Any small business that isn’t doing some form of email marketing is missing an essential opportunity to deliver their message directly into the inbox of ready and willing customers. Email is still a great way to engage an audience and still provides the best return on investment (ROI) when compared to other online marketing channels.
Getting started with email marketing is easy, but finding the right tool may take a little time
depending on your needs. At Panoptic, we use MailChimp (and recommend it to most of our clients) for a number of reasons:
- MailChimp is free for smaller/start-up companies with a limited list of contacts. Our list is under the 2,000 limit and we only send emails quarterly at the moment so we are easily within the 12,000/month cap on the Forever Free account.
- There are a wide variety of pre-designed templates to satisfy the needs of organizations in most every industry. If you are talented with HTML you can further customize the templates to suit your needs — or even build your own. There’s a bit of a learning curve for non-technical user; the small business owner or marketing assistant will likely need to spend a little time understanding how to style content to achieved a polished, professional look. MailChimp offers quick tutorial videos on almost every feature and function, so it’s easy to learn what you need to know as you go.
- It comes with all the features you need to create segments (so you can send relevant emails to targeted contacts within your list), generate sign-up forms that you can use on your website, and great reports so you can gauge the response and effectiveness of your campaigns. You can also connect MailChimp campaign data in your Google Analytics, so gain further insights into how your email campaigns and performing against your other online marketing initiatives.
Another popular email tool is Constant Contact. Like MailChimp, Constant Contact offers plenty of templates to work with and a fairly intuitive interface for non-technical users — it may even be a bit easier/friendlier in terms of creating a customized look and feel for your email campaigns. Feature-wise, you’ll find mostly the same
stuff that you do in MailChimp, but there are a number of reasons we don’t like it and don’t always find it suitable for our clients.
- Constant Contact offers a 60-day free trial, but after that plans start at $20 for up to 500 contacts which is already more expensive than the Forever Free MailChimp. We also found that they nickel-and-dime customers for additional features, for instance, if you want the ability to store more than five images in your media library you have to pay an additional monthly charge. By the time you’ve grown your list to 2,000 you’re already spending $40+/mo. but maybe that’s the incentive you need to ensure you get your marketing message out every month.
- A deal breaker for most email marketers: no A/B split testing. There is no way to easily create split tests to determine, for example, which subject lines or headlines work best by sending different versions of your campaign to a randomly selected portion of your list. Another missing (though less vital) feature is the ability to set up RSS campaigns. Many business bloggers appreciate being able to automatically trigger emails when a new post is published – or send a digest with all the new posts at the end of the week.
MailChimp and Constant Contact are just two of the many email marketing tools we’ve had a chance to use on behalf of our clients. Other popular choices are Emma, AWeber, iContact and Vertical Response.
There are lots of reviews online for each of these platforms, and most of them offer a free-trial period so that you have a chance to determine whether the tool is the best fit for your needs. Avoid disappointment and plan on doing some testing before going through the trouble of uploading your lists and finalizing your design.
Some basic things you may want to consider:
- How easy it is to import contacts?
- Are there pre-designed templates that work for your industry/audience?
- Can the templates be easily modified if you need further customizations?
- Are you able to easily create sign-up forms for your website?
Once you’ve determined that a tool will do everything you want/need it to do, then you can drill down into other important factors before making a decision:
- Does the pricing fit your budget (allowing for growth of your list)?
- Do they have good support?
Whichever tool you settle on, make sure you follow best practice guidelines for emailing your customers.