How To Find the Best Email Marketing Service

Best email marketing service

Email marketing is a bustling industry with hundreds of services to choose from. So marketers are constantly looking for the best email marketing service for their objectives.

In this article, we want to tell you about email service providers in general, what features they have in common, what can differ, and give you an overview of some of the popular ESPs. For it to be honest, we based the descriptions on reviews made by email marketers.

Why use special tools for email marketing

Email marketing services are providers that help you create, target, and deliver messages to your audience. These messages can be of different types: newsletters, promotional and lead-nurturing emails, transactional emails, etc.

Can you do the same on your own? Sometimes, business people wonder whether their in-house developers can build a mailing system from scratch or even whether they can send campaigns from their Gmail accounts. Technically, yes. We have an article with instructions on how to send mass emails in Gmail and Outlook. And your developer can create a piece of software for sending emails to a list of contacts. So it looks like it’s enough.

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You can try sending emails manually from a free service, but:

  • You won’t know who opened them or clicked links and who didn’t.
  • Your messages will look either extremely minimalistic or strange.
  • You’ll be having a hard time reaching everyone, if at all. Your emails will most likely end up in spam folders and you won’t know it either.
  • You will have to somehow manage unsubscriptions yourself (mostly by receiving angry feedback).
  • You can make mistakes like flashing your whole list to everyone in it.

As for the idea of creating a mailing system with the help of a developer, then this option is not free even if you have someone on board — developer salaries are high. Plus, it will be difficult to create a beautiful email template with product cards, banners, and buttons from zero so you’ll have to have someone for this too.

Meanwhile, email marketing services provide:

  • Ease of use — ESPs spend years improving their products’ usability and you can feel it.
  • Cost-effectiveness — email marketing itself has a very cost-effective ROI of $36 and other benefits. But only when done professionally.
  • Much better deliverability — email marketing services are designed for mass mailings.
  • Detailed analytics — you’ll be able to track opens, clicks, unsubscribers, and other metrics to fine-tune your email strategy.
  • Flexibility — it’s easy to switch to another email service provider. You won’t lose any contacts or other valuable data.

In other words, you need a whole group of specialists, whereas email marketing services let you have it all in one place.

Let’s look in more detail at what features they are likely to have in common.

Features of email marketing services that everybody has

Business tasks are different but there’s something you cannot live without if you use an email marketing service. Below is the list of indispensables — check whether the platform of your choice has it all.

Easy email creation (with templates!)

You don’t need to know HTML and recruit a layout designer to design an email if you use an email marketing service. ESPs have block editors (email builders) — tools that let you simply drag and drop the necessary blocks onto an email template for further editing. You build your message piece by piece, like this:

Unisender’s block editor
Unisender’s block editor

Block editors are very useful for both small and large businesses. Small businesses rarely have specialists whose sole job is to create emails. Large companies benefit from them too: even if they send a lot of emails, it’s much easier to create simple templates in a block editor with the help of one person and outsource the complex designs.

What matters: when choosing an ESP, sign up for a free account and check how convenient their block editor is and what its capabilities are. Email builders are similar in nature but can vary in functions.

Make sure that it supports responsive layouts for subscribers who like to browse their mail on smartphones and whether an ESP has ready-made templates that you can use right in the editor.

Bulk emails

Free email services like Gmail and Yahoo are not designed for bulk emails. They are nothing like ESPs in terms of deliverability speed, volume, and sender reputation (on which, by the way, it largely depends whether a message will end up in spam).

Email marketing services have everything: volumes, speed, reputation, analytics, the ability to send emails at a specified time and set up automatic email chains, and use merge tags to personalize emails. Add to that support that tries to make sure that everything is in order with your bulk mailing.

What matters: when sending mass mailings, especially to a base of hundreds of addresses, the speed is important — the number of emails that a service is able to send in an hour. It varies for different services: some are able to send 30 thousand emails per hour, others — 10 million or more. The weight of an email also matters — it’ll take an equal amount of time to send a lot of light messages and a few heavy ones.

However, it’s difficult to estimate the delivery rate using free plans, since they are often limited. To find out this information, contact the support and they’ll tell you how many of your messages a service is able to send.

Easy management of contact lists

In any email service, you can import a list of email addresses from a file or add contacts manually. If a file contains certain types of information like names or birth dates, it will be added to the table automatically under the corresponding columns:

This is how it works in a Unisender account but it’s similar with other ESPs
This is how it works in a Unisender account but it’s similar with other ESPs

Also with the help of email services, you can create built-in and pop-up subscription forms to collect emails with double opt-in functionality — a type of subscription, which implies extra confirmation.

In addition to collecting and importing, email lists need constant care removing abandoned addresses and spam traps, monitoring user activity, and conducting re-engagement campaigns. All this is much easier to do with the help of built-in email service tools.

What matters: don’t try to use purchased lists or contacts collected from open sources without the consent of their owners. Mailing to such addresses is not only ineffective but illegal — most likely, you will not even be able to go through with it. Email services take good care of their IPs and will block any mailing to a suspicious list.

Automation

Email marketing automation is a process when the sending of an email or chain of emails is triggered by some user action. A marketer sets it up once and then a robot does everything for them. It saves a lot of time and effort and increases efficiency.

One of the most simple and popular examples of automation in email marketing is welcome emails:

Email-Competitors

There are also confirmation emails, abandoned cart emails, recommendations, transactional emails like payment and delivery notifications. More complex examples include auto sales funnels that guide clients from the moment they visit a website to purchasing.

What matters: it’s great when an ESP lets you set up various triggers (by clicking on a link, by day of the week, by date), check the analytics of each individual email and the entire chain as a whole, change custom fields, etc.

Segmentation

Segmentation is one of the most used features in email marketing, so it’s a must. By using segmentation, you can select a specific audience from your contact list and send them a targeted message.

All mailing services have a basic set of contact fields:

  • Email
  • Phone number
  • Name
  • City.

In addition to the main fields, you can create your own fields for storing data, like gender:

campaign by Adidas
An example of a targeted campaign by Adidas: girls got Rita Ora, boys got Pharrell Williams.

There are also more complex segmentation parameters, for example, RFM analysis. It is an approach that combines the recency of purchases, their frequency, and the average check.

Tracking the performance

Marketing without analytics is like a lottery with random luck. With the help of analytics, you can compare the effectiveness of your delivered campaigns, determine the most successful days and periods for launching the next ones.

By default, in all mailing services, you can see:

  • The number of emails sent and delivered.
  • How many emails were opened.
  • How many subscribers went to the website from emails.
  • The number of spam complaints and unsubscriptions.

Merge tags

Merge tags are special variables in parentheses in email subject lines or bodies that get replaced with certain information. The simplest and most popular type of merge tags are substituting the {name} tag with a person’s name:

Marge tags

Marge tags can also be for cities, dates of birth, phone numbers, promo code numbers, links, and more. You can use both system email merge tags that an ESP already has available or create the ones of your own.

Unsubscribe management

All mailing services automatically add an unsubscribe link to emails, which can unsubscribe a user in one click. Without this link, emails will end up in spam and you’ll have a lot of spam complaints.

Features of email marketing services that can vary

Now let’s take a look at the features that may differ. Where comparisons are possible, we will take Unisender, GetResponse, MailerLite, ActiveCampaign, and MailChimp.

Deliverability

Deliverability measures the number of emails that get in the inbox instead of spam folders and unknown locations. It’s a complex metric that relies on many indicators. It depends on the marketer more than on a service they chose. All popular mailing services monitor the overall deliverability and the factors that depend on them. The rest of the responsibility lies on the marketer, i.e. what, how, and to whom they send. Although there are studies that say that deliverability varies from service to service.

To be less dependent on the mailing service, we advise you to:

Convenience and clarity of the interface

In most reviews about email marketing tools, you can find references to how “clear” or “confusing” they are. Sometimes it happens that some service is universally considered clear, while another is more complex.

The thing is, the interface convenience is a purely subjective factor. Plus, it depends on the experience of the particular marketer. A beginner will find any service complicated while an experienced marketer will figure it out much faster.

Want to find out whose interface is clearer? Sign up for a few and try it yourself.

Ease of registration

In fact, this parameter can also play a role in choosing the best email marketing software. Let’s compare and arrange services from the one with the simplest registration to more complex ones.

Service What they ask to indicate during registration
Unisender — Email and its confirmation
— Password
GetResponse — Email and its confirmation
— Password
— Last name
— Address
— ZIP/Postal code
— City
— State/province/region
— Phone number and its confirmation
ActiveCampaign — Email and its confirmation
— Password
— Name
— Company contacts
— Number of employees
— Industry
— Phone number
MailerLite* — Email and its confirmation
— Password
— First name
— Last name
— Organization address
— City
— Country
— Industry
— Number of employees
— Type of email content
— Past and current experience with other ESPs.
MailChimp — Captcha to prove you’re a human
— Email and its confirmation
— Login
— Password
— Business name
— Company name
— Address (country, city, postal code)
— Availability of an email list and its size
— Business questionnaire (several questions).

* MailerLite’s managers manually confirm every user before they could start mailing. They say that all the information from the organization address and further on is not required in all cases but users are advised to fill in the form to get the confirmation done quicker.

Ease of learning

Email marketing is constantly evolving with trends and possibilities, laws, and requirements. To become a specialist, a marketer needs to be in the know. Here’s where ESPs’ knowledge bases, video tutorials, and blog articles come in handy.

All services that we took as an example have knowledge bases with instructions on how to use their products and blogs with articles on email marketing best practices. Although they are alike, they vary in extensity, details, and structure. Some feature forums, others — video instructions, and even separate courses on email marketing in general or the usage of a particular email marketing software.

Support

The speed and quality of support responses are some of the main criteria for choosing a service, especially in the case of novice specialists. It’s vital for them to quickly find answers and understand the functionality of their new ESP.

What support can help you with:

  • Capabilities of the service
  • Emails got into spam
  • Campaigns were rejected
  • There’s a bug
  • You need to add more functions.

Good support:

  • Is available 24/7.
  • Happens in different channels: chat, email, phone.
Plan/option Unisender MailChimp GetResponse MailerLite ActiveCampaign
Free plans ✓24/7 support via chat, email, or phone ✓AI help bot and email support, available during office hours ✓24/7 support via chat or email ✓24/7 support via email ✓Monday – Thursday from 8 am – 11 pm and
Friday from 8 am – 6 pm CST via email, chat, or phone**
Paid plans ✓24/7 support via chat, email, or phone ✓AI help bot and email support during office hours
✓Weekday 24-hour chat support.
✓Weekday phone support (9 am – 9 pm ET).
✓24/7 support via chat or email ✓24/7 support via email or chat* ✓Monday – Thursday from 8 am – 11 pm and
Friday from 8 am – 6 pm CST via email, chat, or phone**

*Premium plan only.

**Enterprise plan only.

Availability of a free plan

Free plans are usually needed to find out which service is more convenient to work with. But the conditions are different:

Unisender 100 contacts and 1,500 emails per month, no limitations.
GetResponse 30-day free trial, up to 1,000 contacts, some limitations.
ActiveCampaign 14-day free trial, up to 100 contacts, up to 100 emails, some limitations.
MailerLite Up to 1,000 contacts, up to 12,000 emails per month, some limitations.
MailChimp Up to 2,000 contacts, up to 10,000 emails per month with a daily limit of 2,000, some limitations.

In short: most of the email service providers have free plans except for GetResponse and ActiveCampaign. Free plans are usually limited in terms of features, except for Unisender.

Pricing plans

We recommend using only paid plans for your regular mailings for better conversions.

As your email list grows, you’ll have to switch to the paid plans anyway, plus, some of the functionality is limited. For example, they often skimp on automation and A/B testing features, support is less prompt, and deliverability can be lower if you don’t set authentication.

Pricing plans by the number of subscribers, $/month For one email
0-500 1 000 10 000 50 000 100 000 300 000
Unisender Free or $7 $12 $36 $129 $196 $476 $0,005
GetResponse $15 $15 $65 $250 $450 Custom pricing No plan
ActiveCampaign $7,5 $14,50 $77,50 $172,50 $252,50 Custom pricing No plan
MailerLite Free or $10 $10 $50 $210 $360 $975 No plan
MailChimp Free or $9,99 $20,99 $78,99 $270 $540 Custom pricing $0,032

Availability of ready-made integrations

All email marketing platforms have some integrations available, but the specifics can be different. For example, Unisender has the Facebook Lead Ads integration just as every other ESP on the list. It’s a great way to collect information about potential subscribers right from the Facebook feed. The difference is that Unisender does not use third-party tools like Zapier to integrate with Facebook Lead Ads as other services do. Instead, we provide a direct integration which is better because:

  • It’s quicker.
  • The data is more secure.
  • It’s more reliable and protected from data loss.

We recommend you to simply check whether a service has ready-made integrations with the tools that you are already using, for example, if you work with a specific CRM or CMS.

If your tools or tasks are non-standard, the developers can always create custom integrations with the help of the open API. It’s the technology that lets you integrate any tool into any email marketing platform.

The number of ready-made email templates

Unisender 100
GetResponse 500+
ActiveCampaign 125+
MailerLite 50+
MailChimp 100+

You can also upload your HTML template if you want a custom email and you have the resources for a designer or know how to HTML yourself.

Best rated email marketing services in 2021

Now let’s run through the shortlist of some of the best email marketing tools and see what they are good at and what their clients wish to have.

Unisender

Unisender

While Unisender is new to the US market, it has been a leading email marketing platform in Russia and CIS for over a decade and has managed to gain a fanbase, considerable reputation, and lots of experience in the meantime.

What’s good

➕ In terms of functionality, Unisender has the entire basic set, including a built-in constructor for email templates and subscription forms, and 100+ free templates to explore. It features a convenient block editor, clear even for the first-timers

➕ To make your messages stand out and be the perfect showcase of your products, you can add AMP blocks, timers, stickers, GIFs, free stock images — without leaving the editor.

➕ Unisender’s big selling point is its price. It has all the features of a standard ESP, starting at $7 per month.

➕ If you exceed plan limits, the service doesn’t block your mailings — you simply pay extra for the excess. It’s very convenient when working with companies that have lengthy approvals for invoice payments.

➕ In their reviews, Unisender’s clients often mention the convenience of its interface. They stress its thoughtful design and little details that make life easier like a button that quickly creates a list or re-sends a campaign to subscribers who haven’t read it the first time.

➕ The service has a very fast delivery which is crucial for the niche like online education where invitations to webinars should arrive the minute they are supposed to.

➕ One of Unisender’s stellar features is the support that’s fast and helpful 24/7, ready to explain what and how you can do things. They don’t use scripts but try to understand the essence of the problem and offer several solutions. So even if you didn’t find a specific function, you can get the job done in other, often easier, ways. You can also inform the support that you need something specific and they will forward your proposal to the development team.

➕ There’s also the Knowledge Base that stores the information on the service. Sometimes, clients find it easier to get answers to their questions there.

What to improve

Although many users like a visual constructor for the automatic mailing chain, they note that automation needs some further work.

For example, some of them find trigger mailings analytics insufficient and a bit superficial. They lack detailed work with periods that would be available by default and in-depth analytics for separate emails in a chain.

Other users would like to have a separate page for segmentation to combine and form groups of segmented lists.

What it’s for

Unisender is great for marketers who want to quickly send emails without overpaying for unnecessary bells and whistles and quickly start mailing from scratch.

It’s not designed for e-commerce as some of the other services are, but it works especially well with content newsletters, info business, automatic funnels, and occasional mailings.

Mailchimp

While Unisender is new to the US market, it has been a leading email marketing platform in Russia and CIS for over a decade and has managed to gain a fanbase, considerable reputation, and lots of experience in the meantime. What’s good ➕ In terms of functionality, Unisender has the entire basic set, including a built-in constructor for email templates and subscription forms, and 100+ free templates to explore. It features a convenient block editor, clear even for the first-timers ➕ To make your messages stand out and be the perfect showcase of your products, you can add AMP blocks, timers, stickers, GIFs, free stock images — without leaving the editor. ➕ Unisender’s big selling point is its price. It has all the features of a standard ESP, starting at $7 per month. ➕ If you exceed plan limits, the service doesn’t block your mailings — you simply pay extra for the excess. It’s very convenient when working with companies that have lengthy approvals for invoice payments. ➕ In their reviews, Unisender’s clients often mention the convenience of its interface. They stress its thoughtful design and little details that make life easier like a button that quickly creates a list or re-sends a campaign to subscribers who haven’t read it the first time. ➕ The service has a very fast delivery which is crucial for the niche like online education where invitations to webinars should arrive the minute they are supposed to. ➕ One of Unisender’s stellar features is the support that’s fast and helpful 24/7, ready to explain what and how you can do things. They don’t use scripts but try to understand the essence of the problem and offer several solutions. So even if you didn’t find a specific function, you can get the job done in other, often easier, ways. You can also inform the support that you need something specific and they will forward your proposal to the development team. ➕ There’s also the Knowledge Base that stores the information on the service. Sometimes, clients find it easier to get answers to their questions there. What to improve ➖ Although many users like a visual constructor for the automatic mailing chain, they note that automation needs some further work. ➖ For example, some of them find trigger mailings analytics insufficient and a bit superficial. They lack detailed work with periods that would be available by default and in-depth analytics for separate emails in a chain. ➖ Other users would like to have a separate page for segmentation to combine and form groups of segmented lists. What it’s for Unisender is great for marketers who want to quickly send emails without overpaying for unnecessary bells and whistles and quickly start mailing from scratch. It’s not designed for e-commerce as some of the other services are, but it works especially well with content newsletters, info business, automatic funnels, and occasional mailings. Mailchimp

What’s good

➕ MailChimp has long been the buzzword for email marketing. Clients praise it for its intuitive interface, the variety of free templates and forms that you also customize, quality tutorials, and a number of integrations.

➕ It’s a streamlined, all-in-one platform with simple navigation where it’s easy to create and edit email templates, landing pages and websites, subscriptions forms, and multichannel designs for the branding.

➕ All in all, using MailChimp lands you with email campaigns and other marketing assets that are simply done but look modern and professional.

What to improve

Although MailChimp’s clients note the quality of its support, those of them using the free plan say that it’s not the same for them with support becoming virtually non-existent after the first month.

The free plan also lacks automated emails. It can be a problem if a business owner doesn’t know whether email marketing will work in their case and with their audience, especially with an old list. Some small companies may get disappointed in email marketing in general.

MailChimp is also the most expensive service on the list which is bad for small to medium businesses. So, if you have a ton of subscribers, the price becomes steep very fast.

Clients also wish that MailChimp’s reports were more customizable and easier to understand for non-marketing people.

Their email builder is good but a bit behind in development and lacks certain flexibility.

What it’s for

MailChimp is great for newbies in email marketing and marketers that want to have it all in one place — it’s easy to understand what it’s all about.

GetResponse

GetResponse

What’s good

➕ GetResponse is often compared to a Swiss army knife. In addition to the email marketing platform, they have other features like marketing automation, forms, landing pages, and lead funnels.

➕ It’s easy to set up and get started with an interface that’s more complex than Unisender’s or MailerLite’s but poses no problem for an experienced marketer. There’s the largest selection of email templates, so you can save on the designer.

➕ Many users like the Perfect Timing feature that analyzes user activity and sends emails individually according to time zones and user peak hours to get into those slots when they are most likely to open and click emails. It really increases the open rate.

➕ GetResponse’s analytics is comprehensive and nicely visualized.

➕ They have an advanced automation module in terms of a set of blocks and filters (there’s an “out of the box” abandoned cart feature, for example). The editor allows you to build a visual automated email chain, quickly make adjustments and see how contacts move along it.

➕ GetResponse features powerful dynamic content and APIs, including a set of methods tailored for e-commerce and a separate API for transactional messages.

➕ They have a lot of in-depth training on email marketing, including the courses that you can complete for the certificate.

What to improve

➖ Payment is confusing. They don’t refund their clients even when there’s an error on their end and have an ambiguous payment policy in general that sometimes gets them negative reviews by confused clients.

Their tutorials can be a little invasive at first and customer service is slower for clients based outside of the EU, but it’s offset by their help docs being really good for troubleshooting.

A portion of marketers says that they’ve experienced deliverability issues more than with the majority of other ESPs which is backed by the deliverability survey by EmailToolTester.

Although GetResponse is often praised for its automation features, most of the capabilities are only present in the top-tier pricing plans.

What it’s for

GetResponse is a good fit for marketers looking for a solid, versatile tool with the latest features that’s more than just an email marketing platform.

It’s great for the service sector, EdTech, info business, automatic funnels, and in most cases, e-commerce.

MailerLite

MailerLite

What’s good

➕ “Lite” in their name speaks for itself. Considering that MailerLite is the simplest and easiest MaillerLite is the easiest ESP on the list to work with, it’s great for beginners.

➕ It has the most intuitive and approachable interface with a smooth UI and UX, an enjoyable email builder where you really have to try hard to break something. You can adjust colors, add photos and videos, and brand your email campaigns. Plus a large gallery of all types of content blocks you may need.

➕ Most users also highlight a handy and straightforward interface for running A/B tests.

➕ The service has a very strict anti-spam policy, making sure that your domain is gradually warmed up (they don’t allow you to send to a large database at once).

➕ Markets also like that almost all MailerLite’s features are included in every level of account so you don’t need a huge list to justify upgrading to gain access to premium services.

What to improve

MailerLite’s simplicity has a downside. When your list grows beyond 100k, you might want to use a more robust system to perform more sophisticated actions that the service lacks. For example, their analytics, segmentation, and automation features are too basic for large companies with that level of resources.

Support is prompt and proper but may lack deeper knowledge of the technical aspects and is not as caring as Unisender’s, for example. Plus, the online chat in real-time is only available in paid plans.

What it’s for

MailerLite is designed for small and medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs. There’s nothing superfluous, everything is simple. Marketers have a great experience using it for one-off mailings.

ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign

What’s good

➕  ActiveCampaign focuses on automation so it’s the list’s frontrunner in this respect. They do everything to let you spend no more time on operational tasks than necessary to and spend this time on other marketing issues. You can automate everything and every one by tracking any subscriber action and using the built-in CRM system even if your task requires a complex if/when/then logic. There are ready-to-use automation recipes specific to different industries and businesses. In short, with enough knowledge of the ActiveCampaign’s capabilities, you can program funnels of ANY complexity.

➕ ActiveCampaign’s users are pleased with the clear and multifunctional editor, and with a good UX in general.

➕ It’s easy to integrate with other platforms and tools.

➕ ActiveCampaign is flexible — there are usually several ways to do nearly everything you’d ever want to do with marketing automation, integrations, and email marketing.

What to improve

In contrast to MailerLite, ActiveCampaign is great with all things complex and technical but has a more complicated interface and somewhat confusing UX/UI that takes some getting used to.

It’s a bit slower than the rest of the ESPs, taking more time to do even basic things like loading a campaign or importing a large contact list.

You can approach ActiveCampaign’s support with any idea but there’s no chat even for clients with paid plans. Support is available by mail or by pre-planned calls that you have to request in at least a day’s advance. But in general, there are client managers and technical specialists of various fields who are friendly and helpful.

Some marketers note occasional bugs — for example, segmentation functions becoming limited for some unknown reason.

What it’s for

ActiveCampaign is well-suited for large companies and complex projects that involve a lot of data. Marketers use it for automated and manual mailings that require a lot of segments and separate audiences.

Finding the right thing for YOU

Let’s sum up.

What you should pay attention to when trying to find the best email marketing service for your business goals:

  • Support. How quickly they answer and in what channels, is there a knowledge base, do they have tutorials, how do they treat clients who use free plans?
  • Necessary integrations. How to connect a service to the CRM, CMS, or other tools that you’re already using? Do they have ready-made integration or do you have to do it from scratch?
  • Pricing plans. What’s your budget? Remember that your list will grow and leave a comfortable margin for future expansion.
  • Functionality. Do you need advanced automation? Or extra tools for e-commerce?

Other features, like email editor, basic automation and segmentation, built-in unsubscribe links, and bulk emails are usually present in any ESP, you just have to make sure they are there.

Shout-out to experts that helped to write this article:

  • Mariia Lo — Email Marketer and the Founder of email marketing agency Emailix
  • Yuliana Kalaytanova — Director of Marketing at Bershena Agency (in Russian)
  • Yevhen Fesiuk — Email Marketing Specialist 
  • Experts who left their reviews on G2 and Startpack (in Russian).

What email marketing service do you use?

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