In many ways, picking one over the other can feel like randomly pulling a name out of a hat. All four to email platforms offer solid customer support with comprehensive how-to documentation and helpful live chat. Now it comes down to the nitty-gritty: should you pay more for additional templates and stock photos?
Should you pick a service where you can lock in an annual price at a discounted fee or test the waters with a month-to-month option first? And what about advanced features like split-testing email subject lines, email marketing automation and auto-responders?
With subtle differences between each of these four services, unless you’ve tried them all it can be difficult to tell which one is right for your business. Good news, folks: we’ve done the hard work for you. We’ve ranked each service on a scale of 1 to 5 for four key metrics: pricing/free trial options; templates; split testing/optimization; and email automation/auto-responders. Plus, we’ve offered our final thoughts on which service is our favorite.
Try before buying, right? Just watch out for credit card requirements at sign-up that can lead to automated billing if you forget to cancel!
AWeber: AWeber offers monthly, quarterly and annual plans with discounted billing rates at sign-up. All pricing includes unlimited emails and access to AWeber’s full suite of features. A list size of 1,000 is $29/mo and a list size of 10,000 is $69/mo. A free trial membership is available for 30 days. Billing information, including a credit card, is required at sign up; if you do not cancel your free trial within 30 days, you will be automatically billed at the monthly rate for your list size. Bulk discounts are available for high volume lists. Our only quibble is that AWeber requires a credit card for the free trial. (4 out of 5)
GetResponse: No need to pay GetResponse a dime to get started. A 30-day free trial is available without any credit card information required. Pricing depends on the level of service and size of email lists. The most basic pricing is the “Email” package, which includes email marketing, autoresponders, and basic landing pages. A list size of 1,000 is $15/mo and a list size of 10,000 is $65/mo. For depth of services and a free, no strings attached trial, you can’t beat GetResponse’s pricing. (5 out of 5)
iContact: iContact offers a free, 30-day trial; no credit card required. Members with annual prepay save 15%. Pricing varies widely depending on list size and type of commitment, ranging from $14/mo for 500 contacts to $117/mo for 10,000 contacts (nearly double the cost of GetResponse and AWeber, and more than MailChimp.). Pre-pay discounts are also available. Bulk discounts available for high volume lists. iContact also offers iContact PRO for advanced list segmentation, responsive custom landing pages, and enhanced analytic tracking, starting at $99/mo for 2500 contacts. While iContact earns bonus points for a no-strings attached trial, the pricing structure is the highest across the board and you’ll have to shell out even more cash for extra features included with GetResponse and AWeber. (3 out of 5)
MailChimp: With a “free forever” guarantee for small businesses with fewer than 2,000 subscribers and up to 12,000 emails per month, it’s hard to beat Mail Chimp’s radical pricing structure. There’s no expiring trial, contract or credit card required. Add additional features for $10/month. Pricing can get a bit high over 2000 subscribers, however; unlimited emails for just 2600 subscribers will cost you $35/mo; 10,000 subscribers is $80/mo (more than GetResponse and AWeber, but less than iContact). Bonus points for unlimited free emails, but minus points for pricier packages and additional feature costs. (4 out of 5)
Your email template selection can make or break your email marketing campaign. While great graphic design is important, so too is ensuring that all templates feature responsive design. This means that every email you send will automatically adjust to fit smartphone and tablet screens.
AWeber: With more than 700 mobile-friendly newsletter templates and more than 6,000 images to choose from, creating email newsletters is an easy as a few clicks of the mouse. Drag, drop and edit to create the newsletter, no coding or design experience necessary. (5 out of 5)
GetResponse: GetResponse really crushes the competition here: the platform’s new Email Creator makes it easy to customize one of the 500+ mobile-friendly templates with unlimited design solutions and over 1,000+ iStock images. If you do have coding experience, you can create from scratch in the HTML editor or using a base layout, or import templates from ZIP and URL. (5 out of 5)
iContact: Choose from 600+ mobile-friendly templates that are designed to make messages pop. Customize the templates with iContact’s MessageBuilderTM, which includes drag-and-drop message creation, no HTML coding required. (4 out of 5)
MailChimp: While MailChimp offers a pretty limited number of pre-designed templates compared with other providers, the drag-and-drop editor makes customization a piece of cake. Start with a basic template and then drop, drop, replicate or reorder images and content blocks to create a custom design. Or code your own template using the handy Email Template Reference as a guide. As a bonus, MailChimp offers a gallery of beautiful email designs for inspiration. Unfortunately, the designs are inspiration-only and not available for customization. (3 out of 5)
Click through rates for automated emails are up to 35% higher than broadcast emails, which can be huge for building longer-lasting relationships with customers and clients. But how easy is it to create an effective automated marketing campaign or email auto-responders to triggered actions?
AWeber: Creating automated email campaigns is a snap with AWeber’s sleek drag and drop editor. Choose between three different “actions” (send message, wait, apply tag) and order these actions into a series of campaign messages. For example, a “welcome campaign” would be triggered by a new subscriber sign-up. The first campaign, “welcome message” would be sent automatically at sign up. Add a “wait” function of 1 to 3 days and then send a “learn more” message before applying a “new customer” tag. (5 out of 5)
GetResponse: GetResponse’s “AutoResponders 2.0” program offers two types of email marketing automation: action-based messages (automatic responses to clicks, opens, completed transactions, etc.) and time-based messages (birthday greetings, day of the week messages, etc.) Targeted one-to-one communication is timely, relevant and easy to use. (5 out of 5)
iContact: To use iContact’s email marketing automation, you’ll need to upgrade to the pricier iContact Pro. Pro offers a host of powerful features including: workflow automation (target subscribers with the right content at the right time in response to location, activity and customer type); social posting and monitoring; and engagement tracking. We love the great features, but wish they were available at a lower price point like AWeber and GetResponse. (4 out of 5)
MailChimp: MailChimp offers list segmentation and automation with an easy email scheduling workflow. Welcome new customers, follow up on website activity, create a win-back campaign, put purchase data to use, and more. To use these advanced features, you’ll need to have a paid account. (4 out of 5)
AWeber: AWeber let users split test up to four different email elements at once, as well as split-testing sign up forms to grow your opt-in email lists. Tests are easy to set up, although GetResponse has a slight edge over AWeber here for offering more testing options baked into email set up (see below). (4 out of 5)
GetResponse: Since A/B tests are integrated into every email campaign, you can choose to set up a test with just a few clicks. From content and subject line to from filed and time of day, virtually anything can be tested. Create up to five versions for any of these elements. Next, split the list into testing segments using the handy slider; decide which metrics are more important (clicks or opens); and choose whether to automatically send the best performing version. Split testing and optimization doesn’t get much easier than this! (5 out of 5)
iContact. To use iContact’s A/B testing, you’ll need to upgrade to the pricier iContact Pro. Again, we love the features that are available with Pro, but wish they were available at a more accessible price point for small businesses and entrepreneurs. (4 out of 5)
MailChimp. MailChimp’s A/B testing makes it easy to test subject lines, sender names, content and send times. The easy-to-use set up form also lets you choose which metric (e.g., click rate, open rate) should determine the winner and whether to send the remaining list recipients the winning combination. To use this advanced feature, you’ll need to have a paid account. (4 out of 5)
For value, services and ease-of-use, all four email marketing platforms are solid options. But when you add in extra features and really drill down into pricing plans, GetResponse has an edge here. For example, GetResponse offers a useful new feature called “send time optimization”, which automatically sends your email at the time it’s most likely to be opened. By evaluating past open times, GetRepsonse says it can boost median open rates by 23% and click rates by 20%– that’s nothing to sniff at!
At the end of the day, my preference is for GetResponse, with AWeber being a close second. Which marketing platform is your favorite? I invite you to share your favorites (or horror stories!) in the comments below.