Choosing The Right Newsletter Platform

The Phidgets newsletter signup form

The Phidgets newsletter signup form

Phidgets just launched our newsletter. It serves as a great platform to announce new products, share product information, highlight user projects and give tips about Phidgets. If you haven’t done so already, make sure you sign up here.

Before committing to a service, I wanted to look into a few options. Since I’m sure other businesses out there might be interested in starting their own newsletter, it seems appropriate to share what I found. Wether you’ve started thinking about what you want in a newsletter or not, these reviews of email marketing services should provide a good starting point for getting you where you want.

I started by making a list of some features that are really important for Phidgets:

  • A simple web form that gives subscribers control of what information they want to receive
  • The ability to personalize the email with information catered to what the subscriber wants to receive, through something like dynamic content platforms and/or lists
  • Templates that work on all platforms, from web-based email to desktop to mobile devices
  • A/B testing ability
  • An auto responder that can followup on sales
  • Detailed analytics showing opens, clicks, subscribes and unsubscribes

As soon as I started to dive into the different platforms, I realized there are a lot more features I hadn’t even considered, to name a few:

  • What selection of stock photos are offered
  • How good the plain text version translates from the html version
  • Company logos being placed in the email and on web forms
  • Revision histories being accessible
  • Integration with other web services (like Paypal, Shopify, Amazon, Facebook)
  • If they have a phone app, and how well it works
  • How easy the editor is to use, and how easy it is to add or remove elements.
  • Being able to schedule newsletters to arrive at the same local time all over the world
  • The quality of support and resources offered
  • The cost of the service

I went through some reviews online and picked out five services that seemed popular and well-liked. There are a lot of services out there, and I couldn’t possibly get to all of them, but hopefully my comments will help you find one that meets your needs.

email-marketing-services

GetResponse

GetResponse offers professional tools for email marketing, that can be picked up by first-time and advanced users alike. They handle practically every facet of email marketing and do it really, really well.

The support they give for their services is amazing. They have weekly webinars, a “TV” channel and very up-to-date blogs about the latest features they’ve added and other useful tips. You can subscribe to their blog wether you use GetResponse, or not, which I’d highly recommend.

As far as the criteria I was looking for goes, they have some of the best tools for testing email campaigns, showing you how the email will look on web and desktop clients as well as a number of popular smartphones and tablets. Alongside the ability to personalize an email with fields like name and city (common to most email marketing platforms), they have a dynamic content API that lets you do really cool things, like show each recipient their own unique picture. Their A/B testing is easy to set up, and takes it one step further by running the test, then delivering the remaining emails based on results of the test. They also offer some of the best analytics I’ve seen. Their graphs show clicks, opens, social media interaction, unsubscribes, complaints and more, graphed over time. On top of this, you can send a message directly to people who clicked on a link or opened a message, just like that. GetResponse also has a variety of auto-responders. They have the ability to send to a specific audience by creating include and exclude lists for a specific email message based on the campaigns you’ve set up, saved searches and suppression lists you’ve identified. Their sign-up forms are pretty standard, but there are some ways to customize them and they allow some Facebook integration, too.

Some of the extra perks are a huge library of photos from iStock; a mobile phone app; a “time travel” feature that  allows messages to arrive at the same local time all over the world; revision history; lots of integration with sites like Amazon, Shopify, Twitter, Paypal and more; and some interesting automation like moving subscribers to a different campaign list upon a sale. GetResponse also just introduced a landing page service, which allows you to create pages to drive subscriptions, sales and engagement.

I don’t see how someone could go wrong with a service like GetResponse.

Mailchimp

After much waffling between GetResponse and Mailchimp, I ended up going with the latter. Mailchimp is one of the most popular email marketing services out there. It has a very attractive and friendly interface, with a keen interest in graphic design, making it easy to use for people of all skill levels. Mailchimp is really devoted to the customer as well and offers lots of ebooks about email marketing.

Some exceptional features they offer are allowing multiple people to access and add to a newsletter campaign; exceptional dynamic content creation; having auto responders for various events; having many ways to customize signup forms; and allowing you to send newsletters to arrive at the same local time all around the world.  Even for people with no HTML experience, it is so easy to pop in some dynamic tags. For people familiar with programming, you just end up saving a lot of time with these simple tags. There’s just endless cool ways to optimize emails with the merge tags; no one else has come close to copying this feature, in ease of use and breadth. Auto responders are available to people with paid accounts. The kinds of responders are quite broad, including signing up, making a purchase, birthdays, clicking on links and more. Their sign up forms can be easily embedded into an existing webpage, WordPress blog, or be set up on a tablet (when you’re at a conference, for instance). Mailchimp also has integration with Facebook to get signups through your company page, and to automatically share campaigns you’ve sent. The sign up forms are easy to build and offer a lot of field customization. Depending what fields you use, Mailchimp creates “groups” from your subscriber list, which can be used to send directed emails. Of all the services I looked at, Mailchimp definitely did the best with email signup forms. Finally, using the time warp feature offered to people with paid accounts, you can schedule newsletters to arrive at the same local time all over the world, like GetResponse.

Phidgets First Newsletter Campaign

Phidgets first newsletter campaign

Another big selling point for Mailchimp is that it’s free, as long as you send less than 12,000 emails a month and keep your list under 2000 subscribers. Even when you do want more, Mailchimp’s services are relatively inexpensive. They offer both pay by email and subscription services, so you can choose what’s best for you.

Like many of the other services, they have analytics to track clicks, opens, shares, bounces, unsubscribes and, if you use Ecommerce360, how many sales the email drove. The analytics also tell you where in the world the email was opened and who of your subscribers is interacting the most. They also compare your results with other campaigns in your industry, which is neat.

As a bonus, most of these features are also available from you smartphone with their app, which is pretty great.

Unfortunately, they don’t hit gold in all aspects. Their email testing is limited to sending out emails and testing how the campaign looks on devices you have access to. Although their templates do seem to work well on the devices I tested, it’s still not as good as GetResponse’s testing. For testing, their A/B tests can only be run on campaigns, whereas some other services allow you to test sign-up forms as well (full disclosure: I didn’t actually get to try Mailchimp’s A/B testing). I also found a bit of clunkiness on the campaign editor that makes formatting (especially text) a bit difficult. These are minor flaws to contend with given the companies superior design aesthetic and plethora of well-developed features. It’s hard to believe that they offer it for free.

Mailchimp is another service well worth considering for your next campaign.

Constant Contact

After seeing what other services had to offer, there wasn’t too much that jumped out at me about Constant Contact. The feature I like the most is that they allow subscribers to choose what lists they subscribe to. Everything else is pretty ho-hum.

Many of the features require manual work on your part. For instance, there’s no real automated A/B testing. You pretty much have to make two lists and then, later, choose what you want to test (delivery time, a design choice, the subject line). To followup on the tests, you just check the analytics and make your own inferences. Auto responders are built in for new subscribers, but if you want anything else, you have to go in to your subscribers information and set this up manually. Analytics are simple. Constant Contact shows clicks, opens, shares, who did this and when. It also gives a reference to how other emails in your industry performed, like Mailchimp.

One of my biggest beefs is with the sign up forms, they are incredibly limited and must have a footer with the Constant Contact logo. A little bit less annoying than this is their lack of cross-platform templates. They say “all templates resize automatically”, but that doesn’t mean they look as good on a roomy 27″ screen as a 5″ smartphone screen. On top of that, the only way to test them is to send out test emails, so you’re limited to whatever devices you have at hand. As far as list management goes, the data fields are quite limited and un-expandable.

On a good note, they do offer an advanced XHTML editor for dynamic content creation, but based on some forum topics, it seems it’s not available to everyone. They also have a smartphone app, although I didn’t get a chance to try it out.

At a slightly more hefty price tag, Constant Contact is not for everyone. It has its downsides for sure, but if you need easily managed, multiple lists, then Constant Contact is one option to explore.

AWeber

AWeber was early to get on the email marketing scene and is a popular email marketing service among professionals. Their biggest strength is in the analytics, which cover pretty much everything (opens, clicks, revenue, country, subscribes, follow-ups, et cetera), graphed over time.

Otherwise, I’m surprised at the lack of functionality. First, their auto responder (called a follow up series) is limited to emails to new subscribers. A/B testing is slightly more manual than other services. Testing is done just by sending test emails and checking it on whatever devices you have available to you (and the template I chose from their library didn’t look right on my smartphone). Lastly, the editor is a bit clunky (it enlarged some blocks I put in, and there was no way to resize). One feature I found particularly annoying is how they create extra fields. Basically, you have to use text-fields, so no radio buttons or checkboxes (despite having these kinds of fields listed).

Aweber analytics service

The Aweber analytics service (picture from Aweber)

The stronger features on AWeber include their analytics that I mentioned, as well as customizable sign-up forms, revision history, social sharing, subscriber segmenting, third-party tools and list descriptions that show up when someone goes to unsubscribe. The sign up form they offer is practically identical to the one GetResponse has, and like GetResponse it offers autofilling using details from a Facebook account, which is great.

Of the services I looked at, they’re the only service I tested that has social media sharing that shares the content it’s linked to, as opposed to the entire email. On top of this, the editor allows the user to configure what the social share button links to. They have subscriber segmenting that’s really easy to use and allows you to split your current list into focused parts. They have a bit of third-party integration with shopping carts like Paypal and Google Checkout, membership sites and podcasting tools, and lead services.

Aweber is great in a lot of ways, and not so great in some other ways. They offer some competitive pricing and some unique features. It’s easy to dismiss them based on their shortcomings, but the other features that they boast can make up for that depending on what you’re looking for. Even if you don’t end up using AWeber, I’d recommend checking out their blog as it covers many topics related to professional marketing online, and is open to everyone.

Benchmark

Benchmark is a stylish and affordable solution to email-marketing. It has the basics of email marketing covered without many bells or whistles.

It comes equipped with most of the essential features: A/B testing on subject line, campaigns, delivery time; auto responders for signup, birthdays or anniversaries, and any custom date fields you set up; sign-up forms; and the ability to create suppression lists to avoid sending emails to certain subscribers. You can also buy extra features like additional image storage and inbox checking (for verifying compatibility across different email clients). For personalization, Benchmark offers just the basics. Their analytics are also minimal, basically just looking at the number of opens, social media shares, clicks and geography. It’s pretty vanilla in those regards.

The biggest perk of Benchmark is that they’re affordable. It has a “Free For Life” plan that gives you 10,000 emails per month, as long as people only sign up through a web-form. For a nice looking platform at a reasonable price to suit your needs, however slightly limited, Benchmark gets the job done.


There are dozens and dozens of email marketing services out there. I’ve highlighted aspects of a few of these services and made note of some features that are important to a company like Phidgets. Hopefully this leaves you with an idea of what each one offers and helps you choose what to use for your next campaign.

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Math lover. Engineering communicator. Mad-lib enthusiast. Total nerd.

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