Product Review: ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign = Productivity

As promised, below is a preliminary review of the mailing list service, ActiveCampaign.

Here's the quick version: I LOVE IT and everyone should go use ActiveCampaign. CLICK HERE to read a ton of testimonials by other customers.

I'm not getting paid by AC to write this. I don't get affiliate kick-backs for referring people. I just like to share a good thing, so check out my longer evaluation below to see WHY I love these guys so much.

And to give you the skinny on my experience: At 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures Entertainment, I was once paid as an IT Training Manager, where my job was to dissect programs, push them to their limits, even break them (to help improve…I promise!), then create policies, procedures and training materials so other employees could learn to use the software we implemented into our environment.

It was my job to determine how the average user would adapt to a piece of software, evaluate its user-friendliness and create training materials to bridge the gap between easy and not-so-easy. Admittedly, I've only really dived into email marketing hard core in the last two years, but I studied for a year before I took the plunge.

In my evaluation of ActiveCampaign below, I use a scale of 1-10 to rate features I feel are important for producing an effective email marketing campaign and being active with your list: (1) being not so good or least desirable and (10) being the best.

This evaluation is from the perspective of an author. We're creative people, so aren't usually very savvy when it comes to marketing and getting into the head space of email marketing in particular. With that said, if you are well versed in email marketing, some of this might seem elementary. That's where a lot of us authors are.

Quality for the Price – 10

This price comparison list is current as of the publication of this post, but I've linked the names to each of the pricing pages so you can still check the numbers yourself. These are also in the order of my personal recommendation – AC being my #1 choice for MLSs. For those of you using MailChimp (MC), you'll find the pricing for ActiveCampaign (AC) is somewhat comparable…but only if you look at the price tag. You get a LOT more for your money!

Pricing is PER MONTH. The numbers across the top are the # of subscribers.

Mailing List Service 500 2500 10,000 25,000
ActiveCampaign (Lite Plan)  $9 $29 $70 $135
MailChimp    FREE/$10* FREE/$30* $75 $150
Mad Mimi** $10 $16 $42 $89
MailerLite FREE*** $10 $35 $80
Aweber $19 $29 $69 $149

*MailChimp offers a Forever Free program, providing services for up to 2000 subscribers (including automation now), but has a limit of 12,000 emails monthly. Unlimited emails are available for all their paid plans. The pricing above show $10 for 500 subscribers and $30 a for 2500 subscribers.
**Mad Mimi has a Basic plan for up to 5000 subscribers before users have to switch to their Pro plan of up to 10,000 subscribers. See their pricing page for details on the performance differences and limitations.
***MailerLite's Forever Free plan is up to 1000 subscribers. Their Business Plan for $10/mo starts at 1,001 – 2500 subscribers.

I've heard many authors say that MailChimp is too costly for them…and even though AC comes in at about the same price, there's NO comparison if you measure what you're paying for. NONE of those other services listed above have the chops to measure up to AC. You certainly get more bang for your buck with AC, which you'll see below.

I know a lot of authors have stayed with MailChimp for their free plan of up to 2000 subscribers and, just recently, MC made automation available to all accounts, including FREE, so that certainly is a game changer and why I list MC as my second choice. If you're on a really tight budget and have less than 2000 subscribers, MailChimp is your monkey. You can't beat free AND automation. But consider Mad Mimi. It's a close second. MailerLite JUST added automation and it looks almost as sophisticated as ActiveCampaign, but my experience with their Customer Service was horrible AND they're brand new to automation, so the jury is still out on these guys.

Ease of Use – 8

AC's newsletter editor does have drag-and-drop, like MailChimp and MailerLite, but I wasn't really happy with their quirks…at first. Once I figured out their methods and pushed the modules to the limit, I started seeing the value of what they had to offer and I realized a lot of my frustration was because of a resistance to change.

The difficulty I had was learning how their automations worked as compared to the linear layout of MailChimp. Again, some of this was my own inexperience and what I was used to. AC has tons of automation templates for you to try, but if you're new to email marketing AND you're not real tech-savvy, a lot of their terms and functions will be foreign to you. I do plan on creating some tutorials that will hopefully help authors implement these POWERFUL tools at their disposal with AC. But CLICK HERE to browse the tutorials already available on YouTube. What AC has is AMAZING…but it does take some effort to learn to use and become familiar with all their options. So from a user-friendly standpoint, that's why I didn't give AC a 10 on this one.

Newsletter Editor – 9

When I first started using AC's newsletter editor, my knee-jerk reaction would be to give them a 6…and I believe I did mark them very low when I first tried them a year ago. I thought the editor was clunky and hard to use and it had a lot of bugs.

HOWEVER, I think they fixed a lot of issues over the last year and once I got past the learning curve and my own frustration of having to change tools (nobody likes change, right?), I realized the newsletter editor had so many more options, which I had not seen in ANY OTHER newsletter editor.

One of the biggest advantages the AC newsletter editor offers is the ability to save modules. I think the best way to explain is to give you a quick demo…MAXIMIZE TO SEE THE DETAIL.

LOL…okay, the music was a bit dramatic, but that's how I felt when I discovered this amazing tool! BOY, does it save time when you need to update your drip campaign! I made a change to my piracy warning, which is shown in the demo, and it included updating my skull image, resizing my text, changing some text alignments, editing the content of the text and modifying the margin spacing of the module. It took me about 10 minutes to make my changes.

I had over a dozen automations, equating to over THIRTY messages and a half-dozen drafted one-off campaigns! GAH!

But I didn't have to manually make those changes. I saved the new module in the current newsletter I was working on, then just went into each of those 30+ messages to drag-and-drop the new module into place. I was done updating all my messages in the time it took me to make the original edits. Whew!

Features – 10+++++++

FIGURE 1

I know…adding all those pluses is cheating, but HOLY BANANAS I cannot praise AC enough for their automations and tools – and I'm on the Lite Plan. Let me show you how complicated you can get with automations by showing you a snapshot (Figure 1) of the automation I created to sort my list when I migrated from MailChimp…(click on the image to enlarge).

You may NEVER get this detailed with your automations, but it's amazing to know you can! It's also good to know you don't need to get this detailed. You can go as simple or as complex as you'd like.

Admittedly, I did have to do a lot of prep before I could create the automation. I won't bore you with all the geeky details, but the short version is I used TAGS to label my subscribers so I knew who had already received what messages in my MailChimp automations for my reader club.

FIGURE 2

To be sure the automation did what I wanted, I created about 19 test email addresses using character names from my novels. I ran my test list through the automations…and I'm so glad I did. I not only worked out the kinks in my process, but I learned a shit-ton about how AC automations work. GREAT exercise.

Once the testing passed with 100% success, I imported my real mailing list. The automation filtered people via their tags, dropping them into the OTHER workflows I created for each book in my backlist.

This is only one of 24 automations I've created in ActiveCampaign to date and you CERTAINLY don't need to get this anal with their tools. But you have the room to grow. (I plan on writing up a post about what automations I've created and give suggestions for authors to create their own.)

The best part about the tools, if you ask me, is all the tracking you can do on your subscribers' activities. Even down to a single activity on a single person. This snapshot (Figure 2) is a detail from one of my test subscribers (my character Amice from my series). In this picture, she has gone through the above automation and the arrow shows the path she took and where she ended up!

I don't know about YOU, but I got a total geek woody off of this feature alone!

FIGURE 3

And check THIS out!!! This little snippet (Figure 3) is Amice in the current Book 1 workflow. Notice the link I circled. It says, “Skip this wait action.” You can manually advance a single subscriber through certain workflows! (Cue angel choir)

In addition to tracking paths, you can also assign tags to links or actions within a message – and you can do this to as many links as you want in a single message!! In MailChimp, you're pretty much limited to ONE link action.

So, for example, if my character Amice clicked on a link that went to my Wattpad account, I could attach a tag to the link – ‘Possible Wattpad User' – so when this link is clicked, she'll get that tag on her profile automatically. Then when I have a new release on Wattpad, I could create a segment of all those people who have click on my Wattpad links and send them a message asking them to share and add my new story to their reading list!

Customer Service – 9.5

This was a big deal for me. I had a crappy experience with MailerLite, and I won't go into details, but let's just say at a bare minimum, customer service reps should know how to use their own products and I shouldn't have to go to Google or ask other authors to find the answers.

And although many of the other companies I mentioned above have great customer service, I have to say ActiveCampaign's support team is the best of them all. They have live chat, are open to suggestions, an easy messaging option if their live chat hours are closed, and – best of all – they know their products and features inside and out.

I did experience a couple of technical issues with the newsletter editor (which is another reason the editor didn't get a 10 above), but when I created a video showing the problem I was having, the issue was fixed the next day!

The only reason I didn't give this category a full-on 10 was because the “free migration from MailChimp” turned out to be a bit of a bust. In their defense, I was asking a TON of questions, had some complicated automations in MailChimp (who…me???), and I had about a dozen group types that needed to be converted over to a combination of tags and custom fields.

What made me knock off a 1/2 point in this category was the fact the customer service rep dropped the ball. I had to chase after this person and, in the end, I canceled the migration efforts and did it myself. But I'm OCD, so I can't entirely blame them. My migration probably wasn't an easy one. But 9.5 is still a good rating! If anyone has questions about how to migrate from MailChimp, I'd be happy to get on a Google Hangout or Skype session and help you with suggestions and tips. Contact me on Facebook. (Friend me first so I don't miss your message.)

Reporting Features – 9.5

MailChimp has okay reports, but when you try to drill down to specifics, that's where they fail. Their segmentation is very limited when it comes to subscriber activity. And most of the other services mentioned above are worse than MailChimp (except for Mad Mimi). One thing that REALLY pissed me off was I could NOT isolate my entire list by open rate. It just wasn't possible. In ActiveCampaign, however, I can do that AND MORE!

In all honesty, the comparison to what I had at MailChimp alone should give AC a 10 in this category because I haven't seen anything better during my trials of about 10 different MLSs.

However, I've had some issues with how they display contacts that have unsubscribed. Personally, I don't care to see those who elected not to be on my list. What's the point on a regular basis? If I wanted to see them, I just do a report. This is something I hope AC will consider fixing.

On a positive note, you CAN set your dashboard view to show the big number of all those who are ACTIVE. So, at a glance, I can look at the health of my list when I first login without having to generate a report.

Another thing that drove me to ding them for a 1/2 point is the way you need to view your current subscribers in a report. There is no option to see list status – subscribed, unsubscribed, cleaned, etc. Instead, you have to run the report by setting the criteria to show what list they're on. Based on the above information – about unsubscribed people appearing in my list view – this wasn't very intuitive and a bit confusing. I would prefer to set the criteria of “subscribed” or “unsubscribed”. But maybe that's just me.

All that being said, the reporting features are very detailed and you can drill down to many levels when creating segments, especially with their AND & OR statements when setting criteria, as well as creating several combinations of these statements and criteria.

These are only a FEW of the amazing tools at your disposal through ActiveCampaign, but the main point is you have a lot of control and ability to follow up with your subscribers with very targeted campaigns that will maximize your involvement and help you build a strong fan base. This gives me the ability to reward my active subscribers and try to reach out to those who might have missed my messages in their inbox…or get rid of dead weight dragging down my stats.

Overall Rating – 9.3

Adding up all the numbers above, ActiveCampaign gets a sparkling 9.3 satisfaction rating from me. I know I'm still basking in the afterglow of using their services after I've been on MailChimp for so many years AND after I've spent so much time over the last year trying to find a suitable replacement…but I'll try to do a follow-up evaluation if my opinion has changed. As I mentioned above, I do plan on doing some tutorial videos to help authors maximize their use of this amazing mailing list service. Until then…

That's my two pence…

Arial

 

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