Email marketing is one of the most popular marketing channels used today. It is also one of the most affordable types of marketing and is often a smart investment. If you want to start your own email marketing program, there are several software solutions available that can help you with your efforts.
This guide will help you understand how email marketing software works, the best email tools, and how they can benefit your business. We will help you choose the best email marketing solution for you, and cover common mistakes to avoid when evaluating your options.
Table of Contents
- What is Email Marketing?
- What is Email Marketing Software?
- Do I Need Email Marketing Software?
- What are the Benefits of Email Marketing Software?
- What to Consider When Evaluating Email Marketing Software
- What Email Marketing Software Tools Should I Consider?
What is Email Marketing?
Email marketing is marketing that is conducted using email. Popular types of marketing emails include newsletters, lead nurturing emails, abandoned cart emails, and post-purchase drip campaigns.
Email marketing begins with the creation of an email using text or HTML. Next, the sender adds the email addresses of the recipients and schedules the delivery of the email. The email is delivered into recipient inboxes, who then open and interact with the email.
Email marketing is very popular among businesses of all types. A 2020 study by the Content Marketing Institute showed that email marketing is the third most popular distribution channel for both B2B and B2C marketers. 87% of B2B marketers and 79% of B2C use email to distribute their content.
What is Email Marketing Software?
Email marketing software helps businesses execute successful email marketing campaigns. These solutions offer features that assist with the entire email marketing lifecycle from creating email templates to delivery, and tracking email campaign performance.
There are a few different types of email marketing software. The email marketing software created for business-to-business companies is materially different from the email marketing software created for business-to-consumer companies. In addition, email marketing software varies greatly depending on the size of the company using it. Smaller companies need more basic solutions, while enterprises require highly customized solutions.
Do I Need Email Marketing Software?
If your business consistently sends emails to your customers or clients, we strongly recommend that you implement an email marketing solution. Using a personal email account for email marketing has several disadvantages that can be easily solved by email marketing software. Here are some of the problems that email marketing software can solve:
|Your email service provider (ESP) or internet service provider (ISP) limit the number of emails you can send||Email marketing software allows you to send bulk emails to your audience.|
|Your emails don’t look professional||Email marketing software includes drag-and-drop email builders with pre-designed email templates that make it easy to create professional emails.|
|Your emails don’t look great on some devices or inboxes||With email marketing software, you can preview and test your emails before sending them, so your emails are optimized for any device and inbox.|
|Your emails are not being delivered to your recipients||Most email marketing solutions have features to improve deliverability. This includes double opt-in, spam checkers, and email authentication, to ensure that a high percentage of your emails successfully reach your recipients’ inboxes.|
|You spend a lot of time sending emails||Email marketing solutions automate email campaigns, so your emails are automatically sent to your recipients.|
|You want to execute advanced marketing campaigns, but cannot||Email marketing tools come with features like segmentation, content personalization, and trigger emails that support advanced marketing strategies.|
|You’re not sure which emails are performing the best||Email marketing software includes analytics and A/B testing tools to help you measure and optimize performance.|
What are the Benefits of Email Marketing Software?
The benefits of email marketing software can vary depending on business type. For example, the goals of a B2B marketer are often different from a B2C marketer. Here are four benefits of email marketing that are true for any business regardless of industry or type.
Improves Email Delivery Rate
Email marketing software comes with many features aimed at improving email deliverability rates. In other words, more of your emails reach recipient inboxes, not spam folders. This improves customer communication, and increases the business impact of email campaigns.
Improves Email Relevance and Performance
Email marketing software helps you create and send personalized, targeted emails to your audience. You can collect customer data, such as contact information and survey responses, and use that to personalize emails. You can also use segmentation to send targeted emails to only the most relevant portions of your audience.
Saves Your Time
Bulk email deliveries and automated messages are easy to send using email marketing software. This saves you considerable time compared to using a personal email account. For example, email marketing software allows you to create drip campaigns that send a series of automated emails based on the behavior of your contacts.
Provides Performance Insights
Email marketing solutions offer reporting and analytics tools to help you track the performance of your email marketing campaigns. Common metrics you can track include click and open rates. Reporting and analytics help businesses take a data-driven approach to measuring the success of their email marketing campaigns, and discover opportunities to improve campaign performance and business impact.
What to Consider When Evaluating Email Marketing Software
The two most important factors to consider when evaluating emails marketing software are:
- Am I a B2B or B2C business?
- How many emails do I plan to send per month?
As mentioned above, B2B and B2C email systems come with many different features. B2B systems have features such as lead scoring and lead nurture that are not found in B2C systems.
In addition, your email volume and contact list size will determine whether you need a basic, intermediate, or advanced email system. Mailchimp is an example of a basic system, while solutions like ActiveCampaign and Campaign Monitor are intermediate.
Most small businesses need a basic or advanced B2C email marketing system. For those, there are four primary criteria you should use to evaluate email marketing software:
- Customer support
There are 7 common features that you should look for in small business email marketing software. Depending on the solution, some features we highlight below may not be included.
Data Integration and Storage
Email marketing solutions help you collect and store data from your audience. This data is key to segmentation, personalizing content, and implementing trigger emails.
Data is collected and stored into data fields. Email marketing solutions have default data fields, like names and email addresses, that are collected for all contacts. Solutions also offer custom data fields, like birthdays and zip codes, that can be used to collect specific information relevant to your business. Some solutions limit the number of custom data fields you can create, and some offer unlimited custom data fields.
Importing customers and data is similar in most email marketing solutions. In general, you can import data by:
- Collecting information through sign up forms
- Importing spreadsheet files containing customer data
- Importing through an open API
- Importing through integrations to third-party software
- Manually entering customer information through copy and paste
Email marketing solutions allow you to use the data fields we discussed in the previous section to create segments of your audience. Using segments is a best practice to increase the relevancy of your emails, and save cost by reducing send volume.
You can add conditions to your segments to narrow down your email list. Here are some examples of common segment conditions:
- Opened campaign in the last 3 months
- Clicked on a specific link
- Last email bounced
- Is located in the USA
Many solutions limit the number of conditions you can add to a segment. Some of the best solutions allow you to add an unlimited number of conditions per segment.
Email marketing solutions include a drag-and-drop email builder that allows you to create custom and professional emails. You are able to add different design elements, like images and buttons, and customize the layout and formatting of your email templates. Most solutions also offer an editor for HTML and text-based emails.
Our tests found that the majority of email builders found in the most popular solutions are comparable. However, you may find some email builders to be easier to use than others. As we will discuss in-depth later, you should hand-test different solutions yourself to test the usability of this feature.
Most email marketing platforms offer basic email testing features, so you can preview how emails appear on desktop and mobile devices. More robust solutions offer better email testing tools that show you how emails will appear on a variety of different email clients and devices.
Most email marketing solutions offer an A/B testing tool that can be used to optimize your emails. You can create multiple versions of an email, and the system automatically sends each version to a portion of your customers. You can A/B test different variables, such as email content, from name, send time, and subject lines.
More basic systems only allow you to A/B test subject lines. More advanced systems will allow you to A/B test entire emails and even multi-email campaigns.
Email marketing solutions allow you to send a series of automated emails to your audience. The best solutions include a visual drag-and-drop builder that allows you to build complex workflows from scratch. You can add splits and branching points based on your contacts' behavior and data.
Less robust solutions do not allow you to create splits and branching points in your automation workflows. You are limited to sending emails in a single sequential order. This limitation should be a deal-breaker if your business is serious about creating targeted and personalized email campaigns.
You should choose an email system that gets a high percentage of your emails into recipient inboxes. In the email world, this is known as deliverability.
In general, the most popular email marketing solutions on the market today have strong reputations for deliverability. Here are some deliverability features you should look out for:
- Automated blacklisting for unsubscribed contacts
- Automated contact removal for hard bounces
- Dedicated IP address
- Dedicated click tracking
- Deliverability analytics and reporting
- Double opt-in
- Supports email signatures for DKIM, SPF, and DMARC protocols
- Unsubscribe option
Reporting and Analytics
Email marketing solutions help you monitor the performance of your emails and campaigns. Here are some of the metrics you can track in most email marketing solutions:
- Click rate
- Open rate
- Total Clicked
- Total Hard Bounces
- Total Opened
- Total Recipient
- Total Sent
- Total Unsubscribed
Most email marketing solutions offer a free plan or trial, which are useful when testing a product’s usability. You should create a mock email campaign during your tests, and compare the user experience of the different platforms.
Here are some questions to ask when testing usability:
- Are features well organized, and is navigation simple?
- Is the email builder easy to use?
- Is importing contact data complicated?
- Can you easily create complex segments?
- Can you easily create complex drip campaigns?
- Is the analytics dashboard well organized and customizable?
- Are reports easy to understand?
Email marketing software ideal for SMBs typically cost between $10 to $350 per month. Here are the main factors that affect the price of a solution:
- Number of contacts
- Number of monthly email sends
- Features included in the plan
Pricing structures vary depending on the software vendor. Here are three different types of pricing structures found in popular email marketing solutions:
|Email Marketing Software||Pricing Structure Details|
In addition to paid email marketing software, many solutions offer a free plan. Free plans are ideal for businesses testing a product before purchasing, and new businesses that are not ready to invest in an email marketing solution.
Exceptional customer support can reduce time spent troubleshooting, and is particularly important when you are first learning how to use the platform. Here are some questions you should ask when evaluating the customer support of email marketing software vendors:
- Does the company offer live chat, phone, and email support?
- Does the company offer one-on-one onboarding support?
- Is customer support available 24/7?
- Is customer support available in all subscription plans?
- Does the company provide a publicly available status page that displays any software issues in real time?
Information on customer support can be found on the pricing page of a vendor’s website, or by directly contacting the company’s support line. To get you started, here is a quick overview of customer support in email marketing software:
|Email Marketing Software||Customer Support Details|
What Email Marketing Software Tools Should I Consider?
There are a variety of email marketing solutions available today. We’ve included three of the most popular, highest rated solutions below. If you have limited time, we recommend comparing and selecting one of three two solutions.
You can also browse our complete list of email marketing software reviews.
Mailchimp: The Most Popular Email Marketing Software For Small Businesses
Mailchimp is one of the most popular email marketing platforms on the market. Its target audience is small businesses, and offers a forever-free plan that includes 2,000 contacts and 10,000 monthly email sends. Mailchimp is one of the most user-friendly solutions available, and requires minimal technical expertise.
Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Atlanta, MailChimp has quickly grown into one of the most recognized email marketing services in the world, and is currently used by over 14 million businesses. One of MailChimp's primary selling points is that it requires minimal technical expertise, and no coding capabilities, in order to create professional marketing campaigns.
Campaign Monitor: The Best Overall Option For SMBs
Campaign Monitor is one of the best email marketing solutions for businesses that need a moderately-advanced and competitively-priced platform. Unlike Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor offers unlimited monthly email sends. However, Campaign Monitor’s free plan is less generous than Mailchimp’s.
ActiveCampaign: The Most Advanced Solution For SMBs
ActiveCampaign is the most fully-featured solution on this list. Its A/B testing is more robust, and includes a built-in CRM and SMS marketing.
ActiveCampaign is a Chicago-based tech company with over 250 employees. Their SaaS-based marketing platform helps small and medium-sized businesses automate a wide range of marketing processes, to help grow their business. ActiveCampaign is reasonably priced, making it a suitable option for small and medium-sized businesses.
Email marketing software is one of the most popular marketing channels used by B2B and B2C businesses. We recommend that all businesses explore implementing an appropriately complex and priced email marketing system. If you're ready to learn more about email marketing tools, check out our in-depth reviews for the most popular email marketing software platforms available today.