Introduction, iContact and Constant Contact
Email marketing gives companies a chance to communicate directly to their customers or stakeholders, but lots of companies don't do it well, or in some cases at all. Alongside social media, email provides an opportunity for organisations to market their products and services to an audience that has already expressed their interest by opting in to communications. As such, it should be one of the first marketing channels added into an organisation's marketing mix.
Sending emails in bulk, however, can't just be done from a work email address. In addition to limits on the number of recipients to which emails can be sent, there is no sender authentication and it's possible that any email will end up in a spam folder.
As well as avoiding these issues, email marketing services provide a number of additional benefits. Emails can be designed with HTML layouts, and they can be personalised and tracked for response analytics. Recipients are also provided with a means of unsubscribing, which is a legal necessity, and the recipient database can be kept clean.
There are a large number of email marketing services available from which to choose. Most offer much of the same functionality, but there are some differences in approach, and different services are better suited to different organisations. Factors such as usability, size of recipient database, price and security might all play a part in an organisation's choice of provider. This article looks at some of the most popular email marketing services, providing an overview of each.
Price: From £10 (around US$16, AU$18) per month
iContact is widely regarded as the best in the business where email marketing services are concerned. Whether or not that's the case, it's certainly one of the best. The firm has been providing email marketing services since 2003 and is aimed primarily at small and medium-sized businesses.
iContact's email marketing platform provides a drag-and-drop email builder that allows users to build HTML emails without requiring any HTML coding knowledge. For those who are au fait with HTML, it's still possible to build emails by code or to import and edit existing templates. iContact also offers a variety of existing templates that users can select if they don't want to go through the process of creating their own design.
In order to ensure emails reach the intended recipients, iContact offers a spam checking service that tells a sender if they need to address any potential issues with their email before sending, and this minimises the chance of emails being caught in an ISP's spam filter. The company has a dedicated team monitoring and working on the delivery of emails from its servers, and the measures taken by the company help to keep it whitelisted amongst ISPs.
In addition to its strong feature set, iContact is reasonably priced, starting at £10 a month for small numbers of email send-outs. Tailored provisions can also be made for organisations with recipient databases of more than 15,000, or those that need advanced features. Discounted prices are offered for non-profit organisations.
Price: From £15 (around US$24, AU$27) per month
Constant Contact was founded in 1995 and today boasts over 600,000 small organisations amongst its clients. Like iContact, it provides users with a means of creating, sending and tracking the responses to bulk emails. Ready-made templates and a drag-and-drop editor make creating emails straightforward and it's also possible to create landing pages for email campaigns.
This year, though, Constant Contact rolled out what it calls its Toolkit, of which its email services are a part. The Toolkit is aimed at providing users with an integrated all-in-one marketing solution. Users are able to manage email campaigns, social media campaigns, plan events, run promotions, collect donations and carry out surveys all from one place. Single campaigns can be coordinated across multiple marketing channels.
The Constant Contact Toolkit starts at £15 a month with more fully loaded plans available. It's possible to have a personal marketing coach to provide guidance on using the Toolkit to greatest effect, and there are discounts for non-profit and pre-pay customers. Constant Contact also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee in case users aren't satisfied with the service.
Benchmark, GetResponse and AWeber Communications
Price: From US$9.95 (around £6, AU$11) per month
Benchmark was set up in 2004 and aims to ensure sender deliverability and reputation. The company says it is "committed to bringing users the most up-to-date marketing trends and methods." Amongst its main features, says Benchmark, are list management, campaign creation, AB split testing and inbox checker tools.
Users can build recipient lists using existing contact data and web forms that can be created using Benchmark. Lists can be updated manually and kept clean by automatically removing email addresses that result in bounce-backs, duplicated addresses and dead email addresses. It's also possible to segment contacts into different targeted lists for different campaigns, using both preset and custom fields.
As with other platforms, Benchmark provides users with a variety of email templates from which to choose, a drag-and-drop email editor and the ability to schedule send-outs for certain dates and times. Images can be hosted on the company's servers and it's also possible to drop videos into emails. An organisation's send-out archive can be stored online for future viewing.
Benchmark's AB split testing tool allows users to send two different variants of an email to different segments of a list to see which will work better. In this way, it's possible to improve the design of emails over time. Variations might be as small as using a different subject line to see what sort of style gets the highest open-rate.
Benchmark's inbox checking tool allows users to see what an email will look like rendered by different email providers and on different devices. It is possible to see how an email will appear to various recipients, and to check for example if there are differences between Gmail and Outlook or laptops and tablets.
Users of Benchmark can benefit from unlimited sending, dedicated IP addresses and a 25% discount for non-profit organisations.
Price: From £12 (around US$19, AU$22) per month
The GetResponse email marketing platform was set up by Implix in 1999. The site now offers a variety of services and has over 350,000 customers. It aims to provide "affordable, feature-rich self-service solutions." Features include a landing page builder, responsive email design and AB split testing functionality.
GetResponse says that landing pages can be put together within just 10 minutes. It offers over 100 templates and provides a drag-and-drop editor. The platform's email builder also provides a selection of templates users can choose from, and the option to edit using a drag-and-drop approach.
The company says that it automatically makes all emails look good regardless of what device or size screen they are being viewed on. Like Benchmark, it's also possible to use AB split testing to see what variations within an email will produce a better response.
Users can import email contacts from a variety of different services, including Gmail, Magento, Salesforce and Highrise. It's also possible to design new subscriber sign-up forms to suit the destination in which they'll be embedded. Inbox previewing allows users to see what their mail-outs will look like as presented by different email providers and on different devices.
Prices start from £12 per month with discounts for annual payments and non-profit organisations. Special provisions can be made for enterprise and/or high volume senders.
Price: From US$19 (around £12, AU$22) per month
AWeber was established in 1998 and operates with six core values: to create remarkable experiences, to execute with passion, to foster respect and cooperation, to invite feedback and listen to what people say, to learn, educate and innovate, and to not take themselves too seriously.
In addition to boasting many of the same features offered by other email marketing providers, it also offers some more unique features. Users can input an RSS from their website or blog for new articles to be sent out to subscribers as emails, and online versions of emails can be shared automatically with social media followers.