In 1971, programmer Roy Tomlinson invented the email address as we know it, with an @ sign in it.
That makes email one of the most durable marketing channels out there. Itco-starred in a movie with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (1998’s You’ve Got Mail, duh) the same year Google was invented.
That means it’s older than paid search or SEO. It’s also older than paid or organic social, which started with Facebook in 2004; and it’s definitely older than the original growth marketing, “growth hacking,” a term coined in 2010.
Yet email remains as relevant as ever. It’s the lifeblood of e-commerce and DTC — how else are you supposed to spread the word about discounts and product launches? — and it’s a primary channel for B2B marketing teams.
Used by 87% of B2B teams, email is the second most popular distribution channel in B2B content marketing, according to Content Marketing Institute — just behind social media.
Email marketing has changed quite a bit since 1971, though. To use email at scale for business purposes, you need email marketing tools to send messages to thousands of addresses at a time, A/B test subject lines, automate drip campaigns, understand email deliverability and iOS 15’s impact, and much more.
We asked several email marketers about the email marketing service providers (ESPs) and supplemental tools they like best, and why. But before we get into that, let’s back up a bit and define our terms.
Email marketing software vs. email marketing tools
On a technical level, email marketing tools and email software are … the same thing.
That’s not how marketers use the two terms in conversation, though. In marketing (and in this story):
- Email marketing software means all-in-one ESPs
- Email marketing tools, a bigger category, includes ESPs and supplementary specialized tools and guides
For a tool to be considered email marketing software, it has to include:
- Email templates
- A/B testing
- Real-time analytics (open rate, click-throughs, etc.)
Because this story focuses on email marketing tools — not just software — you’ll get more than a regurgitated list of the same heavy hitters.
We’ll walk through all the best email marketing resources, including freebie tools so good you'd pay for them.
Is there a difference between email marketing tools and CRM tools?
Typically, enterprises refer to email marketing software as a CRM. But CRM software is more broad and advanced than email marketing software — it can manage all your customer relationships and touchpoints.
That said, Salesforce and HubSpot offer a full suite of email marketing tools within their CRM software. We cover both email-forward CRMs in this article.
The 8 best email marketing software
Ultimately, the “best” email marketing software “depends on the type of company and tech stack,” Sujan Patel, co-founder of Mailshake, said
Buyers should ask themselves five questions to figure out the best ESP for their company, said Chaya Gutnick, co-founder of Skive and a systems expert who’s tested 20+ email marketing tools.
- What type of automation do you need? Simple autoresponder or multi-step?
- Which integrations are must-haves to you? Do you need a Shopify or WooCommerce integration for your e-commerce efforts?
- Are templates important to you? Or do you have in-house email developer and designer resources?
- What level of deliverability reporting do you need? Do you just need a big-picture rate, or do you want to drill down into deliverability by ESP?
- What extra features do you need? Do you plan to use your ESP for webinars, nurtures, and/or push notifications?
To address a variety of business needs, we listened to responses from several professional email marketers and curated top choices for solopreneurs, agencies, small businesses, e-commerce shops and more.
Fun fact: Half of these ESPs offer freemium pricing!
Ideal for: e-commerce companies
Pricing: freemium; get a personalized estimate here
With a dreamy UI and superior segmentation capable of conditional splits, Klaviyo was built for serious email marketers, especially e-commerce marketers working with Shopify stores.
Klaviyo users can send automated, behaviorally-triggered campaigns along with basic transactional emails.
“If it’s a business that has products [available online], and they want to be a bit more reactive to what people do on their website,” Klaviyo is the best fit, Abound’s director of lifecycle marketing Ellie Stamouli told MarketerHire.
“The team is so helpful, their support pages and academy videos are perfect for training and advancing your platform knowledge,” said Danae Young, senior CRM and loyalty manager at Ruggable.
But it’s not just the customer support that makes Klaviyo great. It can go toe-to-toe with any ESP on features, too.
“It's easy to use and allows you to analyze customer purchase history, review predictive analytics, and make informed decisions all in one platform,” Sporting Life email marketing manager Nikik Kanani told MarketerHire.
Email marketing consultant Makenna Nielsen highly recommended it for small- and medium-sized retail brands. “The Shopify integration on Klaviyo is particularly seamless,” she noted.
Ideal for: small business owners
Pricing: freemium; paid plans start at $17 per month
Founded more than a decade before Klaviyo, in 2001, Mailchimp has become near synonymous with email marketing — and that’s not just because it has first-movers’ advantage.
“It's got all the basics you'll need with a very user-friendly UI,” said Nielsen.
Even the free plan includes a marketing CRM; website, landing page, drag-and-drop email builder; signup forms and more.
That said, it has its limitations, Mike K. Tatum, director of lifecycle marketing at Athletic Greens, told MarketerHire.
“Mailchimp is fine if you’re running a local business and just need to push out scheduled emails without any automation,” said Tatum. But it may struggle with more demanding automation and segmentation work.
Mailchimp is also slightly behind the curve on e-commerce integrations. In 2021, Mailchimp launched e-commerce stores and relaunched its Shopify integration, but e-comm’s not quite in the platform’s DNA the way it’s in Klaviyo’s.
Ideal for: service or agency businesses
Pricing: starts at $9 per month
ActiveCampaign is built to scale. It integrates with 850+ apps, like Facebook, Shopify and WordPress.
It’s not just a CRM, ESP or automation tool. It's all three. Unlike other tools, ActiveCampaign’s automation features go above and beyond with predictive content, which serves contacts the best messaging version for them based on past click data.
After testing other email marketing platforms, Gutnick said she's "a huge fan” of ActiveCampaign.
“I’ve tried a lot of software that are much, much harder to use,” Gutnick said. ActiveCampaign is “very feature-rich” — from tagging clients to lead scoring, it’s “got it all.”
Glowing reviews aside, ActiveCampaign isn’t right for everyone. If you just want to launch a newsletter quickly, it may be overkill.
Ideal for: B2B businesses
Pricing: starts at $45 per month
To call HubSpot an email marketing software would be a huge understatement.
"Sending email is one thing," freelance writer John McTigue told MarketerHire. "But then you need tools for building landing pages, creating trackable CTAs, segmentation, optimizing sending and receiving rates… not to mention workflow automation and integration with CRM."
A word of warning on pricing, though: HubSpot’s $45 per month Starter package quickly jumps to $800 per month — steep compared to the standard $20-$150 per month for most email marketing tools. This one’s best for B2B businesses trying to solve CRM, social, webinar, landing page and even SEO problems, not just email marketing.
“HubSpot is built for companies with higher value customers — i.e. $1,000+ per year.”
“HubSpot is built for companies with higher value customers — i.e. $1,000+ per year,” explained B2B marketing consultant Jon Martin.
Ideal for: freelancers
Pricing: freemium; paid plans start at $9 per month
ConvertKit was clearly built with creators in mind, and not just because its paid plans are called “Creator” and “Creator Pro.”
You can easily segment subscribers based on past purchases and add content upgrades — like $49 courses and guides — to the email signups.
“ConvertKit only allows the same subscriber once and helps you give them specific tags,” said Jay Clouse, who hosts the podcast Creative Elements and writes newsletter Creative Companion. “It gives me a lot of control over who I’m sending what to.”
That sets ConvertKit apart from Mailchimp, which lets you add the same email address to multiple lists. “In that system, you may actually be paying for the same subscriber multiple times,” Clouse explained.
“It gives me a lot of control over who I’m sending what to.”
Ideal for: enterprises
Cost: starts at $79 per month
Litmus backs up its enterprise pricing with enterprise features.
When Johnson was starting out, he used Litmus to “pull that HTML out and then edit it, and see the effects of it and essentially teach myself HTML.”
“Litmus is quite frankly game-changing,” concluded Krupka. “It's helped a ton with nailing down deliverability and really tightening up code for emails across all platforms.”
“Litmus is quite frankly game-changing.”
Ideal for: startups
Cost: starts at $99 per month
Iterable holds its own on automation and segmentation. It “has the best HTML and drag-and-drop editor out there,” said freelance email marketer Karina Vitale. “The dynamic content abilities are pretty much unlimited.”
A favorite among developers and tech-savvy email marketers, Iterable is “amazing for startups that have a lot of unique events associated with their product experience,” Frank Dorval, director of retention marketing at Sheets & Giggles, told MarketerHire. Especially custom email automation workflows.
If you “require lots of custom events and workflows,” Iterable is for you, concluded Dorval.
Ideal for: early-stage founders and freelancers
Pricing: freemium; paid plans start at $9 per month
A “significantly easier” to use alternative to Mailchimp, MailerLite offers “all functionality you could possibly want from a free email software,” Melanie Balke, CEO and founder of The Email Marketers, told MarketerHire.
One thing MailerLite isn’t light on: free features. Like Mailchimp, the free version of MailerLite includes a website, automations, forms, pop-ups and support.
A few other email marketing platforms came up enough in our research and surveys that they deserve a shoutout:
- Constant Contact
- Campaign Monitor
The 5 best supplemental email marketing tools
While the above email software lay a strong foundation for an email marketing program, these are the best specialized tools for niche jobs like email list building and cleaning.
For improving deliverability: GlockApps.
Ideal for: e-commerce and other email-heavy businesses
Pricing: freemium; paid plans start at $59 per month
While Stamouli called database hygiene “the least sexy element of email marketing,” it’s also insanely important.
Crowd favorite GlockApps helps email marketers clean their email list and predict inbox placements before they send. Will an email land in Gmail’s primary tab? Promotions? Spam?
GlockApps help users navigate the nuances of deliverability and prep lists properly from the start.
For finding email addresses for outbound campaigns: Hunter.io.
Ideal for: freelancers, content and SEO teams, and sales-led businesses
Pricing: freemium; paid plans start at $49 per month
Investing $100 per month in email automation and deliverability tools like Hunter.io can save you from ABM tools that cost 5X that.
“Most [account-based marketing] can be done without a separate and expensive tool,” says email marketer Chris Schramm.
Hunter’s simple interface lets email marketers target every segment. You can search by email pattern or name, filter by verification score and sources before saving as a lead.
For insights and examples: MailCharts.
Ideal for: e-commerce
Pricing: freemium; pro subscriptions start at $149 per month
This email benchmark tool analyzes emails from 2,500 companies and sorts them into 80+ industry groups. E-commerce marketers often turn to it for inspiration and insights when they’re building an email marketing strategy or researching their competition.
MailCharts’ tools let you peruse everything from triggered and promotional emails to onboarding and follow-up emails.
For competitive analysis: SendView’s ESP Finder.
Ideal for: startups shopping for (or rethinking) their ESP
This free tool can identify the ESP behind any email — you just have to forward the email to email@example.com, and it will reply with an answer, like this:
This comes in handy when you’re trying to figure out which ESPs other companies use to send aspirational emails, or when you’re trying to qualify sales prospects, SendView co-founder Gregg Blanchard explained.
All told, Sendview’s ESP Finder can identify more than 225 ESPs, including every one in our ESP section above.
Mailchimp has the most market share — it accounts for about 10% of all emails Sendview has analyzed — but Klaviyo’s hot on its heels!
For creative inspiration: ReallyGoodEmails.com
Ideal for: all email marketers
Pricing: freemium; paid plans cost $9 per month
ReallyGoodEmails.com’s collection of over 9,000 emails helps creatives and email marketers spark new design, development and content ideas for campaigns.
Even Nik “The DTC Guy” Sharma uses it for creative inspiration.
Marketers can look up email marketing campaigns by company, industry and more. Even at the free level, its categories are well thought out, allowing you to sort by behaviors, like abandon cart and recent purchase, and major holidays, like Black Friday and July 4th.
Comparing the top email marketing tools
The curated list above should help you narrow down your options. All are solid email marketing providers built for very different uses. And some can (and should) be used together.
But this is more than a regular listicle. So let’s raise the stakes and see how they fare in head-to-head matchups.
Klaviyo vs. Mailchimp
Both are all-in-one ESPs with CRMs, but they couldn’t be more different. Klaviyo is an e-commerce darling and Mailchimp is the layperson’s go-to.
“In lieu of an essay of 2,000 words: Klaviyo is a Ferrari. Mailchimp is a Prius,” Balke told MarketerHire.
“In lieu of an essay of 2,000 words: Klaviyo is a Ferrari. Mailchimp is a Prius.”
(Though if you want 2,000+ words on the pros and cons of each tool, we’ve go that too.)
“[Klaviyo] has an amazing UI, the flexibility you need to create seriously beautiful emails, and kick-ass integrations,” said Nielsen.
In comparison, “[Mailchimp] used to be an industry leader, but they have not kept up with all of the technology / segmentation improvements that their competitors are doing,” said Vitale. Plus, it has the “worst UX.”
Mailchimp’s free plan makes it less expensive to get started — but it doesn’t scale well.
In contrast, Kalviyo doesn’t withhold features on lower-tier plans and pricing scales with your contact list size.
While it depends on the number of subscribers, Klaviyo is ultimately more affordable. “[Y]ou don’t have to prepay for 2,000 contacts when you only have 500,” Stamouli explained. “And that’s a lot more approachable.”
“There's no question about this one for me — Klaviyo is the winner all around,” said Nielsen. “I see Klaviyo a step (or three) above Mailchimp.”
“I see Klaviyo a step (or three) above Mailchimp.”
ActiveCampaign vs. Klaviyo
There ‘s no bad choice when you’re choosing between ActiveCampaign and Klaviyo. However, there may be a slightly better option depending on your industry. The big deciding factor: do you sell hard goods or services?
Klaviyo was built to serve e-commerce stores while ActiveCampaign specializes in marketing automation for service-based business.
If you’re looking for the best marketing automation tool and aren’t too worried about customizations, ActiveCampaign is your best bet, said Yisrael Segall, senior demand generation marketer at floLIVE.
A customer experience and engagement tool first and e-commerce tool second, ActiveCampaign offers more automation features than Klaviyo.
Like Klaviyo, ActiveCampaign includes all major integrations and custom automations — like the lead generation magnet delivery one diagrammed below — are its bread and butter.
Capable of nearly every automation imaginable — from mapping to start-and-stop automations — ActiveCampaign is a system junkie’s dream come true.
Like Mailchimp, ActiveCampaign is cheaper than Klaviyo at the start. That said, you’ll pay more than 6X more for advanced features like performance reporting, attribution and A/B testing with ActiveCampaign.
“Klaviyo for [e-commerce], ActiveCampaign for everything else,” deep3 growth consultant (and e-commerce aficionado) Bayo Ojo told MarketerHire.
“Klaviyo for [e-commerce], ActiveCampaign for everything else.”
Why? Klaviyo has superior segmentation, he explained, but ActiveCampaign has a more intuitive design and better marketing automations.
Validity vs. GlockApps
An enterprise-level product, Validity monitors blacklists and predicts inbox (and spam) placement. GlockApps is a simplified version of Validity that’s made it easier for non-specialists to tackle email deliverability challenges.
GlockApps offers email spam tests, DMARC messages and IP reputation monitors, but it doesn’t have all the premium features Validity does — like exclusive data feeds and sender certification.
GlockApps doesn’t have a minimum number of users, and lets you get started for $59 per month.
Validity requires a 10-user minimum, but gives you access to their whole suite of products — for $1,200 per month ($120 per user). That’s a good deal for enterprises, but GlockApps pricing makes more sense for everyone else.
“[F]rom my conversations with other email marketing experts (particularly in the retail space) Validity is still #1,” said Nielsen.
“[F]rom my conversations with other email marketing experts (particularly in the retail space) Validity is still #1.”
However, consultants and startups should go with GlockApps as buying under 10 licenses of Validity isn’t an option.
3 email marketing tools on the rise in 2022
Since the pandemic started, newsletter publishing platform Substack has doubled its users, and it’s just one of the up-and-coming email tools seeing and solving big gaps in the market.
Ideal for: soloprenuers, bloggers and freelancers
Pricing: freemium; writers selling premium subscriptions get charged 10% of revenue plus a credit card fee
Is it an email tool? Substack likes to think it’s something different altogether: “a platform that enables writers and readers,” CEO Chris Best told Protocol.
But it’s … also an email tool. Substack is still the most popular way to launch a paid email newsletter as a solopreneur. By capturing payment and simplifying sends, it reduced newsletter ownership to writing with a Medium-esque email editor and restricted HTML/CSS template.
Recently, it’s attempted to expand into a paid podcasting platform as well, but it’s not yet competitive with Patreon, which takes a smaller cut of podcast revenues.
Ideal for: solopreneurs, bloggers and freelancers
Pricing: freemium; paid plans start at $29 per month
This newsletter platform was founded by a trio of early Morning Brew employees — so they know what it takes to scale a newsletter: Morning Brew has 4M+ subscribers!
For one, growing a subscriber list takes a referral program, so readers earn rewards by getting their friends signed up. Unlike Substack, Beehiiv has one seamlessly built into their platform.
Another edge they have on Substack: Beehiiv charges a flat monthly fee (as opposed to a percentage of premium newsletter revenue), and offers more granular metrics on your top acquisition channels.
Ideal for: e-commerce
Pricing: freemium; paid plans start at $15 per month
Privy is an e-commerce pop-up software built to increase email signups. But Balke says that description doesn’t quite do it justice.
“Privy is more than just a pop-up software.”
“Privy is more than just a pop-up software,” she said. “You can utilize their platform intelligently to capture emails, but also to upsell customers, increase average order value, cross-sell relevant products in cart and more.”
Email marketing tools — and demand for them — will keep growing
As email marketing matures, marketers will make better strategic decisions with better email marketing solutions — and find increasingly effective iOS15 workarounds.
That will lead to more personalized — not just customized — emails, according to Vitale.
No one’s impressed by email marketers addressing them by name or sending them an automated welcome email.
But, learning from the early success of product-recommendation quizzes in e-commerce, email marketers are beginning to provide more relevant, useful product suggestions based on recent buying behavior:
“Whether it's capitalizing on STO [send time optimization], dynamic content, A/B testing, or new tech abilities — like featuring videos or live updates in the email — all of these capabilities are going to take typical email marketing practices to the next level,” predicted Vitale.
This story was originally published in February 2021 and was updated in May 2022. Mae Rice also contributed to this story.