Well - it's been a bit of an odd week at Katie Stone towers, in that we weren't actually IN Katie Stone Towers.
Yep, summer holidays + kids can mean only one thing - having to do STUFF™ to keep kids entertained, and last week we visited York to see my sister and her gorgeous family. As a result, while I did take my laptop with me, I was on a 'bare minimum' week as far as work went, which meant I spent most of my week either buried in Facebook groups managing the communities, in Gmail inboxes or doing a spot of email marketing. My fave? Email marketing every time.
As a V.A. I'm expected to work in a few different email marketing systems, but the two that I recommend to clients when my opinion is asked for is MailerLite or ActiveCampaign, and this week I found myself mulling over the question of which one would win in an epic battle (mainly because I was bored of arguing with my son over whether Batman or Superman would win in an epic battle. It's Batman, obviously.)
So, then. ActiveCampaign Vs Mailerlite. Battle of the titans. Who will win?
Round 1: Price
MailerLite is free for 12,000 emails per month sent to 1000 contacts. After that, you pay $15 per month for up to 2500 contacts, $30 for up to 5000 and $50 for up to 10,000. Basically, the more subscribers you have, the more you pay. They also sell addons such as a dedicated IP address to improve deliverability and premium customer support.
Active Campaign is a little more complicated. It doesn't have a free offering (unless you count the 2-week free trial.) They sell different plans (Lite, Plus, Professional and Enterprise), and their price depends on how many subscribers you have. So, for example, the plans when you have up to 500 subscribers range between $9 - $229 per month, whereas if you have up to 10,000 subscribers the price per month becomes $125 - £399.
Winner: MailerLite, hands down. The free offering is better than any other email marketing platform on the market, not least because it includes automation, which most others don't. If you list is small enough to fit below the 1000 mark, MailerLite is the way to go. After that, it comes down to working out which features you need, and which are most important to you. More on this....now.
Round 2: Features
Ok, plenty of these to get our teeth into. Let's start off with the most important:
MailerLite offers automation as part of their free package, which makes it awesome. The automation themselves are easy to build in a simply laid out, visual builder. There isn't much in terms of bells and whistles - for example, you can't use one automation to begin another, but what it does, it does well.
ActiveCampaign on the other hand offers automation that you'll have to pay for but oh my - what automation they offer! They are supremely powerful, offering both basic features such as wait steps as well as fancier fayre like split automations and predictive sending on the more expensive plans. The number of ways to start and automation is out of this world too, especially when using native integrations such as Shopify. The possibilities are pretty much limitless.
Winner: ActiveCampaign. Sorry, MailerLite, the free automations you offer are great, and for a small start-up, or someone who doesn't need to do something much more complicated than setting up a welcome sequence, it's probably the better option, but for sheer firepower, ActiveCampaign has got you beat, every time.
Both platforms have visual builders for campaigns and automations.
MailerLite offers a wide range of ways to build your email, from simple text blocks and image blocks to HTML embeds and nicely laid out columns with images. For the free version, this is particularly impressive - you can really personalise your emails to a high degree. Want a template? Well. you'll need a paid plan for that, but the ones they offer a sleek and appealing.
ActiveCampaign's email builder is similarly visual, and just as personalisable. One of my favourite features is the ability to create a block and save it, meaning you can create a 'look' for your emails and easily recreate it each week. But the most powerful thing in AC's repertoire? Conditional blocks. You can change what your subscribers see, based on any conditions you like. Want subscribers from the UK to see a different offer to those in the US? No probs. As long as you've collected the data, AC lets you use it in powerful ways that mean your emails are going to deliver even better value to your subscribers, and that has to be a win, every time.
Winner: Yep - ActiveCapmaign takes it again, with the rider that, if all you need is something very simple, or you are just beginning to learn about email marketing, MailerLite with its simple, intuitive (and surprisingly feature-rich) interface will do you very nicely indeed.
I should also note that AC has recently changed the way it stores media and allows you to add it to emails. It's going to be awesome when they get it to work but right now lots of people are getting lots of bugs.
An email marketing platform is good on its own, but often it is the integrations, and how well they work, that can take it from good to blow-your-mind amazing.
Mailerlite has a good selection of integrations - the big hitters like Facebook, Shopify, WooCommerce are all there along with some other nifty ones like Airtable (which is a whole other blog in itself, I bloody love Airtable). As far as I know they're all available on the free plan too, which is fantastic. Even better, these days even if there isn't a pre-built automation, you can create your own using a platform like Zapier.
ActiveCampaign blows ML out of the water, though. It has over 500 native integrations, and the list is growing daily. One of my faves is Bonjoro, which allows you to personalise emails with a little snippet of video of you saying hey. It's incredibly powerful stuff, and in a world where people's inboxes are overflowing and getting opens is king, nifty little tricks like that can make all the difference.
Winner: There's a theme developing here. MailerLite has some super automations, and when you're getting them for free, it can't be sniffed at, but honestly, ActiveCampaign is better. It just is.
Round 3: Reporting
MailerLite has a very simple, intuative reporting page. It's easy to see and understand the simple data they provide - opens, clicks, unsubscribes and bounces. What it does, it does well, and this simple overview will be fine for many small businesses, or those who are just starting out in email marketing.
However, as time goes on and your list begins to grow, and especially as you begin to make sales based on your email marketing, you need more data to be able to spot and track subtle differences, and ActiveCampaign's data reporting is in-depth to the nth degree. Add a bit of code to your website and you can see exactly how many people clicked through your email, onto your site, and you can see which pages they visited. With a Shopify integration you can see a direct link between who opened your emails and whether or not they bought anything. You can use goals (goals are incredible) in an automation to measure how effective that automation is at achieving its purpose, and you can see in-depth reports at both campaign and automation level. There is almost nothing you can't achieve with AC's reporting. I honestly believe that this feature is one of its biggest strengths.
Winner: ActiveCampaign for sheer depth and breadth.
Round 4: Deliverability
I mean...this is where the buck stops, isn't it? You can make the best email known to man - the copy can be flawless, the subject line perfectly designed to achieve an open, but if it goes to spam, it's likely to all be for naught.
I did a fair bit of looking for email deliverability rates on each platform and I'll be completely honest - I could tell you either one was better and back it up with results. I found one where AC blew ML out of the water from February of this year, and one from 4 weeks later which told completely the opposite story.
In terms of what each platform does, additional deliverability is a premium service on each. Mailerlite offers a dedicated IP for $50 per month, which *should* up your deliverability rates. ActiveCampaign have a dedicated nameserver as part of their enterprise level. It costs a WHOLE bunch.
Honestly, though, in my experience deliverability has more to do with the way you treat your list. Regular hoovering up of inactive contacts, making sure your content is relevant and engaging, using all your knowledge about your audience to deliver true value and make people excited to open your emails - this is what is going to ensure your account has a good reputation and that your emails land in the same place!
Winner: it's a draw, they both offer a premium service that costs many moneys.
So...who was the winner?
Based on this review? ActiveCampaign.
In my honest opinion?
Yeah, still ActiveCampaign.
But I still think that, for a free option, MailerLite delivers a solid, intuitive and feature-rich service that is a brilliant starter option. When it's time to move to a paid service, I'd grab my contacts and whip them over to AC.
The only rider to that piece of advice is not to wait too long. Moving to a different email marketing platform WILL affect your deliverability rates so if it becomes apparent that your list is growing, the contacts are engaged and it is going to be worth it, move to AC as soon as you can possibly afford it, because you will need time to build your domain's reputation back up again after the move.
If you'd like some more advice, or help either setting up or maintaining your email marketing, give me a shout. Automations are a bit of a favourite of mine, and I'm always keen to get to know a business in order to help them develop a platform that works for THEM.