications (including email, SMS and even sending Postcards). It then allows you to track customers as they move along your funnel, tweaking details as you go to maximize your conversions and giving you the tools to see what is and isn’t working.

ONTRAPORT’s has far-reaching capabilities that inevitably make it a solution with a relatively steep learning curve. This is not a product you’re going to learn overnight, and at times the range of options can feel overwhelming. Thankfully, there is a range of support resources available to help.

Part 1: What are the best parts of ONTRAPORT?

Cool Feature #1: A Flexible Block-Based Editor

ONTRAPORT sensibly uses the same block-based editor for building sign-up forms, landing pages, and emails, which means once you’ve learned it for one purpose you’re good to go for the others too. It’s a very flexible and full-featured editor for something the runs in a web browser window.

ONTRAPORT form building

There is a wide range of pre-designed blocks, including design elements such as headers, dividers and slideshows, and functional elements such as coupon offers, countdown timers, and social media features.

I was impressed by the designs and they can certainly help you make a good looking form, email template or landing page.

Cool Feature #2: A Versatile Campaign Builder

ONTRAPORT’s Campaign Builder is the solution’s central feature, and the place you’ll probably spend the most time in the system once you’ve designed your forms and landing pages. As well as laying out in a visual and intuitive way how customers will flow through funnels, it also gives live statistics on how many people are at that stage in the flow.

I found the pre-made campaigns to be very helpful with getting started and each come with a checklist to ensure everything is properly setup before going live.

ONTRAPORT also encourages collaboration on campaigns by allowing you to share workflows with other users. If you build something particularly useful, you even have the option of putting a price tag on it and selling it to other ONTRAPORT users – if you’re not generous enough to give it away for free!

ONTRAPORT campaign manager

Cool Feature #3: A 90-Day Money-Back Guarantee

ONTRAPORT’s 90-day money-back guarantee is both generous and unusual in this industry.  The most I’ve seen on other email platforms is 30 days.

90 days is plenty of time to test the solution out in real-life scenarios, and the wording of the guarantee states that simply deciding that the solution “isn’t for you” is adequate justification for a refund.

This is especially useful if you want to check out Pro plan features, but are hesitant because of the high price tag.

Cool Feature #4: Great Customer Support

It’s fairly rare to find a company where the support is widely raved about, but that’s the case with ONTRAPORT – and the reputation is justified. My support responses whilst researching this review were fast and thorough, and contacting live chat support is actively encouraged across the user interface.

It’s genuinely useful to be able to ask a chat question while you’re using the software and to receive an almost instant response.

Chat support is just one of a seriously long list of options. Phone support is also available seven days a week on a generous schedule, and there are a host of self-service help resources including knowledge base articles and an active Facebook user group.

Part 2: What are the bad parts of ONTRAPORT?

Bad Part #1: Inconsistent UX

In general, the ONTRAPORT UI feels very nice.

However, one interface thing that confused me at first was the main navigation menu.  It looks like your standard menu with top-level items of Contacts, Campaigns, and Pages.  And when you hover over them you get a standard submenu of items.

But I didn’t realize to access the Campaign Editor, you had to click on Campaigns itself.  So essential you have a tabbed menu which doesn’t seem standard to me.  Sure, it’s a small thing but it did throw me for a loop when I first started.

Another area I feel could be improved is ONTRAPORT’s contextual help which floats on the bottom right of the screen.  In some places, the help is very good at explaining what the specific page is about, with links to related articles and videos.

But on some pages, there’s no contextual help at all.  I found it to be a bit annoying as I was trying to learn my way around the platform myself.

Bad Part #2: Basic Plan is not scalable at all

Feature-wise, the service has everything it needs to compete with lower-end email marketing competitors like ActiveCampaign, ConvertKit, and Drip.

Yes, the $79/month starting price is a little high.  But it has one of the best form, email, landing page editors I’ve seen and its automation capabilities are first class.

But the thing that kills ONTRAPORT for bloggers and small business owners is that the Basic plan only supports up to 1,000 contacts.

If you go over that limit at all, the next jump up is the Pro plan that supports 25,000 contacts but costs a whopping $297 a month.

There’s no middle ground at all, like other ONTRAPORT’s competitors in the Basic plan price range, and that’s really a shame.  I think this is a deal-breaker for many people.

Bad Part #3: Minimalist Reporting

With such an effective visual campaign builder, it feels like an opportunity has been missed to provide something equally inspiring when it comes to reporting.

For example, when you’re looking at the overall performance of an email in the “Messages” view, information such as the number of opens, clicks, opt-outs, and complaints is there, but in a rather plain, text-based table that you have to scroll horizontally to access.

What I do like though is that you can customize what columns you see in all the tables.  So there’s a lot of data there but presented in a sort of bland way.

Part 3: ONTRAPORT Pricing

ONTRAPORT’s “Basic” package costs $79 per month for up to 1000 contacts, unlimited emails, and one system user.

The worst part of this is that ONTRAPORT is often praised for how transparent its pricing is if you wish to add on support for extra users, emails, and contacts, but the pricing policy actually notably disadvantages people with a low budget.

100,000 extra contacts or emails cost $99 per month, and an extra system user is $47 per month – but only if you’re on the Pro or Team packages.

This means that the Basic package tops out at 1000 contacts with nothing you can do but upgrade to the next tier. It’s a shame you cannot, for example, just add on extra contacts to the Basic package. This would be especially frustrating if you didn’t need the other features included at the higher level.

If you do wish to upgrade, the Pro package costs $297 per month for up to 25,000 contacts, 100,000 emails and two system users, and adds in all the additional functionality, such as membership site support, lead scoring, and online payments.

The “Team” option, at $597 per month allows for up to ten system users, 100,000 contacts, and the same 100,000 emails.

Part 4: How does ONTRAPORT work?

Layout

In keeping with ONTRAPORT’s CRM-based approach, when you first log in, you will get a view of contacts, with tabs for campaigns and pages. It’s possible to customize these views by selecting which columns are visible, but the view remains largely table based.

ONTRAPORT Main view

Contacts and Sending Emails

ONTRAPORT works a little differently than its competitors in terms of sending out emails.  First, off there’s no concept of Lists like say Aweber has.

Instead, you just have a single database of contacts in your account.  This is nice because you don’t run into the common issue of having duplicate contacts in your account who are on multiple lists.

Instead, ONTRAPORT uses the concept of Groups to segment your contacts.  What makes groups unique is that they are dynamic.  You set the conditions for membership in a group and a contact is automatically added or removed from the group based on the group.

There are many ways to set up groups, but the way I’ve personally been using groups is to create them based on a tag.  That way I can easily segment by contacts by signup form or have a specific buyer’s list of contacts.

Sending emails is also a bit different in ONTRAPORT.  There’s no specific page for sending out broadcast emails for example.  Instead, you send them directly from the Contacts page by selecting the specific contacts you want to mail to.

This is why creating groups is important, as it makes it much easier to send emails to the specific segment you want.

Not only can you send emails, but ONTRAPORT also allows you to send SMS messages and even physical postcards to your contacts in the exact same way.

There’s also no dedicated page for sending autoresponder or drip based emails.  Instead, you’ll need to do that directly from a Campaign.

Designing Landing Pages, Sign-up Forms, and Emails

ONTRAPORT uses the same block-based editor to create landing pages, sign-up forms, and emails. In each case, you have a range of pre-built templates, or a “start from scratch” option that allows you to choose from a variety of building blocks to design your own.

ONTRAPORT forms

The pre-built templates are fairly nice and there are a good number of them to pick from (49 sign-up forms, for example). They’ll be fine if you want to get something up and running quickly, but starting from scratch is usually my preferred way, and the builder works well enough that doing so isn’t unnecessarily time-consuming.

Each of the blocks comes with different preset options to control its behavior. For example, the countdown timer allows you to set the date you are counting down to, and specify a place to redirect to when the offer is over.

The Facebook comments block allows you to select the number of comments to display, choose a color theme, and input your Facebook app ID.

In some cases, you wonder whether there could be some other options (perhaps a timezone for the countdown timer, or some text justification options for fields in sign-up forms). However, it’s fair to say this frustration is outweighed by how many useful blocks there are just sitting waiting for instant use.

ONTRAPORT form options

If you can’t find what you’re looking for amongst the pre-built blocks (and for most purposes, you probably will), you’ll need to improvise. For example, I asked support about forms with round buttons, and they suggested using linked images for these.

This isn’t perfect, but it’s easy enough to work around. It helps that the image editor has lots of options and that everything works well. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and I found it far easier to make forms and emails look as I wanted them to with ONTRAPORT than I could do than say Aweber, which often seems to turn something as simple as getting line spacing right into a gargantuan task.

And for anyone who needs more than the block-based editor can deliver, you can design something by hand using the Custom HTML editor.

Campaign Builder

The Campaign Builder is “where the magic happens” in ONTRAPORT, and where you go to set up the funnels through which your customers will flow.

You can create very simple workflows, for example where a new subscriber joins a list and is sent an onboarding series of emails, to far more complicated workflows, where the way a subscriber interacts with your emails sends them down different branches of your campaign.

ONTRAPORT campaigns

As is the case elsewhere in ONTRAPORT, you can set up a campaign from scratch or use of a range of pre-built templates. There’s also the ability for sharing campaign maps with other ONTRAPORT users which is super helpful.

As an example of a simple campaign, ONTRAPORT includes a flow for “newsletter signup, confirmation, and delivery” which covers initial newsletter signups, manual list additions, and an ongoing workflow for sending out each newsletter.

This template incorporates configurable goal tracking, which moves customers along the pipeline when they perform any one of a comprehensive list of actions, such as clicking a link in an email, visiting a landing page, or sending you an SMS message.

The potential flexibility shown by this campaign alone shows how much ONTRAPORT stands apart from something like MailChimp, which has far more simple automation capabilities.

The wealth of options ONTRAPORT provides for goals and conditions helps you quickly start to see how you can build the kind of laser-focused campaigns large companies often use so effectively.

ONTRAPORT Split Testing

One unique feature of ONTRAPORT is their campaign split (A/B) testing features (as shown above), and it’s nice to see this included in the “Basic” version.

Thanks to the way it has been implemented, it’s possible to split test creatively, and to whatever depth you prefer.

So you could, for example, send two versions of an email before moving customers back onto the same funnel, or cause the funnel to branch off in two completely different directions.

As the campaign view shows how many customers have arrived at each point in the flow once it’s live, you can quickly see which option is working better for you.

Overall ONTRAPORT’s campaign builder is quite easy to use.  If you’ve used any automation editors before, then you will be quite comfortable with what ONTRAPORT provides.

Everything else you need to know about Ontraport

What types of split testing does ONTRAPORT have?

As mentioned above, ONTRAPORT does have some nice split testing features for its campaigns. However, there doesn’t seem to be support for split testing manual broadcast campaigns.

How well does ONTRAPORT support live events like webinars?

Yes, ONTRAPORT handles live events with ease.

If you want to conduct webinars, you need to be able to send emails at specific date and time.

ONTRAPORT’s wait action is extremely flexible. Not only can wait for a relative amount of time (ie. 2 days later), but it allows you to wait until a specific date and time.

Does ONTRAPORT have an active community?

Yes, they have a Facebook group called the ONTRAPORT user community with over 4000 members.  It’s quite active and you can learn a lot of useful tips from other customers.  It’s definitely worth joining if you sign up for the service.

Final Thoughts

There’s really a lot to like about ONTRAPORT. It’s quite powerful and you can pretty much handle any email marketing task you can throw at it.

But whether you should jump on board and check out the service depends on where your business is at the moment.

For a blogger or small business with a small sized list, I wouldn’t recommend ONTRAPORT. There are several alternative services like ActiveCampaign or ConvertKit that I feel would offer much better value for your money. They will also scale better for you as your email marketing needs grow.

However, if you are a larger business with a huge list and $297 a month doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, then ONTRAPORT is definitely worth a try. Especially if you are looking for a viable alternative to solutions like InfusionSoft or HubSpot.

It’s much easier to get started with ONTRAPORT and their 90-day money back guarantee ensures you have enough time to evaluate the software for your business.

Try ONTRAPORT today

ONTRAPORT Pros

  • Large selection of pre-made campaign templates.
  • Campaigns, Forms, Landing Pages are all shareable with others.
  • Supports split testing within campaigns.
  • Campaigns can have multiple triggers for parallel execution.
  • Extensive knowledge base and documentation.
  • Dynamically segment your contacts using groups.
  • 90-day money back guarantee.
  • Use the same editor for creating landing pages, emails, and forms.
  • Very active and helpful Facebook community.
  • 2 free onboarding calls to help you get started.

ONTRAPORT Cons

  • The basic plan is limited to 1000 subscribers. Need to upgrade to Pro plan once you hit this limit.
  • Load times between certain pages feel a little slow at times.
  • Contextual help not available on all pages.
  • No conditional logic support in emails.
Affiliate Disclaimer: I hope you enjoyed this ONTRAPORT review. Please note that any links inside this article may be affiliate links to ONTRAPORT. That means that if you click on one of the links and sign up, I may be compensated for it. If you do happen to click, thanks! Any money we make keeps this site running and allows us to keep producing high-quality reviews.
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