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.
- Is MailChimp’s Pricing Fair?
- How Simple Is Creating and Importing Email Lists?
- How Simple Is It to Create and Send Effective Emails?
- How Useful Is MailChimp’s Reporting?
- How Difficult Is It to Add New Subscribers to Your Lists?
- What Unique Features Make MailChimp Special?
- MailChimp Mobile
- Alternatives to MailChimp
- A Summary of MailChimp
Is MailChimp’s Pricing Fair?
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.
Paid Plans – “Growing Business”
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.
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.
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 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
- Multivariate testing: this is essentially advanced split testing, although it works best on large lists
- Predicted demographics: 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.
How Simple Is 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.
How Simple Is It to Create and Send 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.
Emails are handled under “Campaigns” in MailChimp.
When you create a new campaign, you have a few different options:
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
All email campaigns start off the same.
You give the campaign a name, and 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 with a modern design.
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).
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.
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
- 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
- HTTP Basic
Working with the API
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.
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.
Alternatives to MailChimp
- How easy do you want your software to be?
- How robust do you want your A/B tests to be?
A Summary of MailChimp
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.