Top 4 Alternatives to MailChimp
On paper, monkeys look like a lot of fun. They make adorable faces. They delight with their human-like intelligence and mischievousness. Who wouldn’t want a monkey? Unfortunately, many people aren’t cut out for a pet smart and devious enough to wreck your house and blame it on the dog. While popular email marketing service MailChimp (see our review) is far less hazardous and considerably easier to handle than your average primate, it isn’t necessarily the best email marketing service for every business. In the interest of helping marketers looking to leave the Chimp in its cage, let’s take a look at three of MailChimp’s top competitors.
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Alternatives to MailChimp: The Contenders
Benchmark (see our review) appears to be aiming for a very similar niche to MailChimp. Offering a similar level of complexity and robust free plans, it’s the competitor that feels most like MailChimp within the first hour of use.
Started by a trio of medical office workers in 2004 and developed in India, Benchmark has stuck to its vision of a simple, versatile email marketing platform. While we loved Benchmark, the program is not without weaknesses, some of which we’ll be tackling below.
It may sound more like a 17th century philosopher than an email marketing program, but AWeber (see our review) is among the more venerable ESPs that in the business. Founded in 1998 by Tom Kulzer, this premium-only service offers a powerful set of reporting tools that should please data-focused marketers.
Campaign Monitor (see our review) does what its name implies and provides a fully featured, powerful tool for managing (and monitoring) your email marketing campaigns. While it’s a bit lacking in the integration department, it offers all of its features at every price point, so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting.
One of the newer contenders to emerge onto the email marketing scene is SendInBlue (see our review). Since 2012, SendInBlue has aggressively moved to carve out a niche in the crowded ESP market by offering a powerful, core suite of features at a competitive price.
An expense is an expense, so you’ll want to make sure you’re getting a good value for your dollar. Luckily, the high level of competition in the ESP market means you’ve got options.
One of MailChimp’s greatest strengths comes in the form of its generous Forever Free plan, which allows frugal marketers with modest needs to send 12,000 emails a month to up to 2,000 subscribers. If any other email marketing service has set out to steal the chimp’s lunch in terms of free plans, it’s Benchmark.
Signing up for Benchmark will filter you into the Free List Plan 2,000, a time/volume trial plan that ends after 30 days, 14,000 emails, or sending emails to 250 clients, whichever comes first. If you plan to stick around longer than that, you can still use the Free for Life plan, which offers 10,000 emails per month and the full suite of features. The one catch is that you’ll have to use Benchmark-branded sign-up forms to add clients to your list, which is inconvenient if you’d prefer to import your contacts. Like MailChimp, the program will also include a branded logo on your free emails.
If and when you’re ready to spend money, you’ll find an ESP with a price point more or less in line with the average. You can choose to pay by email beginning at $9.95/mo for 600/mo up to $375/mo for 100,000/mo, or by the size of your contact list starting at $11.95/mo for 600 contacts. At 25,000 contacts, you’re looking at $112/mo. Plans higher than 100,000 are negotiated on an individual basis. The list plans allow you to send up to seven emails per month to each subscriber.
On the other side of the equation, we have AWeber, which isn’t catering to low-volume marketers. If you want to try this ESP out, you’ll have to sign up for an actual paid plan, although you won’t be charged for the first month. Just make sure you cancel your plan if you don’t plan to stick with AWeber.
Ultimately, there’s no free lunch or free plan at AWeber, which ranks among the more expensive ESPs. The cheapest paid plan begins at a hefty $19 for 500 contacts (all of AWebers plans are list-based) and topping out at $149/mo for 25,000 subscribers; larger lists will require contacting AWeber. The high prices are all-inclusive, however. You won’t need to pay extra to access more advanced features. Note, as well, that all of AWeber’s plans allow for unlimited emails.
Campaign Monitor may have the most unorthodox pricing scheme of the three, but it’s not the cheapest. Signing up for the service is free and will grant you access to all the features Campaign Monitor has to offer. The downside is that, if you want to send any emails beyond the handful of free test messages you can send, you’ll have to upgrade to a paid plan.
This is where things start to get a little weird. Campaign Monitor’s Basic Plan is a hybrid list/email plan where the maximum number of emails you can send per month is the maximum size of your list, multiplied by five. If that’s too much to keep track of, you can upgrade to the substantially more expensive unlimited plan, which functions like a more traditional list-based plan. This two-tiered approach allows for some pretty low prices on the Basic Plan, starting at $9/mo for 500 subscribers and 2,500 emails/mo. Unfortunately, Campaign Monitor becomes less competitive on price as you climb up the tiers, costing $199/mo for 25,000 subscribers. The Unlimited Plan is even more costly, beginning at $29/mo and climbing to a steep $399/mo at 25,000.
Oh, and there’s also the option to pay per campaign and email, though this option gets very expensive, very quickly.
SendInBlue has gone to pretty great pains to undercut its competition in the price department. Like Benchmark, SendInBlue offers a completely free plan with some modest limitations, as well as a very affordable “Micro” plan for users with slightly greater marketing needs. Notably, SendInBlue is unconcerned with the number of subscribers you have, only the number of emails you’re sending. This is good news for marketers who strategically segment their lists.
Higher up the pricing chain is where SendInBlue really shines. $334 buys you 750,000 emails a month.
The most MailChimp-esque of these companies with regard to pricing are Benchmark and SendInBlue, both of which offer a nice introductory curve for small businesses still feeling out their needs. Benchmark provides more emails per month, while SendInBlue offers some easier contact management at lower tiers. AWeber looks like a worse deal until you consider that all the plans allow you to send as many emails as you want, so high-volume marketers take notice. Campaign Monitor’s pricing will probably only be ideal in some very specific instances (low volume marketing without the burden of the ESP’s logo, for example).
MailChimp users will find campaign creation for all three competitors to be familiar. All three offer drag and drop editors for email design, as well as the option to import designs created with HTML or create a simple, plain text email. Still, there are some minute differences between the three.
In addition to the standard ESP email creation options, Benchmark also supports an older iteration of its email creator. As a new user, you can safely ignore this option, but if you are a former user thinking about rejoining the service, it’s good to know that you can pick up where you left off.
Benchmark offers users a well-rounded array of email features: video emails, surveys, and the ability to set up to eight autoresponders. The template selection clocks in at over 400, so there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find something that fits your needs. While you can preview your design for desktop recipients, you won’t be able to do the same for mobile, a significant oversight.
Where Benchmark comes up shortest, however, is with social media integration. You won’t be able to do too much more than post to Facebook or Twitter through Benchmark.
AWeber’s email design system is a little different in that, rather than giving the user a selection of templates, it encourages them to build a design by dragging elements into the editor. This is a great feature for marketers who want more precise control over the look of their emails without having to delve into HTML and CSS. You’ll have to bring all your images with you, however, as there’s no stock image library to draw from.
A big advantage offered by AWeber is the ability to perform split-tests, which allow you to swap out elements of your email (subject, name, or body) to see what your audience finds more engaging.
Missing from AWeber are some conveniences like surveys and fully integrated social media marketing.
Campaign Monitor’s email design system is streamlined for efficiency, featuring a template library like Benchmark, but jettisoning the image library ala AWeber. It’s a no frills system, but it’s quick and easy.
If the idea of sending out an incomplete or flawed email keeps you up at night, Campaign Monitor caters to the perfectionist by offering split-testing and allowing users to send test emails out to up to five recipients before committing to the campaign.
SendInBlue had made a puzzling decision in this area by providing two different campaign creation experiences: one for premium users, and one for free and Micro plan users, but as of December 2015 that is no longer the case. The premium responsive design creators favors a depth over breadth approach to campaign creation. You won’t see nearly as many template options as its competitors, but you’ll be able to tweak the specific parameters of your elements and images to a much greater degree.
Campaign Creation Summary
All three ESPs provide perfectly usable campaign creation tools, but the “best” is the one that meets your campaign needs. Do you prefer to work with stock images and/or uploading your own into the cloud? Go with Benchmark. Want a hyper-customizable drag and drop experience? AWeber or SendInBlue are your programs. Want to meticulously test and tweak your emails? Give Campaign Monitor a look.
List Management and Reporting
Sending attractive emails to subscribers is well and good, but if you want to have a truly effective marketing campaign, you’ll need to crunch some numbers and move some names around. Note that all three services offer something MailChimp doesn’t: list segmentation, the ability to break your subscriber lists into a smaller “segment” for more precise campaign targeting.
Unless you’re working with the free plan (see Pricing), adding subscribers in Benchmark is a matter of copying and pasting a list or adding subscribers one at a time. You won’t be able to directly import a list from, say, Gmail, so you’ll have to export it into an intermediary program that allows you to copy and paste.
Benchmark’s data tools are basic, but fast, becoming available almost immediately after the campaign is sent. Benchmark provides users with several key pieces of data about each campaign. The (arguably) most important statistic, open rate, appears in both pie chart and numerical form. In addition, Benchmark provides users with stats for clicks, forwards, bounces, unsubscribes, and abuse. Each stat further breaks down to the exact email addresses associated with a given action. Users can export this data for further analysis via a .csv or .xls file. There is also a social media area which reports shares via Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, as well as a map which breaks down, by country, who opens your emails. If you’re looking for more, you’ll probably have to rely on an integration like Google Analytics.
AWeber offers two methods for contact creation: a form that allows you to add 10 subscribers at a time and an import tool that accepts pasted lists, spreadsheets, or text files. Like Benchmark, you’ll need to take an intermediate step to import lists from other web services.
When it comes to reporting tools, AWeber does not mess around. It presents the standard raw numbers and percentages (clicks, opens, unsubscribes, and the like). It also includes more advanced data such as opens, clicks, and revenue over time; subscriber growth; and stats by location, area code, or designated market area. In addition, you can compare results across your past 20 emails. You can track subscribers based on their sign-up method, and the list segmentation options provide plenty of ways to optimize your email marketing. Reports are well laid out and easy to understand; much of the data is presented in both chart and table format. There’s no option for integrating Google Analytics, but it’s less critical with AWeber than many other ESPs.
While Campaign Monitor also lacks third-party integration for importing contacts, it does allow for copy/pasting and direct uploads of spreadsheet files. One of the neat options for Campaign Monitor is the ability to add custom fields to subscribers as you upload them. This information comes in handy when taking advantage of Campaign Monitor’s extensive autoresponder system to send specialized messages based on data fields like birthday.
Campaign Monitor’s reporting tools are easy-to-use, with most information color-coded, charted or graphed. They’re not nearly as extensive as AWeber’s reports, so you’ll probably want to supplement with external analytics if you’re running a more advanced campaign.
Like Campaign Monitor, you’ll need to copy and paste your contacts in or import them through a spreadsheet (SendinBlue provides a downloadable spreadsheet template if you need one). SendInBlue also allows you to define custom fields, although the function is not as immediately apparent. You can also easily “blacklist” contacts you don’t want to waste emails on.
SendInBlues reporting tools cover most of the bases and provide nearly real-time feedback about who has opened your emails and which links they’ve clicked on.
If you absolutely need an email to get through, and get through securely, SendInBlue offers transactional emails upon request, which feature some additional tools to avoid bounces and other undesirable marketing fates.
List Management and Reporting Summary
Campaign Monitor offers some of the most versatile list segmentation and autoresponders in the business, allowing you to target subscribers with expert precision. On the reporting side, AWeber is the clear champ, presenting a broad array of data without the need for integrations or external programs.
MailChimp remains the–wait for it–gorilla in the room when it comes to ESPs, but it may be worthwhile for your company to experiment with some MailChimp alternatives. It’s quite possible that you’ll find a service that meets your particular needs better than the monkey ever could.