Whether you’re a blogger, a solopreneur or a small business, you need an email marketing service to keep your fans and clients informed.
Email marketing still outperforms social media marketing, so it makes sense to pick a service that fits your requirements and doesn’t cost you a fortune.
In this post, we’re looking at ActiveCampaign vs MailChimp. Two great services that are reasonably priced (starting from free) and have tons of handy features.
Each service has its pros and cons, so let’s dive in and see which one is best for you.
ActiveCampaign began in 2003 as a solution for business owners who needed a way to keep in touch with their contacts. Since then they’ve refined their solution to become a leader in marketing automation.
ActiveCampaign - Pros
There’s a lot to like about ActiveCampaign, so let’s take a look at some of its finest points.
Contacts are the driving force in ActiveCampaign.
A contact in its simplest form is a unique email address. But more importantly, a contact only counts once even if it exists in multiple lists.
That is an important fact. Many email service providers charge you multiple times for the same contact if it’s on more than one list.
For instance, let’s say Mad Lemmings has several lists:
- SEO Checklist
- SEO Success Formula Course
- Keyword Research Course
First I sign-up for the SEO Checklist. Now I’m a contact, and I’m on the first list. (I’m probably tagged too – more later).
A few weeks later I join Ashley’s brilliant SEO Course. Now I’m on a second list. But I still only exist as one contact in the system.
You get the idea.
A contact record can contain a whole lot more information than just an email address, too:
Are you thinking you’ll have to add loads of fields to your opt-in form to collect all that contact info?
Even if you only collect an email address on your opt-in form, ActiveCampaign can automagically add a contact’s age, gender, location, interests, social profiles, and more.
It’s scary, but at the same time extremely handy.
Tags are cool.
They’re a great way of adding snippets of info onto your contacts.
For instance, let’s say you decide to have one master mailing list rather than three separate lists. You could add a tag to each contact to distinguish their behavior; e.g.
- Prospect – someone who joined your mailing list
- Customer – someone who bought your product
If a ‘prospect’ decides to buy your product, then their tag can be updated to ‘customer’ using some automation magic. (More on that later…)
Another way to use tags is on individual opt-in forms. These are particularly helpful on content upgrades.
For instance, let’s say you have a couple of lead magnets on SEO and WordPress that you use on related content posts.
You can add the relevant tag to each opt-in form:
- Post A – SEO Checklist – Tag = SEO
- Post B – WordPress Speed Booster Checklist – Tag = WordPress
The tags serve two purposes:
- They help identify which lead magnet to deliver
- They help identify what interests the contact has
Tagging lets you easily segment your list into groups and send targeted campaigns. For example, if you have a special offer coming up on a new WordPress plugin you could choose to send your email to the contacts tagged with ‘WordPress’ and/or ‘Prospect.’
When you send targeted campaigns, your contacts are more likely to open and read your emails as the message is relevant to their interests.
Talking of segmentation…
ActiveCampaign lets you create segments of lists in many different ways, not just based on tags.
You can create segments like these, for example:
- Is a member of List A
- Clicked on Link B
- Is based in the USA
- Replied to Campaign X
And you can narrow or broaden your segment using the “AND” and “OR” operators.
[Adding additional conditions with “AND” logic will narrow the contacts that match your segment and adding conditions with “OR” logic will broaden the contacts that match your segment.]
So you could have:
- Is a member of List A “AND” Clicked on Link B “OR” Replied to Campaign X
- Is a member of List A “OR” Is based in the USA “AND” Clicked on Link B
If you liked Contacts, Tags, and Segmentation, then you’ll love Automation.
ActiveCampaign has a powerful drag-and-drop Automation Builder. Using the visual editor, you can easily create fully automated workflows based on triggers. After an automation is set up, it continues to run with no further input from you.
Let’s take a look at some examples of using automation.
1) Automated email follow-up
Most email service providers have an autoresponder that you can use to create a basic drip sequence (a timed sequence of emails) that treats all your contacts the same.
But with ActiveCampaign you can get more sophisticated.
For instance, your automation could check to see which link a contact clicked in your welcome email. Then, depending on which link they clicked, it would send entirely different messages.
As a result, you would get a decision branch (like in the image above) which is easy to visualize and control. And it gives you a lot of power over how to address your email list.
2) Moving contacts between lists
You don’t always want a contact to remain on one list. So, you can set up automation actions to move them.
- You could move a contact from a Prospect List to a Customer List if they purchased an item
- You could move a contact from the Welcome List to the General List once their initial automated sequence is complete
3) Trimming your lists
It’s good practice to keep your lists healthy. Not everyone who signed up 2 years ago is still interested in what you have to offer. And you may have shifted direction, too.
To keep your lists lean (and your monthly subscription costs down) you could set up some automation rules to delete inactive contacts. For example:
- If a contact has not opened the last five emails, send a friendly reminder offering them to stay or leave.
- If a contact has not opened the last six emails, then remove them automatically.
*Pro Tip: A lot of these sequences can be found in Active Campaign user groups, so you don’t have to know, understand or set them up yourself!
4) Reacting to contact behavior
Automations can begin when someone (a contact) performs an action such as visiting a page on your website or opening an email.
- If a contact visits your sales page repeatedly but doesn’t buy anything, then send an automated email asking if they need help.
- If a contact opens an email but doesn’t click the link, then send a follow-up email two days later.
ActiveCampaign - Cons
There’s not much we don’t like about ActiveCampaign. But there are a couple of minor points worth mentioning:
Steep learning curve
ActiveCampaign is not super intuitive if you’re not technical. This is just a warning if you like your tools simple.
The automation editor is excellent, and the visual editor helps you picture your intended workflow. It’s just that sometimes workflows may get a little complicated and that can be overwhelming at first.
Like with most new tools you’ll have to invest some time in getting to know the ins and outs, or as we prefer to say: “playing around with it!”
There is no timezone delivery in ActiveCampaign. (This is something we like in MailChimp.)
When you press send, or schedule your campaign, your email will be sent to everyone at the chosen time. So, if you send an email at 9:00 AM in London means it will get delivered at 4:00 AM in New York. This is probably not the ideal time to send an email if you’re looking for optimal open rates.
Active Campaign Pricing Overview
ActiveCampaign has four different offerings depending on the size of your business: Lite, Plus, Professional, and Enterprise.
The Lite Plan has plenty of features to get you started:
- Unlimited sending
- Email Marketing
- Send Newsletters
- Marketing Automation
- Chat & Email Support
- Up To 3 Users
The other higher level plans introduce features like Advanced CRM, SMS, and Custom Domain.
Within each plan, there are different prices depending on the number of contacts you have. (See below)
Prices start from $9/month for up to 500 contacts. So, even if you are just starting out it's still pretty competitive.
Here’s a quick comparison of the monthly prices:
- If you pay annually, you can get a 15% discount.
- Try ActiveCampaign with a 14-day free trial - no credit card required.
MailChimp is the world’s leading email marketing platform, sending more than a billion emails a day on behalf of its 15 million customers.
MailChimp - Pros
MailChimp is easy to use, so let’s look at some of it’s best features.
With RSS-to-Email, you can publish your new blog posts and send it automagically to your email subscribers. Ie. without even thinking about it.
That’s a great time-saver!
Inside MailChimp, you can:
- create your RSS template
- control how many posts go out
- decide how often you send them - daily, weekly, or monthly
Here’s an example of my blog feed, that I’ve scheduled to go out every Tuesday at 9:00 AM:
Don’t worry: A campaign will only go out when you post something new.
Here’s a basic RSS email template I knocked together, using a single column template.
1. Add RSS Content
I’ve used Excerpts, so only the first few lines of the blog post will be sent in the email:
2. Add RSS Header
Next I’ve added the blog header, and I’ve uploaded the blog post image:
3. Send RSS Email
And here’s what the email looks like:
When it comes to delivering your emails, there are a couple of neat features in MailChimp.
Like most service providers, you can send your email campaign immediately. But with MailChimp you can also choose from one of these smart options:
1. Send Time Optimization - this option lets MailChimp decide what will be the best time to send the email to get the best open rate and clicks. MailChimp uses its email delivery data to determine what is the best time to send an email to each subscriber.
2. Timewarp - this option lets you specify a delivery time in each subscriber’s local time zone. For example, if you want to send your campaign at 11:00 AM, then no matter which time zone a subscriber belongs to they’ll receive it at 11:00 AM in their local time.
Segmentation and Groups
MailChimp encourages you to create segments and groups from one master list rather than creating multiple lists. There are pros and cons to this idea depending on your business.
A Group is a collection of subscribers based on their interests and preferences. For example, on Mad Lemmings, we might choose to create three distinct groups based on these categories:
- Social Media
A Segment is a collection of subscribers based on shared qualities, like engagement activity. For instance, MailChimp has some pre-built segments:
- Subscribers who joined in the last week
- Subscribers who haven’t opened any of the last five campaigns
- Subscribers who recently purchased a product
- Subscribers who haven’t purchased in the last 6 months
You can also create your own segments.
Remember in ActiveCampaign how you can use a combination of “AND” and “OR” operators to create a unique segment?
Unfortunately, MailChimp is limited to using “All” (“AND”) or “Any” (“OR”).
If you choose “All”
- You can create a segment of All subscribers who:
Opened Email A “AND” Opened Email B “AND” Clicked in Email C
If you choose “Any”
- You can create a segment of Any subscribers who:
Opened Email A “OR” Opened Email B “OR” Clicked in Email C
But if you wanted to create a segment of subscribers who:
- Opened Email A “AND” Opened Email B “OR” Clicked in Email C
then you’d be stumped.
Segmentation is a good idea, as it helps you send targeted messages to sections of your list, but the functionality is limited in MailChimp.
MailChimp - Cons
MailChimp has plenty to offer and is easy to use. But sometimes you feel it just lacks a little bit of oomph.
The automation in MailChimp is not as advanced as ActiveCampaign.
MailChimp’s Automation is better than the old-fashioned autoresponders, like you get in AWeber, which restrict you to sending a single email based on a subscriber’s action.
With MailChimp, you can create a targeted series of emails triggered by a specific date, event, or subscriber’s activity.
MailChimp includes several preset workflows created for different industries. You can use them ‘as is’ or use them as a starting point to develop your own workflows.
Here’s a snapshot of some of the Ecommerce workflows:
There are also preset workflows for Nonprofit, Education, Music, and Software. Plus, you can create custom workflows too.
Unfortunately, MailChimp does not have visual automation like ActiveCampaign. Visual workflows for automation are a lot easier to understand because you can see the workflow mapped out in front of you.
You can create as many Lists as you want in MailChimp, but there various drawbacks.
The main problem is that it’s not possible to send your campaign to multiple lists.
When you create your campaign you have to choose one of your lists:
That’s why MailChimp encourages you to create one master list and use Groups and Segments.
However, It’s not ideal for all businesses to do this.
It’s OK if you run separate lists, perhaps if you have separate businesses and domains, or want to separate customers and partners.
But for online content creators, it can become a pain.
Mailchimp Pricing Overview
There are three different pricing options for MailChimp. You can choose how you want to pay and what features you want.
The Forever Free plan gives you a free email marketing service forever; i.e. it’s not limited to a 14-day free trial.
- You can only have up to 2,000 subscribers.
- You can only send up to 12,000 emails per month.
- Some features excluded; e.g. Automation, and the Timewarp message scheduling.
- No access to email and chat support, only the online documentation.
Prepay is the stepping stone in-between Forever Free and the Monthly subscription plans.
You get access to all the features but without the commitment of a monthly fee.
As MailChimp puts it:
“If you’re not a frequent sender, you can purchase credits that work like stamps for email.”
For example, you could buy 300 email credits for $9:
The monthly subscription plans include all features and support.
Prices start from $10/month for up to 500 subscribers.
Here’s a quick comparison of the monthly prices:
Price Per Month
0 - 500
501 - 1000
1001 - 1500
1501 - 2000
2001 - 2500
2501 - 2600
2601 - 2700
There is no annual discount option with MailChimp
Try MailChimp with a forever free trial - no credit card required.
So which one should you use?
If you’re just starting out, then you can’t argue with MailChimp’s Forever Free plan. You don’t have to worry about costs; you can just get started with a good service. Sure, it doesn’t have all the features included, but what do you expect for free.
If you need to start using some of those excluded features, like the Automation or TimeWarp Delivery, then you can move onto their Prepay option. Again, it’s an excellent way to control your costs.
The next step is where you have to make your big decision.
Once your business starts growing, do you go with MailChimp’s Monthly Subscription service or switch over to ActiveCampaign?
Regarding pricing, there isn’t much to choose. MailChimp has more incremental steps, but when you compare like-for-like stages they are almost identical:
(Price Per Month)
(Price Per Month)
0 - 500
501 - 1000
1001 - 1500
1501 - 2000
2001 - 2500
2501 - 2600
2601 - 2700
2801 - 5000
As the pricing is on a par, then you have to weigh up the functionality.
While MailChimp is robust and straightforward, ActiveCampaign has a lot more flexibility.
The Visual Automation, Segmentation, and List Management are all more advanced than MailChimp. The learning curve might be steeper, but in the long-run, mastering these features will help your business grow and keep your contacts engaged.