As we all know, newsletters are an important part of any marketing plan. If email marketing were to be ranked on the social media pyramid, it would be tied right up on top with your website or blog. It's that important. So choosing the right service to host your newsletter is no small task. I'd like to start this off by letting you know that this is a decision I thought I'd made three years ago when I signed up for an account at MailChimp.
MailChimp is a popular email marketing service provider that gives you a lot of bells and whistles at no charge. Their free level account covers you for the first 2,000 subscribers and allows you to send out up to 12,000 emails per month. It's hard to imagine any small business who would need more than that. So I did what a lot of people do: I signed up for MailChimp, set up a list and put together my signup forms and planned on upgrading to the free account if and when my subscribers ever jumped up close to the 2,000 mark.
Let me take a moment here to point out that MailChimp's free account is not a bad service, and I am in no way trying to talk anyone out of using that service. You know me…I love free. In fact, most of the services and programs that I recommend are free or, in the very least, offer a free option. In this case, MailChimp's free service just didn't fit my needs, which I will be detailing below.
Spiffy signup forms that are easily customizable.
MailChimp doesn't exactly allow for all that. And the parts that are customizable are hard to get to.
MailChimp's tracking reports were always pretty good. They kept me up-to-date on new subscribers, how those subscribers found me, and even where they signed up from. So all in all I was very happy with their tracking, as this is an important piece to any email marketing campaign.
Deliverability and spam options.
Obviously any email marketing campaign you build only works if you can count on it to get delivered correctly. But I noticed that with MailChimp, my emails were getting auto-sent to the spam folders. Of course, like any good marketer who didn't know what she was doing, I hit the Internet in a search to find out why. Apparently, this was a fairly common occurrence with MailChimp.
And I followed all the advice: no photos, no links, make sure the links only go to my website or my email address (nothing else). I followed all the rules, sending out only valuable content and that my readers had opted in for. Yet my deliverability was still abysmally low.
Then I came across an article about email marketing in which the author noted MailChimp has a higher chance of being marked as spam by email providers (such as Google or Yahoo) than other email marketing service providers. There were different explanations for this. One commenter said that it was because MailChimp included a lot of encoded information in their emails that were more likely to trigger a spam filter. Others said it was because MailChimp has an easy way to add people to your lists without requiring any approval, which places them square on the red flag list.
Me, I'm not sure if any of that is true. But I do know that my deliverability needed to improve if my email marketing was going to get anywhere, and MailChimp did not seem to be handling that need very well.
Email marketing — actually any marketing campaign — requires growth in order to stay viable. That's why you never see anyone say “well, I've actually got enough subscribers to sustain my business now, so I can take down this signup form.” If someone is running a newsletter, you can be sure that they are always looking for more subscribers. That list needs to be able to grow.
In three years, my list on MailChimp barely budged. Now, any number of things could account for that. But a low deliverability rate and bad signup forms that didn't allow for much customization probably didn't help my cause.
Now, according to my link trackers, people were finding the signup form to join, but they weren't confirming their intent to join. Something broke down between “Sign me up” and “confirm my subscription.” And the frustrating part was that I had no way of telling where that breakdown was happening. Were the confirmation emails being sent to spam folders? Were they showing up difficult to read? The only thing I knew was that my list was not growing despite how much time and effort I was putting into it. And as much as I love and push for free stuff, free isn't worth it if it doesn't work for you.
I need an email marketing service that offers autoresponders. MailChimp does offer autoresponders, but only on their paid accounts. So I had to start digging. Unfortunately, as I found out, there is no email marketing service out there that offers autoresponders as part of their free accounts.
Which meant that I would need to start looking at a paid account somewhere, because having an autoresponder was a deal-breaking necessity for me at this point. Not only so I could make my email marketing more effective, but also so I could build my email course, Build your Author Platform. I wasn't very well going to be able to manage and handle sending out an email course to people without some sort of automation.
Maintaining multiple lists or list segmentation.
When I first started developing the email course for Build your Author Platform, one of the first things I knew I wanted to do was to keep that list separate from my main newsletter list. I hate it when I sign up for something specific on a website only to get added to every newsletter being run by that website. So I wanted to make sure that anyone who signed up for the course would not be automatically added to my main newsletter (although, I did include a link inviting them to join my main newsletter at the end of the course). This way, I knew subscribers would be much less likely to mark or report anything as spam.
To use it the way I want to use it.
MailChimp has some very strict rules about what you can or cannot send out using their email service. And that's fine, I have no problem following rules. But where I got nervous was in how some of those rules were written. They seemed a little vague or open-ended. And I needed to make sure that I wasn't accidentally breaking any of them.
I work from home, and I coach other people who work from home. I often help freelance writers find work from home; I can't take the chance that one of my emails in that capacity accidentally be mistaken for abuse or spam. And affiliate marketing? So far I have never included an affiliate link in any of my emails. But I am an affiliate for several companies; does this mean I can't link to my reviews of these companies? Or just that I can't include the affiliate link itself?
I just don't want to take the chance.
Like I said earlier, when I signed up for MailChimp, it was because it was highly recommended as a free service. And my plan was to use this free service until I outgrew it. Well, in the three years that I've been using MailChimp, not only have I not technically outgrown the free plan, but I also haven't become independently wealthy. So budget needs to play a factor in where I sign up.
In the end I signed up with GetResponse.
I only just signed up for GetResponse's free trial last week. And so far the learning curve has been a bit steeper than at MailChimp. But the customer service has really been top-notch, and I love the fact that I don't need to enter a credit card number to start the trial. There are people available via chat, which I love so I'm not searching through endless loops of FAQ pages trying to find the answer to one little thing.
Will GetResponse be my final email marketing solution? I really don't know. I have three more weeks lefts on my free trial, and I plan on taking full advantage of that so I can make a decision before having to pay for anything. But here is how the different services that I compared stacked up for my specific needs. Things I did not necessarily care about but were offered by some of these services include: ease of use, learning curve, ecommerce automation. I did compare others, but anything over the $75 per month mark for 1,000 subscribers was an automatic “no need to look any further” since I didn't have the budget to cover that.
|Use Restrictions||Very Strict||Strict||Not Strict||Not Strict||Strict|
|Monthly Price (1,000)||$15||$70||$49||$29||$15|
|Annual Plans Available (Discounted)||No||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|