Active Campaign Review
Active Campaign has been around since 2003, but the company looked quite different back then. Founded by Jason VandeBoom (still the company’s CEO) as a traditional software company, ActiveCampaign once offered eight distinct products before focusing all of its development resources on a single marketing application. This application would eventually make the jump from standalone software to SaaS, becoming ActiveCampaign, the ESP.
This company has a reputation for strong, responsive customer service, winning a Stevie Award for its 2013 update. Active Campaign iterates and updates frequently, often in response to criticisms and critiques from its clients.
All in all, Active Campaign is a versatile, affordable email marketing service with a powerful suite of reporting and automation tools. First time users may find the interface a little intimidating, but if you manage to stick with it, you’ll find a team-friendly application that offers tremendous functionality at a low price point.
Active Campaign’s three tiers of service are all list-based, meaning you’ll be charged based on the size of your contact list. Paying for a full year saves you 15 percent off the listed price. For contact lists larger than what’s listed below, you’ll have to request a custom price. Curiously, the threshold for having to request a price is lower the more advanced the plan is – perhaps to avoid sticker shock? A free trial is available.
The basic plan supports up to three users, provides chat and email-based technical support and grants access to newsletter, email, and marketing automation features.
- 500 contacts: $9/month
- 1,000 contacts: $17/month
- 2,500 contacts: $29/month
- 5,000 contacts: $45/month
- 10,000 contacts: $70/month
- 25,000 contacts: $135/month
- 50,000 contacts: $225/month
- 75,000 contacts: $325/month
- 100,000 contacts: $415/month
Plus raises the number of users all the way to 25, adds a custom domain and branding, one-on-one training, and some additional bells and whistles.
- 1,000 contacts: $49/month
- 2,500 contacts: $73/month
- 5,000 contacts: $113/month
- 10,000 contacts: $175/month
- 25,000 contacts: $338/month
With Enterprise, you can have as many users as you want. You’ll also get phone support, a dedicated service rep, and some additional reporting tools and a custom mail server domain.
- 2,500 contacts: $149/month
- 5,000 contacts: $225/month
- 10,000 contacts: $350/month
Additional Fees and Services
- Platform testing – you can get a desktop preview of your email campaign for free, but if you want to make sure the layout is compatible with different email services and mobile device views, Active Campaign charges for the privilege.
- $5 for 5 tests
- $9 for 10 tests
- $20 for 25 tests
- $35 for 50 tests
- $60 for 100 tests
Ease of Use
The initial sign-up process is incredibly simple, requiring little more than basic contact info (business name, email address, name) and some questions designed to funnel you into the appropriate level of service. After that, you’re dropped into the UI and …
To call the initial amount of information Active Campaign puts on the screen overwhelming wouldn’t be understatement, but it would be completely accurate. By default, you have no fewer than 11 windows. Here’s a list for the heck of it:
- All Contacts – your number of contacts
- Contact trend – a graph
- News – a headline/link from the blog
- Campaigns – your email campaigns
- Automations – autoresponders
- Templates – email designs you’ve saved
- Top contacts – a list
- Pipelines – a bar graph showing sales leads, vendors, potential customers, and VIP contacts
- Deal tasks – a scheduling feature
- A sidebar showing subscribers/unsubscribers
- A checklist for getting started
If you thought this would preclude the need for any navigation bars, you’ll be excited to note that there is still one at the top of the screen for: Contacts, Campaigns, Automations, Deals, Lists, Apps, and Reports.
While this design flies in the face of popular UI design conventions, there is a method to Active Campaign’s madness. Each of the windows I listed above can be dragged to a position on the screen or closed altogether. Clicking on these windows, which shows a simplified snapshot of the feature, takes you to a page with the full feature. Consider the initial offering more of a smorgasbord of features showing you what your UI could look like rather than what it must look like, and you’ll begin to appreciate Active Campaign’s strategy here. Or at least move past it.
Before you can send a campaign, you’ll have to make a list. This involves filling in a pop-up window that asks you to name the list, enter the name and address of your business, the URL the list is about, and a reminder to your contacts about why they’re on the list. The last two parts seem a bit like gratuitous anti-spam measures, but they’re required to move forward.
Luckily, things get a lot better after that. Active Campaign offers a wealth of list creation options ranging from a simple copy and paste, to importing a .csv file, to importing a contact list from one of 94 sources (including popular ones like Google and Salesforce). Once you have your email addresses, you can add tags. This is useful down the road in case you want to sort your contacts by a method other than the list or their current status. You can export your contact list from Active Campaign as a .csv file.
One uncommon feature Active Campaign offers is the ability to set what it calls Lead Scoring. It’s a feature designed to help sales teams precisely target contacts by setting “rules” and then assigning a cumulative point value to contacts who meet the criteria. These rules can be things like geographic areas, rate of response, etc. It can give users an idea of who is being effectively reached and who is being neglected.
Creating the Email Campaign
Once your contact list is set up the way you want it, you’re given several different options for campaign creation:
- Standard: your typical one-shot email campaign
- Automated: creates a sequence of email actions based on predefined rules
- Autoresponders: an email that will send automatically when a contact subscribes
- Split-testing: allows you to create multiple versions of the same campaign to test out different phrasing and designs
- RSS-triggered: sends when your RSS-feed is updated
- Date-based: sends to contacts on predefined dates, like birthdays
Aside from filling in the parameters specific to each type of email, the actual creation process for each of these types is very similar. You’re given the choice between 27 templates or creating your own by way of drag and drop, HMTL, or text only.
The drag and drop editor is more robust than most and allows for limited image editing even after you upload. While there’s some responsive design, you also have the option to flag individual elements so that they’re hidden if the message is viewed on a mobile device. The only element I found a bit disappointing was the limited ability to customize the look and shape of buttons. You’re also limited to Facebook and Twitter buttons so far as social media is concerned (you’ll have to manually move the ones provided with the template). If you’re HMTL savvy but prefer to work with templates, you can add custom HTML to any element to work around some of the limitations.
Sending the Campaign
When you’re ready to send the campaign, you’ll be given a number of tracking options that you can opt in or out of: Open/Read, Link Tracking, Reply Tracking, and Google Analytics. You can then select an email address to send a preview to and schedule the campaign to be sent immediately at any given time and date.
There’s also a Spam counter on the bottom that notes any potential issues you might have sending the campaign. As my sending email address was from a free account (Gmail), I received a warning that it might trigger spam detection. It turned out to be correct, as Gmail and MSN both redirected my campaign to their respective junk folders.
They did, however, arrive almost immediately and in the format in which I’d created them. The responsive design elements translated nicely to mobile, missing only the elements I’d instructed the editor to hide on those devices.
Just for fun, I also set up an automated email that would be sent to anyone who opened the initial campaign. The follow-up email arrived quicker to the Gmail account than others, although it did eventually arrive for all of them.
Email Campaign Reporting
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that reporting is what Active Campaign is really about. Each step of the to-do list, from creating your list to your email is about choosing custom parameters that can be used to create useful reports.
One of the benefits of Active Campaign’s busy default layout is that it puts a lot of feedback from your campaigns front and center. The beauty of it is you can really be as anal retentive or relaxed about the details you’re tracking as you’re comfortable with. Without any integrations or the help of Google Analytics, you can track opens, clicks, shares, and geographic locations, as well as trends for most of the above.
This information can be put to use with a built-in deals system that lets you customize special offers to segments of your contact list. There’s some built-in scheduling software here that will help sales teams coordinate offers and campaigns, but it might also be helpful to individual merchants who want plan marketing strategies in advance.
It’s a good package, especially considering that it’s available at every price tier.
Like many SaaS applications, variable customer service is built into the business model. You’ll only have access to phone support at the Enterprise level. For everyone else, you can access the entirety of Active Campaign’s help system by clicking on one of the two question mark icons on the right side of the screen. These will lead you to the following options:
- Video Tutorials – 12 videos covering both tutorials and contact strategies
- Knowledge Base – 11 topics with numerous articles
- Directed Training – in the form of one-on-one sessions and webinars (availability varies by your plan)
- Ticketing or messaging – you can submit a ticket to customer support or try to IM with a live representative. When no one is available you can leave a message instead.
- Blog – Updated frequently, if somewhat irregularly, the blog covers marketing topics and strategies
- Facebook – Active Campaign maintains a Facebook account with over 5,300 likes. It’s updated frequently and features links to third party articles and events relevant to its users.
- Twitter – Active Campaign is also active on Twitter, with around 4,400 followers.
Negative Reviews and Complaints
Active Campaign has very little history with BBB, with only one resolved complaint on record regarding billing. Criticisms of Active Campaign tend to amount more to gripes than serious problems.
- Learning curve – Active Campaign throws you into, maybe not the deep end of the pool, but the part where you have to stand on your toes to keep your head above water. It’s not hard to use, but it’s definitely not the easiest ESP to learn.
- No mobile app – A couple user/reviewers cited the lack of a native mobile app as a downside. With more companies moving toward mobile-friendly web apps, however, many ESPs have been moving away from native mobile apps anyway.
- Delivery rate – one customer said his delivery rate was below that of popular competitor, MailChimp.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials
It’s a lot easier to find positive testimonials about Active Campaign than negative ones. Out of an aggregated 28 user reviews, Active Campaign is currently rating 4.9/5.0 stars on G2Crowd. Here’s what people like about Active Campaign:
- Frequent updates – Active Campaign iterates often and several customers noted that their complaints had been addressed in updates.
- Excellent value – Active Campaign is priced on the lower end for ESPs but still manages to offer a wealth of options.
- Huge number of features – While overwhelming at first, users appreciated the number and breadth of Active Campaign’s features.
- Customer service – Multiple users spoke highly of Active Campaign’s quick and effective customer service.
Active Campaign is a beast when it comes to add-ons, allowing users to choose from a comprehensive list of over 150 integrations and apps. If you’re using a 3rd party app, there’s a good chance it’s on the list.
Active Campaign’s security policy isn’t spelled out in detail on the site, but it does assure that information is only accessible to authorized individuals. Active Campaign encourages users to report security vulnerabilities to the company. You can read more about their security and privacy policies if you’re interested.
Outgoing campaigns are flagged for potential spam issues prior to being sent using a point-based system, granting would-be offenders some warning. While there’s no set point at which Active Campaign will suspend an account, they do review accounts with unusually high rates of unsubscribers. You can read more on the spam policy here.
Active Campaign manages to be an excellent ESP in the broad sense while also aiming for a niche not clearly occupied by its competitors.
This ESP could certainly work for any sized company, but its ideal fit is probably a mid-sized firm with a dedicated sales team that can take advantage of Active Campaign’s generous multi-user and scheduling features, but doesn’t necessarily have the budget to build a lot of its own tools. One minor gripe is the supplemental charge for previewing emails on mobile devices, but in general that’s fairly safe to either ignore or just test with your own device. Active Campaign’s pricing is affordable, even cheap, but there’s no free plan, so marketers with very modest email campaign needs would be better off looking at MailChimp or SendinBlue.
While your first login may be a little overwhelming, Active Campaign is ultimately a lot more approachable than it appears at a glance. Step-by-step tutorials will hold your hand as you navigate what might be one of the most robust, non-premium feature sets available in an ESP. Active Campaign is as simple or detailed as you need it to be, whether you want to do high-level marketing or just keep some contacts up to date with a newsletter, and that’s an impressive accomplishment.