Email marketing is still effective. Sure, maybe it's not what it was back in the late '90s, but that doesn't mean it doesn't still work. As spam filters have gotten better and marketers have gotten better at permission-based marketing, more of your email is getting delivered to the inbox without the spam that caused people to lose faith in email marketing in the first place.

That means that managing and maintaining an active, opt-in email list is extremely important, and choosing the right provider to help you is just as important. In this article I'm going to review two of the leading email marketing providers out there: Constant Contact vs MailChimp, and provide you with the information you need to make the right choice.

Let's start with the basics. Both providers offer similar basic functionality sets as far as email marketing is concerned. Sign up forms, contact import and export, list management, unsubscribe features, management of multiple lists, and templates for you to get started. Beyond email, MailChimp's functionality is non-existant, whereas Constant Contact offers event registration options and some limited social media promotional tools.

While this may seem like a benefit of Constant Contact at first, it honestly only serves to bloat the service and try to upcharge you for things you can get both cheaper and better elsewhere. You can get better event management and registration services from websites like Event Incite, and you can get better social media promotion tools from services like Woobox.

On the other hand, MailChimp has stuck to their guns and dedicated themselves to producing the highest quality email marketing service possible, and it shows. Where Constant Contact spent more time worrying about add-ons, MailChimp focused on the things that matter to someone looking for an email service provider. The most important of these was a set of clean and simple templates that are mobile-responsive and look great on any device.

Constant Contact does now have a number of mobile-responsive templates available, but we've still seen plenty of issues with those, a lot of which stem from their forced inclusion of their own giant, self-branded footer at the bottom of every email. I'm sure these will improve, but it always scares me when it takes a company that should be a leader in the field that long to respond to market forces instead of being the one leading the charge.

This seems to be a systemic issue in Constant Contact's technology management. Recently I was cancelling a Constant Contact account for a client and while speaking with the customer service rep, she informed me that I/my client was still on the "old interface" and a new one had been released well over a year earlier. She asked if I'd like to be upgraded to that to see if it was a better option for me. The beauty of the web is that you can distribute and deploy software early and often to ALL of your users. So now I'm paying the same amount as your new users but for some reason you're not providing me with the latest versions of your software? Not to mention the same old, stale interface was part of the reason I was leaving in the first place!

And let's talk about that last paragraph for a moment. Yes, with Constant Contact you're forced to call customer service to cancel your account, you can't simply cancel on the site. (MailChimp gives you a very simple page called "Pause or permanently delete your account" from which to do so.) When you call, that's when you get offered all the discounts and the extras. I'm sorry but I'm not sure who at Constant Contact decided that converting to the same business model as a cable company was a good idea. Is there anybody in the world that likes finding out that you could have been offering me better pricing or service the entire time but you'll only give it to me when I threaten to leave? Why is that the relationship I want with a service provider I'm paying hard-earned money to every month?

As you can tell, this article has taken a bit of a negative turn, and to be honest, I didn't expect it to go quite that way when I started writing this, but I've had a lot of issues with Constant Contact for a long time and I guess this is my time to get them out in the open, especially after driving a lot of business their way through customer referrals.

But what about MailChimp?

As I mentioned earlier, MailChimp's biggest benefit is in focusing on a the single goal of providing excellent email marketing services. The interface is elegantly simple (although I have to be honest, it DID take me about 20 minutes the first time to advance past the first step in the email creation process because I couldn't find the little "Next" button hiding in the bottom right corner of my 27" monitor ... that one needs to change MailChimp!), and they always seem to be at least 2 steps ahead of Constant Contact.

While Constant Contact was catching up on mobile design, MailChimp was focused on A/B testing (I can't tell you how big of a feature demand that should be for you if you want to use email marketing effectively), and while Constant Contact was building out some relatively useless social media tools, MailChimp was working on building solid integrations with other services like Salesforce.com, Stripe, Shopify, and Bigcommerce, just to name a few. To be fair, Constant Contact has recently added a lot more integrations but as of the date of this writing, it seems like every time I'm looking to integrate email with another service, MailChimp is always supported while Constant Contact rarely is.

Finally, pricing. Where MailChimp blows Constant Contact out of the water is their "Free Forever" plan, which promises up to 2,000 emails on a list and sending up to 12,000 emails each month free forever. For a lot of small businesses, this is enough. A similar plan through Constant Contact costs $35 / month. Once you go over 2,500 contacts the pricing gets closer, but MailChimp is slightly cheaper and offers more frequent breaks in their pricing so you end up paying for what you're using more so than with Constant Contact.

In conclusion, I think it's pretty obvious where I stand on the matter. While you can certainly use Constant Contact for your email marketing needs and get the job done, I think MailChimp is a clear leader and as such, we've not only been referring new clients to MailChimp, but have also been switching our Constant Contact clients over.

Chris Searles is President of Searles Media and specializes in helping small businesses maximize their available resources to market themselves effectively using a wide variety of media. Visit Website

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