A friend emailed me recently and asked:

If you could recommend any email marketing software that I could use to capture email addresses from a web form and then run email campaigns?

A simple enough question. But not so easy to answer with the wide variety of options available. Before I answer the question with the names of companies to use, it is important to make a distinction with the different types of email providers.

List based email

Traditionally, email marketing software has a concept of lists. If you want to run a particular campaign, you create a list for it. A person can join that list with their email address.

When you send emails to the list, you have two main options: broadcast email and autoresponders. A broadcast email is a one off email that you send to your list. So if you have a weekly newsletter, you are in effect sending a new broadband email every week. An autoresponder is a series of emails that you send in sequence. You could, for example, send 5 days of emails when new person joins the list. Every person who joins the list gets the same 5 emails.

If you want a different campaign, you start a new list. For example, on BeFused I have a list for people who are interested in Drupal tutorials. I have a second list for people who have purchased my book. The reason why I have a second list is because those people and only those people get updates to the book and other emails that relate to the book. I have a third list with an autoresponder that only some people get. And a fourth list for people who opted in for free ebooks.

As you can see, before long you can end up with a lot of lists. And you can end up with duplicate email addresses when people belong to more then one list. It is not very easy to automatically add people to a new list without asking them to specifically subscribe to it.

It is possible (sort of) to do all this with a single list and use custom fields to tag people on the list, but in reality, list-based providers aren’t normally flexible enough to handle that well.

Marketing automation

This problem is solved with marketing automation based providers. With true marketing automation software, there is just one list and everyone is in it. You can tag peopled based on their interests. You can set various triggers to tag them based on the links they click on, the emails they open and pages they visit on your website. And with those tags in place, you can segment your emails and autoresponders. A person can have any number of tags and stay in the same list.

Marketing Automation software is really flexible. You can still keep it simple and as your needs grow, it will grow with you without the need for complicated multiple lists.

Marketing Automation allows you to automatically move people between different email sequences depending on their interests and behaviour. Your readers will get much more targeted emails as a result. You can also automatically move people into a sales sequence if they are really engaged.

Leading providers

With that out of the way, let’s have a look at some of the leading providers for each type.

List based

  • MailChimp is the biggest and also one of the most affordable. Prices start from free.
  • Campaign Monitor is more expensive than MailChimp and has a more polished interface.
  • AWeber is one of the oldest email providers around.

Marketing automation

  • Drip bills itself as “lightweight marketing automation”. It might not have all of the bells and whistles of the heavy duty providers, but it is very well thought out and powerful enough for most businesses
  • ConvertKit is another lightweight marketing automation system, build specifically for creators.
  • InfusionSoft is one of the heavy hitters. It is also one of the most expensive. If you have a very large list (well over 10,000) then you might get the benefit out of the extra power
  • Ontraport is an all-in-one solution that combines lead capture pages, forms, SMS messaging, order forms along with marketing automation.
  • ActiveCampaign combines email marketing, marketing automation and a CRM (customer relationship manager).

Out of the providers on the list, I have used both Campaign Monitor and Drip. Campaign Monitor is a great place to start if your needs are small and you have a simple newsletter. I have multiple opt in incentives and am segmenting my list more and more, so am moving everything over to Drip.

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