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Email Marketing Services: A Comparison

Email Marketing Services: A Comparison Lee Schneider

What is the best email marketing service for your online newsletter? I've used Constant Contact, MailChimp, AWeber, Emma and Vertical Response. They all will send your email newsletter. Some with do it with style. Some will do it plainly. Some will get you more  bounces (undeliverable emails) than the other providers. Others will allow you to sort through your list and send to specific people (called 'segmenting the list') and others will allow you to send specialized emails to people at intervals you choose (called 'autoresponders.') Here's a listing of all the features of each and my rankings.


My bias:  Emma is my favorite platform (MailChimp is my second-favorite.) Emma has a large number of tastefully designed templates, but it is also easy to create your own or import templates from elsewhere. At this writing, Emma's engineers just released a drag-and-drop interface for all templates. This means that you can move text, images, links and so forth, anywhere you want. The design flexibility is great and to my taste, far ahead of the others.

Emma also has the best customer service of any provider. You get to speak with (or email with) a real person who works things through with you. They help you set up your list and actively troubleshoot. Recently AOL wasn't cooperating with Emma's servers - I knew this because of Emma's superior reporting functions allowed me to see this right away. I called Emma's help desk and they said they were already working with AOL to fix the problem.

List segmentation is very easy in Emma. You can search for specific responses (opens, clicks) and send just to those people. Autoresponders are a snap. You can build out automated campaigns over days, weeks, even months. You can create and send surveys from within Emma and link to them in your newsletters.

Reporting in Emma is plain vanilla. You can get an excel spreadsheet of your results. Integrations are few.  (They just added Survey Monkey, but as you'll see below, MailChimp is the integration king.) There is an excellent agency platform well suited to collaboration, teams and client login. You can re-sell and repackage Emma to clients.

Pricing: $30 for the first 1,000 subscribers with unlimited sends.  $45 per month for 2,500 subscribers, unlimited sends. $125 per month for 10,000 subscribers with unlimited sends.

Ratings on Emma

Design flexibility - Excellent

List segmentation - Excellent

Reporting - Good

Customer Service - Excellent

Multi-User  Platform:  Yes

Constant Contact

Constant Contact has the best marketing of all the providers (you've heard of them, right?) The customer service is strong.  Constant Contact's pricing is competitive with the other providers. The big drawback here for me is that Constant Contact's design interface is clunky and there's a lack of flexibility in the templates. You tend to get locked in to their templates and then your newsletter looks like everyone else's. Importing HTML templates is possible, but it's frozen in HTML so you have to know HTML (or get a designer who does) to make any changes you need.  You can segment your lists into targeted sends so that only those you want to receive your email will get them.  There is a decent enough reporting interface so that you can share results of your mailings with your team. There is no agency platform for multiple users collaborating on emails. If your emails bounce you may not be able to figure out why.

Pricing:  Average at $15 per month for 500 on your list, $30 for up to 2500 on your list, and upward. They offer a free 60-day trial for new users.

Ratings on Constant Contact

Design flexibility - Bad

List segmentation - Good

Reporting - Fair

Customer Service - Excellent

Multi-User  Platform:  No


MailChimp makes doing a newsletter more fun than the other providers. They have a chimp mascot who tells jokes. There are a wide variety of templates available. You can write your own in HTML and import it into MailChimp with a little bit of effort.

MailChimp makes it easy to segment your list, slicing and dicing to your heart's content. They even have an application called Hairball that allows you to work on your list off line, segment it, and upload the results to your MailChimp account.  You want integrations?  MailChimp has them, with Salesforce, Freshbooks, Highrise and lots of other CRM applications. MailChimp even has an application what will let people sign up for your list on your iPad.  Customer service has improved in the past few years that I've used MailChimp, but it's not all that personal, can be slow, and you will be sent to their Knowledge Base for answers, which is not always that helpful.

Standard reporting on MailChimp is good.  You can export a PDF with lots of nice graphics. If you really want to drill down into your list and send to segments (such as those who clicked on a particular link) it will take a little work, though. MailChimp recently discontinued free use of Autoresponders, and this is a negative if you want to send somebody an automatic email after they sign up, or if you want to send them an email after a specific amount of time, say, one week after sign up. There is no agency platform for multiple users collaborating on emails, but there are multi-user logins, and using a MailChimp application called On Stage you can collaborate on designs and gives notes as the mailing is shaped.

MailChimp has the strictest policy about who can use their service. They don't like real estate agents or PR people much, in my experience, and they can bounce you off their list with no warning. If your emails bounce (become undeliverable) MailChimp won't help you much with that. Some of their templates can even be tagged as spam but they won't help you fix them.

Pricing:  Free if fewer than 2,000 people on your list.  Makes this an excellent option to get your feet wet. Gets pricey fast when you send to larger lists.  There are limitations on some features, like autoresponders. $10 per month for lists of up to 500 emails, $30 per month for up to 2,500.

Ratings on MailChimp

Design flexibility - Good

List segmentation - Good

Reporting - Good

Customer Service - Fair

Multi-User  Platform:  Yes


I have done a demo of AWeber but haven't used it for years (like I have MailChimp and Constant Contact.) I can say that I like it, but the templates are bland and your emails can end up looking like everyone else's on Aweber.  AWeber does one thing hugely better than other providers, however: They make available an absolutely huge variety of sign up forms for your list. Sending to segments is pretty easy. Reporting is good. There is no agency platform for multiple users collaborating on emails.  There is an affilate program, meaing that you can re-sell AWeber to clients, setting your own rates.

Pricing: $19 for the first 500 subscribers.  Unlimited email sends. Add $10 per month to have up to up to 2,500 on your list.

Ratings on Aweber

Design flexibility - Okay

List segmentation - Okay

Reporting - Good

Customer Service - Good

Multi-User  Platform:  No

Vertical Response

Vertical Response can be one of the most economical email newsletter options, with plans starting at $8.50 per month.  It's solid, but to me uninspiring. The design interface is blah and the templates aren't much better. You can import HTML and make your own, however. You can segment your list and reporting is good.  Vertical Response will give you a deal on postcards, and you can send customer surveys. There is a multi-user agency platform so that teams can work on campaigns or you can re-sell Vertical Response to clients.

Pricing: Starting at $8.50 per month.

Ratings on Vertical Response

Design flexibility - Poor

List segmentation - Good

Reporting - Good

Customer Service - Good

Multi-User  Platform:  Yes

There are lots of email marketing platforms out there, even a few that I've not mentioned so far, like iContact and Cooler Email. When using these platforms, I'm looking for design flexibility, autoresponders, good customer service and reporting. By these measures, and by my own personal biases and choices, Emma comes out on top for me, followed by MailChimp. If you want to get your feet wet, try MailChimp for free. When you get serious about email marketing and newsletters, go to Emma.

Email graphic by Sean MacEntee via Creative Commons License.  Hand-drawn envelope graphics from Charfish.

  Lee Schneider runs Red Cup, a communications agency serving startups and entrepreneurs. The agency has an education and consulting program for startups called Mo’popular. He is the author of ‘Be More Popular: Culture-Building for...

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