Email marketing is a popular and effective way to reach your customers and has been around as a mainstream communication method since 1978, when the first mass email was sent. Email marketing allows businesses to send professional-looking messages with little to no design expertise and create custom, automated email journeys and segmented customer lists.
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Through the use of an email marketing service, you can get in touch directly with your target and existing customer bases to send promotional and informational messages, newsletters, event invitations or coupons and discounts. Since different services will offer different combinations of features at varying price points, it can be difficult to find the right service for your business.
To help you find the right solution for your needs, we researched and evaluated dozens of email marketing services. In this guide, we provide our best picks, describe the important features you should look for in an email marketing service, answer common questions, and talk about regulations you should be aware of when sending out marketing emails.
What to Expect in 2020
Consumer expectations, technological capabilities, and demand for instantaneous feedback have all steadily increased across many industries over the last few decades, and email marketing is no exception. Despite predictions that email marketing will become obsolete, it's still widely used and will remain so through 2020.
While it's true that text message marketing has grown, email remains used on an everyday basis for the vast majority of consumers, which means daily opportunities for businesses to connect with their customers.
Email marketing will become more technologically advanced in 2020, adopting and integrating more use of artificial intelligence (AI) into its capabilities. AI's primary function in email marketing will be to gather and analyze data in order to deliver better and more targeted experiences to customers, like specific subject lines or personalized email bodies. AI will also make emails more interactive by allowing customers to purchase products directly from the email, streamlining the purchase journey.
Additionally, we anticipate email marketing will become more personal as companies get more adept at obtaining and using personal data. Marketers will be able to pinpoint their customers' locations from wearable and mobile devices more accurately. They will then use that data to send targeted emails and personalized automated emails based on behavior, location and other personal information, and automatically reformat emails depending on what kind of device the recipient is reading the email on, like a smartwatch or tablet.
Integration with smart devices like Alexa, Google Home, Cortana and Siri is also expected. Consumers are now comfortable talking to smart devices and having them talk back, so they should soon be able to have their emails read to them in addition to things like hearing the news or setting reminders.
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.
Social Media Integration with Email Marketing
While social media is an important part of marketing strategies, email marketing remains a vital method to reach your audience. When you use email marketing services, you can post sign-up forms on your social media platforms to grow your contact list. You can also schedule posts on your social media platforms and track your followers' engagement to determine what's popular.
Your efforts on social media may work one day but not the next for various reasons, such as changes to the site's algorithm. However, once a customer subscribes to your newsletter or emails, you're likely to have a long-term reader. Even if subscribers don't read your email, they'll probably see the subject line, which keeps your business's name fresh in their minds. By integrating social media with email, you can make the most of multichannel marketing campaigns.
Survey Software: Important Considerations
Like email marketing software, your survey software needs to be easy to use for both you and your respondents. If you're just looking at ease, you'll find many survey-creation sites that will fit the bill, but there are other factors you should consider.
Design: Most survey software allows you to arrange your questions and tweak the layout. However, the best survey platforms offer additional tools to make your surveys visually appealing and are designed to promote your brand. Our best pick, SurveyGizmo, offers customizable templates in all its paid plans and individual URLs in the higher-priced plans.
Extra analytics: While most services offer analytic tools, some service provide more amped-up analytical tools. Evaluating which extra analytical tools are best depends largely on your business's email marketing strategy and survey strategy. Some email stats will be important measures for certain businesses, while other companies will have another set of metrics to judge success.
Question types: The best survey programs have a long list of question types for you to use, from basic to advanced formats. SurveyGizmo has extensive question types, including dropdown menus and slider values.
Publishing options: Great survey software provides multiple ways to promote and publish a survey, such as embedding it on your website, sharing the link via social media or emailing it to your contacts.
What Are the Most Important Features for Survey Software?
Prices for survey software ranges from $20 to $50 a month, but most services have a free plan or trial version. The key to a successful survey maker is how easy it is to create surveys and for customers to take it. How easy it is to take the survey on a mobile device is also important.
Most companies offer tutorials and support for their services. Using the trial version of each program, we evaluated layouts and looked for things that would make the platform user-friendly. For example, are the icons easily identifiable? Is it apparent where to go to begin to build a survey and distribute surveys to users? How easy is it to create or change a survey? We found that the best survey builders allow you to quickly edit questions and rearrange the order of your survey without many additional steps.
Some other features we considered were available add-ons, question types, custom branding tools, data reports, email campaigns, integrations, publishing options, project types, security and survey logic.
Pricing and Cost of Email Marketing Services
While pricing varies by provider, the cost structure is usually the same. Most email marketing providers charge a monthly fee based on contact list size, with a range of packages and plans. With this structure, most providers allow you to send out an unlimited number of emails each month and have enough different plans to fit into the budget of any business.
Monthly costs usually start around $10 per month for 500 contacts, reaching up to $4,000 per month for 1 million contacts. While some email marketing services provide all features to all their users, others offer additional features to those with more contacts.
The most flexible email marketing services offer per-email or pay-as-you-go pricing. While pricing based on your number of contacts is ideal for businesses that regularly send emails, per-email pricing is better for companies that only occasionally send them. Some providers allow you to consult with their email marketing experts for help designing templates and setting strategies for an additional cost.
Most email marketing services offer a free version of their software or at least a 14-day free trial. The trial allows your team of marketers to practice using the services to see if they like it. We'd recommend trying out a few different free trials if offered. This lets you check out multiple companies and pick an option that's truly tailored to your needs before spending money on the email marketing service.
Most email marketing plans' pricing terms are set in stone, but there are a few ways to get a discount. If you prepay for a year, you typically receive about 15% off. Most services also offer discounts for qualifying nonprofits.
You can also sign up for a free plan or free trial before committing to a service to ensure you're picking the right email marketing platform for your business.
State of the Industry
Email marketing is in a good place in 2020. Businesses use it frequently as part of their overall marketing strategy and companies are getting $44 per every dollar spent on email marketing, according to a recent report from Campaign Monitor. Email marketing is a popular marketing channel.
Automation is an emerging trend in the email marketing space. The ability to send pre-written emails to customers once they trigger a cue is a great marketing tool. For example, a clothing store might send a special discount coupon to a customer on their birthday. This email can be identical for each customer, aside from their name, and the email can be scheduled to send every time someone's birthday comes. Marketing automation allows you to reach customers without having to put together a unique email every time an event occurs. Depending on the size of your business, automated emails can save tremendous amounts of time.
Monitoring the popularity and usefulness of email tools is important. As the industry changes and different trends emerge, you want to stay on top of what your customers want. If you run an extremely small business with a subscriber list of 200 people, automation might not be for you. You might benefit more from very personal email campaigns that engage those people, while larger businesses with thousands of subscribers might see better results from automated emails. As the industry changes, it's important to understand how your business works and that some tools might not make sense for your business. Don't jump on every email marketing trend.
The email marketing industry also has a lot of different companies in the space. This can make it difficult to sort through all the various offerings, but it also leads to more specialized offerings. Businesses of any size should be able to find an email marketing service that suits their business needs and improves their overall marketing strategy. To find the right service, it requires thorough research and comparisons between software you think might work best. Take advantage of the free trials that many companies offer.
Q: Do I need email marketing?
A: While email marketing isn't necessary for every business, it is a good way to reach customers and improve your overall marketing strategy. Email is a solid marketing platform, as most professionals and potential customers use email regularly. Your business doesn't necessarily need email marketing, but it's a good way to reach customers digitally.
Q: How can I make my email marketing stand out?
A: With so many businesses using email marketing, it's important to make your email marketing campaigns relevant to your customers and subscribers. Selecting the service that best fits your business is the first step in helping your email marketing campaigns stand out. After that, you'll want to use segmentation and other email tools to best cater to the wants and needs of your customer base.
Q: What email marketing practices keep readers engaged?
A: Your business should aim to find a nice mix of promotional content and organic content. Much like a social media marketing strategy, you need to add value to the inbox or feed of your subscribers. If a customer subscribes to your emails, you'll want to send them emails that relate to them. This is where segmentation becomes valuable. Writing in a tone that matches your business's brand is also a best practice. If you stick to your brand identity and send emails that add value to your subscribers, you'll be in good shape.
Q: Why is choosing the best email marketing service for my business important?
A: Businesses have different needs, and email marketing services have different strengths. If you're going to pay to utilize an email marketing service, you should pick the one that best fits the needs of your business. If you're running basic email marketing campaigns, the least expensive options might make the most sense. If you're a major company sending emails to thousands of people, you'll want an email service that can handle that workload without many errors. Picking the right service can help you make the most out of this marketing solution.
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Common Email Marketing Questions & Answers
Your goals and objectives need to be different for whether it's an eblast (promotional email) or regular enewsletter. Eblasts are great for getting quick leads/sales, while enewsletters are better for staying top of mind, educating customers on new offerings, or providing helpful industry updates. I have found them to be very successful, but what works and what doesn't requires testing (of both the subject line and creative) and varies per business. Best practices for both types include have...
The email software can be learned and used to benefit your business. But the time it takes to learn how to use it and the best way to use it can be time consuming and a lot of trial and error. Although a email marketing service can get that out their for you, the cost can be overwhelming. So, you are going to want someone that also does your social media work as well in order to know your product and get the message out that you want. There are companies out there that can do both and...
I agree with David. Testing is important. Each demographic is going to work differently, so it honestly depends on who you're trying to reach. With health and wellness, you're looking at probably 58% male and 42% female audience between the ages of 18-35. Test through email and social to determine when your audience is most frequently online. Send out newsletters weekly on different days and different times of the day and see who is viewing the email and what % of success you have with each...
Hi Lexi! Email marketing metrics can differ based on industry. Often times email marketing can be another way to stay in touch with the customer and remind them of your great service. I would evaluate your current emails and see if there is too much content in a monthly newsletter. Are people clicking? Are they even opening? Sometimes increasing emails to two a month with one featuring an employee or client testimonial which the other gives customers an offer such as a discount can increase...
Anne: How many "contacts" do you have on your list. Most plans charge by the number of contacts. Some charge by the total number of contacts, some by the contacts per list (which means you pay for duplicates if a single contact is on multiple lists due to your segmentation activities). As both Ray and Gee indicated, most email service providers will meet your functional requirements. I have used MailChimp successfully but switched to ActiveCampaign because of the marketing automation...
Email marketing effectiveness is largely determined by your relationship to the subscriber list. Below are some common list relationships, that largely determine how successful you will be. Email Marketing With No Prior Relationship Mostly Dead. While the FDA does allow you to send emails to recipients who you have no prior relationship with, or consent to mail to, nearly every email platform will not allow you to send to subscribers who have not given you permission first....