How to choose the right email marketing service providers

  • What are the challenges of email marketing in 2019?
  • What to look for when choosing an email marketing service provider
  • Who are the leading email marketing service providers?

[mks_separator style="solid" height="2"]

In 2019, email marketing remains a fundamental part of a successful digital or inbound marketing strategy. No other marketing strategy allows you to speak so directly to your customers. But like any inbound marketing strategy, it requires the right tools to get started. This is where email marketing service providers come in.

On the face of it, email service providers all essentially do the same thing – allowing you to send out emails in bulk to all, or parts of, your marketing list. In truth, the reality is more complicated – and there’s a significant variation in capabilities depending on the provider you choose. It’s important, therefore, to get the right trade–off between price and functionality. To help you make this decision, this blog weighs up the pros and cons of four well-known email marketing service providers.

The best email marketing service providers in 2019

In the early days of inbound marketing, email campaigns usually took a ‘spray and pray’ approach; meaning emails were sent out to the largest possible audience of contacts. This was based on an almost folklore-like formula that, on average, about 25% of emails would be opened, and somewhere between 10 and 20% would result in click-throughs. Logic therefore dictated that the more emails sent out, the higher number of click–throughs, and thus leads would be generated.

Regardless of how effective that strategy was, it’s certainly not the way things are done in 2019. Since then, several factors have forced email marketers to change tack. From shopping to online streaming, we increasingly live in a world governed by personalisation. For better or for worse, today’s customers expect their digital experience to be closely tailored to their tastes and preferences. Emails that broadly appeal to a large demographic have never been less effective.

If email marketing by bulk was already on its way out by 2018, then the implementation of the GDPR in May that year marked its final days. The regulation forced companies selling in and to the European Union to delete all contacts that hadn’t given express opt-in consent. By definition, the bulk approach to email marketing relied on large mailing lists, which virtually overnight had been deleted. But the upside of such a drastic change was that the resulting marketing lists, though much smaller, were more targeted, focused and higher quality.

Today, to appeal to these vastly different marketing lists, content must be eye-catching and most importantly, personalised.

In 2019, the best email marketing service providers take these changing requirements into account. When choosing the right provider for your email marketing campaign, there are a number of important factors to consider:

Audience segmentation options

Users should be able to break down their email marketing list into subgroups, by product usage, demographics, and historical interaction with the company. This allows them to better target emails towards focused demographics.

Simple user interface with easy functionality

Creating an effective, eye-catching email shouldn’t be time-consuming – and it shouldn’t take a professional designer to effectively manage it. Marketers looking to save money should look towards simple tools that create professional looking emails using simple drag–and–drop functionality.

Third-party integration

To target email contacts effectively, email marketing requires high-quality data. Larger organisations will, therefore, require a tool that integrates with customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, most notably Salesforce, so they can easily take advantage of existing customer data.

Automatic category updates

Effective marketing lists should adapt to changing circumstances. Categories should be able to change automatically if users perform a certain action, like clicking a link or downloading a content resource. Users that have already opened emails should be sent different kinds of emails to those who haven’t.

Taking these factors into account, here’s a look through the pros and cons of some of the most well-known email marketing service providers.

1. Mailchimp

Founded in 2001, Mailchimp has remained one of the most popular email marketing platforms virtually since its inception. For many people, this is the first and only port of call. Its popularity in the market is largely thanks to its simple user interface that allows users to easily build and edit professional looking email templates. In particular, it’s known for its simple drag–and–drop functionality. As well as this, it’s a comparatively cost-effective option, making it a popular choice for marketers or organisations with smaller budgets.

Mailchimp also performs respectably in other categories, such as strong integrations with third party platforms. These include Salesforce, Typeform, OptinMonster, and most importantly, Google Analytics.

Where audience segmentation is concerned Mailchimp runs into difficulties and doesn’t compare as well with some lesser known alternatives. Segmentation is possible but is generally achieved through a process of manual tagging, which can be time consuming. It doesn’t support functionality for automatically editing categories based on user actions. Though this is possible it can be a long-winded manual process that requires plenty of maintenance over time.

Mailchimp pros and cons

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Strong integration capabilities
  • Most cost–effective option

Cons

  • Limited email segmentation functionality
  • Difficult to achieve bulk dispatches
  • No user category automation

2. ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign is a more specialised email marketing tool than many, with a specific focus on automation. ActiveCampaign’s focus is enabling you to set parameters that will divert emails to specific people, based on a wide range of factors. Audience segmentation is naturally a winning feature of the platform; users can easily curate a customised user journey, adding categories that change and adapt depending on what actions the contact has previously taken.

The automation tool is designed using an easy–to–use flow diagram that establishes clear parameters for which emails a user should receive. Actions such as ‘new order placed’ and ‘customer abandons cart’ are easy to follow up with the relevant email template. It also comes with a range of email process templates that make it easy for users to get started.

The main place where ActiveCampaign runs into difficulties, however, is when we consider integrations. The software doesn’t natively integrate with any third party tools, meaning users have to go out of their way if they want the platform to interact with Salesforce, Typeform, OptinMonster and others. Though integrations are possible, they require going through alternative applications or tools to combine capabilities, which can be both difficult and time-consuming.

Active Campaign pros and cons

Pros

  • Intuitive interface that makes automated flows simple
  • High automation potential
  • Impressive resources and customer support

Cons

  • No native integrations
  • Email template builder could be easier to use

3. Drip

Drip defines itself as an ECRM, or ecommerce customer relationship manager, sitting about halfway between a traditional CRM and an ecommerce platform. On Drip, email marketing is one feature within a wider package of capabilities that aim to integrate the whole spectrum of customer relationship management tools into one place. However, email marketing, with a focus on automation, remains an important part of the platform.


Source

By its nature, combining ecommerce, CRM and marketing automation lends Drip to a specific type of business – larger retail businesses with a need for marketing automation. Within its niche it works well, but it’s more expensive than some of its competitors, and its email automation capabilities aren’t as seamless as they could be. One frustration is that email automation flows can’t be edited after they’re published, which makes it difficult to tweak and improve automation as your business scales.

Because of its particular qualities, Drip isn’t suited to everyone. If your business requires an all-inclusive integration of customer relationship platforms, you’ll find in Drip a solution uniquely tailored to your needs. If you’re looking for is an email service provider without the bells and whistles, however, you’re probably better off considering the alternatives on this list.

Drip pros and cons

Pros

  • Impressive native integration capabilities
  • Unique combination of ecommerce, CRM and email marketing services
  • Includes capabilities for nurturing and managing leads

Cons

  • Workflow automation could be better
  • A more expensive tool than some
  • Published automation flows can’t be edited

4. Hubspot

Like Mailchimp, HubSpot is one of the biggest names in the digital marketing sphere – though not just as an email service provider. They offer ‘a full stack of software’, include marketing, sales and customer service tools. One of their most well-known offerings is the HubSpot CRM – a completely free tool with a fair offering of CRM capabilities.

To get the email marketing capabilities, however, you’ll have to go for the marketing hub software. Compared to Mailchimp and ActiveCampaign it can actually be quite expensive because it combines email marketing with a variety of other digital marketing tools and capabilities. The clear benefit from an email marketing perspective is the ability to integrate its capabilities within your wider digital strategy. It also integrates well with tools like Salesforce, Typeform or MailChimp.

The platform is easy to use, and designing emails is simple for non-professionals to get started with. Automation potential is available, but the tools aren’t quite as sophisticated as competitors on this list, like Drip and ActiveCampaign. For email marketing alone, HubSpot probably isn’t the best value choice on this list. But if you’re looking for something that can support you at every stage of your digital and inbound strategy – it’s certainly a good place to start.

HubSpot pros and cons

Pros

  • Strong insights into your audience
  • Potential to align all inbound marketing on a single platform
  • Includes an impressive social media management tool

Cons

  • An expensive choice
  • A more expensive tool than others
  • List management and email automation functionalities could be better

Which email marketing service provider is right for me?

The features and benefits of each of these email service providers mean that there’s no single platform that stands out from the crowd. Different organisations will have different requirements from their email strategies. Choosing the best provider will require careful consideration of the offerings and capabilities available, the price and the individual requirements of your organisation. Getting this right is the key to creating a successful email marketing strategy.

Alternatively, the email marketing experts here at Fifty Five and Five can design and maintain a specialist email marketing campaign tailored perfectly to the requirements of your company. Get in touch with us today to find out more.

Looking to improve your marketing?

We can help! Talk to us about your business and the specific barriers you come up against when trying to generate leads.

Get in touch


Where do you rank in the world of the Microsoft Partner Top 50?

  • 2019's Microsoft Partner Top 50 ranking is complete! 
  • Discover this year's trends and get your hands on a copy of the report

[mks_dropcap style="letter" size="52" bg_color="#ffffff" txt_color="#20a1d6"]W[/mks_dropcap]e’ve been very busy over the last few months at Fifty Five and Five, putting together the latest edition of the Microsoft Partner Top 50 Digital Marketing Report. Now in its fifth year, the report showcases the best of digital marketing from Microsoft Partners of all sizes, and is set for release at Microsoft Inspire 2019, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

We have: 

  • Compiled a (very) long list of partners from across the IT industry  
  • Crunched the numbers 
  • Narrowed down the longlist to a shortlist and finally a complete list of the best marketing efforts from partners according to our scoring

How we score partners

Ranking is conducted via our Partner Benchmarking ToolThe tool ranks over 40 metrics spread across three categories: 

  • Blogging – frequency, clarity, quality etc. 
  • Website – speed, structure, SEO etc. 
  • Social – reach, output, engagement etc.

The score from these individual metrics combine to make an overall score, which is used to rank Microsoft Partners.  

Every year we learn a lot about the state of digital marketing across the Microsoft Partner Network and the IT industry in general. This year was no different. Here are some of the findings from our report data that may help you focus more on your marketing strategies and improve the return on investment of your marketing. 

Overall findings

The biggest difference between partners who made the Top 50 and the average Microsoft Partner was between their blog score and social media score. There was, comparativelya very small distinction in website scores between those who made our list and the average partner. This could suggest that the quality of websites is improving across the Microsoft Partner Network while the quality of blog pages and social channel performance is much more varied.

Microsoft partner top 50

Table 1: The average website, blog and social score for the Top 50 and the average Microsoft partner

Know your range and stay social

The figure below shows the Top 50 score range demonstrating the difference between the minimum value and the maximum value for website, blog and social media. Some companies may have scored well across all measures, while others may have scored high in one area such as their website but low in other sections such as social. Social media had the most varied results which shows that, for some companies in the Top 50, their social performance may be the area that’s bringing their overall score down. 

Microsoft partner top 50

Figure 1: The difference between the maximum and minimum value for Top 50 scorers for the website, blog and social

Website 

Although there was little difference between website scores across the Top 50 and the average, there was still some notable disparities. The total number of outbound and inbound links for the Top 50 and the average was 401 and 208 respectively, a 92.55% difference. Although there is no specific number of outbound and inbound links that is the perfect amount for your website to succeed however the more links, and especially inbound links, means more traffic and better search rankings.  

In addition, Top 50 partners’ desktop speed was 14.87% faster than the average partner and mobile speed was 13.22% faster. Some of the best ways to improve website speed is to enable file compression, minify CSS, Javascript and HTML and reduce redirects. 

Blog 

There are many important factors when it comes to assessing blog performance such as days between posts, readability, length, images, ALT tags, outbound links, sentences, title length, URL length and more. One of the most important factors is the frequency of posts. The Top 50 across the years have been posting on average every 4-5 days while the average partner is more sporadic and posts on average every 15-28 days.  

Writing high quality content consistently is the key to not only good blog performance but also increasing website traffic. And, as you might expect, it can have a positive knock-on effect on social channels too. For example, our own website over the last four years has received, on average23% of total pageviews from blogs. That’s slightly more than one in five website pageviews via a blog post 

Another critical factor in content performance is the overall blog length. The average length in 2019 for partners in the Top 50 was 840 – this is 9.32% higher than the average partner. In general, the top scorers have an average blog length of between 800-1,000 words while the average is between 500-700 words. 

Outbound links also play an important role in blog performance. It can help improve reputation, increase page ranking and encourage backlinks. The average number of outbound links per blog for the Top 50 were 4.35, 59.63% higher than the average. 

microsoft partner top 50

Figure 2: A yearly comparison of the Top 50 (best) and the average Microsoft partner

Social media platforms 

There is one important factor when it comes to measuring performance on any social media platform: engagement. This may be influenced of course by how many followers you have. Our Top 50 had on average 14,743 Twitter followers, 29,929 Facebook page likes and 41,572 LinkedIn followers. That doesn’t mean though that if you’re a small company with a small following that you won’t rank in the Top 50 report - it’s mostly down to engagement. This is where the type of content you post on social can really have an impact and highlights the link between all three channels (website, blog and social). You might share a blog post on multiple social channels which leads people to your website, so all aspects are very important. 

The table below shows the average number of tweets per day, retweets and likes across Twitter accounts for the Top 50 and the average. The Top 50 post on average 2.89 times per day, receive 1.79 retweets per post and receive 3.54 likes per post.  

microsoft partner top 50 data

Table 2: Average number of tweets, retweets and likes on Twitter among the Top 50 and the average partner

With regards to Facebook, the graph below demonstrates the distinction between the Top 50 and the average. The Top 50 had 9X more post likes, 10X more shares and 8X more comments. 

microsoft partner top 50 facebook engagement

Figure 3: Engagement on Facebook for the Top 50 and the average partner

Are you in the Microsoft Partner Top 50?

To find out where you ranked this year, sign up and receive a copy of the report directly to your inbox. Or, if you’re attending the conference in July, be sure to come to our stall to pick up yours in person, or just stop by for a chat.  

More updates on our report and preparation for Microsoft Inspire will be released in the run up to the conference. While you wait, why not see what’s happening on our website? We have tips and tricks for the conference, and you can read past interviews with industry experts with plenty of advice to help you make the most of your trip.  

Looking forward to seeing you in July. Visit us at booth #616!

Where do you rank in 2019?

Download the free Top 50 Microsoft Partner 2019/2020 report now, to find out where you ranked.

Get the free report


Microsoft Digital Marketing Excellence report

Unveiling the 5th edition of the Microsoft Digital Marketing Excellence report

How do your marketing efforts rank against those of your competitors? Is your blogging as good as your rivals? How do your website and social accounts rate against the biggest names in your industry?

Questions like these led us to create the first edition of our digital marketing excellence report back in 2016. We wanted to understand the state of the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) with regards to digital and content marketing. To do so, we began analysing the marketing of partners in the MPN, creating a ranking system and comparing the results.

That first report set the stage for what has become an annual snapshot of the state of Microsoft Partner marketing. The Digital Marketing Excellence report is now an industry-leading publication - Microsoft Partners around the globe wait with bated breath on who comes out on top every year. More than a ranked list, the report has become a source of insight and advice on how each and every Microsoft Partner can improve their own marketing, by learning from the best in the industry and from us.

The Digital Marketing Excellence report is now an industry-leading publication – Microsoft Partners around the globe wait with bated breath on who comes out on top every year.

Now, the 5th edition of the Digital Marketing Excellence report is almost here. We’ve been busy crunching the data – analysing the websites, blogs and social channels of over 24,000 partners. The content team are writing summaries of the Top 50 partners, explaining how certain companies achieved their spot as well as noting interesting new entries. The design team have been working on a brand-new look for the report. Our SEO team is making sure that content like this blog is being found by readers like you.

As ever, the Digital Marketing Excellence report is a fascinating look at the individual marketing efforts of companies within the Microsoft Partner Network – we’re very excited to share it with you.

We’re also thrilled that Gavriella Schuster, Corporate Vice-President of the One Commercial Partner Organization at Microsoft, has once again agreed to write the foreword to the report. The new Partner Benchmarking Tool – which we used to conduct this year’s ranking - is endorsed by Microsoft as the primary method to help partners measure, understand and improve their digital marketing.

But we get what people really want to know:

  • Am I in it?
  • Where did I rank?
  • Where are my rivals?
  • Where did I score well?
  • How can I improve my score?

As with previous years we’ll be launching the report at Microsoft Inspire, from our booth. Before that the results are strictly top secret, so make sure you visit our stand on day one of Inspire - the 14th of July – to grab your copy!

If you’re not attending the event in Las Vegas, sign up below and we’ll let you know as soon as the report is digitally released. Of course, if you make it into the report, you might get an email from us a little sooner... just don’t tell anyone!

Click here to find the previous reports.

Where do you rank in 2019?

Download the free Top 50 Microsoft Partner 2019/2020 report now, to find out where you ranked.

Get the free report