Email marketing is the cornerstone of many online businesses. And the tools you use to manage your email marketing can make a huge difference to your bottom line.
It's no wonder, then, that "which autoresponder do you recommend?" is a question I receive quite often.
In today's post, we'll take a look at the two major cateogries of email marketing solutions and I'll tell you which specific service I recommend (and why).
There is a more recent blog post on this topic, with an in-depth comparison between the best email marketing tools. I recommend the new post over this one. Click here to go to the new post!
Choosing the Right Tool for Your Business
Broadly, all email marketing solutions fall into one of two categories that we can bluntly name "smart" and "dumb".
A "smart" solution will allow you to tag your contacts in multiple ways so that, for example, you can keep track of who purchased which product, who opted in for which offer, who clicked on which link etc. Crucially, the smart system will then allow you to act on these insights and send highly targeted messages to segments of your list.
A "dumb" system will simply dump all contacts into different buckets and treat those different buckets as entirely separate lists. Because of that, intelligent follow-up isn't possible in the same way that a smart system allows it.
What I Recommend
Personally, I'm currently using ActiveCampaign which is a smart (or even very smart) email marketing and marketing automation system.
I use it and recommend it not only because it allows for all the intelligent segmentation and follow-up that I want to do, but also because it's fairly easy to use.
To be clear: email marketing is complex and no solution for it will be smart while also being super easy to use. There's definitely a bit of a learning curve. But I think that ActiveCampaign is intuitive enough so that even beginners can get to grips with it.
There are, of course, other smart solutions. In fact, the "smart" way of doing things has become a lot more popular and ubiquitous lately. Some of these solutions include:
Of these, I recommend against using Infusionsoft and Ontraport. Both of these I have used in the past and was disappointed with for various reasons.
As mentioned above, ActiveCampaign is my #1 recommendation and especially if you are switching over from an old-school "dumb" system, using this can make a massive difference to your business.
Now I'd like to hear from you: what other questions do you have about email marketing? What tools have you tried and which are your favorite ones? Let me know by leaving a comment below!
I, too, am a big fan of ActiveCampaign and ConvertKit comes in a close second.
I am now testing out the new service from Rainmaker because my site runs on that platform.
So, many choices – but AC is a good one.
Thanks for your comment! It’s true that marketers these days are spoilt for choice. Just a few years ago, it was a desperate search trying to find a system that wasn’t “dumb”.
I still remember that it was just a few years back that the only feasible options were Aweber and Getresponse.
With all the choices available nowadays, it can really lead to a decision paralysis. But overall, it’s great having options.
It also pushes everyone to put out their best and step ahead of the game.
Now if only more software developers would start integrating with some of the newer options out there…
Leonardo “List Legend” LaVito
(The Last List Building Legend)
I was a big time MailChimp user for years until I switched to ActiveCampaign this year. It has been great but with a few hiccups along the way. In my opinion, AC is experiencing growing pains. Chat support is great but email support has been spotty. I know a month or two ago, they had a minimal support staff (chat or email) on the weekends but they were hoping to hire a few more people.
I will say for anyone going from a simple newsletter list to a complex automation system like AC…PLAN AHEAD. Between automations and tagging, you’ll want to have a plan. Otherwise, you’ll just get frustrated. Dig through their blog for a lot of helpful advice on tagging. Oh, and they now offer automation templates so the novice user can quickly get started.
Thanks for your comment, Chris! I agree with you about planning ahead. If you use ActiveCampaign or a similar system without a clear idea of what you want your marketing to look like, you won’t get much out of it.
Hey Chris, The only main problem with Active Campaign is they are having major issues with their deliverability performance. In other words, my automation emails are not being sent out at all! Very frustrating. And to top it off their support is not all that great either. I hate to say it but if this keeps up any longer I’m going to have to drop them and go with ConvertKit. It’s a shame too because I really started to like AC. Are you still using AC?
Shane, what are your thoughts on tools like Hubspot, Pardot, Sharpspring, etc.? Have you used them and how do they compare to ActiveCampaign?
I hope you don’t mind me responding to your email in place of Shane?
Systems like hubspot & Pardot are middle to high end marketing automation platforms typically used by bigger organisations.
ActiveCampaign still does a fair amount of things that they can do, BUT not all.
AND, they (HS,P, etc.) are a LOT more expensive.
At my last job, we evaluated all options on the market and ended up going with Marketo, but price is probably the number one reason most small businesses don’t go with these other solutions.
AC allows you to get started from US$9/month whereas the above options are typically $100s a month, if not more.
AC doesn’t do everything they can do, but if you’re looking for a good SOLID email/marketing automation platform, you could do a LOT worse than AC.
I hope this helps.
Thanks for replying, Eran!
Thanks for answering Eran, I am myself certified and help customers with the more enterprise grade solutions, but I’ve never used Active Campaign so I often wonder what justifies the higher price of the enterprise solutions.
I don’t know much about Sharpspring, but Hubspot and Pardot are both enterprise level automation suites. I honestly don’t know how much better or different they are from something like AC. I’m not an enterprise customer.
I like Sendy. Not as powerful, but WAY cheaper. It’s self-hosted and uses AWS. Does everything I want and works well with Thrive!
It’s been a while since I looked at Sendy. Is it still a “dumb” system or are they adding automation and tagging features and such as well?
I switched to Active Campaign about 6 months ago from Aweber. I found the transition went reasonably smoothly. I reached out a number of times and had a few 15 minute consultations with the AC support people. That REALLY helped.
I am still learning all of the finer points, but it is a far superior system, and extremely “smart”. And the monthly fee compared to some others is very reasonable.
And just like Thrive Themes, they continually update and add new (usable) features.
PS. I LOVE Thrive themes and am just heading over now to get Thrive Ultimatum.
Thank you for your comment, Michael! Good to see that you are having a good time with ActiveCampaign as well. :)
I’m the owner of arpReach so I’m a little bias :)
That being said arpReach is a self-owned autoresponder solution that has no monthly fees, that allows it’s users to be intelligent in the way they segment their subscribers and what actions they want triggered based on a subcribers actions.
One of arpReach’s powers is that actions and triggers can ‘tag’ a subscriber however the user wants and in unlimited ways. The tags can then be stacked to create micro-segments ensuring that the right message gets sent to the right readers.
And what’s even better is arpReach works great with Thrive! Thanks for making that possible Shane.
Thanks for your comment, Kevin.
Would you put Drip in same category as ActiveCampaign and ConvertKit?
I think they’re developing in that direction. When I last looked at Drip, their focus was more on triggering emails based on visitor actions on your site. E.g. “if a subscriber has looked at the pricing page 3 times, send this email”. It was a similar thing to Vero or customer.io.
But I believe they have recently added more features that put them in a similar category to ActiveCampaign.
I switched from Aweber to Active Campaign a few months ago and I’m really happy with it. Definetly worth the learning curve!!
That’s great to hear, Julia! Thanks for your comment.
It definitely is a learning curve to active campaign but, I can already see what a great impact it will have on my business. I switched from aweber not too long ago and am so glad I did.
The “Big Three” I usually hear about are AWeber, ActiveCampaign (new kid on the block), and GetRepsonse. And then there’s InfusionSoft (aka “ConfusionSoft”) and Ontraport for moving up to the next level.
Anyway, what’s your take on GetReponse? It looks like they’re currently doing a beta rollout of something they call “marketing automation” that uses a drag ‘n drop interface similar to ActiveCampaign’s.
An interesting possible bonus to GetReponse is that they’re integrating a webinar system into their offering. That alone could be worth $60/month plus if you can use it.
GetResponse have been adding more automation bits and pieces for a long time, but last time I evaluated it, they were still missing the mark.
I haven’t looked at them in detail in the last 10 months or so, though.
In general, I think it’s very important to know your requirements before you choose a solution. In my case, I knew exactly what products we were selling and how I wanted to be able to segment and follow up with subscribers and customers. And applying this with GetResponse was not possible at the time (or would have required some major hacks), so I chose ActiveCampaign instead.
Deliverability. Mike Dillard as many of us know has built several businesses to the hundreds of millions. He showed how Mailchimp got 100% deliverability. He recommends Mailchimp. Agree with Shane on “smart” yet still wondering about AC and my legitimate double opt-in emails not being received.
Love Thrive Themes. Just set up another funnel that took 9 minutes! Of course most of that time was spent rewriting the headline and content to fit my product.
Thanks for your comment. Do you know how this deliverability rate was tested? Deliverability is always a hot topic when it comes to email marketing, but I’ve found very few reliable sources about it.
Hello Shane. Yes he uses http://mailmonitor.com/. This is from a webinar he did in February. He showed this and stats from his Mailchimp account.
Thanks again for all you do!
I am in the process of switching from Aweber so this is a timely article. My two choices are Convertkit and Drip, and I have a free trial for both to test out. Now, I may try Active Campaign. As an avid Thrive Themes member and fan, I really listen to Shane’s advice. Just curious to know what everyone thinks of Drip? Thanks for another informative article, Shane!
Thanks for your comment, Michelle!
All I can say about Drip is that at the time I last evaluated it (about one year ago), it didn’t match the business requirements I had.
Like I mentioned in a comment above, I think it’s very important that you have a good idea of what you want to do with your email marketing and then check to make sure that Drip or whatever you end up choosing lets you create the setup you had in mind.
Without doubt, I would go with Active Campaign.
I tried ConvertKit and it’s okay, but it’s not nearly as good as Active Campaign, plus it costs more. AC has pricing options that are hard to beat.
ConvertKit also has a few small quirks that I didn’t like. One such example is the inability to capitalize first names. If someone signs up as sam and you want to address them as Sam, you have to mess around with code.
It’s very clunky. When I contacted support about this, the response I received (from Nathan Barry) was that Is should go through my list manually and adjust all the sign ups that didn’t have first name capitalized!
While AC isn’t perfect (no system ever is), I’m really happy with it and recommend it (unless you’re an affiliate marketer, in which case it’s in their T&Cs that you can’t use it for that).
Hey there Shane! I first want to start off by saying that I love Everything that you guys are creating over at Thrive. I am actually in the process of switching from Aweber to ActiveCampaign and as you stated AC is an extremely powerful marketing automation system. The one thing that they need to work on is their support. It seems really hit or miss. Or…they need to add more video tutorials for their end users that shows how to do things like tagging and etc.
But overall im excited that Ive made the switch!
Thank you very much, Kimberly!
So far, I’ve had good experiences with ActiveCampaign support. But it’s one of those things that can definitely suffer if they’ve gotten many new customers, lately.
I’ve been using GetResponse for 9 years. They have been developing their platform diligently through those years. Have a look at their most recent Marketing Automation update. It’s great. While it’s not quite the same as the tag system that Active Campaign offers, it enables me to craft similar campaigns.
Every time I think of switching, they come up with a great update that makes it worth my while to stay on.
Thank you for your comment, Martin!
I agree that GetResponse have been going at a good pace with developments and updates. Sometimes, I’m not sure if they’re going in the right direction though, with things like the landing pages and webinars…
Also, Get Response just got marketing automation added to it’s list of features so it’s on par with Active Campaign.
Thanks for your comment, Peter. Seems like everyone’s finally waking up to smart follow-up marketing. Which is a great thing to see.
Apart from the other options above, I’d also add SendLane to the mix.
It offers amazing deliverability, and includes all the features of the others in the list, while delivering a low price tag.
Leonardo “List Legend” LaVito
(The Last List Building Legend)
This is pretty refreshing. I’ve seen SO many blog posts and emails from big names on why they switched to Convertkit. When I see the money that can be made from Convertkit’s affiliate program I have to wonder if that is playing a big role. It’s nice to see someone recommend something else.
I’ve discovered mautic.com and salesmanago.com. The first one is a opensource project and think that is a good starting point. The second one is a full automation system with CRM integrated. Hope will help someone ^_~
I am just a good fan of your blog. But I am recently [use a Autores-ponder named Mailerlite. But its sometime send my mail on spam folder. Is Activecampaign work better then Mailerlite.
Please suggest me.
In terms of deliverability, I don’t know if switching to ActiveCampaign would make a difference. Deliverability is one of those things that’s super difficult to test, unfortunately.
I’m currently using aweber based on recommendations provided by many online email marketing courses I’ve taken. After a brief comparison of aweber and activecampaign I have to admit you are right yet again…
Very educational and eye opening!
Aweber is an old-school choice at this point. For a long time, they were a good choice. Nothing fancy, but reliable and affordable. They’ve been left in the dust though and are now trying to catch up to the new breed of email marketing software like ActiveCampaign.
Thanks Shane for Thrive Themes. Any idea how about MailPoet fits into all this? They brand it as an email autoresponder which works inside WordPress itself. It is also free for websites with 2000 subscribers and less.
MailPoet is one of the services that Thrive Themes products integrate with directly (see more here).
Hey Shane, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am curious to know how you get around the merging contacts in Active Campaign.
It was the only thing that put me off it was that I could not merge duplicate contacts.
I have not had this problem in ActiveCampaign. When importing contacts, you can choose to merge/upgrade existing contacts if the email address is the same.
I’m using TT for several years now. Very good. For half a year I am using AC now. Now you have launched a new feature: signup segue. Now I have a problem with compliance from Ac that it isn’t allowed to use a feature where there is no opt-in and a client is registered on a new list.
I am now switching to mail chimp because there it is possible to use signup segue.
Is this known by you ?
After reading this post I immediately switched from Aweber to Active Campaign.
Dude, let me tell you…IT WAS LIKE SEEING THE LIGHT FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME.
I never realized just how bad Aweber was until I made the switch (okay, Aweber isn’t “bad” per say, but it’s definitely not as flexible as AC).
Thanks for the review.
Haha, that’s a very passionate endorsement. Aweber have since tried to catch up with their own automation and tagging features, but I doubt they’re very good.
You correct Shane. They are not very good. such an issue to implement and there are no reports etc for over 18 months now.
Thanks for great review will also be switching from Aweber.
Thank you for adding your insight, Warren!
Well, it depends on how you set-up your campaign and the support. It’s always goes back to the question “Are you satisfied?”. I just came here to read comments. Nice job you have point on AC. ;)
I love me some AC. I have a few different posts dedicated to it on my site and a few more planned. My latest is creating mostly automated onboarding for new clients. I’ve managed to convince a couple of my clients to switch.
They keep coming up with more awesome features, not unlike Thrive. :)
This is one of the more useful posts I found on their blog that opened up a world of new possibilities for me:
Just discovered this site, I’ll be back.
Hi Shane, found your blog from your Webinars on Thrive themes. I have been having difficulty choosing email providers.
Im tossed up between Sendy, GetResponse and ActiveCampaign. I picked GR and AC because of the Marketing Automation.
By price Sendy is the cheapest followed by AC and GR (priciest). As I cannot decide, I know that a penny saved is a penny earned and Sendy is the cheapest by-far. But lacks in features, most notably the Marketing Automation.
If I could use Marketing Automation to for example send an email to a customer with an abandoned cart then I might be able to make a sale- possibly recouping my costs, among other automated triggers as-well.
GetResponse has a webinar feature that interests me, but I also might have a way to do webinars for free on a hosted-cloud server of mine.
I imagine changing solutions is tedious, and I still have my doubts since I am just starting out.
What would you recommend?
I would like to recommend another somewhat new contender that I’ve had great success with. Sendinblue.com from France. They have a WordPress plugin and integrate well with Thrive themes.
Here is the short list of features:
Email Designer, Contact Management, Campaign Reports, Marketing Automation, Transactional Messaging, Deliverability, Integrations & API
Just found this great review. Has anyone seen a review of Drip on this website?
I haven’t reviewed Drip yet, but I’m working on an update regarding that. Stay tuned. :)
I just want to give a “heads up” for anyone involved in Affiliate Marketing.
Based on this review, I visited the AC site and was impressed. However, I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was considering moving to AC and he informed me that they have a restrictive covenant in their Terms and Conditions that forbids a number of activities, most notably for me the restriction against Affiliate Marketing activities.
I contacted Support at AC to confirm this and this is the reply I received:
“The affiliate marketing limitation is real, however, it can be a grey area at times. This document will give you an overview of our policy. That being said, can you tell me more about your affiliate marketing practice and your business?
So, based on that, it looks like GetResponse is a better solution for me. I’ve reviewed their T&C and they don’t seem to have that restriction.
BTW, I notice that someone below mentioned this issue as well, but since it was just an aside, I thought I’d post this restriction more prominently.
This has come up previously, although I couldn’t find the specific discussion anymore.
I’ve had an exchange with AC support about this as well. What I came away with is that they disallow “spam like” affiliate promotions, where you just send out broadcast after broadcast promoting affiliate stuff and nothing else. If you send valuable, useful content and it also contains affiliate links occasionally, they’re okay with that.
Also, in my case it’s something I don’t need to worry about because I basically never send to an affiliate offer directly. I get much better results linking to my own content where I review or pre-sell before sending people through the affiliate link.
has your opinion about Active Campaign changed or why is only Drip in your recommendation area on activegrowth.com ?
Which one works better with Thrive products?
They both work equally well. I’m still testing out some of the latest features in the leading solutions to see if I’ll completely update my recommendation. The main difference between Drip and ActiveCampaign is that Drip is a bit more powerful on the high end. So, for advanced users who aren’t afraid of complex features, Drip offers a bit more. It’s also beginner friendly in pricing.
However, it’s a close call between AC and Drip, so I’m not saying to switch from one to the other.
I’ve a loyal and very happy member of Thrive Themes (You, Hanne and Steph are da bomb)and really like the fact that you are re-firing with activegrowth! You are becoming quite a celeb now. I was looking for a comparison about what autoresponder was best and stumbled upon you vid, great advice btw.
I do agree that having an autoresponder without having a proper tracking function… well is something like having an auto, an autoresponder which isnt responsive at all.
So I wanted to ask what you think of Market Hero? An autoresponder made by Alex Becker, also a great marketeer that I closely follow and respect. He share your vision about the whole tagging thing and it being the future and all.
Lastly, im from europe… is there a chance to hear/see you speak somewhere?
Thanks for the time Shane,
Hi all! Curious, after reading all the comments here… I’m really struggling with making a decision between AC, MailerLite, and Ontraport… I was also just recommended Kartra… any insights? I am a coach, trainer and speaker.. so the ability to have automated campaigns, questionnaires, tracking, importing, and a sales funnel acting performance are high on my priority list… thank you!