MailChimp is one of the biggest names in email marketing software, right up there with Constant Contact and AWeber.
I’ve personally used all three, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses.
I’ve put together this review to help you decide if MailChimp is right for your situation. It’s broken into six sections that cover all the main areas of email marketing tools. I’ve based these on the questions that I ask when I’m looking for an email marketing tool.
If there’s a section that you’re not interested in, feel free to skip it.
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Overview of Mailchimp Features
Here is a run-down of some of the leading features included in MailChimp.
- E-Commerce Integration
- Marketing Automation
- Landing Pages
- Social Media Advertising Features
- Mobile App
- Flexible Designs
- Advanced Analytics
- App Integration
- Data Insights
MailChimp Plans and Pricing
The first thing you should know is that there is no free trial on MailChimp.
But there’s a good reason for that.
The Free Plan
Unlike virtually all competitors, MailChimp offers a free plan. As in permanently free.
The free plan is actually good enough for many small businesses. You can add up to 2,000 subscribers, and send up to 12,000 emails per month.
If you go over those limits, then you will have to upgrade to a paid plan.
You don’t get all of MailChimp’s features on the free plan, but you get most of them. And if you compare what you get to the lowest tier of other email marketing tools, you get more.
For example, automation (being able to set-up autoresponders, mainly) is usually a premium feature on most tools. It’s only available at additional cost. On MailChimp, it’s available on every plan, including the free one.
Additionally, the free plan offers A/B testing and reporting.
This offer is one of the biggest reasons that MailChimp rose to popularity in the first place.
The Growing Business Plan
MailChimp has two levels of paid plans. The vast majority of small businesses will be content with the “Growing Business” plan, so I’ll focus on that here.
Pricing According to List Size
The cost of this plan scales with the size of your list. Every 500 additional subscribers that you have will bump the price a little. This is a much more flexible pricing system than other competitors offer.
You can use MailChimp’s pricing calculator to get an idea of how much a paid plan would cost your business.
All plans allow you to send unlimited emails.
What Do I Get with the Growing Business Plan?
Here are 9 features that may persuade you to upgrade to the MailChimp ‘Growing Business’ paid plan.
- Unlimited Contacts
- Unlimited Emails Per Month
- Unlimited Live Chat Support
- Unlimited Live Email Support
- Custom Branding
- Multirative Testing
- Comparative Reports
- Send Time Optimization Features
- Advanced Segmentation Features
Even if your list isn’t over 2,000 subscribers yet (the free plan limit), there are a few extra features that you get with a paid plan that you might want:
- Email Support
- Live Chat Support
- Delivery by Timezone
- Multivariate Testing
- Predicted Demographics
Email and Chat Support
I’ll go into this later, but the short version is that free plans do not come with email and chat support.
Delivery by Timezone
Paid plans let you set an email delivery time, and it can be adjusted for each of your subscriber’s timezone.
This is essentially advanced split testing, although it works best on large lists.
Somehow, MailChimp is able to estimate the gender and ages of your subscribers to allow you to create segments in your lists, which can allow you to create more specific, higher performing emails.
Keep in mind that you can always start with a free account and upgrade later. Same goes for a paid plan: you can start low and upgrade as your list grows.
Creating and Importing Email Lists
List management is very intuitive in MailChimp.
Of your menu options at the top of the screen, everything will be found logically in the “Lists” area.
If you have an existing list of subscribers or customers, the first thing you’ll want to do with any email marketing tool is to import them.
To do so, you’d select “Add contacts,” and pick “Import”:
You have three simple options:
- Import from file: Any CSV or text file will work
- Paste in contacts: If your subscriber is in a weird format, just paste them in here
- Integrations: If you’re already using a tool like Zendesk or Salesforce, you can automatically import your customers’ details.
The import methods work smoothly in almost all cases. I’ve yet to have an issue. And duplicate emails are removed automatically.
One big concern is that you don’t want existing subscribers to have to opt-in again to receive your emails. With MailChimp, imported subscribers do not need to opt-in again, which is great.
Creating and Sending Effective Emails
Considering the whole purpose of email marketing tools is to allow you to send emails to subscribers, being able to create quick and attractive emails is important.
Click on the Campaigns Tab
Emails are handled under “Campaigns” in MailChimp.
When you create a new campaign, you have a few different options:
Choose from 4 Types of Campaigns
The meaning of each option is not immediately obvious:
- Regular: This is your standard one-off email blast. You create the email by picking a template and customizing it.
- Plain-text: Just like a regular email with no images or formatting. Again, a one-off action.
- A/B test: Again, this is for creating a single email, but different versions of it. You can split test things like subject lines and email content.
- Automated: This allows you to create emails that are only sent when specific events happen. You can also create autoresponders here.
I’ll walk you through creating each type of campaign quickly, except for “plain-text,” which is nearly identical to a “regular” campaign.
Creating a Regular Email in MailChimp
All email campaigns start off the same.
- You give the campaign a name
- You choose the list (or segment of a list) that it will be sent to.
But then your options are different based on the campaign you choose.
In a “regular” campaign, you’ll have to fill in any missing information like the email subject line and who the email should be from, which is the information the recipient sees.
You will be shown a list of email templates similar to this:
There are more than 50 templates to choose from, and all of them are responsive to a modern design.
At no point do you have to start with a blank slate when designing your marketing emails.
MailChimp offers a number of templates that you can use to build your emails. In addition to letting you pick your template based on its design elements, you can choose one based on the task you are trying to complete (e.g., making an announcement or educating your recipients).
Once you have chosen a template, you can edit it as much or as little as you would like. There is a drag-and-drop editor for those who are less comfortable with email design, while those who are more confident can edit the source code itself.
Once you pick a template, you then use the visual editor to customize the email to your liking.
You view a preview of the email on the left, and when you click an element in it, you’ll be able to edit it on the right panel. It’s all smooth and intuitive — it’s a nice editor.
Finally, you choose the sending settings, like when the email should be sent.
Creating an A/B Test Email Campaign
An A/B test campaign is similar to a regular campaign with one key difference.
Right at the start, you’ll be asked to choose which element of the email you’d like to split test.
You have four options:
- Subject line
- From name
- Send time.
Whichever option you pick, you can test two or three variations of it. You’ll notice that you also get to set a winning combination.
Basically, the variations are sent to a portion of your email list. The bigger the email list the better.
Then, MailChimp will track each version of the email you created, and determine which one is better, and send the best version to the rest of your list.
Other than that, you finish the campaign just like a regular one. The only difference is that you’ll be asked to create two or three versions of whichever aspect of the email you’re testing.
Creating an Autoresponder Through Automation Campaigns
This is one area of MailChimp that I strongly believe could be clearer.
While it functions well, the process is not always intuitive.
There are a variety of automated campaign options to choose from. That being said, the functionality that almost every business looks for is an autoresponder.
There is no “autoresponder” option.
Instead, you could actually create one through a variety of the options available. I’d suggest using the “welcome new subscribers” series.
From there, you can either pick “onboarding series” or “welcome message,” either will work.
If you choose onboarding, it will prepopulate a few emails in your autoresponder.
If you choose the welcome message option, only a single email template will be generated.
The reason I say “it doesn’t matter” is because you can always add (or delete) as many emails as you’d like to the series with a single click of the “add email” button at the bottom.
From there, you can start by editing the trigger to choose when it’s sent (the time from the previous email). There are many advanced triggers that allow you to do things like only send an email if the previous one was, or was not, opened.
Don’t be confused by “Schedule every day all day.” That just means that the email is always ready to be sent if the trigger condition is met.
After you’ve set up your trigger, click “Design email” for each email in your series, and create it just like a regular email (from above).
Video above: Learn how this small business uses MailChimp’s automation to engage and delight customers.
How Good is MailChimp’s Deliverability?
MailChimp doesn’t actually give a specific deliverability number for a reason that I agree with.
They say that it’s because deliverability depends on so many factors, like user behavior (are they spamming?), subscriber behavior, and more.
What’s more important is that MailChimp takes steps to keep deliverability high. It uses hundreds of unique IP addresses, and abuse-detection technology, to keep other users from affecting your email deliverability.
Anecdotally, I’ve sent hundreds of thousands of emails through MailChimp, and I’ve never had significant issues with emails not going through correctly.
How Useful Is MailChimp’s Reporting?
MailChimp has all the basics when it comes to reporting, with a lovely design.
Reports include things like open rates, click rates, and even data from others in your industry.
Paid plans also come with more advanced reporting, which may be useful for your business.
You can single out an individual subscriber and generate an activity report. This shows you:
- Which emails they opened
- When they opened them
- What they clicked.
In addition, you can do group searches to find segments of subscribers who all performed a certain action (opened an email, clicked a link, etc.).
You could then send targeted emails to these segments.
The final reporting feature of note is that you can integrate MailChimp with e-commerce stores (if you have one) to see which emails are generating revenue.
This allows you to really learn which emails produce the most revenue for your business, and why.
How Difficult Is It to Add New Subscribers to Your Lists?
You need to be able to add new people to your email lists without too much struggle.
The first option you have is using the MailChimp API.
I’m impressed with the documentation. There are plenty of clear guides to walk you through it.
While there aren’t any language-specific code examples, other people have created libraries for MailChimp in popular languages like Python and Ruby.
Alternatively, you can create a signup form to link people to or embed on your website.
To create one, go to “Lists,” and select the list you want the form to sign people up for. Then, click “Signup forms” and pick an option:
Here you can edit all the text and choose the general styling option:
By default, it’s not very attractive, which may actually be a big deal for you. There is a CSS guide provided for customizing it, but if you’re not too technical, this might be pretty confusing and frustrating.
What Unique Features Make MailChimp Special?
There are a decent amount of features that might make you choose MailChimp over a competitor.
First are the advanced segmentation options.
You can create segments of your lists based on whether subscribers performed certain activities.
For example, if someone opens an email where you’re offering a product or service, but they don’t buy anything, you can add them to a segment. Then, you could send that segment an email with a coupon or more information to push them towards the sale.
Run Social Media Ads Straight From the MailChimp Dashboard
This is a big plus. You can not only run Facebook and Instagram ads, you can also run Google retargeting ads from your dashboard.
Also you can choose to target people on your lists through those ads or find “lookalike” audiences, with similar characteristics, on social media to expand your reach.
Video above: Find out how this small student-run business is using MailChimp ads.
Multivariate testing is just like split testing, but instead of testing one aspect, you can test up to four (subject lines, from names, email content, send times).
Just like split testing, you set the condition that lets MailChimp pick the best version.
While this is cool, keep in mind that you need a big sample size to get statistically valid results. The more variations, the bigger the sample size you need.
Unless you have several thousand subscribers (at a minimum), this won’t be useful.
More About Using the MailChimp API
For developers (and other tech-savvy users comfortable with custom code and integration with RESTful APIs), the MailChimp API is a great way to do things like
- Sync email-related activity with your database
- Link and save campaign stats to your database
- Test different calls and endpoints before pushing your work to a production environment
(Those who want to implement the functionality mentioned above but are not comfortable with the complexity of custom code and integrations should look in the Plugins and Integrations Directory for an easier-to-implement solution).
The MailChimp API supports two methods of user authentication:
- HTTP Basic
The easiest way for you to authenticate is to use HTTP Basic. You can use any string as your username, but you will need your API key, which MailChimp sets as your password.
Working with the API
There are a lot of things you can do with the API (much more than we could cover in this article). Rest assured, however, that should you proceed down this path, MailChimp offers lots of well-written articles to guide you in your usage of its API. Not only are all the endpoints well-documented, but MailChimp also provides many code samples you can use to implement your desired feature set.
This allows you to import customer email addresses, and to tie your emails directly to revenue.
More specifically, some of the things you can do include:
- Integrating with your Shopify store to gather data you can use when setting up email marketing campaigns (for example, you might want to send out holiday-specific coupons to those who have purchased specific items in the past).
- Integrating with KISSmetrics so that you can export data about the people who received, opened up, and clicked-through your MailChimp emails. You can create visual displays with your data to better understand how your campaigns are doing.
- Integrating with Antavo to implement loyalty programs.
Send Emails Based on Timezones
Instead of sending an email to everyone on your list at the same time, you have the option to send it to each person at that specific time in their timezone.
This makes it much easier to maximize your open and click rates.
MailChimp ships mobile apps for iOS and Android users so that they can create and send campaigns, manage their subscription lists, track account activity, and so on, from their mobile devices.
The MailChimp WordPress Plugin
WordPress users can easily integrate with MailChimp using the MailChimp for WordPress plugin. This makes it easy for you to gather information from the users that visit your WordPress site.
Does MailChimp Offer Support?
As mentioned, free plans don’t come with support. However, the freely available documentation is very good.
Additionally, free plans actually come with 30 days of free email support to get you started.
Paid plans have 24/7 email support. They respond relatively quickly when you need help.
On top of that, Chat is available during the day from Monday to Friday.
What are Some Good Alternatives to MailChimp?
MailChimp is one of the largest (and one of the most well-known) email marketing platforms around, but that does not mean that it does not have any competitors. It does, and depending on your circumstances, a MailChimp competitor might be a better fit for you and your business.
Here are some alternatives to MailChimp that you might want to look into and consider:
AWeber vs MailChimp
For small-scale users, AWeber is slightly more expensive to use than MailChimp. Both companies offer lots of features commonly-used for email marketing, but AWeber has more themes and templates (as well as a stock image library) that you can use to create your emails.
Furthermore, AWeber offers template customization services, but this comes at a cost.
MailChimp, however, has better A/B testing functionality. You can conduct such tests via AWeber, but there are more steps you will need to take to set everything up manually.
Constant Contact vs MailChimp
MailChimp and Constant Contact are very similar products, but there is one area where MailChimp is better: automation. MailChimp makes it easy to implement such functionality, while Constant Contact makes it difficult.
With that said, Constant Contact has the edge on MailChimp in customer service.
MailChimp is not known for its customer service (in fact, some would say it is nonexistent), whereas Constant Contact has more options. Constant Contact customers report that their support staff is always helpful and responds quickly as well.
Another difference between these two providers is that MailChimp charges their users for unsubscribed contacts, while Constant Contact will not charge you for unsubscribed contacts.
For those seeking trials, MailChimp offers a simple forever free plan, and Constant Contact offers sixty-day trials.
If you find yourself trying to decide between GetResponse and MailChimp, the two biggest factors (in our option) are:
- How easy do you want your software to be?
- How robust do you want your A/B tests to be?
MailChimp provides for slightly easier to use software, though GetResponse makes up for its complexity by being more flexible.
Both companies offer robust A/B testing, but GetResponse offers a more feature-rich testing experience.
With that said, MailChimp does offer a free plan, which is great for a small business just getting started with email marketing and may not have a robust budget for such tools.
However, as you grow your business and your subscriber lists get bigger, GetResponse may be cheaper in the long run.
Frequently Asked Questions About MailChimp
Have more questions? Read on!
What is the purpose of MailChimp?
Can I use MailChimp for free?
MailChimp is a solid email marketing platform for almost any small business.
- Signup forms are not too attractive
- Creating autoresponders isn’t intuitive the first time.
- The free plan is amazing
- Paid plan pricing is fair and scales as you need it
- Easy to import subscribers
- Great advanced segmenting options
- A/B and multivariate testing available.
I’d recommend giving MailChimp a try if those strengths above are important to you.