You know you need to build your email list. You know you need to put it somewhere. But, where?
When you're looking at the usual solutions that bloggers like to talk about, you come up with 3 big ones. They are:
- Mailchimp. Mainly because of the free level of account.
- Aweber. Mainly because it's been around for awhile.
- ConvertKit. Mainly because it is the new(ish) kid on the block and it's pretty cool.
Yes, there are others. We can look more in-depth at them some other time. I can't pack them all into one post. 🙂 But, I have found that these 3 are most commonly looked at by a majority of my audience.
I thought it was important that I address this head on in order to provide my official recommendation. And if you've been a reader of mine for awhile, you may be surprised to know that my official recommendation has changed.
Which email list host should you go with? Let's find out...
Table Of Contents
My Requirements For Recommending An Email Service To You
Before we dive into these email list platforms, I want to make clear what is important to me in such a service. If am I going to recommend an email service to my students and readers, it needs to fit certain criteria.
First, there's the basics. Things like good email deliverability, a nice interface, etc. However, it is very important to me is that the platform can be used to build the kind of blog monetization model that I teach.
I call the business side of this the blog business machine. It is, essentially, a series of sales funnels. The primary driver of people through the business machine is EMAIL.
You will need to be able to move people in and out of difference automated email sequences. In the Email Marketing Engine, I spell out some of them:
- Front-end sales sequence
- Ascension sequences
- Re-engagement sequences
- Onboarding sequences
- Relationship sequences
Most of these email sequences are automated. You move people in and out of them automatically via a series of rules that you set up.
For that, we need certain core capabilities:
- We need the ability to do subscriber TAGGING and break our subscriber list into multiple segments. Ideally, we will NOT have to have multiple email lists, but instead have ONE list where we can make use of custom fields and tagging to segment our list.
- We need the ability to automatically trigger email campaigns based on actions such as adding a tag, making a purchase, etc. In other words, automation rules.
- Be able to set up basic automations that can do multiple things at the same time. For instance, a person makes a purchase and we can tag them, email them, and update a custom field all at the same time.
We do not want to be stuck with old-school, "one size fits all" autoresponder campaigns. The old way is to send everybody on the list the same emails based on nothing more than their date of subscription.
Instead, we want real marketing automation that allows us to truly deliver a customized experience to every subscriber based on what we know about them.
This is what is required for solid, effective email marketing today.
This is how businesses are built today.
This is a higher level of requirement than simple newsletters. Today, you don't build real online businesses based on nothing but a simple newsletter broadcast. Sure, it is better than nothing. But, in the end, you want a platform that can do those basic things well, but is powerful enough to grow with you as you build your blog business machine.
So, let's look at these platforms to see how they stack up...
MailChimp: Meh. But, That Free Account Though!
I'll be honest: I'm not a big fan of Mailchimp. We'll just get that out of the way early here.
Here's why a lot of bloggers like it:
It's all about that free account level. And a lot of people head on over there because they want workable email list hosting without paying anything. And, yes, it works. If all you want to do is send out basic newsletter-style emails and your list stays under 2,000 people, Mailchimp's free account will work.
Keep in mind, the free account also limits you to 10,000 sends. That means, if you max it out at 2,000 subscribers, you can only email them 5 times in a month. If you have a smaller list of, say, 500 people, you could email them 20 times. You get the idea.
I personally find the interface of Mailchimp to be cluttery. The simple act of creating an email to send to the list just takes more clicks and choices than I am used to.
It also concerns me that Mailchimp seems to be losing sight of it's core mission (or, at least, the mission I thought they had). Mailchimp seems to be moving beyond being an email host, but moving into managing social media ads, building websites, even sending postcards.
Clearly, Mailchimp is trying to be much more than just a solid email provider. My experience has usually been that when one company tries to be the "all in one" solution, they usually don't do any of it very well.
But, let's look at my core criteria here and see how Mailchimp might work out...
Will it send out email broadcast newsletters? Yes, of course. It does so very well. Again, I'm not a big fan of their interface for writing emails, but it works.
Can it segment our list based on tagging and custom fields? Yes, but custom fields seem weird. Tagging is very easy to do with Mailchimp. However, custom fields requires that you add it on a signup form and the data needs to be sent into the person's profile via a signup form. I like being able to add custom fields to subscribers just for internal tracking purposes. I should not need to add it to a signup form to get that field.
Can you trigger email campaigns based on actions? Yes, but not on the free account. You would need to, at minimum, have their standard plan which starts at $14.99/month. Even then, the automation capability is pretty limited.
Can you run multiple automation rules based on a triggered action? It does not appear so. Mailchimp is not a real marketing automation platform.
I decided not to go into a lot of detail with Mailchimp. In the end, I quickly concluded that Mailchimp is not a professional email list host and will not fit our needs. In order to get some of the better automation functions, you would need to get a bit nerdy with their API. The automation abilities are lightweight and simplistic. The interface is cluttered up with stuff most people don't need.
My Final Verdict On Mailchimp
The only way I could recommend Mailchimp to anybody is if you are first starting out and cost is a paramount concern. If you're trying to stay "free", then at least you'll be set up on a legit email provider and that's important. But, don't expect to be able to do much in terms of real sales funnels with Mailchimp. As you grow your business, you will quickly need to move on from Mailchimp. Mailchimp is best for regular newsletters.
Aweber: They've Been Around Forever. Does It Stack Up Today?
Aweber has been around ever since I realized the importance of an email list. That's easy to see because Aweber was founded in 1998 - the same year I got started online. Back when I was running my tech blog and finally realized I needed an email list, where did I go? Aweber.
So, me and Aweber go way, WAY back. I no longer use their platform, but I've long recommended Aweber as a tried and true email service that you can't go wrong with.
But, how does it stack up today?
Even though Aweber is one of the oldest email providers, has it developed with the times?
In order to find out, I went and signed myself up for a brand new 30-day trial with Aweber.
The first thing I noticed was that Aweber is still in the days of multiple email lists - just like I remember. Today, I feel as if we shouldn't have to think about multiple email lists and instead we simply segment people.
Aweber has included subscriber tagging and that's great to see!
Aweber has developed to a point where you can build an automated business machine with it - like I teach with the Blog Monetization Model.
In the old days of Aweber, the only option to send different lead magnets and different email campaigns was to use multiple lists. You would then need to use the List Automation Rules to move people in and out of different lists. This was messy. It led to people being on multiple email lists at the same time. This capability still exists:
With the new Aweber, you can set up automated email campaigns and move people in and out of them using TAGS. This means you can use ONE list, but send different campaigns based on tags being applied. If you want to send a new email sequence for a new lead magnet, you just set up a campaign and trigger it with a new tag. You no longer need to set up a whole new email list for it like we did in the past. That's great!
I also really like how Aweber handles custom fields. I am not forced to add it to a signup form. I can simply create custom fields within the account - and even control whether the subscriber has the ability to modify the field or not.
Aweber has definitely added capabilities that enable this platform to be able to power a full business machine. For instance:
- You can now trigger different campaigns based on a tag being added. As said before, this means you can have subscribers on different campaigns without having to add them to different lists.
- Campaigns can now send emails and apply tags. This allows you to trigger other campaigns at different points without another campaign.
- You can easily apply tags within a campaign based on whether a person opens or clicks on a particular message within a campaign (thereby running other automations based on activity)
- You can automatically remove a person from a campaign if they open or click on a message.
In short, Aweber is now powerful enough to power a fully automated sales funnel. This is great to see.
In terms of crafting email, the interface is simple enough. You can use the drag-and-drop editor to create formatted emails. A lot of people send simple HTML emails that look like a text email and that's easy to do, too. Overall, I think the Aweber interface is superior to Mailchimp in a number of ways.
Aweber also seems to have developed the ability to build landing pages within their own platform since I last used it. This is cool to see, however I vastly prefer and recommend something like Thrive Architect instead.
So, will Aweber fit the bill? Does it continue to stack up and enable people to build truly automated sales funnels that react differently depending on a person's interest?
Yes, it does. And if you are using Aweber for your email list, rest assured you're in a great place.
My Final Verdict On Aweber
I have been recommending Aweber pretty much since the beginning. I was quite happy to see that they've developed the platform into something that can indeed power the kind of automated email marketing that we need in our online businesses. While it is not yet a full-featured marketing automation platform, it will fit the bill and remains a solid option.
But, there was one more solution that I wanted to look at in this post. And that is...
ConvertKit. Is This, Perhaps, The Best Solution Now?
ConvertKit is a much newer platform and it was built specifically for the kinds of people that I typically serve here at the Blog Marketing Academy. Namely, bloggers and content creators.
It was founded by Nathan Barry - a long time blogger. And the tool has developed incredibly well over the few years it has been around.
Like Mailchimp, ConvertKit now has a free level of account. As you would expect, it is limited. You can manage up to 500 subscribers. The free account does not come with any automation capability (just like Mailchimp), but it gets you in the door and gets you started. You can also extend the size of your free account via referrals to ConvertKit, similar to the Dropbox growth model.
With the free account, you can create landing pages and you can manage your subscribers. You cannot set up any kind of automation or email sequences without upgrading to a paid account.
With the upgraded account, one thing quickly became clear:
ConvertKit has developed into a marketing automation platform in a number of ways. Including a fully visual automation designer.
This is really quite impressive. In fact, the capability of ConvertKit is more like what I use in Drip.
All automations have several available triggers, including filling out a signup form, getting a tag added, having a custom field set, or purchasing something.
Automations include the option of conditions, meaning you can take different actions within one automation based on whether a subscriber has a certain tag or a certain custom field value.
Automations include EVENTS, where you can jump a person ahead to another point in an automation sequence based on certain triggers.
The ConvertKit plugin for WordPress actually does a great job of managing ConvertKit optin forms across your blog. You can also TAG people in ConvertKit based on the pages they visit on your site. This is seriously powerful.
I am impressed. I mean, I was happy to see that Aweber has grown with the times and you could now power a real funnel with it, but ConvertKit clearly has more capability.
ConvertKit also has rules. Rules are simple automations that don't necessarily have multiple steps like an automation. It is not graphical like an automation. It is a simple trigger>action model. This is very similar to what I have with Drip.
Some other notable features include:
- The ability to create email templates which you can reuse easily and maintain consistent branding in your emails
- Content snippets, where you can set reusable blocks of content through your emails.
- When you're viewing your automations, you can get a nice overview of them graphically rather than a simple list.
- You can auto-send emails based on your blog RSS feed.
- The interface for each subscriber so you can view/manage their profile is much cleaner and easier than Aweber.
Simply put, I am majorly impressed by ConvertKit. So much so that....
I am now making ConvertKit my official recommendation for email marketing for the Blog Marketing Academy. This is now my go-to recommendation for all my readers and students.
ConvertKit is clearly the superior platform. Not only that, it puts some of the coolest capabilities of a full-featured marketing automation platform like Drip or ActiveCampaign into an affordable and simple system accessible to bloggers on a budget.
My Final Verdict On ConvertKit
I am majorly impressed with this platform. What started as an interesting startup to provide email to bloggers and content creators has really developed into a real marketing automation platform that has capabilities that put it into contention with some of the "big boys". No doubt, you could fully develop your entire online business on this platform. I highly recommend it.
How Does ConvertKit Compare With Full-Blown Marketing Automation Tools?
A lot of email list hosts say they offer marketing automation, but don't. Not what I would call real automation.
A real marketing automation tool differs from a regular email marketing tool in a few different ways. These tools are meant to be able to automate more segments of an overall marketing plan.
- In an automation, you can do a number of additional things such as add/remove from a Facebook custom audience, ping third-party systems for better integration with a full marketing stack, send notification emails to team members, etc.
- Act as a full CRM, allowing you to have full histories on all subscribers
- Ability to integrate with your website so you can trigger actions based on site activity
- Lead scoring
When I think of marketing automation platforms, I think of tools such as Drip (which I use), ActiveCampaign, Infusionsoft (now part of Keap), Ontraport, etc.
Most of the time, bloggers don't use such tools because, frankly, they cost more. They are tools that the "big guys" use, or so it has been.
I think ConvertKit has done a great job of closing the gap between tools that are aimed at bloggers... yet having some of the marketing automation tools of the big guys. I mean, the visual automation builder in ConvertKit works a lot like the Workflow editor I have inside of Drip. Sure, it doesn't have as many bells and whistles, but it has plenty and I was really surprised with how much power ConvertKit really has.
ConvertKit is also very competitive when it comes to price. Let's take a decent size list of 10,000 people and see what that will cost on the leading marketing automation platforms:
- With ActiveCampaign, that will cost $139/month for the Lite account. More if you want some of the cooler features.
- With Drip, $184/month.
- With Infusionsoft, well... no idea. Infusionsoft has never been really keen on upfront pricing, and I have no desire to sign up for a demo to get pitched by them.
- With Ontraport, $297/month. Although, keep in mind that Ontraport does way more than email.
With ConvertKit, you can do this for $99/month.
Now, Aweber can do 10,000 for $69/month, but that's the upper limit. Add one single more subscriber and you just bumped up to $149. ConvertKit pricing rises much more gracefully.
And, well Mailchimp? Well, their Essentials plan will run about $75/month for 10K subscribers. $99/month for Standard (which you will need for any kind of automation). But, again, Mailchimp is a child's toy compared to ConvertKit, if you ask me. I guess they're just aimed at different target markets.
The Final Word
OK, so here are my final thoughts on this...
When I teach my students to build their list, I'm talking much more strategically than just throwing everybody on the same list and sending them newsletters.
No, standard email broadcasts are only one portion of how an online business works. Your revenue is going to be generated by one or more sales funnels that work together. I call this the business machine. And, that machine requires automated email marketing to move it along.
No longer can we just do "email blasts" to our whole list, saying the same thing to everybody. That strategy is old. And the open rates are down.
Today, you need to use segmentation and personalization. You need an email system that is reactive to what your subscriber does and what you know about them. You need to be able to add/remove tags, move people in and out of email sequences, and take on a nice degree of flexibility.
Of the the top tools looked at in this post (chosen because they are among the most popular for bloggers), my thought are these:
- Forget Mailchimp. Sure, their free account level is nice, but Mailchimp is not a platform suited to the kind of email marketing I teach. I don't recommend it. If you're first starting out and just need something, then sure. But, plan on switching later.
- Aweber is a great tool. I used them for YEARS, and I'm happy to see that they've adapted to the times and you can, indeed, build the kind of funnels I teach with Aweber. I like Aweber. I really do. But...
- ConvertKit is the best of the lot. This tool is tailor-made to content marketers and it has marketing automation ability that competes well with more robust tools.
For this reason, I am now officially recommending ConvertKit as my email platform of choice. I think it is the best platform on which to build a fully formed online business, unless you truly feel you need the more robust automation/CRM abilities of a more expensive platform.
ConvertKit is very well supported. Most every tool I've seen integrates with it. Their pricing is very favorable. And it even now starts with a free level of account so you can get started with basic capabilities and begin building your list. And when you're ready to ramp up, upgrade your account and you won't have to move anything.
If you're already on another tool and you're happy with it, by all means... stay there. You do you. 🙂
But, if you're on the market for a solid tool for your email marketing and are wondering what my top recommendation is for you, that tool is... ConvertKit.