In part one of the email marketing series, I discussed how email marketing can improve your customer relationships and promote sales. I also talked about the different types of email marketing, and the advantages of building an opt-in list. In part two, I discussed a few reason why you should choose a third party email marketing website instead of mass-mailing yourself and then reviewed some of the more popular email marketing websites out there. In this article I’ll be reviewing a few more options, including MadMimi, Aweber, Benchmark, iContact, and CampaignMonitor.
MadMimi (Free for less than 100 subscribers, as low as $8 per month)
The appeal of MadMimi is apparent right from the start: the website is bright, the layout is simple and intuitive, and setting up an account is easy and requires no credit card for the free account type. Users who are unfamiliar with email marketing will enjoy the extensive theme and template selection, phone and email support, and the helpful video tutorial that guides you through creating your first email campaign using MadMimi’s module-based, WYSIWYG message editor/composer. Import your mailing list, confirm your email address, and you’re ready to send out your first campaign.
Beneath the cheery interface, though, lurk some surprisingly powerful email marketing tools and options: inline CSS/HTML support, custom message fields, follow-up message options, campaign scheduling, list segmentation that allows you to focus on a particular customer or group, and Outlook 2007 compatibility. (Outlook 2007 renders email messages with Microsoft Word rather than Internet Explorer, which can occasionally cause display issues for HTML messages that contain CSS.) MadMimi automatically manages your unsubscribe requests and spam-rule compliance for you, and has an automated de-duplication list tool so you can avoid sending more than one message to the same person. MadMimi can also connect to your blog, sending out a notice to your mailing list whenever you post something new, and you can use the MadMimi API to send new email subscriber sign-up form data from your website directly to your MadMimi mailing list database.
The tracking features are similarly extensive: open-rate and click-through tracking, side-by-side campaign comparison, bounce-rate, forwarding reports, and individual activity reports of each subscriber that can be exported to Excel. MadMimi also integrates with Google Analytics so you can set and track goals, conversion rates, as well as net and gross profits.
In terms of delivery rate, MadMimi does a decent job. They have relationships with many ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and email service providers, and support DKIM, SenderID, and SPF email authentication (standards for verifying that an email message originated from the domain in the “from” field) to help your message bypass spam and security filters.
MadMimi is a great email marketing website with which to start out, or to transfer over to if you’re tired of your current email marketing service. Don’t let the family-friendly interface fool you; MadMimi has got some powerful tricks up her sleeve. It’s obvious that a lot of thought was put into making MadMimi as feature-rich as possible, which makes it a strong contender when compared to email marketing industry leaders like ConstantContact and MailChimp.
Aweber ($19 per month for less than 500 subscribers)
Aweber is an email marketing website with a lot to offer: list management (including automatic duplicate-removal), expert technical support via phone, email, and live-chat, unlimited campaigns and messages, newsletter creation, and quite a few tracking options. Where Aweber really differs from standard email marketing sites is that they specialize in creating strategically-timed email messages that are sent a certain number of hours or days after a customer expressed interest in a product/service or visited your website (and filled out your opt-in subscription form). The idea is that most people won’t buy something the first time they visit your website and sending a follow-up message reminds them about you, which can lead to sales and help build a relationship.
Aside from just using Aweber to send out the standard newsletters, coupons, and sales notices, you can also use Aweber to automatically send out multi-part courses and programs at defined intervals. Aweber has a Web Form Wizard to guide you through creating sign-up forms you can put on your website, which will gather names, email addresses, or any other information you request, and send that information directly to your Aweber account, automatically adding them to your mailing list. This can be particularly useful if you haven’t built up a big opt-in list yet.
Aweber includes over 100 templates for you to choose from and an online message-editor which is easy to use. They also offer A/B campaign comparisons, open-rate and click-through tracking, Twitter integration, and the ability to segment subscribers based on past actions. As an example of how this last feature might work is that you could isolate subscribers based on if they clicked a link in your most recent newsletter but haven’t bought anything yet, you could and send them a special coupon or offer to encourage the sale.
Aweber’s 10 years of experience in the email marketing industry really show in their deliverability rate: 99.34%. They achieve this high rate of deliverability by using DomainKeys and SPF authentication standards, enforcing a no-spam policy, providing content filter-checking tools for every user, and having an established relationship with many ISPs.
While Aweber doesn’t offer a completely free trial, there’s sound reasoning behind this: it prevents spammers from signing up for hundreds of free accounts and negatively impacting deliverability. They do, instead, have a money-back guarantee and only charge $1 for the first month.
Aweber might not offer quite as many features as other email marketing websites, but they make up for it by offering some unique time-oriented tools that can help drive traffic back to your website and increase sales. If you’re currently searching for a new email marketing website, Aweber should be near the top of your list.
Benchmark (Free if using their sign-up form on your website, as low as $9.95 per month)
Benchmark provides users with some great features, while still keeping their service budget-friendly. Their monthly plans start below $10 and allow up to 600 email subscribers, and include access to Benchmark’s collection of over 250 customizable templates and features such as inline CSS/HTML support, video embedding, Google Analytics integration, image hosting, auto-responder options, email survey support, graphed tracking reports, spam-checker, and live chat, phone, and email technical support.
Email lists can be imported from text files or Excel spreadsheets and Benchmark provides step-by-step guides for creating your email campaign. They’ve got a built-in WYSIWYG message editor which includes a spell-checker, and Benchmark utilizes universal email formatting, so you can be sure that your messages display just the way you want, regardless of which program or email service your subscribers use.
Benchmark offers quite a few tracking options, including open-rate, click-through, forwarding, abuse-report, and bounce-rate tracking options. You can also view side-by-side comparisons of campaigns which are handy for honing in on what works the best.
Benchmark’s advanced delivery tools make sure that your emails always fall within anti-spam guidelines. They work with ISPs to stay abreast of filter changes, and new blocking techniques to keep your emails from getting blocked, and monitors major email client whitelists like Yahoo!, Gmail, AOL, and MSN LIVE! to ensure a high deliverability rate, generally reported by customers to be nearly 100% for many campaigns. Benchmark can be somewhat picky about which email addresses it allows on your mailing list, but this is the flip-side of maintaining such a high delivery rate.
With a robust set of features and tracking option, as well as a growing online community, it’s easy to see why Benchmark is such a popular choice. When it comes to value for your email marketing dollar, Benchmark stands head and shoulders above the competition.
iContact (Free trial membership, monthly plans start at $9.95)
iContact has a fresh, sleek interface, and a bevy of features for optimizing your email campaign and tracking how many people opened and clicked on links within the message. You can use iContact as an auto-responder, schedule a campaign to go out at a later date, and there are over 250 message templates to choose from. They give you 5GB of image hosting space, which is much more than many competitors. They have a decent WYSIWYG newsletter editor and iContact ensures that your emails are compliant with anti-spam laws to minimize bounce-back. Also, there’s a spam-checker tool for testing messages before they’re sent out. Unfortunately, there’s not much more to say about iContact that is positive.
In the course of reviewing iContact, I encountered problems with uploading images and seven out of the ten test emails that I sent out still haven’t arrived. The iContact website loads painfully slow and most of the 250 templates I saw were, to put it plainly, ugly and amateurish. iContact’s technical support is famously horrible, and I personally waited on hold for so long that my cell phone ran out of power. I am still awaiting a reply from iContact’s email technical support. Upon checking the iContact support forum, I was not particularly surprised to find that it is an unmediated collection of pharmaceutical spam.
It’s apparent that once you’re a customer, iContact really couldn’t care less if you continue being one, or at least that’s the message their sending. Having a great looking site and a list of impressive features doesn’t make up for buggy performance and poor technical support. Steer clear.
CampaignMonitor (First campaign free, $5 per campaign + $0.01 per subscriber)
CampaignMonitor is easy to use, provides an excellent range of features for campaign creation and tracking, and is budget-friendly. Campaign creation is straightforward and made easy by a campaign creation wizard that guides you through the process without a lot of technical jargon. You can create an A/B campaign, personalize the message subject line with subscriber details, and choose between HTML, plain text, or both. The WYSIWYG editor is sleek and intuitive and the template gallery, while somewhat limited, features many elegant and professional designs. You also have the option of uploading HTML, CSS, and image files from your computer or a web address, to use in your newsletter.
Each email campaign can be tested for browser compatibility and performance against spam-filters and firewalls for a small fee ($5). While the browser compatibility test is valuable, it is disappointing to be charged for the spam-check when other sites provide it for free.
As part of CampaignMonitor’s list management services, they offer an open API for creating your own website forms that will automatically update your mailing list. They also automatically handle unsubscribe request for you and, if a message bounces back a few times, it is automatically removed, which saves you money on future campaigns.
CampaignMonitor supports DomainKeys and SenderID domain authentication, which will help your campaign messages bypass spam and ISP filters. Setting up the authentication requires modifying your domain’s DNS record, but there is a walkthrough guide located in the client management FAQ that outlines the steps you’ll need to take. This is optional, and can be a pain if you’re unfamiliar with your domain settings, but it’s definitely worth it if you want to minimize bounce-back.
CampaignMonitor’s reporting features are not the best in the industry, but still decent. You can track bounce rates, the number of times a message is opened, click-through rates, who marked the message as spam, and the number of HTML pages that are opened (letting you know if it’s worth it to send HTML versus plain text). Statistics are presented in a graph or as a pie chart, and are easy to understand and compare. The tracking report layout appears to have been heavily influenced by Google Analytics, which is a good thing.
CampaignMonitor not only encourages people to use their product, they encourage users to resell it by creating sub-accounts. After signing up, you are given a unique domain name that you and your customers can use to access the site. You can re-brand the website with your logo, create client-specific reports and login accounts, and make custom invoices, all of which help create a seamless email marketing solution for your clients.
CampaignMonitor gives users an intuitive interface, some excellent (if standard) features, and decent tracking options, all for a great price. Also, since you aren’t locked into a monthly fee, you can adjust your email campaign to suit your monthly budget. While there are definitely better values out there (especially if you send many thousands of email every month) CampaignMonitor strikes a good balance between flexibility and reliability and is suitable for businesses of all sizes.
Be sure to come back for the fourth and final article in the email marketing series, where I’ll be discussing some tips on writing better message content and more interesting headlines, the importance of message format, and also some general tips on optimizing your email marketing campaigns for better results.