If you’ve spent any amount of time researching how to market your small business to achieve the best results, you already know that email marketing is hands-down the #1 tool at your disposal.
Even in the age of Snapchat, Instagram stories, and livestreamed social media, the numbers speak for themselves. Email is still 40 times more effective than social media at acquiring new customers, and the average small business earns a whopping $38 in ROI for every dollar spent on email marketing.
Before you can reap the rewards of all email marketing can offer, though, you’re faced with a critical—and often daunting—choice. Which of the dozens of email marketing platforms on the market should you use for your small business?
Fortunately for you, we’ve done the heavy lifting to not only identify the five best email marketing platforms for small businesses, but also help you cut through the jargon to understand exactly what you need your email marketing software to do.
What Should You Look for in an Email Marketing Platform?
Before we dive into a laundry list of various platforms—do you know what features you should be looking for in an email marketing platform? If you don’t actually understand what email marketing can do, you might find yourself choosing your software based solely on branding, price, or pretty templates. And that’s no way to make a major business decision!
To find the best email marketing solution for your small business, read on to understand both the basics and more advanced functions you might need from your email marketing platform.
Reliable Inbox Delivery
What’s the value in sending marketing emails to your audience if they never get past the spam filter? While certain word choices and product types can flag an email to spam in certain email clients, your choice of email marketing platform can also affect how often your emails make their way to your ideal customer’s inbox.
All the email marketing platforms on our list received at least a 90% delivery success score from major review sites across most major email clients, so you can trust these tools for their anti-spam capabilities.
Have you ever received a marketing email promoting a product you just purchased, or about a topic you care nothing about? Even when they’re coming from our very favorite brands, these ill-fitting emails leave us feeling spammed, like we’re “just a number” and not valued by the brand.
Worst of all is when an email includes a personalized greeting with your name but then shares a completely irrelevant or inaccurate message. This totally ruins the effect of personalized email marketing, leaving us desperate to click “unsubscribe!”
Fortunately, this unfortunate scenario is easily avoidable with the help of robust audience segmentation within your email list.
As your list of email subscribers grows, chances are you will very rarely want to send a message with the exact same copy at the exact same time to your entire email list. Instead, you’ll want to customize your messages based on your audience’s interest, engagement, purchase history, and more.
To make this happen, make sure that your email marketing platform supports multiple lists—and look for easy-to-use solutions that automate tagging and segmenting your list as it grows.
Autoresponders and Email Sequencing
Do you know the very moment that a new prospective customer’s interest in your brand will be at its highest peak? That would be the second they share their email address or other contact information with you. At that moment, your new fan is enthusiastic and ready to learn more—so you better be ready to serve them with some amazing content as soon as they subscribe!
To take advantage this peak of interest, make sure that your email marketing platform offers an autoresponder function, which lets you send an automated and personalized welcome message as soon as they sign up. Ideally, the platform should allow you to customize that autoresponse based on where on your website the user signed up.
But engaging with a new customer isn’t a one-and-done affair. That’s why you want the ability to create an automated email sequence that “indoctrinates” new subscribers to your brand through a series of emails in the week or so after they sign up. This is just one of many instances where email sequencing can be the most powerful tool in your brand’s email marketing toolbox—so make sure the platform you choose has strong sequencing functionality!
Experienced email marketers know that maximizing the value of your subscriber list is partly an art form but also requires some scientific methodology. You’ll want to try new things and figure out what works, meaning you need to manage the effectiveness of various email marketing strategies. Otherwise, how will you know what’s working?
Before you commit to an email marketing platform for your small business, make sure you can measure your results and optimize your email content using these essential performance analytics:
Inbox deliverability: Are your emails actually making it to your audience’s inbox, or are they heading straight to the spam or junk mail folders? You email marketing platform’s performance analytics should be able to report what volume of your emails were delivered to inboxes so that you know whether your followers even had a chance to open them.
Open rate: With so many marketing emails flying to our inboxes every day, it’s no wonder that most of us delete many of these message without ever even opening them. Tracking your open rate will help you evaluate how enticing your subject lines are for your audience and how engaged they are with your brand.
Click-through rate: The best marketing emails cause audiences to take action—either through a response to the email, or by clicking through to the sales page or piece of content you’ve shared. Look for an email marketing platform that tracks not only the total number of clicks but also how many users clicked through (accounting for those who may have clicked multiple links in the same email.)
Specific links clicked: Which calls to action are grabbing your audience’s attention, and which ones were less appealing? The ability to track exactly which links were clicked by which audience members helps you know what offerings, images, and specific verbiage is giving you the best results.
Unsubscribe requests: Are certain types of emails making your audience run for the hills? Has an issue with your segmenting caused you to send the wrong email to the wrong audience members? To know this, you need to dig into the data around your unsubscribe requests. Look for an email marketing platform that tells you not only your total volume of unsubscribes over time but also breaks that data down by specific list and email sent.
Paying attention to performance analytics is the key to maximizing value in your email marketing efforts. So, even if you’re new to this form of marketing and unsure how you would even use this information, be sure to factor this functionality into your choice of email marketing platform.
Attractive and Engaging Emails
Obviously, in order to engage your audience, it’s important that your email marketing platform lets you create visually appealing emails using aesthetically beautiful templates and strong graphic functionality. That said, there’s a reason we listed this factor last on our list—because beautiful email templates aren’t really that important!
We’ll warn you right now that as you’re evaluating different email platforms, you’ll be tempted to focus a lot of your attention on which platform has the prettiest email templates. We can’t help it! We’re humans, and we like pretty things.
But unless you have an e-commerce company and are selling a physical product online, the truth is that the visual aesthetics of your emails are NOT the most important factor. Worry first about the back-end segmenting and analytic power of your email marketing platform, then use visual aesthetics only to help you narrow down your top choices.
How to Choose the Best Email Marketing Platform for You
Ideally, we would love to recommend the perfect email marketing tool for every small business—one that checks every one of the boxes above, offers a highly intuitive user experience, and is priced for any small business budget. (Trust us, if that were available, we would just say use this and spare you some reading!)
In reality, though, every email marketing platform out there has its strengths and weaknesses—and the right choice for your business depends on your priorities and your email marketing strategy.
Now that you know what you should be looking for in a great email marketing solution, take a look at the pros and cons of our five highest recommended email marketing platforms for small businesses to find your best fit:
1. Best User-Friendly Solution for Small Business: Constant Contact
If you’re new to email marketing and need an easy-to-use, intuitive platform that is still reasonably comprehensive, Constant Contact may be your best bet. Within minutes of signing up, you’ll be ready to compose your first email using one of the many beautifully pre-designed templates. And once you press send, you’ll be shown exactly how to track open and click-through rates, so you can get the performance information you need—no in-depth analytics knowledge required.
PROS: Huge library of high quality, easily customizable templates. Best balance of functionality and user-friendliness for small businesses new to email marketing.
CONS: Formatting, font, and color options for a more customized email design are more limited than most other platforms we reviewed.
COST: Constant Contact offers a free 60-day trial for all users. After that, plans start at $20/month with rates dependent on total list size.
Along with its user-friendliness, Constant Contact is often cited as a best option for nonprofits, organizations, and brick-and-mortar businesses. In particular, Constant Contact’s easy event registration tools are great for businesses and organizations that regularly host events for their audiences.
2. Best for Consultants, Infopreneurs, and Online Businesses: ConvertKit
Though it’s new to the marketplace and relatively unknown, more and more consultants and digitally based business owners are choosing ConvertKit thanks to its unbeatably simple-yet-powerful tagging features for audience segmentation. Fans of ConvertKit also praise the simplicity of creating and visualizing email sequences, such as a series of welcome and “getting to know you” emails for new subscribers.
ConvertKit is a particularly great choice if you rely on sharing your expertise through email opt-ins and content upgrades (such as a free worksheet or ebook) to entice new subscribers, since ConvertKit is among the only platforms to offer downloadable opt-in management without requiring a third-party integration.
PROS: Users love ConvertKit’s incredible simplicity for audience segmentation, downloadable opt-in management, and automation of email sequences.
CONS: No free trial, although you can request a demo before signing up. Template selections are limited and not as attractive as those on other platforms.
COST: Plans start at $29 per month for up to 1,000 subscribers.
While ConvertKit starts as one of the more expensive options on our list, this platform offers one special pricing feature that may save you big bucks in the long run: Unlike most other platforms on our list, in ConvertKit, each of your subscribers only counts once, no matter how many different lists they’re subscribed to. No more paying double (or more!) for highly engaged followers who sign up for multiple content upgrades!
However, with only a few simple templates and styles to choose from, the underwhelming visual impact of emails sent through ConvertKit make it a decidedly “function over form” option—that is, the back-end management and analytics that ConvertKit offers far outshines the experience of the end audience. So if sending beautiful or graphic-heavy emails is your highest priority, you should probably look elsewhere.
3. Best for Solopreneurs with Limited Marketing Expertise: GetResponse
Imagine if your email marketing software could also act as your email marketing consultant, teaching you when to send your messages, how to segment your audience, and everything else you need to know to make the most of your efforts with email marketing. For small business owners with limited marketing knowledge who are bootstrapping their way through the email game, that’s exactly what GetResponse does.
Compared with other options on our list, the templates, segmentation, and automation features that GetResponse offers are pretty much your standard fare. Where this tool shines, though, is in its strategic recommendations—so you’re never left guessing when or how to send your latest newsletter, welcome message, or special email offer.
PROS: Useful in-app marketing education and suggestions, including optimal delivery times for best click-through rates based on your industry.
CONS: Drag-and-drop design functions can be clunky and tedious to use. Some users report frequent issues with images and graphics failing to load.
COST: 30-day free trial. Pricing starts at $15/month for up to 1,000 subscribers.
Along with the basic email performance analytics (such as open and click-through rates), GetResponse is one of the only platforms to also track purchase behavior, so you can make the direct connection between emails sent and revenue gained.
On the downside, though, the templates, fonts, and design functions within GetResponse leave much to be desired, with many users complaining in particular about the hard-to-use image editor. If you choose this email marketing platform for your small business, plan to keep the design simple and stick to high-impact copy—or use a tool like Canva to create and size your images before importing to the app.
4. Best Customer Service and Support: iContact
Both easy to learn for email marketing newcomers and extensive and functionality for more technically inclined veterans, iContact is a solid choice of marketing automation and email marketing platform for small business. Back-end functionality is reliable and pretty extensive, email templates are good quality, and the user experience of the software is very typical to other platforms we reviewed. The ability to schedule social media posts from the same tool is also a nice bonus, particularly if you’re new to social scheduling and would prefer to learn only one new piece of software at a time.
PROS: All-in-one tool for both email marketing and social media scheduling. Simple and high-quality integration for Salesforce users.
CONS: Some users report issues with spam filters and inbox deliverability—particularly to Gmail accounts.
COST: Free 30-day trial. Pricing starts at $14 per month for under 500 subscribers.
On the one hand, there’s nothing about iContact’s features or functionality that particularly stands out. But if you’re the kind of software customer who just really wants to talk to a real human every once in awhile, iContact’s customer support might be reason enough to choose this platform. Of the options on our list, iContact and Constant Contact are the only two that offer phone support—and users praise the speed and quality of support services from iContact in particular.
Partner with an iContact strategic advisor to maximize your email strategy and grow your list, or take advantage of their in-house design services to customize your email template’s look and feel. With iContact, you have access to not just a software tool, but a full-scale email marketing team.
That said, unless you’re someone who really likes a lot of hand-holding, we suggest prioritizing inbox deliverability over support services—and that’s one area where Constant Contact shines, while iContact struggles.
5. Best Free Email Marketing Solution: MailChimp
By far the most widely known and used email marketing platform for small business, MailChimp has established its roots as the go-to tool for communicating with small biz audiences via email. This makes sense, given the company’s highly personable branding and its unique “forever free” pricing model for low-volume subscriber lists.
Yet despite its approachable and small-business-friendly reputation, most entrepreneurs who do their research find that MailChimp’s user interface, email templates, and automation capabilities are by no means the best in the market.
PROS: Budget friendly for small lists. Straightforward to use if you’re willing to keep it simple with template styles for basic email blasts to your audience.
CONS: Audience segmentation and automated email sequences are less intuitive. Opt-ins and download deliveries require a third-party integration. Templates are widely used and a bit difficult to customize.
COST: Famously, MailChimp is “forever free” for users with up to 2,000 subscribers. Plans for larger lists start at $10 per month.
As a whole, we’ve found that MailChimp users fall into one of two categories: Either they’re just getting started with a small subscriber list and find MailChimp “good enough” given the $0 price tag, or they’re longtime paid users who have gotten so used to the platform, they don’t notice its more tedious quirks.
Overall, MailChimp remains a solid choice of email marketing platform for small business owners with a small and slow-growing list, or who are just getting started with email marketing and want to test the benefits before opting for a paid solution. But if you’re serious about growing your email list and aim to push quickly past that 2,000 subscriber mark, you’re better off starting from the outset on a paid platform with more comprehensive capabilities.
Do Your Research and Make a Choice!
Choosing an email marketing platform is a big decision that can have a long-term impact on your business—and for some small business owners, the overwhelming number of choices (not to mention the learning curve of any new software!) can hold them back from building an email list at all. But trust us, that would be the biggest mistake you could make for your business.
The truth is, any one of these five email marketing platforms can get the job done for your small business. They all have their quirks, so decide what’s most important to you, weigh the pros and cons, and take a few test drives to find what feels most intuitive to you. Then take the plunge and get started growing and serving your email audience!
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