Who am I? I’m a guy who tested 8 popular email service providers over the past month while looking for one that fit our needs.
I really wish I was kidding.
One of the side effects of all this is that I’ve become somewhat of an expert on what makes a good email service provider (ESP) versus what makes a bad one. During this long search, I quickly discovered that all email providers are not created equal and when I tried to find some honest reviews online to help narrow the search, I found that (i) companies had paid for most articles written about them and (ii) most articles focused solely on the technical aspects of the product.
Of course the technical aspects are very important to us – but we also care about other features such as:
- How the final emails looked
- How intuitive the user interface was
- What their customer support was like
- Which third-party integrations they allowed
- How easy it was to migrate our current email list
Believe it or not, many email providers don’t do a good job of delivering several of the above features. Quite frankly, a lot of the big name email providers function like they haven’t been updated since 1999. So if you’re looking to start email marketing or maybe you’re thinking about switching providers, then you should keep reading – I promise to save you hours of time. Here’s what I found – no punches held.
When I first started my search, I read an article that rated iContact as the best ESP. Naturally, I went straight to their website and started a free trial and I was astounded by what I found. It felt as if it hadn’t been updated in years. In fact, designing a good looking email may have been one of the trickiest things I’ve ever done in my professional life because it was so outdated. I’m only partially kidding.
Campaigner’s user interface was just a little bit better than iContact’s, but believe me, that isn’t anything to brag about. It still felt like it needed a major update. The thing about these two tools is that your final product can only be as good looking as they allow it to be. If you care about how your business looks then you should go with a different service.
GetResponse started off okay for me. Their email design tool wasn’t bad but where I ran into trouble was with segmenting lists into specific audiences. I decided to email into customer service and ask for advice after about an hour of struggling. It wasn’t until 2 days later that I heard back from them with one sentence of broken English and a link to a help page that I had already found. Needless to say, they didn’t resolve my situation and I never did learn how to successfully segment an audience. I quickly moved on.
VerticalResponse showed some promise, but truthfully it was very limited in its overall capabilities. Its analytics tracking was weak, its email design tool was a little bit clunky and their email segmentation wasn’t very comprehensive. On the other hand, it was very easy to use so if you are someone who is searching for a very basic tool, it might be a good option.
AWeber comes with a disclaimer: if you’re growing your email list from zero, then we’d place the service in the “Good” category.
The campaigns looked good and their service was great. For us though, not being able to import pre-existing email lists without asking for permission from everyone (again) was too much of a road block to use AWeber. For that reason, it got a big no from us right away.
ConstantContact was easy to use above all else. It had good analytics and didn’t cost a fortune. The emails looked nice and had intuitive segmenting of lists. Overall, it’s not a bad choice for anyone who’s new to email marketing.
The first thing we noticed was that the customer support at Emma was amazing. They have a sleek user interface, powerful analytics tracking and great email design tools. Their email templates are by far the best that we saw of the 8 major providers, with options that had clearly been professionally designed. All-in-all, a great tool to use that will make you look very professional, even if you have limited design skills.
MailChimp is what many in the industry consider to be the best and we understand why. It’s solid in almost every facet of email marketing with deep analytics and a beautiful final product. It also has third-party integrations with just about everything. It should absolutely be in the running to be your e-mail service provider.
As said before, not all email providers are created equal. We think that for your business, you’re best to use MailChimp, Emma or ConstantContact. Hopefully, this article will help you narrow down the options, as testing out eight email providers isn’t much fun – I know from experience. If there are any that you think should be noted as good or bad, mention them in the comments below!
Just in case you do want to explore more options for yourself, here’s a full list of email providers. There are hundreds to choose from.
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