THE BEST EMAIL MARKETING SOFTWARE OF 2016

Email marketing is one of the earliest forms of marketing products and services over the internet and remains a simple and powerful method of promotion to this day. It is convenient, inexpensive, and works to both sustain existing relationships and foster new ones with incumbent customers. E-mail marketing has come a long way since the almost exclusively text laden documents from the early 2000s to the very attractive presentations that are interactive and animated that are in use today.

Many email marketing service providers offer a host of services to fit any demand you might have of them and then some. Your emails can contain basic text and images as well as complex JavaScript templates for attractive looks and interactivity. Service providers also distinguish themselves on many other ancillary services such as management of contact details, proper analysis of contacts and the user base as well as accruing new customers and developing and implementing customer outreach programs. There is something for every budget in this domain.

PAYMENT SYSTEMS

Most email marketing software is subscription based, since they are really service providers. They can either bill you on the number of emails you send (to as many contacts as you want) or the number of people you send (as many emails as you want). You can choose from a variety of payment plans as well as pricing tiers depending on what features you want and the constraints of your budget. If you have a particularly large client list, you might even qualify for a special plan devised exclusively for you after discussing the terms with the service provider personnel. Making payments by the year can also net you some attractive discounts on pricing if you are confident about your long term prospects with the particular email marketing service provider.

Prices for most typical business ready email marketing packages range from USD5 to USD20 per month. These plans often include unlimited emails and instead charge you based on the number of unique addresses you send to, making them suitable for small businesses with small outreach lists but uneconomical for businesses with large client lists. Those businesses might benefit from getting a custom plan made for them tailored to their needs and billed accordingly.

USABLE INTERFACES AND SUPPORT SERVICES

Of course, the most feature packed software will not get the job done unless you can use it effectively. This is where good design and focus on usability comes into play. A well designed user interface is absolutely essential for you to get the most out of the marketing services that you pay for. The controls should be well laid out with modern graphics and logical layouts and workflows. Interfaces that are too cluttered or have important controls hidden within menus betray a lack of investment in developing the client front end. You should always prioritize a company that puts as much thought into the usability of their services as they do the service itself.

Also look out for the customer support that they provide. They provide an essential marketing service that is crucial to the success of your business endeavor; as such, you must be able to count on them helping you with any problems that might arise during operation. Most service providers offer customer support over phone, email, and instant messaging in addition  to having extensive documentation about their services and self-support resources that you can use to try to diagnose the problem by yourself.

CAMPAIGN CREATION SERVICES

Many email marketing services will also help you set up a dedicated email marketing campaign as well. Since many small businesses often approach them for a marketing plan, they often employ in house marketing personnel who help design marketing strategies tailored to the specific needs of the clients. They can often help you get your client list started by letting you, for a nominal fee, access databases of customer details for email information and other contact details. They will also help you integrate your existing clients in to the new workflow by allowing easy import of CSV or Excel files as well as many third party webmail contacts and customer relationship management data. Verification of customer data, managing spam and customer initiated cancellations of subscriptions are also among the services provided.

In addition to this, creating the actual body of the email newsletter that is to be sent also requires extensive utilization of resources. If you have predesigned templates or designs, they can be seamlessly integrated into the new system and optimized accordingly. You can also use the provided resources to design your newsletter from scratch by using readymade drag and drop assets and other user interface elements. The creation tools are extensively feature packed and can let you customize the newsletter to your heart’s content and test all the possible iterations before you finalize on a particular design. You can also test your finalized document for elements of strings of text that might trip up spam filters on popular email clients and remove them. Getting your emails marked as spam can have catastrophic efforts on your marketing campaign and such false positives must be avoided as far as possible.

THE CONTENDERS

Campaigner
PROS: Very well designed user interface; Easy to get started; Premade templates available; Supports easy integration of custom designs; Mobile friendly formatting options available; Stellar customer support.
CONS: Free trial requires you to submit your credit card information; Has issues importing contact information from Gmail webmail; Host of advanced features might confuse beginners; Expensive than the competition
VERDICT: Campaigner is one of the best and most usable email marketing software available on the market. It has a host of advanced features that seasoned users will appreciate and you can try all of its services during the trial period. Campaigner can also tackle some of the best enterprise level software head-on.

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MailChimp
PROS: Can be used entirely free of cost; Extensive integration with third party tools and plugins; Helpful documentation and self-help resources; Pre-designed templates to get you started immediately; Built-in campaign editor for on the fly customization; Cheap and affordable plans for any budget.
CONS: Analytics and auto-responder features require a paid subscription; Requires extensive verification processes before you can buy a paid plan; Real time reports not available; Refreshing the modules takes a fair bit of time.
VERDICT: MailChimp is extremely easy to install and get started with immediately. It is perfectly suited to the needs of small businesses and offers a fair amount of functionality at very affordable prices with minimal effort.

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ActiveCampaign
PROS: Feature packed; Wide third party integration; Unlimited emails on all payment plans; Does not require a credit card during the trial period; Large support library and resources.
CONS: Short 14 day free trial; Does not offer customer support over telephone; Clunky and cluttered interface hampers usability.
VERDICT: ActiveCampaign is a fairly decent piece of software that offers many advanced features for a good price. However, better alternatives exist on either side of the spectrum of price/features.

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iContact
PROS: Offers multiple email building tools and workspaces; Offers unlimited emailing ability; Allows for creating exclusion lists and unsubscribe lists; Excellent social media integration; Built in survey tools.
CONS: Cannot import contact data from Gmail webmail or other third party email client or web interfaces; Auto responder extremely limited in functionality; Does not support Google Analytics; Image storage allowances are borderline unusable; Limited customer support.
VERDICT: iContact excels at managing subscribers and extending customer interaction beyond email into the social media domain. It does lack some very basic and important features though. However, it is highly usable and offers no nonsense functionality from the get go.

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AWeber
PROS: Offers unlimited emailing; Excellent help documentation; Cheap paid subscriptions; Extensive reporting services and capabilities.
CONS:No free options available; No third party integration; Have to import contacts from webmail clients and third party software manually; Does not support Google Analytics; Slow processing.
VERDICT: AWeber offers plenty of functionality in contact management and customization of templates but is severely handicapped by its lack of third party integration.

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Campaign Monitor
PROS: Offers auto respond functionality based on data-based and contextual cues; Offers a host of templates and form formats; Implementing user segmentation is very easy; Easy to create feed systems for RSS to email; Integrates with Google Analytics
CONS: Does not have a native image library for using graphics resources; Cannot import contact data from webmail and third party clients and address books; Analytics are not updated in real time; No customer support over telephone.
VERDICT: Campaign Monitor offers many advanced features with its powerful auto respond functionality but has a major disadvantage in not having third party integration down pat. Lack of phone support is disappointing.

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Constant Contact
PROS: Plans are affordable for most users; Helpful documentation and materials; Large number of readymade templates; Built in editor functionality; Can create forms; Integrates with Google Analytics; Offers a mobile app
CONS: Has issues in testing; Plans are expensive; Limited auto respond functionality; Slow to load; Very little storage facility.
VERDICT: Constant Contact is easy to use and offers a mobile app so that you can administer your account on the move. It has a very polished look and feel but often short changes customers with its featured plans.

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Zoho Campaigns
PROS: Offers a host of advanced functionality; Cheap plans; Great for running a platform jointly with other teams.
CONS: Extremely dated user interface; Limited integration with third party services; Limited selection of design templates.
VERDICT: Zoho Campaigns is a well featured product that offers some top level functionality at affordable prices. The dated user interface is a drawback, but navigation remains fairly usable.

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SendinBlue
PROS: Bundles in SMS campaign packages along with traditional email; Unlimited contacts on all plans; Offers a completely free plan; relatively inexpensive subscriptions.
CONS: Free plan lacks many core features; Non uniform usability; Lacks any form of integration with third party software; Bundled templates of very low quality.
VERDICT: SendinBlue offers a decent amount of functionality at good prices but lacks any usable third party integration. Its bundled templates are extremely basic and it supports unlimited contacts.

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Autopilot
PROS: Attractive user interface; Offers advanced features; Many auto respond options; Supports detailed workflows.
CONS: Might be too confusing for basic campaigns; No customer support over phone; Limited selection of email templates; User interface is clunky and needlessly complicated; Prioritizes sales services over email services.
VERDICT: Autopilot is part of a customer relationship management service, but its focus on its sales components hurts its functionality as an email marketing service. The complicated workflows are not easy to make use of out of the box. However, it is cheap considering the advanced functionality it offers.

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