- Low monthly cost
- Good customer support
- Easy to use
- Unsuited for large businesses
- Limited feature set
iContact’s focus on small businesses helped set it apart from the more complex automated programs built with the career internet marketer in mind. Since its founding in 2003, iContact has been one of the key players in the email marketing service industry. Much of this success can be attributed to the founders’ vision to “build a great global company based in North Carolina for customers, employees, and community.” iContact offers free email marketing services to all North Carolina-based 501(c)(3) non-profit corporations, so if that describes your business, you should check it out immediately.
iContact has a strong core program, and its sheer ease of use sets it apart from many other programs on the market. My primary concern is that any small business which is serious about email marketing will find the tools of iContact’s Basic Plan insufficient in the long run and the cost of the Premier Account too high to be worthwhile.
Table of Contents
iContact details just the one pricing plan: the Essential Plan. This is reckoned as the total sum of the number of email addresses in each of the user’s lists. (If one address is included in two different lists, it counts as two subscribers.) For high volume businesses, both Basic and Pro can be upgraded to Premier. You can save 15% if you pay for a full year in advance. There are other ways to spend money on iContact, though, and these are detailed below as well.
iContact offers users a 30-day free trial of the Basic version of its email marketing software. However, this trial is limited to 100 contacts and 400 messages. Should you wish to exceed those limits, you must pay for a subscription. There is a 15 % discount for prepaid annual subscriptions and a 20% discount for verified 501(c)(3) non-profits located outside of North Carolina (in-state non-profits get the service for free). Non-profit users can email iContact’s billing department to confirm their status.
- Up to 500 subscribers – $14/month
- Up to 2,500 subscribers – $32/month
- Up to 5,000 subscribers – $52/month
- Up to 10,000 subscribers – $79/month
- Up to 15,000 subscribers – $117/month
- Up to 25,000 subscribers – $149/month
- Up to 35,000 subscribers – $239/month
- Up to 50,000 subscribers – $299/month
High Volume Plan
Though the company website does not detail a price, it does offer insight into just what a high volume plan from iContact will provide. First, you get a dedicated advisor who will give you industry insight and guidance to ensure that you get your full money’s worth from email marketing. You also get custom-made templates from iContact, designed specifically to your needs. Additionally, you get the full library of iContact features available to all users.
If you run your business through salesforce, this may be a necessary add-on for you. At $99/month, it is not exactly cheap, but it is a “seamless, native integration,” so that is good.
For an additional (unnamed) fee, iContact can provide marketing services for you. If you need email marketing but don’t have the confidence or experience to do it yourself (and are willing to pay), this may be the best option for you.
Web-Based Or Locally-Installed
iContact, like all Vocus programs, is cloud-based. There are mobile apps for both iPhone/iPad and Android devices.
Ease Of Use
The concept of easy use, even for the least experienced of business owners, is one of the cornerstones of the iContact model. Setting up an account requires only a few pieces of information: name, company name, phone, email address, list size (“Just Starting Out” is an option), and company size.
The user dashboard is quite simple, providing a quick overview of your latest email statistics, contact lists, and social sharing sites. There are also links to the latest info on the iContact blog and a basic overview of the account’s “health.” There are tabs at the top of the screen granting access to more comprehensive information about contacts, emails, reports, and social media integrations.
My overall impression of the iContact service is, first and foremost, that it is easy to understand and follow. The flip side to this, however, is that there is a general lack of information and tools available for more advanced email marketing functions in the Basic version. Unfortunately, you can’t test out the more advanced features of the Pro without scheduling a demo, which seems unnecessarily cumbersome given the 30-day trial.
When you start an email campaign, you’ll have your choice of two designers: MessageBuilder (a WYSIWYG editor) and MessageCoder (which allows you to code your message using HTML). MessageBuilder presents a selection of nearly 700 templates, and I was quite impressed by the variety. While on the one hand 700 may seem like overkill (browsing through their Basic templates, I saw a vast variety of minute permutations), on the other, it means that most designers will be able to find a template that will require few, if any, modifications to give them the layout they want.
I found the editor itself a little disappointing. iContact’s image editing is rudimentary, allowing for resizing, word-wrapping, and little else. There’s no way to simply copy page elements (whether that be a text block, image block, or spacer) and no easy way to create buttons. There are some nice options for wrapping text around images. While the editor is easy to use, it’s limited and sometimes buggy.
Once you’ve composed your message, you can preview it in mobile phone, tablet, and desktop formats.
One of the big perks of iContact is its integration with popular social media services (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), which allows you to directly link to your accounts from your dashboard.
Sending the Email
Entering contacts into iContact is simple. There are three basic ways to do it: fill out a long form with information about each contact, upload a CSV or XLS file, or copy and paste email addresses into a text block. You will, of course, need to certify that all your email contacts have given you permission to email them.
As you set up your list, you’ll see an option to set up an autoresponder welcome email to new subscribers joining the list. iContact also gives you an option for double opt-in: an automatic message confirming each new subscriber’s subscription to your newsletter. Taking this step legitimizes your list and lowers the chances of spam complaints or account suspensions because of spam.
Sending a message is quite straightforward. iContact provides you with the opportunity to run your message through a spam check which will scan it for potential red flags that could trigger spam filters. Once you’re satisfied with it, you can select the list you wish to use. You can also immediately post the email to linked social media networks via a series of checkboxes. You’ll need to confirm that the email addresses on the list were permission-based (See “Anti-Spam Policy & Protection” below); at that point, you can either send your message immediately or schedule it for a future date and time.
The software provides two handy sets of statistics, “Account Health” and “List Health,” which display the general effectiveness of your campaigns and tell you at a glance how each element of your email marketing campaign is coming along. You can view the number of messages sent, images used, and subscriber count, as well as overall email bounces, subscribes, unsubscribes, and growth for a particular list.
For individual campaigns, key statistics (such as opens, clicks, and bounces) are presented in both numerical and pie chart formats. You can also view the individual email addresses associated with opens and clicks. However, you can’t track the total number of opens — just uniques. On the main reports page, you can also view activity your message has generated on your social media sites.
Customer Service & Support
iContact’s homepage touts its award-winning service. My own experiences with the company were great; my email inquiry received a telephone response within the hour, and when I called the company concerning a different issue, I was immediately connected with a representative. In both cases, I found the staff friendly and willing to help. iContact also makes an effort to remain transparent with published satisfaction reports and statistics.
iContact presents potential users with a lot of data about email marketing in general, and there are several resources available even before you sign up for the service, including a glossary of terms and a step-by-step guide for using the iContact application. I would like to see a bit more detail regarding actual program requirements here; browser compatibility is listed in the resources section, but you have to search for it.
The company’s support resources are as follows:
- Live Support: Phone, email, and chat support is available Monday through Friday, 6 AM-10 PM EST. You can also use their online contact form. According to iContact, their average response time is four hours (during business hours).
- Online Help: For those who like to refer to a comprehensive user manual when learning a new program, iContact has you covered. The in-program help area includes an interactive, searchable guide which covers all the basics of running iContact. I particularly liked the fact that this guide appears as a pop-up; you can continue to run the iContact program while you read it.
- Video Tutorials: There are 27 video tutorials that provide visual guidance in navigating the software.
- iContact Blog: iContact’s blog presents content-based tips for email marketing as well as information about software updates and new features.
- Live & Recorded Webinars: iContact conducts a variety of webinars; these cover the operation of the program as well as general email marketing topics. Some webinars (such as “Getting Started with iContact”) run weekly, and six webinars have pre-recorded versions available for viewing anytime.
- Comprehensive Guides: iContact offers two major guides for new users and a number of guides on topics ranging from metrics to social media marketing. Each presents a series of topics with tips, takeaways, and actionable items, and includes additional, downloadable materials in the form of printable PDFs and links to other sources within the iContact resource section.
- Advisory Services: Businesses looking for a more comprehensive approach to their email marketing have the option of hiring iContact personnel to serve as marketing advisors. This service is automatically included in Premier Accounts, but those with smaller lists can call iContact for a quote if they would like to utilize this service.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
iContact has 12 complaints on record with the BBB, though all are considered resolved. The company also has a string of complaints on Complaintsboard.com. The vast majority of complaints across these sites regard cancellation/refund issues.
Users on g2.com rate the software 3.9/5 stars. Criticisms include:
- Not Robust Enough: One of the most common complaints about iContact relates to a lack of features. Users complain that the analytical and social media tools are no better than what can be found for free, and multiple users report difficulty obtaining the stats they would find useful. This is compounded by the fact that Google Analytics integration isn’t standard with the basic subscription package; you’ll have to pay extra for that. Users also complain that the templates are disappointing, especially if you plan to write your own HTML.
- Difficulty Cancelling & “No Refunds” Policy: Users must call to cancel; there is no way to do so via email or through the website. According to reports, sales reps are very insistent about granting a free extension period and tend to pressure users into accepting. Then, once the free service period expires, users are automatically billed for the next month, regardless of whether or not they have used the account, and the strict “no refunds” policy comes into play.
- Image Library Limited To 5mb Free Space: 5mb of space will probably not suffice for anyone undertaking serious marketing campaigns. Sure, beginning users with a logo and a couple of photos will be fine, but most users will quickly outgrow this size limit. To add insult to injury, the cost of expanding your image library to 10mb or 25mb increases according to your list size. So, someone with 500 contacts pays less for 25mb of space than someone with 5,000 contacts — even though both people are getting the same amount of storage.
- Inherent Upsell: Although there are clear advantages to using iContact as a beginning email marketing customer, the more you read between the lines on its website, the more you realize that much of the “good stuff” iContact offers is reserved for Premier Account holders. In fact, even though they don’t state it outright, most of the testimonials on the company’s website refer to the services offered by the Premier Account package, called “managed services.” In reality, iContact Premier is really what Vocus wants to sell and it keeps the Basic (read: affordable) program pretty feature-starved as a result. Users will quickly realize they need more and, the company seems to hope, call iContact sales staff who will convince them to upgrade.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
iContact is BBB-accredited and earns an A+ on the site. The company offers a testimonials page with praise from customers, and you’ll also find some very satisfied users on g2.com. Reasons people love iContact include:
- Great Support: Support gets a lot of praise. Representatives are, for the most part, deemed helpful and easy to work with, and the response times are considered quite reasonable.
- Award-Winning Salesforce Integration: While some programs have issues playing well with Salesforce, this is not the case with iContact.
- Super-Simple Navigation: iContact’s emphasis on small to medium-sized businesses with little to no email marketing experience shines through in every aspect of their program, from the simple set-up of the dashboard to the variety of templates and step-by-step nature of sending emails. Users who are really nervous about the nuts and bolts of email marketing, particularly those with little experience working online or on computers in general, will really appreciate how simple iContact makes the entire experience.
- Price: Several users say they find iContact affordable, though some feel that the low price is balanced by the lack of features.
iContact offers a fairly basic core feature set, with a few nice perks where social media is concerned. Key features include:
- Message Builder: iContact features a handy toolbar and drag-and-drop editing blocks, which integrate smoothly with the over 600 email templates included with each subscription. Templates are organized into a variety of categories, such as travel, children, non-profit, and technology. The program also offers basic templates without any theme which provide a simple layout for users to follow.
- Message Coder: This feature offers those proficient in HTML the ability to personalize their email messages through the use of its design views, message previews, and tables.
- Email Delivery: iContact employs several measures to make sure that its users’ emails reach inboxes, including a dedicated email delivery team who monitors the company’s servers in order to optimize send rates. There is also a built-in spam checker.
- Reporting & Analytics: Users receive a variety of basic reporting metrics from each email they send. Though only Premier Account members have access to the Google Analytics integration, users on the Basic Plan still see a breakdown of opens, clicks, forwards, spam reports, and unsubscribes. All users can segment their lists, track email effectiveness by subscriber, or utilize social media metrics from Facebook and Twitter.
- Segmentation: In what is rapidly becoming standard in the email marketing world, iContact offers email segmentation. Basically, you create different versions of your messages, tailored to different demographic groups in your audience. Through a process I can only describe as black magic, iContact’s software works out exactly which version each subscriber will most appreciate. Pretty handy if used effectively.
- Signup Forms: Users can customize iContact signup form templates and have the option of adding these forms to their websites or Facebook pages.
- Autoresponders: The autoresponder service comes with every iContact subscription; this means users can set up their email marketing programs to send automatic messages to users based on those users’ actions. Such messages might include welcome messages, coupons, and the like.
- Workflow Automation: Tools to help users time and target email campaigns to individual contacts.
- In-depth Reporting: Adds some much-needed reporting features to iContact, including social media monitoring and engagement tracking.
Integrations & Add-ons
Vocus wants to give its customers everything they need when it comes to digital marketing, and the company’s integrated marketing and PR offerings strive to do just that. In addition, there are roughly 18 add-ons and integrations available for the basic iContact subscription. Some highlights:
- iContact For Salesforce: A top-notch integration with Salesforce, one of the marketing industry’s most popular and powerful customer relationship management tools.
- eCommerce: iContact offers integrations with many popular shopping cart programs, including BigCommerce (see our review here) and Magento (see our review here).
- Drupal: iContact can integrate with the popular open-source CMS.
Social Media Integrations
Because of the crucial connection between social media and email marketing, it is important to look at iContact’s social media-specific aspects.
- Email To Social Media: By linking their iContact accounts to established social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, users can automatically post newsletters to their social media accounts. They can also track the results of such posts.
- Facebook: iContact’s Facebook integrations allow you to post to Facebook from the iContact server, schedule Facebook posts from iContact, and keep track of Facebook likes, comments, and clicks. You can link multiple Facebook accounts to iContact, preview links that you plan to post, and you can add images from iContact to Facebook.
- Twitter: Users can access linked Twitter accounts from iContact to schedule and track tweets, gauge the reach of individual tweets, shorten links, and even schedule future tweets.
- LinkedIn: Users can post to their LinkedIn feed, add media, and track comments and likes from iContact.
iContact protects customer data with 128-bit SSL encryption and a firewall. Data is stored on multiple servers for full redundancy and backed up in real time.
Anti-Spam Policy & Protection
Like all legit ESPs, iContact has a strict Anti-Spam Policy. All iContact customers, even those just registering for a free trial, must agree to the company’s End User Service Agreement (EUSA) which includes the Anti-Spam Policy. Users must certify that all emails entered into iContact are opt-in or permission-based, and they must agree to accept the company’s definition of spam.
iContact monitors large list imports and uses an MD5 hash record to screen the content of emails for common spam wording and trends. It also maintains archives of all unique messages sent through the iContact server and requires customers to acknowledge the following before sending each email: “I certify with my initials that all recipients granted their permission to be sent this message.” Company personnel reviews any message sent to more than 5,000 recipients (or 500 recipients in your first two months with iContact).
iContact offers a simple service with an easy-to-use design and thorough help center, which is great for first-time email marketers, especially those who need to send a lot of emails per subscriber. However, anyone who gets into serious email marketing will start to incur substantial additional fees that make it less than ideal for smaller campaigns.
iContact is a good program, but its ROI may not meet your needs. If you land within the fiscal sweet spot for the plans — or even better, if you are running a non-profit, you’ll find an easy-to-use, well-designed program.
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