Email marketing: it’s exactly not rocket science. Or is it? Created by The Rocket Science Group in 2001, MailChimp is a cloud-based email management service. Founders Mark Armstrong, Ben Chestnut, and Dan Kurzius began working on the software as a side project, but it rapidly gained a following. MailChimp is now The Rocket Science Group’s primary focus, though the group does continue to develop other web applications.
Where MailChimp really shines is an ability to merge this fun-and-games attitude with a serious program. If we’re being honest, MailChimp’s name and brand are probably the most powerful in the ESP market. The company’s free option is arguably the best on the market. Paid users get high-level marketing features including autoresponders, spam filter diagnostics, list segmentation by time zone, and a variety of tools for social networking integration. With over 6 million users ranging from community groups to well-known companies such as Vice UK, The Economist, and TED, MailChimp handles an average of 5 billion outgoing emails every month.
Despite its reputation as the most popular ESP, MailChimp isn’t resting on its laurels and continues to iterate on its services to make them both easier to use and more versatile.
Mailchimp has simplified their pricing plan pretty drastically since we last reviewed their services. Here is how they have re-organized their structure:
Free Plan: New Businesses
For users with modest needs, MailChimp offers a robust free plan. You can have up to 2,000 subscribers and send up to 12,000 emails per month. While you won’t get all the bells and whistles of the paid plans, you still get a lot. The free plan is basically the paid plan minus autoresponders, spam filter diagnostics, email client testing, delivery by time zone, and Social Pro. You’ll also miss out on conversation-style replies, which filter out out-of-office replies and threads conversations into subscriber profiles.
The only catch: there will be a small MailChimp badge at the bottom of every email you send out. If that bothers you, you can always opt to upgrade to a paid plan later.
Mailchimp lets you choose how you want to pay for your subscription: by number of emails sent (send-based) or by number of subscribers (list based).
Send-based (Pay As You Go)
Users with limited monthly messages have the option of paying for their email marketing based on the number of emails they send. You simply buy a number of credits, which you can then use at the rate of one credit per email sent. These credits do not expire; you can use them in whatever combination you wish, however often you like. As a general rule, the more credits you buy, the less you pay per credit. Pricing is as follows.
- At $0.03 per email
- 300 Emails – $9
- 1,000 Emails – $30
- 2,000 Emails – $60
- At $0.02 per email
- 5,000 Emails – $100
- 7,500 Emails – $150
List-based (Monthly Subscription)
Larger email marketers or those with a regular newsletter generally use the list-based option. Having said that, if you plan on sending less than 12000 emails a month, you can get in on this option for free (see the Free plan above). For unlimited emails, you pay the following:
- 1001-1500 subscribers: $20
- 1501-2000 subscribers: $25
- 2001-2500 subscribers: $30
MailChimp’s new plan is priced like an add-on, but offers a number of features above and beyond the other plans designed for businesses with 50,000+ subscribers (though you can purchase it with fewer subscribers if you want). Accessing Pro costs an additional $199/month on top of whatever standard plan you are using. Features include:
- Advanced reporting tools
- Multivariate testing tools
- Stop delivery
- Priority support
Web-Based or Locally-Installed:
MailChimp is entirely cloud-based; the company also offers a mobile app for iOS and Android devices.
Specific Size of Business:
MailChimp supports both small start-ups and large corporations which send millions of emails each month. Having said that, it definitely feels like they are shifting focus to market toward smaller businesses: they’ve dropped most of their super high-volume pricing plans, and most of the material on the website is geared to beginners, rather than experienced pros.
Ease of Use:
Signing up for a MailChimp account is simple; enter a name and email address and you’re on your way. A bit more information is required when you first sign into the program: physical address, organization name and details, and website (if you don’t have a company page, you can enter a Facebook or Twitter page, or a personal page or blog). You’ll also have the opportunity to upload a profile photo and to subscribe to MailChimp’s series of “Getting Started” emails if you wish.
The dashboard isn’t much to look at–MailChimp uses color very sparingly and mainly to strategically draw your attention–but it’s clean and very simple to understand, even for beginning users. Initially, you’ll have three main options: create and send a campaign, create (or import) a list, or start building an audience (with sign-up forms). Once you’ve gotten started, this will be replaced by a dashboard showing your recent campaign activity, list growth, and a news feed of recent events.
One area that had fallen short until recently was contact importing which, while versatile, felt like it was a part of an older, less user-friendly site. That problem’s gone now, and you can easily import from a number of integrated sources or files types. You’ll also get a warning in advance if the size of your imported list would bump you up to a new pricing tier. Previously, the warning would come mid-import, freezing the process while it waited for approval. It’s a small, but significant time-saver.
Email Campaign Creation
You won’t need an established list to design a campaign. The software offers a “send to yourself” option perfect for the newbie looking to test the system.
You’ll be prompted to enter campaign info and select tracking options, social media settings, and other options. MailChimp provides a pretty good selection of merge tags, allowing you to customize your emails.
Next up: choose a template. MailChimp features 23 basic templates and hundreds of theme templates; the latter cover a vast variety of industries and occasions.
Whether you start with a basic blank template or a pre-designed theme, MailChimp’s editor is extremely simple to use. You can add text blocks, dividers, images, buttons, and social share icons just by dragging and dropping the elements into the template. You’ll have loads of layout options, and you can save whatever you develop as a new template for future use. Your work is autosaved every 20 seconds, so no worries about your computer crashing — MailChimp has you covered.
If you prefer to code your own work, you can use HTML to design your email however you want. If you already have a design you like to use, you can import the HTML code from a website or a zip file.
Regardless of what method you use to design your email, you can preview the way it will look on both desktop and mobile devices.
Sending the Email Campaign
Sending the campaign is pretty straightforward; once your email is designed and ready to go, you’ll have the opportunity to select (or change) the list to which it should be sent, test your subject line, and make any last-minute adjustments. You can either schedule the email to be sent on a future date or send it right away.
There are a variety of ways to add a list to MailChimp. You can upload an existing list (CSV or XSL), or you can import your contacts from a different program, such as Salesforce, Highrise, Zendesk, Eventbrite, Batchbook, and Google (see a full list of connection platforms here). Like all legit ESPs, MailChimp emphasizes the importance of permission-based, opt-in lists.
MailChimp offers a couple of nice features related to list management. First, when you create a new list, MailChimp will automatically create a sign-up form for it. You can personalize this and add it to your website or social networking sites.
One area where MailChimp excels is in list segmentation. It’s normally just one of many features your email marketing software offers, but MailChimp turns segmentation into a genre, with an exhaustive number of built-in ways to sort and target contacts on your list, as well as automation presets that can account for a wide range of scenarios. If you want the benefits of automation, but don’t want to have to break out the wireframes and diagram your own logic tree, it doesn’t get much better than MailChimp.
Since MailChimp is a paid and/or rationed service, users don’t want to waste precious emails on mistakes. With that in mind, MailChimp walks users through a checklist that flags sections of the campaign that might be problematic and confirms that you want to use a feature like Social Cards.
Email Campaign Reporting
MailChimp has a fairly strong reports section, with a scroll-down list of stats which range from the common open and click rates to top links clicked and performance over the first 24 hours post-send. Also included are a list of subscribers with the most opens and a physical map of the world that visually portrays the locations of the people who have opened emails.
In addition to clicks and opens for the current campaign, you’ll see your average numbers for the list and for your industry. You’ll also see raw numbers for successful deliveries, forwards, unique opens, and abuse reports, and you can view bounces and unsubscribes, social activity, and link performances. You can manage conversations with customers from the Reports area as well. In the Advanced tab, you can use Analytics 360 to track higher-level stats using the Google Analytics integration. These stats include ROI, conversion rate, revenue created, and the average value per visitor. You can download reports for both single and combined campaigns in CSV format.
Customer Service and Support:
MailChimp’s customer support system is pretty extensive. However, it’s important to note that the company lacks telephone support, citing cost control as the reason. My experience with them was generally good; representatives were courteous and well-informed, and my inquiries got responses in anywhere from 20 minutes to 20 hours. (The 20-hour delay applied to a question that was not in any way urgent.) Here are the support resources MailChimp offers:
- Live Support – MailChimp provides live one-on-one support through the following means:
- Email Support: You can reach support representatives 24/7 at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or use their online contact form here.
- Live Chat Support: Generally available Monday-Friday from 8am-6pm EST. Currently only available to paid customers due to a surge in support requests.
- Social Media – MailChimp actively monitors its Twitter account and Facebook page. Representatives generally answer customer inquiries on these sites within a matter of hours if not minutes.
- Searchable Knowledge Base – MailChimp’s knowledge base was recently redesigned in order to make it easily searchable across a broad array of devices. Users can specify the type of information they’re looking for by using one of four categories: “Need Help Getting Started?”, “Quick Answers”, “Glossary”, and “Video Tutorials.”
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
On the whole, users seem to like MailChimp … but that doesn’t mean they have no suggestions for improvement. The iPhone app scores a dismal 1.5 stars in the iTunes Store due to limitations in functionality and bugs. Non-mobile users are considerably more positive, rating the program 4.3 stars on G2 Crowd. Here are some of the most common criticisms of the program as a whole:
- Uneven Customer Service – Users seem to have mixed opinions of customer service.
- Transferring Lists Requires Re-Opt-In Process – Some users have complained that when transferring a list into or out of MailChimp, you need to go through their opt-in process. Here is an article from MailChimp discussing switching ESPs and when you will need to re-opt-in your list.
- Confusing plans – The a la carte nature of MailChimp can initially make it a little difficult figure out what you’re getting and even what you need to run the type of campaign you want to run.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
Most of the user reviews I saw for MailChimp were positive. The software gets 4/5 stars based on 92 user reviews on Google Apps Marketplace and 4.1/5 stars based on 125 user rankings at G2 Crowd. The Android app gets 4/5 stars.
- Simple and User-Friendly – This was the number one positive comment I saw regarding MailChimp (somewhat amusing, as the wish for simpler customization options was the number one negative comment). On the whole, users find MailChimp easy to use and the interface simple to navigate. For first-time email marketers, it seems to be a good place to start.
- Free – There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there are free email service provider packages, and MailChimp’s Entrepreneur Plan has generated plenty of buzz. Some customers say it’s the highest-value free ESP they’ve found.
- Good Analytics and Reports – While MailChimp’s free version doesn’t have all the bells and whistles you’ll find on the most expensive ESP packages, it’s Google Analytics integration and variety of available stats and reports are well above par for the price point.
- Good Editor/Designer – While some find customization difficult, most users seem to enjoy the editor’s ease of use and the available templates.
MailChimp’s features are universally available to all paid users, whether those users have 500 subscribers or 50,000. Even users on the free Entrepreneur Plan get access to the majority of the program’s features. A full feature list can be found here; some of the highlights are as follows:
- Email Designer – Includes a WYSIWYG drag-and-drop editor. Users can select from MailChimp’s vast variety of preset templates or code their own. The interface includes support for basic photo editing and is optimized for mobile.
- Multi-user Accounts – All MailChimp accounts support multiple users with distinct logins and permissions (owner, admin, manager, author, viewer). This is an unusual feature for an ESP, and it’s very handy.
- Analytics and Reports – All users have access to A/B split testing and a wide variety of reports, including revenue, click maps, domain performance, and subscriber activity. MailChimp fully integrates with Google Analytics, allowing for additional data collection and email marketing optimization.
- Automation – Automation runs your campaigns for you by using a set of triggers and responses. You’ll probably want to tweak them for optimal effect, but MailChimp offers a huge amount of preset scripts to get you started.
- Custom Forms – MailChimp offers its users easy-to-create custom sign-up forms for permission-based email marketing lists. These can integrate with both company websites and Facebook pages.
- Geolocation – The software records subscribers’ locations, allowing you to segment your lists and target subscribers in specific geographic areas.
- Delivery by Time Zone (Paid Plans Only) – Delivery by time zone allows users to automatically segment their lists to ensure that each subscriber receives email messages when they are awake.
Integrations and Add-ons:
MailChimp offers over 500 integrations and add-ons. You can search for integrations by name, or check out the four “Industry Collections,” aimed at people in the e-commerce industry, musicians, nonprofits, and publishers. Here are a few of MailChimp’s most popular add-ons and integrations:
- Google Analytics – Users can track campaign success rates through full integration with Google Analytics. As mentioned in the “Reporting” section (above), Analytics 360 gives users access to high-level statistics on their newsletter’s revenue generation. It is also possible to apply Google Analytics tracking to archived campaigns.
- ClickTale – Use the ClickTale integration to track subscriber behavior from your email to your website, gaining further insight to help you customize your campaign.
- eCommerce 360 – MailChimp offers integrations with many popular shopping cart programs, including Shopify (review), BigCommerce (review), Pinnacle Cart (review), and Magento (review).
- CRM Integrations – MailChimp provides integration options for several popular CRMs, including Salesforce (review), Zoho CRM (review), Capsule (review), Contactually (review), and Sugar CRM (review).
- Zendesk – Users who offer their customers support through Zendesk can keep track of support tickets and manage subscriptions. MailChimp offers 2 add-ons.
- Eventbrite – The Eventbrite add-ons allow users to enhance their event management capabilities using MailChimp’s built-in tools. Users can target event invitations to subscribers in select geographic locations or personalize event invitations and follow-ups.
- E-Commerce – Mailchimp integrates with a number of e-commerce stores, including Shopify, Magento, Bigcommerce, and Woocommerce.
Social Media Integrations
Because of the integral connection between social media and email marketing, it is important to look at the social media-specific aspects of MailChimp.
- Social Sharing – Available with all plans, this feature allows you to automatically post newsletter updates to Facebook and Twitter, as well as tracking stats and creating a social sign-up page to generate new subscribers.
- Social Pro (Paid Plans Only) – As discussed under “Pricing: Additional Services” (above), this add-on collects demographic data about your subscribers from social networking sites, as well as providing you with more information about the ways they use social networks. You can use this information for list segmentation and targeted email campaigns.
- Social Integrations Collection – This collection of six integrations and add-ons allows users to further integrate MailChimp with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest.
With over seven million users, MailChimp takes security – and privacy – seriously. The company has message transfer agents (MTAs) located in data centers located throughout the United States, and those centers are protected by both physical and electronic safeguards. With DDOS mitigation in place at all data centers and even an “in case of nuclear attack on a data center” continuity of service plan, MailChimp seems unlikely to be caught off guard.
Large mailing lists are stored in individual databases to protect against data corruption or overlap. (Smaller accounts, including free accounts, share databases.) You can read more on MailChimp’s security measures here. The company is SOC II compliant and will provide their full SOC II report to anyone who wants it, provided that individual first signs an NDA.
MailChimp also provides its users with resources to better understand email security, including a downloadable Email Security Guide (PDF). Additionally, the company supports Google Authenticator: a free, optional add-on which provides users with two-factor authentication when signing into MailChimp.
Anti-spam Policy & Protection
MailChimp also offers two tools for spam detection. Inbox Inspector, mentioned in the pricing section above, is included with all monthly (list-based) plans. Pay-as-you-go users and users on the free plan can use the tool for $3 per report. Along with allowing you to preview your email in a number of different clients, Inbox Inspector can detect whether your email will be caught by spam filters on nine of the most popular programs.
Delivery Doctor, available with all paid plans, allows you to run campaign subject lines, links, and more through common ISPs and spam filters to check for violations prior to sending out a campaign.
MailChimp is a mature, time-tested and easy-to-pick-up ESP; the company offers a great selection of features at a reasonable price, and its security and privacy policies are at the top end of the industry. The basics of the software are easy to use, and recent changes to the knowledge base have made advanced features more accessible to a broader range of users. The free plan is very generous for users with modest campaign needs. MailChimp’s recent upgrades have largely focused on segmentation and automation features, adding an incredible amount of depth to what was already a very strong program.
Lack of phone support is potentially a downside, particularly if you need help immediately or are having difficulty phrasing the problem. Balancing this issue, however, is the fact that so many people use MailChimp that it’s usually not that hard to find a third party video or guide that addresses your problem.
If you’re in the market for an ESP, there’s little risk in giving MailChimp a test drive yourself to see if it meets the needs of your business.