ActiveCampaign is a solid choice for your email marketing needs. There are few flaws (though they matter), and if you want a service you can integrate into almost any tool chain, ActiveCampaign’s feature-packed plans have few equals.
While its decent feature set could potentially be let down by the rather high prices on more expensive plans, ActiveCampaign still provides good value for your money.
|Number of Templates||125+|
|Live chat support||Yes|
ActiveCampaign Is Designed for More Than Marketing, but Is It Right for You?
ActiveCampaign, if you believe the hype on its website, is your one-stop-shop for everything you could want in a marketing platform. There’s the email marketing, of course, but there’s also SMS messaging, social media integration, customer relations management (CRM) software, automation, and landing pages. Heck, there’s a tool specifically designed for running time-limited deals.
In short, ActiveCampaign definitely wants to do more than email. And it does. But does it really do that much more than any other of the top-rated email marketing platforms? That’s one of the big questions. The other one is, of course, if ActiveCampaign is right for you and your business, specifically.
On the other hand, ActiveCampaign’s marketing and automation plans come loaded with features that might make it the perfect companion service to go along with your existing infrastructure and marketing tools. I went undercover to find out exactly what’s so good about ActiveCampaign. I signed up for a paid account and tested every aspect of the service. Self-imposed goals or no, I found there was a lot to like.
ActiveCampaign Has Almost Everything You Could Ask For
ActiveCampaign is great, feature-wise. Everything worked fine in my tests, and there was very little missing. Of course, every service I review could be a little more complete, but ActiveCampaign only has one major flaw, and a couple of minor ones. I’ll get more into that below.
Otherwise, you can expect a smooth, mostly-complete experience, and the platform should be fairly easy to learn. Of course, you’ll need to know the basics of email/online marketing to get the most out of all these features, but that’ll be true no matter which online marketing platform you choose.
Put in some time, some research, and you’ll be okay. There’s a huge help center full of guides and tutorials to back you up as well.
Email Campaigns, Templates, and Personalization
You can, of course, send email campaigns (this would be a much shorter review if you couldn’t). On top of that, you can simultaneously market to people via SMS, though you’ll need to have the Plus plan at least for that.
Social media marketing is achievable through the myriad add-on apps available to all ActiveCampaign users.
Email campaigns come in several varieties: First, you’ve got your standard email campaigns. Just design an email and send it out to your contact list. Then, you can create campaigns based on automated processes, create autoresponders, do split (A/B) testing campaigns (sort of), send emails whenever your RSS feed is updated, and create date-based campaigns for birthdays, anniversaries, etc.
There are 125+ email templates to choose from, but you can always start from scratch, or use a very minimal template if you like. If you care about making sure the design matches your branding as best you can manage, the near-blank starting points are good.
As for the more “designed” options, all of the options lean towards flat and modernist. They’re really simple designs that won’t get in your way but are unlikely to amaze either. Then again, this is email. You want people to be reading, not staring in awe.
Oh, and all the templates are responsive and mobile-screen-friendly. That’s a definite plus.
That said, if you want to go crazy, you can import or create custom HTML templates. If you really, really care about your style guide, you could pay someone to make a set of email templates just for you.
The actual email builder/editor is a simple drag-and-drop job, with predefined content blocks that can be added in any order you like. Colors are easily customizable, though fonts tend to be restricted, based on the template you’ve chosen. Choose wisely.
You can add text, images, buttons, videos, social links, blocks of HTML code, and even an RSS feed to your email, so you’ve got options. You can also perform simple edits, like cropping, on any images you upload. Some templates come with stock images, but there is no stock image library. It’s best to upload your own images for these things anyway.
Final notes on this: You can set the width of the email preview to see how it looks at different screen sizes. That’s good. However, support for right-to-left (RTL) languages like Hebrew and Arabic is severely limited. It only works in raw HTML blocks, or custom HTML templates, so if you want to use those languages, you’d better know a little bit of code.
That’s not entirely a deal-breaker, but it’s a strong downside for global businesses.
Fun fact: When subscribers click a link in an email, they can have tags added to their contact information, or removed. They can be added to a list or taken off a list. You can also add them to automation workflows (more on that below).
Email content can be personalized to an impressive degree. You can use variables to easily display information relating to the individual user. So instead of, “Hi there, person who signed up for emails,” you can use their real name in your greeting. Or at least the name they gave you.
Other variables you can use include: the contact’s address, phone number, or IP address. Also social media sharing buttons are included in this feature for some reason.
There are also conditional display tags, which allow you to show or hide different blocks of content depending on the person the email is being sent to. You can show or hide content based on tags, deals they might be interested in, when they subscribed, where they are, or what list they’re on.
A/B testing is available, in an extremely limited fashion. Simply put, A/B testing is supposed to let you send one version of an email to half the intended recipients and another version to the other half. Let’s say one has more formal writing, and the other has more bombastic infomercial-style text.
Then, you can check the statistics to see which performed better. It’s easy as pie, or easy as cleaning up pie stains with the Cleaninator 3000. (Now I wonder if there really is a product by that name.)
On ActiveCampaign, A/B testing is basically restricted to the subject lines and preview text of your emails. I wish there was more to it, but there isn’t.
Mailing Lists and Segmentation
Importing and managing your contacts is generally pretty simple, but it’s also where we see the first major flaw in ActiveCampaign’s feature set. You can type in contact information manually, collect contact information via forms, copy and paste lots of contacts in or, as you’d expect, import a file full of contacts. That’s all good, and all stuff you’d expect.
However, the only file format you can import is CSV, which is a good and common format, but it’s not enough. Nearly all online marketing services let you import contacts from a variety of formats. In addition to CSV files, every service like this should be able to import XLSX (Microsoft Excel) files, which are pretty darned standard in the industry.
So yeah, that may not seem like much, but for anyone who has to manage large numbers of contacts and pass them around in a team, the lack of XLSX support is a major blow.
Where ActiveCampaign excels*, though, is in importing contacts from third-party services. Options include, but are certainly not limited to: 123ContactForm, Asana, Basecamp, Eventbrite, Freshbooks, Google Contacts, Google Spreadsheets, PayPal, Zapier, and Zoho CRM. You can even import contacts from database software like MySQL and PostgreSQL.
So technically, you could upload an XLSX file to Google Drive, convert it to a Google Spreadsheet, and then… well that seems like too much extra work, to be honest.
* Excels? Get it? Because… never mind.
Contact lists are easy enough to create, manage, and customize. You can use them to separate your contacts into easily targetable groups and keep track of who wants which kinds of emails. These lists can also display and sort contacts by their names, emails, phone numbers, business accounts they might be attached to, and more.
You can also create custom fields to store any kind of information you want about a contact
Next up, let’s have a look at segmentation. Essentially, segmentation allows you to create lists of contacts that dynamically update themselves as conditions change. For example, if you have location information about your contacts, you could make a list of every contact in Germany who has interacted with your emails in the past year. Then, when someone new from Germany signs up and clicks a link, that list gets updated.
Well, segmentation is here, and it’s built into the advanced search function. You can just assemble an advanced search with all of the parameters you want, and save that search so you can access it whenever you want.
And you can search your contacts by anything (or at least any information you have on them): names, tags, whether they’re on a specific list, if they’ve opened an email in the last week/month/year, or clicked on a specific link. Mix and match those parameters as you will to find the contacts you want to follow up on or track
There is also a handy list cleanup feature, to make sure your contact lists only contain people who are engaged with your emails. Simply put, you have a limited number of contacts you can send email to every month. Why waste money on people who don’t want those emails?
With a simple click, you can clear out all contacts who have unsubscribed, have not confirmed their subscriptions, or had emails to their account bounce right back. Weirdly, you can also clear out active email readers. Not sure why, but I’m sure there’s a use-case somewhere.
Side note: You can set a date for clearing out contacts who haven’t opened one of your emails in a while. So you can clean up your list, but still give people a chance to maybe open emails that they just haven’t gotten to yet. (What? I can be terrible about looking at emails. I just forget about them sometimes.)
Lastly, we want to take a look at suppression lists. Suppression lists are lists where you can put contacts who you don’t want to send email to – for example, people who have unsubscribed, to make sure you don’t accidentally send them emails in the future.
You can add people to a suppression list yourself, but some others will be added automatically, including people who unsubscribe and people who mark your email as spam with their email provider.
For obvious reasons of privacy and compliance with laws, ActiveCampaign won’t tell you who marked your emails as spam. Best if you just forget all about those people, and try to make the contacts you still have as happy as you can.
There is a landing page builder, and I found it to be pretty good. Unfortunately, landing pages are only available on the Plus plan and up, though you can try them out during your free trial of ActiveCampaign.
There are over 40 landing page templates, and they’re all pretty good-looking. Some are minimalist, while others are far more vibrant and fancy. Truth be told, I think the landing page templates are more compelling than the email templates.
While the landing page builder looks rather different from the email builder, they work on essentially the same principle. You drag and drop different pre-designed content blocks around the page until you’re happy. There does seem to be more layout flexibility in the landing page builder, and that’s a good thing.
The designs are all mobile-responsive, though again, there doesn’t seem to be any support for right-to-left languages. A bit of a shame, but not a deal-breaker for everyone.
Lastly, a couple more good things: There are no limits on the number of landing pages you can make. Just go ahead and make a ton.
Also, you can connect your own custom domain, so landing pages will look like they’re a part of your existing website. Having these pages under the same domain as your main site can do a lot to promote trust and reduce confusion amongst your contacts and customers, so it’s a great feature.
Automation: such a wonderful, useful thing. How? Well, let’s say that you have two lists of contacts. Some have signed up for deals, and others for industry news. What if you wanted to let everyone on the industry news list know about your deal in an unobtrusive way?
Well, you could say, “Click here to fill out another form to get the best deals on services in the taco-making industry!” But that would be time-consuming and annoying for the reader. Many would drop out of the process by the time they read the words “another form.” So… don’t do that. There’s a better way.
ActiveCampaign’s automation tools allow you to easily define a process that happens, well, automatically. For example, you could have a link that says, “Want to find the best deals on leashes and other dog-walking supplies? Sign up instantly!” That last part could even be a CTA button.
Then, that link would take a user to a landing page that says, “Thank you, you’ll be getting the best deals now!” Meanwhile, in ActiveCampaign, the reader’s email will be copied over to your list of people who want emails about deals. In the meantime, you could also send an automatic confirmation email that says, “It’s great to have you! You’ll get your first email about deals next week. By the way, if you signed up by mistake, here’s how you unsubscribe.”
All of this happens without you lifting a finger, as long as you have that automation workflow in place. Want another example? This is what a “reminder to repurchase stock” email looks like in the automation editor:
If you don’t want to design a process from scratch, there are over 250 automation templates (plus duplicates in different languages) including: abandoned cart email notifications, targeted follow-up emails, tagging customers interested in specific products, and so many more.
The automation interface is advanced and flexible. You can share automation recipes with other ActiveCampaign users and import theirs, too. Given that there’s actually a pretty big community for ActiveCampaign, that can save you a lot of work.
It should be noted that certain features like automation workflows that involve SMS messaging are locked behind more expensive plans.
I’d like to go over some of the features that aren’t strictly email-related, but still incredibly useful:
For one, there’s a live chat feature. That is to say, ActiveCampaign offers a live chatbox that you can integrate into your own website, to talk to your potential customers. Use it for sales, customer support, or whatever else you like, and it should all be easy enough to track with the…
Unified inbox! This is a feature that allows you to keep track of every interaction with every customer, whether they wrote back to one of your emails (provided you allow that) or used the chatbox to get a hold of you.
Keep in mind that both of the aforementioned features fall under “Conversations,” which is actually an add-on feature for ActiveCampaign. In other words, you’ll need to pay for it separately.
Now, something for which you don’t have to pay extra is the library of third-party add-ons and integrations. There are, let’s see, how do I put this…? Too many of them? Is 850+ add-on apps too many? Well, not if you find all the ones you want, I guess.
These apps include things like Google Analytics, WordPress, Shopify, WooCommerce, AccessAlly, Airtable, GitLab, Hootsuite, and a ton that I’ve never even heard of. Man, the people who make online services for business have been busy.
Your Email Has a Better-Than-Decent Chance of Getting to Its Destination
So, some systems of evaluating email deliverability will try to quantify the results. As in, they’ll tell you that ActiveCampaign (or any other company) has a 67% deliverability rating or something like that.
Thing is, it’s more or less impossible to test all of the variables involved in getting an email from point A to point B. It’d almost be easier to predict the odds of your mailman delivering your bills, ads, and coupons on time. (Almost.)
The best anyone can reasonably do is to look at a few basic features that can help improve your odds. The score at the bottom of this section is not a deliverability rating, only a measure of how ActiveCampaign’s features compare to those of other services.
First, we check to see if there’s an easy way to make use of DKIM authentication.
Okay, I’ll skip the nerd talk, and just say this: it involves encryption, and it’s used to help the services that receive your emails to know that your email comes from you. It’s not a guarantee that your emails will get through, but it can help.
ActiveCampaign does have DKIM authentication, and there’s an easy guide you can follow in the help center.
If you have your own domain name, I’d highly recommend using this method to improve your odds of getting the mail through.
Next up, we look at the anti-spam policy. Marketing email campaigns that people have signed up for are one thing. Straight-up spam is another. Any email marketing platform that allows spammers to thrive is going to cost you business because those spammers will make your emails look bad too.
ActiveCampaign takes spam pretty seriously, but could perhaps be a little harsher. You’ll see what I mean. The basic policy is actually pretty great:
- All subscribers/contacts must be opt-in. As in, they all must have agreed to receive your emails.
- Your account WILL be penalized or shut down if you’re caught sending spam.
- Accounts can be put under review for having a bounce rate that’s too high, a high unsubscription rate, and of course, a high complaint rate.
In practice, there could be more safeguards upfront, before anyone starts sending out emails. One of the tests I run on every service is a simple filter test. That is, I upload the emails of a ton of known spammers, and generally suspicious addresses, to see if those addresses get rejected.
Competitors like GetResponse have passed this filter test. ActiveCampaign, I am sad to say, did not. I was able to import these spam emails without a problem.
Now, how about affiliate marketing? Some email services allow you to link to other people’s products as part of an affiliate program, and others will straight up block those emails from going out. Or at least put your account under review. Where does ActiveCampaign stand on that?
Simply put, affiliate links are permitted, with some restrictions:
- You cannot use ActiveCampaign to run your own affiliate programs.
- Affiliate links should, as per the guidelines, not be the primary focus of the email.
- You can’t send emails with the sole purpose of promoting a product or service that’s not yours.
- No get-rich-quick or make-money-from-home schemes. Doesn’t matter if you include an affiliate link or not. This is a rule I completely agree with.
Lastly, for this set of features, you can get a private (AKA dedicated) IP address from which to send your emails. Sort of. So here’s how this works, in theory: If your emails are coming from the same IP address as spam, the whole IP address could get flagged by email providers. That means your emails go off into the void along with pure spam.
Also, when emails always come from the same IP address (or range of IP addresses), that signals to services that receive email that it’s more trustworthy. At the very least, it’s more likely that all of your company emails are actually coming from your company.
That way, when an email that’s supposed to be from you is sent from a different IP address, then Gmail (or whatever company) knows it’s likely to be spam. You don’t strictly need to buy your own dedicated IP. All the big email companies have relatively trusted IP addresses of their own.
But having a dedicated IP can help your emails to get through. That’s why it’s somewhat annoying that most ActiveCampaign customers will likely never get one. See, dedicated IPs are available for purchase from ActiveCampaign, but only if you have 100,000 opted-in and regularly engaged contacts. This means you’re literally an enterprise customer, paying prices beyond those listed on ActiveCampaign’s pricing page.
At that point, you may as well have your own server, complete with dedicated IP, and just have someone run a self-hosted email marketing platform for you. Could be cheaper.
ANALYTICS & REPORTING
ActiveCampaign Has Pretty Detailed Statistics and Reports
Statistics are one of the cornerstones of marketing. The others are, presumably, a general knowledge of things people want to buy, the ability to write in plain English (or whatever language you’re using), and an array of acronyms that only insiders understand.
But now, we need to look at the numbers. The best email analytics will help you figure out who is responding best to your email campaigns, and how you can repeat your successes. They also help you figure out what isn’t working, so you can try something else.
Simply put, you need the numbers. The more detailed, the better.
Well, ActiveCampaign generates reports on email campaigns, automation workflows, contacts, and even self-defined goals. That’s right, you can set goals in the admin interface, and get reports on whether or not you’ve met them.
The email campaign reports will tell you not only how many people opened your emails and clicked links in them, but how many forwarded your emails on, unsubscribed, or whatever else. And, most importantly, they’ll tell you who opened your emails, and who clicked the links, and so on.
That’s the kind of information you need to draw insights and create a strategy.
Now, if you want to break down those results by where your contacts come from, for example, you’ll need to have collected the location of all your contacts upfront. That kind of information doesn’t magically just appear in your analytics.
That said, ActiveCampaign can and does show daily and hourly engagement trends. Want to know what time of day people actually open your emails and click on the links? Well, here you go.
I’m quite satisfied with the reports and analytics overall. There are enough details and insights to work with… or at least to get started with. For the really detailed stuff, you’ll need to actively find out more about your customers.
But hey, that’s Marketing 101, ain’t it?
Support Is Prompt and Mostly Helpful, Even Outside of Business Hours
So I’m the sort of person who writes in the middle of the night because my traitorous brain has decided that this is the best time to do creative work. Thus, I’ve had the opportunity to test ActiveCampaign’s support team at its best and its “worst.”
I put quotes around “worst” for a reason. While not every answer I got was entirely satisfactory to me, the staff were quick to respond and did their best to be helpful. I can hardly complain.
The primary support channels are phone, live chat, and email.
Now, I had to actually search the knowledge base to figure out what the schedule was for the live chat, and I still haven’t found exact hours for the phone support (so I called them and asked).
Anyway, email support is available 24/7, and live chat is available on:
- Monday – Thursday from 8 AM – 11 PM, Central Standard Time
- Friday from 8 AM – 6 PM, Central Standard Time
Phone support is from 8 AM – 5 PM. Again, that’s Central time.
In addition to those primary support channels, there’s a pretty in-depth knowledge base. There’s an “Education Center” that has full-on courses in how to use ActiveCampaign, and then there’s community support. I do love a good classic web forum.
Anyway, here’s how my experience went:
I wrote in specifically to ask, “Would it be possible to achieve RTL language support (e.g. Arabic or Hebrew) in email campaigns with a custom HTML template?”
Well, it took a little more explaining, but the whole interaction took less than ten minutes, and I got the answer I was hoping for: Yes, you can use a custom HTML template to support RTL languages.
So honestly, I called to ask about an apparent bug on the pricing page. See, there’s a slider that lets you say how many contacts you have, and the prices on the plans change to account for the size of your contact list. However, when you move that slider high enough, it just stops showing prices. Like so:
Well, I called up support first thing in the morning. They answered quickly, and I got my answer very fast. Simply put, those blank prices mean, “Call the sales team, because we are way beyond ‘sliders’ here.” Or, to put it more technically, at that level, the pricing has to be more flexible based on what you want.
The agent I talked to was polite and helpful, and the whole experience was smooth. Nothing to complain about here.
I sent an email via the form on the site (very late at night), asking if there was a way to build a website with the page builder. As in, could I attach my domain, designate one page as my “homepage” and go from there?
The answer was helpful in some ways, but overall inconclusive. Specifically, the tech never responded to the question about designating a homepage to build a proper website. This leads me to believe it’s not quite possible.
I just wish the response had been a little clearer.
The Prices Could Be Cheaper, but They Aren’t Bad Either
There are a variety of plans, that vary based on how many contacts you want to send email to. The plans start at 500 contacts (for $9 per month if you pay annually, or $15 if you pay monthly) and go up to 100,000 contacts (for a whole lot more).
ActiveCampaign’s cheapest plans are quite cheap, and good value for the features you can get – However, once your contact list begins to expand, you’d better be making money off your email campaigns, because those higher-tier plans are pricey indeed. In fact, on the more expensive plans, the website may not even show you prices. You’ll be expected to talk directly to sales about spending that kind of money.
That said, there is a 14-day free trial, no credit card required. You can evaluate most of the features at your leisure, so long as your leisure only lasts about two weeks.
At the end of the day, there are no refunds.
You can pay monthly via MasterCard, Visa, or American Express. If you pay the yearly price, you can also pay by PayPal, wire transfer, or check.
ActiveCampaign’s feature-packed plans could be a solid choice for your email marketing needs. There are only one or two flaws I’d classify as “glaring,” and if you want a service you can integrate into almost any tool chain, ActiveCampaign has few equals.
However, this decent feature set could potentially be let down by the rather high prices on more expensive plans. Locking dedicated IPs away from people who don’t have 100,000+ contacts seems silly, and it really needs to be able to import Excel files.
All that said, most people will get just a little more for their money over at Sendinblue (which also has a free plan) or GetResponse. But if you feel like ActiveCampaign’s precise set of features works for you, go for it. I certainly won’t judge you.
Is ActiveCampaign a good email marketing service?
ActiveCampaign is one of our top choices for email marketing services, as it has hundreds of beautifully designed templates, visual automation maps, and it’s suitable whatever your experience is with email marketing. If you’re a beginner, you can take advantage of its 14-day free trial. In addition to email marketing, it has powerful sales automation features and integrations with over 300 apps.
What does ActiveCampaign do?
ActiveCampaign is a customer experience automation platform. It has email marketing to help you connect with and nurture subscribers, automated workflows to save you time, CRM tools to help with cultivating relationships, and e-commerce tools for generating revenue. If you fancy trying it out.
Why should I use ActiveCampaign?
ActiveCampaign is best for advanced marketers who need high-level automation features and who want to leverage machine learning. It’s also a smart choice for collaborating with sales teams, as it has lead scoring, win probability, and e-commerce features.
Is ActiveCampaign easy to use?
ActiveCampaign is easy to use, as the interface is intuitive, making the navigation simple. The platform has hundreds of templates that you can use for email campaigns and marketing automations, and the drag-and-drop editor is a breeze to learn. It also has easily accessible tutorials and guides to help you.