In part one, I discussed what email marketing can do for you, the types of email marketing, differences between opt-in and opt-out lists, and a few ways to build your own opt-in list. In part two, I’ll be giving a few reason why you should choose as 3rd party email marketing website instead of mass-mailing yourself and then I’ll be reviewing some of the more popular email marketing websites out there.
Why Choose a Third-Party Email Marketing Solution
It may seem like a good idea to simply email your newsletter to your contact list yourself using your own email client, but there are a number of drawbacks to this approach.
First, while programs like Outlook and Thunderbird may not limit how many messages can be sent per day, most internet service providers do. Some ISPs limit customers to as few as 1000 unique recipients per day and webmail providers can be even stricter, with some only allowing 25 unique recipients per day. When using a third-party email marketing website, you’re only limited by your budget.
Second, when you send emails from your own account versus a third party company, the amount of tracking that can be performed on the message is usually limited to read-receipts at most. Depending on which third-party email marketing website you choose, you have access to a wide range of tracking options including: how many emails were received, how many were labeled spam, how many people opened your email, what links they clicked on, and some websites even allow you to track conversion rates. These reporting options can be invaluable in terms of tracking market trends and determining what works and what doesn’t.
And finally, many email marketing websites help you conform to anti-spam laws and avoid ending up in your recipient’s spam folder. Email marketing sites use special sending protocols when sending your messages that help spam-filters identify your messages as legitimate, rather than marking them as unwanted mass emails. Many email marketing sites also allow you to test your message against a spam-filter before you go live, ensuring that the subject line or content of your message doesn’t get tagged for bearing characteristics of spam (using the word “free” in the subject line, etc.). The consequences of having your personal email account accused of sending spam can be severe: you may find your email account closed and, if you send email from your domain address, your website shut down.
Even if you don’t take the aforementioned issues into account, third-party email marketing websites can help you organize your email lists and many provide templates to help those of us who are less artistically-inclined. Compared to other marketing avenues, email marketing can be a low-cost high-return method for increasing sales and encouraging customer loyalty.
MailChimp (Free, pay-as-you-go, or monthly fee based on number of subscribers)
MailChimp is probably the easiest email marketing website for beginners: the interface is bright and witty, the campaign creation wizard is helpful yet unobtrusive, and their “Forever Free” account option lets you send up to 3,000 emails per month to a contact list of 500 or less, for free. (MailChimp puts a small banner at the base of each email with the “Forever Free” account, but it’s small and doesn’t distract from your message.) If your needs expand past the limits of the free account, you can upgrade to a pay-as-you-go plan (as low as $0.05 per email) or pay a monthly fee (based on number of subscribers, as low as $10 per month).
Creating a campaign is simple, whether it’s a standard email campaign, an A/B comparison campaign to help hone in on what works, or an RSS-driven campaign that sends content from a blog straight to subscribers. They’ve included a simple WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor for creating messages and have some free images and simple templates that are immensely helpful for first-time users. MailChimp also includes a comprehensive spam-checker for testing emails for spam-like qualities before sending, which helps minimize message loss.
An area where MailChimp truly excels is in the reporting features. There are options for tracking click-throughs, how many emails are opened, integrating Google Analytics and Twitter, and tools that help your messages from being labeled spam. There are also ways to track conversions and ROI (return on investment) which make it easy to quantify a successful campaign.
While they don’t offer phone support, MailChimp does offer live chat and email support for no cost. If you’re new to the email marketing game, try MailChimp first.
ConstantContact – (60-day free trial with limit of 100 contacts)
Constant Contact is a very well-known email marketing website, with a lot to offer: free templates, an intuitive interface, and comprehensive campaign tracking tools. They offer a 60-day free trial for up to 100 contacts, so you can try out many of their features before committing to their monthly fee, which, like many email marketing sites, is based on the number of subscribers in your contact list. Their least expensive plan starts at $15 per month.
While it’s not quite as inviting for novices as MailChimp, Constant Contact makes up for it with a step-by-step campaign wizard, drag-and-drop email creation, a spam compliance checker for avoiding spam-filters, an auto-responder for new subscribers, and the ability to include a survey in your email. The price is somewhat higher than other email marketing websites, but ConstantContact offer phone support, which can be a real boon when you’re having trouble sending out a time-sensitive message to your list.
EmailBrain – (Monthly credit system starting at $9.95 per month)
EmailBrain is a pretty standard email marketing website with a large collection of message templates and some interesting ideas about email marketing. The interface is more utilitarian than friendly and there are no hand-holding wizards to make campaign creation simple, but you can get your email marketing campaign up and running easily enough. Instead of paying by the subscriber, you pay for credits that translate to how many messages you can send. You can buy monthly credits that expire at the end of the month (no roll-over) and additional non-expiring credits for a bit more if you need to send more messages than you originally anticipated.
EmailBrain’s system relies on strong content to grab the customers’ attention and encourage forwarding. Each message comes with an integrated “forward to a friend” tool that helps the sender track how viral the message becomes. While this is great for people sending valuable/amusing/scandalous content, users who provide only basic newsletters and product updates might not get the most out of this feature. It’s still nice to have, though.
On the spam side of things, EmailBrain helps your messages avoid spam-filters by staying current with ISP whitelisting, blacklist monitoring, and abuse board monitoring, as well as offering support for future authentication standards.
LetterPop – (Free for less than 25 subscribers, as low as $24.98 per year)
LetterPop provides basic email marketing for a decent price, with over-simplified features that may appeal to novices but lack the options and depth of functionality many other email marketing websites offer. There is no spam-filter avoidance tool, no way to run a split (a/b) campaign, and no plain-text option for messages. Better templates are only available with the more expensive plans, but none really stand out as innovative or eye-catching.
LetterPop integrates with Flickr nicely, allowing users to easily upload photos from the free image storing service. Users can also host their newsletter directly on the LetterPop site, which is handy if you don’t have your own website, but past that there’s no real reason to choose Letterpop over another email marketing site with more features, which would be just about any of them.
Make sure to come back for part 3 in the email marketing series, where I’ll be reviewing MadMimi, Aweber, Benchmark, and iContact.