Building an email list is a tactic that savvy internet marketers have been using for well over a decade. But for a lot of bloggers, email marketing is a struggle. Welcome to our Building Your List series to help food bloggers start, grow and leverage the power of their email lists!
Today we're taking a look at 5 of the most popular email marketing services for bloggers to help you choose the provider that's best for you.
Editor's note: this article was updated in May 2019 to reflect changes to Mailchimp's new plan structure.
Now that we've covered why bloggers need an email newsletter list and given you a little bit of homework to do that will help you build your list (which we'll start talking about in the next post), it's time to choose an email marketing provider.
What Does an Email Marketing Service Do?
Before you can start building your list you're going to need an email newsletter provider. These are companies that specialize in giving you all the tools you need to manage your list and send your emails out. Here's a quick hit of what they'll do for you:
- store your list information
- manage subscribes and unsubscribes for you
- provide you with email templates that work for different mail programs and devices
- help you segment your list based on your subscribers interests
- actually send the emails out
- provide stats on your emails including number of opens, unsubscribes, number of links clicked, etc
- provide you with testing options, most commonly A/B split testing (an example of A/B testing is when you send out the same email to two different sample size groups on your list but with a different subject line. You can test which subject heading gets more opens and then send that version out to the rest of your list!)
- help you create email "funnels" and "sequences" that can hyper customize what you send out to different parts of your list (this is getting a little more advanced but it's also referred to as "automation")
Before we jump into some of the email features and pricing from the most popular providers among bloggers we wanted to mention two things.
- full disclosure, we use Mailchimp (but we are not an affiliate). It's the best solution for our current situation but that may not mean it's best for you.
- Rather than putting out blog posts, ConvertKit puts out Tradecraft - once a month in depth guides that cover individual topics relating to blogging and marketing. They're very well written and packed with information and useful tips. You'll need to give your email address to get access to the PDF version but we've found the value in the ConvertKit guides to be insanely useful.
Free Vs Paid Email Marketing Plans
There are literally dozens if not 100s of email service providers out there. Don't believe us? Check out this exhaustive list by Capterra. After a lot of research and surveying FBC Members, we've narrowed it down to five of the more common providers used among bloggers.
Almost all of the ones we mention in this article have a free trial period but only Mailchimp and MailerLite offer a free plan (with list size and send limit restrictions). All of the providers have tiered plans based on the size of your subscriber list. Big list, bigger monthly bill.
The Five Most Popular Email Marketing Providers for Bloggers
Mailchimp is a solid choice for beginners and the overwhelming choice of the FBC members who responded to our recent survey.
One of the reasons for their popularity is they offer a free plan for one audience with up to 2000 contacts (or 10,000 sent emails per month) with easy to use templates and basic analytics.
They also offer three different paid plans that are based on contact and audience size and provide additional levels of service depending on the plan you choose. Audiences are Mailchimp's new term for lists. Contacts include your subscribed, unsubscribed and cleaned audience members and they are all included in your pricing. But you can archive unsubscribed users and that will remove them from your contact list without losing their information entirely. It's a good incentive to keep your email list clean.
Pricing for each plan adjusts as your audience size grows. But, theoretically, your income from your email list should also be growing! All paid plans have access to all the Mailchimp templates, additional reporting, scheduling and additional seats (meaning you can add more than one person to manage your account - ideal if you have an assistant or employees)
Mailchimp offer some list segmentation tools, auto responders, and as one of the platforms that's been around for a long time, they do tend to integrate very easily with other tools like WordPress, Gumroad and Eventbrite. Many of the WordPress plug-ins that are designed to help you grow your subscriber list will integrate seamlessly with WordPress.
Mailchimp also offers a mobile app with some basic features for monitoring your campaigns and they have an excellent help library where we've always been able to find step by step instructions to do anything we've needed to do.
While Mailchimp been around a long time, some newer players in the field, like ConvertKit and MailerLite, have pushed Mailchimp to start innovating. The results are promising and they are still a solid choice for bloggers who are starting out or who have a small to medium list.
Mailchimp Pricing: (all prices in US dollars)
Please note - Mailchimp changed their pricing and plan structure in May of 2019. There is a legacy structure in place for people who held accounts before this date. You can read more about that here. What follows is the plan structure for new accounts.
Free account: up to 2000 contacts and 10,000 email sent per month, Your emails will have Mailchimp branding and you'll get basic reporting, basic templates and single email automations.
Essential Account: starts at $9.99 US/month and rises with your contact count. It has all the features of the free account but you can remove Mailchimp branding, have access to A/B testing, scheduled email campaigns and greater access to support. You can also have 3 audiences and store up to 50,000 contacts and have 3 seats for additional team members.
Standard Account: starts at $14.99 US/month and rises with your contact count. It has all the features of the Essential account but also includes custom templates, advanced audience insights, retargeting ads, greater automation, send time optimization, and delivery by time zone. You can have 5 audiences, store up to 100,000 contacts and have 5 seats for additional team members.
Premium Account: costs $299 US/month which included 10,000 contacts. The price increases with your contact count. All the features of the Standard Account but with premium support, advanced segmentation, additional testing options and comparative reporting. For most bloggers this would be overkill unless you have a very large list that brings in a good revenue stream.
Mad Mimi is another provider that's been around for a long time. It's strength is its ease of use when it comes to email templates. They don't have a lot of options but what they do have is easy to use and do basic customizations with (like adding logos and changing colours). They also have all the basic services you would expect in an email provider: reporting, auto responders, drip campaigns and basic reporting
Mad Mimi's other pro is that it's significantly less expensive than the other providers. While they don't have a free account level, the cost per subscriber is much less compared to Mailchimp.
But, with a cheaper cost you also lose some features - they don't have the same level of testing or delivery options and some of the services are not as robust as the other companies listed here.
Mad Mimi is a good option for those who are just starting out or who want an easy, basic way to communicate with their audience and have no future e-commerce plans.
Mad Mimi Pricing (all prices in US dollars)
Mad Mimi offers 4 pricing tiers each with additional tiers based on subscriber counts. There is very little difference between the tiers other than pricing and speed. It appears that you don't get additional features as you move between the tiers.
Basic: starts at $10/month and increases incrementally till you hit 10,000 subscribers when you are moved up to the Pro plan
Pro: starts at $42/month with 10,000 subscribers. You get twice the speed of the basic account and your price will go up incrementally until you hit 50,000 subscribers when you will move up to the Silver Plan
Silver Plan: starts at $199/month with 50,000 subscribers and increases incrementally until you hit 350,000 subscribers and then you move to the Gold Plan
Gold Plan: starts at $1049/month for 350K subscribers
MailerLite is a newer email option but their feature list is right up there with the big players. We had heard from some FBC Members that their pricing was significantly less than Mailchimp but when we did some comparisons we only saw big savings if you had a very small list or you were over 10,000 subscribers.
Mid-range sized list costs were similar to Mailchimp but, Mailchimp does increase their rates in smaller increments for small to mid-size accounts so MailerLite does have some savings there. (all the providers except AWeber have calculators the help you see your cost based on the size of your list - we suggest you check them all out).
From our research we found that most of the comparison reporting available showed that MailerLite did better when it came to ease of use, including their drag and drop editor and list management, over other providers (and as Mailchimp users ourselves we can attest to it being a struggle to manage our lists). But, we also read reports of MailerLite having some issues with spam blacklisting, which is a concern.
While we have concerns abut the spam blacklisting we think MailerLite is a solid option for bloggers at all levels with good pricing and strong features. If you're interested you might want to research the spam issue further and see how they are working to resolve it.
MailerLite Pricing (all prices in US dollars)
One of the things that we loved about MailerLite is that they have a robust set of features and they make them available to all paid plans!
Free Plan: like Mailchimp, MailerLite offers a free plan. Their's is for up to 1000 subscribers or 12,000 sends/month and you do have limited access to features.
Paid Plans: MailerLite really only has one paid plan where the cost changes based on the numbers of subscribers you have. All their advanced features are available at all levels of the paid plan and there is an option to pay an additional $100/month for premium support (something most bloggers won't need).
AWeber is another granddaddy in the email newsletter arena and has been around for a long time. They were not our favourite option for bloggers. Their pricing starts at $19.99/month for up to 500 subscribers so they're already quite a bit more expensive right out of the gate and continued to be so at all levels. We also didn't love that you couldn't access pricing info for over 25K subscribers without requesting a quote.
In our research we also read that unsubscribed users are still counted in your subscriber list which could significantly affect your monthly bill unless you manually remove them from your list (most other providers will leave on them on your list but remove them from your subscriber count for billing). We weren't able to confirm this though so it might be a question to ask if you're considering AWeber.
But AWeber does offer some interesting options like a gallery of over 6000 stock images you can use and their automation does look easier to use than some of the other providers. They appear to have robust reporting features and a sophisticated mobile app.
AWeber Pricing (all prices in US dollars)
AWeber offers tiered pricing based on subscriber numbers. They do have a 30 day free trial but do not offer a free plan or a lite plan.
Tiered pricing starts at $19.99/month for up to 500 subscribers and goest up to $149/month for up to 25,000 subscribers. For lists over 25,000 you'll need to request a quote from them. You can view the entire pricing structure here.
ConvertKit is a newer player on the scene and, interestingly, was developed with bloggers in mind (their founder, Nathan Barry, was a blogger prior to starting ConvertKit). They bill themselves as Email Marketing for Creators. ConvertKit has been responsible for a lot of the innovation in the email arena in the last 5 years and has forced many of the older players to catch up.
They excel at list segmentation and tagging which allows you easier ways to send your emails to the right people on your list through sophisticated targeting. (i.e. if some members on your list only want recipes, you can make sure they only get your recipe emails, while if others are interested in your meal planning resources they can get access only to those - or to both if they love both!)
ConvertKit also does well with automation and email funnels (which if you're a beginner can sound like another language!).
So... the cons... they don't have drag and drop email templates and if you have multiple lists that are very different, ConvertKit readily admits they won't be the best choice for you (this is one of the reasons we haven't moved to ConvertKit - we manage two very distinctly different email lists).
ConvertKit's pricing is on the more expensive side but they freely state that their product is designed for those who are selling so you should be making or looking to make money from your list if you're considering ConvertKit. If you're not interested in selling via your email this might not be the right platform for you.
They do offer a complete migration service if you have more than 5000 subscribers on another email platform which removes a giant headache if you're considering switching providers.
ConvertKit has a lot of great things going for it but we would suggest it's a better fit for larger bloggers who are using their list to market and sell products or services or to new bloggers who are planning to sell products and services in the immediate future.
ConvertKit Pricing (all prices in US dollars)
ConvertKit offers both monthly and yearly billing with a small discount for annual billing (however we're not sure how this works when you outgrow your plan!).
They offer tiered pricing based on subscribers with all levels getting the same features and support. Pricing starts at $29/month for up to 1000 subscribers and then jumps to $49/month for up to 3k subscribers and increases incrementally from there.
So there you have it - the first step to starting your list is choosing an email marketing service. Hopefully this will help you with your research as you get started.
Are you already using one of these platforms? How is it working for you? Or are you using something we haven't listed here for your blog? Let us know in the comments.
In our next article we'll be covering off how to get started with building your list so stay tuned!