To find the best email marketing services, we started with a pool of more than 90 vendors. These included vendors we found through an online search and some we discovered by interviewing small business owners.
We narrowed down our list by eliminating vendors that don't specialize in email marketing campaigns or that don't work with small businesses. Next, we researched each provider by investigating its services. We considered pricing when available. After narrowing the list down to seven, we contacted each company's customer service department and posed as small business owners.
During testing, we put ourselves in the mindset of small business owners, gathering information we think is important to that audience. We found information by visiting each company's website, making calls to customer service representatives, and trying out free trials or free versions of the software.
We analyzed each service based on the following tools and factors:
- Price: Most email marketing services have a range of prices and packages based on the number of contacts you have.
- Email creation tools: An easy-to-use and responsive email creator is critical. The best email marketing tools also have extensive templates that work on both desktop and mobile devices.
- Contact management: List hygiene is essential to successful email marketing campaigns. If your list has duplicate contacts or contacts who have unsubscribed, it can hurt your deliverability. Your subscribers are the key to successful email marketing campaigns, so it's important to manage those subscribers efficiently.
- Segmentation tools: The most successful and professional email marketing campaigns make your customers feel important. To do this, you need to send only applicable content to each subscriber. With segmentation tools, you can separate your contacts into specific groups to ensure they only receive content that's relevant to them. Creating smaller email lists within your one large email list helps you target groups more effectively. Segmentation is an important email marketing tool.
- A/B split testing tools: These tools let you test different variables in your email and automatically find the best-performing campaign. While most email marketing services offer this for subject lines, the best programs can test success rates based on multiple variables in your emails.
- Analytics and reporting: Once you send an email, you'll want to determine how it's doing. Most services provide a range of data, including how many emails you sent, how many of them landed in inboxes, the bounce rate, who opened your emails, and the number of clicks and opens by location. Click-through rate and open rate are two basic metrics all email marketing services should provide. Those are important metrics to track for businesses.
- Inbox previews: Inbox previews allow you to view how your email will look on different devices and desktops before you send.
- Spam filters: It's vital that your emails go to the right place; they aren't doing any good in a spam folder. Thankfully, the best email marketing services have tools in place to ensure your customers see them.
- Marketing automation tools: With marketing automation tools, you can send the right email to the right person at the right time. You just have to set up conditions, then the tools will take care of the entire customer journey. Considering how busy some small businesses are, finding a service with email marketing automation may be a top priority for some businesses.
- Customer service: The best email marketing services provide support through phone, email and live chat. Our best picks also have vast knowledgebases and videos to help you understand every tool and feature. While customer service isn't an email marketing tool, elite customer service and tutorial videos help your business get up to speed with the service more quickly than other options.
- Ease of use: It's important to have easy-to-use tools, including email creators, templates, contact management and automation features. You should be able to find the tools you need quickly and use them to create the exact campaign you want without having coding or design experience.
When looking for the best email marketing service, it's important to understand what your business needs. Are you looking to send email newsletters or are you looking to send mostly promotional emails? What metrics are the most important for your business to track? Some business value click-through rates, while others might value other metrics.
You may also want to look at lesser-valued features like opt-in forms, which help you legally obtain the email addresses of subscribers. Finding the right email marketing software and services depends largely on your business's needs.
We sent out an email marketing campaign using the platform of each of our best picks. We designed emails with each service's email editor and uploaded contacts that included both Gmail and Outlook addresses. We rated each software program based on the success rate of its delivery and how easy it was to create the email.
We also considered how easy the programs are to use, whether you create an email campaign from scratch, use a template or import a fully designed email. Our testers, who have limited experience with HTML and design software, used each program's tools to create an email within the software.
It's important to choose an online marketing service that has a clean and intuitive interface so it's easy to find the tools you need. A well-designed platform means you won't waste time trying to find the solution or the support you need. You'll also want the service to have an easy-to-use email editor, contact management tools, and drag-and-drop automation tools.
Once we sent the email campaigns through the programs, we compared them to the original email we sent to make sure they appeared as we intended. We also rated services based on where they ended up. Some emails landed in the spam folder or the Promotions tab in Gmail, which we counted against the software. It's critical that businesses have their email campaigns end up in a person's inbox, so we felt that was a necessary test in the evaluation process.