If you are serious about your online business, one of the most important things to do is establish an email list. As you build your list, you will be able to keep in touch with your customers, clients or subscribers by composing a single email to send out to your whole list in just one click. This is basic email marketing 101, and could be anything from a weekly or monthly newsletter, to updates on your latest products or services, or perhaps seasonal sales announcements and coupon codes.
Keep in mind, while email marketing is essentially “bulk email”, we are NOT talking about “spamming” people. We are talking about sending occasional emails to a legitimate list of your own audience who visited your website and voluntarily chose to sign up for your email list. These are the people who want to hear from you and want to receive your newsletters and other updates. Chances are, you’ve signed up for a few email lists like this yourself.
Never EVER send bulk emails to people who didn’t specifically sign up for it, and NEVER build a list based on random emails you’ve collected from around the web (or worse yet, bought). Unsolicited emails are the scourge of the internet, and there are actual laws on the books about this, namely the CAN-SPAM Act.
EMAIL MARKETING PLATFORMS
As of this writing, there are literally dozens, maybe even hundreds of different email marketing platforms to choose from. Virtually all of them offer paid premium plans for large scale enterprise businesses who want all the bells and whistles and have no problem affording it.
For the more technically inclined, or the hardcore tech entrepreneurs, there are of course options for building out your own email marketing platform using either open source software, premium software (incredibly expensive), or straight up custom coded solutions. Just be aware that at minimum this would require a a secure VPS or Dedicated server, as well as a total commitment to full time server maintenance.
Our focus here is for the bootstrap startups and small business owners of the world, so we will be looking at a number of platforms that offer FREE plans up to a modest number of subscribers and/or number of emails sent per month. This is an excellent way for anyone to get started with email marketing, so in this article we won’t be covering any of the strictly paid services.
We also want to pay close attention with any such platform for a reasonable Terms of Service/Acceptable Use Policy. Beyond common sense terms that obviously forbid illegal content and unsolicited spam, there are many “niche” industries (and even particular topics) that certain platforms simply do not allow, whether you use their premium plans or not.
MailChimp – the go-to standard
MailChimp is a US based company that was originally founded in 2001, and has been the most widely popular email marketing platform in the world for well over 10 years. Their prominence in the industry is largely due to offering a very enticing FREE plan that allows up to 2000 subscribers, provides powerful and easy to use email templates, and has well supported integration with popular platforms like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Magento, and hundreds more. Paid plans start at $9.99/mo for up to 50,000 subscribers, opening up a number of additional features.
MailChimp is easily the go-to for most people when they are just getting started. There have always been thousands of slick tutorials and how-to articles on their services from all of the biggest influencers, so they are always at the front of the line when anyone does a search on email marketing.
However, with recent stories of highly questionable censorship, many people may want (or need) to find an alternative.
ALTERNATIVES TO MAILCHIMP
We have researched a large number of email marketing services that have comparable features and ease-of-use as MailChimp. Unfortunately, many on the market have Terms of Service that are just as restrictive, if not more in some cases. As previously mentioned, our primary criteria for the services we list here are that 1) they have a FREE option for beginners to get started, and 2) have a ToS that is based on common sense, and hopefully somewhat manageable for most users sharing legal and lawful information.
It should be noted that there are in fact a few up-and-coming email marketing platforms who specifically stand up for free speech, but so far they are more for the technically minded, as they don’t quite have any beginner-friendly features yet, such as email templates or WordPress plugins. We hope to see those new platforms grow, and will be reviewing them further in the very near future.
Below are 4 of the best well-established alternatives to MailChimp we’ve found, each with a FREE option, each with a variety of powerful features, and each with Terms of Service we feel most small businesses and independent publishers should be able to work with in most cases.
SendInBlue was started in 2012, and is considered a SaaS (software as a service) solution for relationship marketing. Headquartered in France (with offices in the US, Germany and India) they offer a cloud-based marketing suite for email marketing, transactional email, marketing automation, customer-relationship management, landing pages, Facebook ads, retargeting ads, SMS marketing, and more.
Their free plan has a number of great features, including their email builder and templates, advanced segmentation, API/webhooks, and transactional emails. While you can have an unlimited number of contacts, the drawback is that you can only send up to 300 emails per day, and your emails will be branded with their logo.
Their paid plans start at a staggering $25/mo with the ‘Lite’ package, but opens up several additional features including up to 100,000 emails, no daily sending limit, A/B testing, advanced statistics and removal of their logo branding in your emails. The next paid package jumps to a hefty $65/mo with their ‘Premium’ package that allows up to a million emails and includes marketing automation, Facebook and retargeting ads, landing pages, multi user access, and telephone support (something almost unheard of these days).
Terms of Service considerations
By and large, SendInBlue appears to have a common sense approach in their Terms of Service, prohibiting obvious illegal activity, spamming, phishing, etc. However, some users may want to double check that their particular content would be compliant under Section 4.3 “Prohibited uses”.
MailJet is another French based email marketing platform founded in 2010. They are a cloud-based email delivery and tracking system that allows users to send marketing emails and transactional emails. The transactional email API is capable of sending milestone emails, upgrade confirmations, invoice notices, and more. The platform includes tools to design emails, send high volumes, and track emails.
Their free plan comes with their powerful APIs, SMTP Relay, Webhooks, Advanced Email editor, and advanced statistics. While it offers Unlimited contacts, the downside is it only allows 200 emails per day (or 6000 emails/mo). Additionally, the MailJet logo is branded on all emails with the free plan.
Their paid plans start at a reasonable $10/mo for the ‘Basic’ plan, which removes their branding from your outgoing emails, and bolsters 30,000 emails per month, with no daily sending limits. MailJet’s ‘Premium’ plan goes for about $21/mo and opens up additional features such as Segmentation, A/B Testing, Marketing Automation, and Multi-user collaboration (ideal for teams).
Terms of Service considerations
On their General Terms of Service page you will find the usual common sense language prohibiting illegal content, but to get a more clear picture of what is allowed, they list a URL (but do not link it) to their parent company MailGun at http://www.mailgun.com/aup . The only concern here, like in so many ToS documents these days, is the generic use of the term “hate speech”, as this has no specific legal definition in the United States, and is often subjectively interpreted to punish otherwise legal and lawful political speech and commentary.
MooSend is a cloud-based SaaS platform, marketing itself as an all-in-one marketing solution beyond just email and autoresponder software. They offer a powerful landing page builder, marketing automation workflows, and particularly sophisticated eCommerce integrations.
MooSend’s Free plan is perhaps one of the strongest in the industry, allowing up to 1000 subscribers, unlimited emails/month, custom coded templates, A/B test campaigns, and the majority of all other key features. Plus, they do not brand your emails with their logo. The only exceptions on the free plan are the hosted landing page, SMTP relay and transactional emails.
Paid plans start at an affordable $8/month, bumping up subscriber limit to 2000 and opening up all the best features any small business would need. Unfortunately, beyond 2000 subscribers, their pricing scheme seems to jump in massive increments very quickly. If you grew your list to 25k subscribers, you’d be paying about $100/month. If you anticipate growing a large subscriber list, MooSend offers Custom plans which might be a better approach, depending on your needs. The Custom plans also offer extra features such as a dedicated IP address, priority support, dedicated account manger, etc.
Terms of Service considerations
MooSend uses a simple and clear policy that prohibits obvious illegal and offensive content, and (amazingly) not a single reference the over-used/abused term “hate speech”. Certain users may want to double check with them to make sure their content doesn’t fall outside the lines, but in keeping their servers safe from typical types of abuse, their ToS seems fairly ideal.
Sender is a company based out of Lithuania, founded in 2012. They offer perhaps the most simple and straight-forward email marketing application on the market. It allows businesses to manage their contact lists, create campaigns using a drag and drop editor, and analyze results.
Sender’s free plan allows up to 2500 subscribers, and 15k emails/month. However, emails and opt-in forms are branded. Otherwise, the free plan comes with ALL features, including email templates, segmentation, A/B Testing, email analytics. marketing automation workflows, web push notifications, and more. Their monthly paid plan starts at $11/month for up to 5000 subscribers/60k emails/month and grows with you at a fairly reasonable rate from there.
Terms of Service considerations
Sender easily has the simplest Terms of Service and Anti-Spam Policy, most of which covers normal technical aspects. However one vague and undefined thing in their prohibited content list is “Affiliate marketing”. Many platforms differentiate affiliate “marketing” from common use of affiliate “links”. Some users may want to contact them before signing up to clarify these definitions. Otherwise, a simple service with a simple ToS, which is quite refreshing to see.
Whether you choose to get started with a free plan, or jump straight to a paid plan, whether from one of these platforms or anywhere else, ALWAYS make sure you actually read and understand their Terms of Service before you sign up. Keep in mind that critical details are often split up into separate documents under titles such as “Acceptable Use Policy” or “Anti-Spam Policy”. Additionally, once you begin building your email list on ANY platform, make a habit of regularly exporting your contact list into a CSV file so you always have the option of taking your business elsewhere without sacrificing one of your most valuable assets – your customers.