Active Campaign Top Email Marketing and Autoresponder

PROS

  • Uses both lists and tags for subscriber management
  • Advanced automation features
  • Very thorough split-testing tools
  • Decent email template builder
  • Extensive list of integrations and Zapier support
  • Excellent tracking + reporting functionality
  • Responsive support (incl. live chat and community groups)
  • Reasonably priced considering what it’s capable of

CONS

  • The interface can be really slow to navigate
  • Managing contacts can be a bit overwhelming for noobs
  • The form builder is very limited on the lower plan
  • Not many pre-designed email templates

From it’s humble beginnings as a Chicago startup back in 2003, ActiveCampaign offers an affordable way for business owners to stay in touch with their contacts.

Today, it’s a full-blown, intelligence-driven email marketing platform and sales CRM platform that revolves heavily around automation — ultimately giving users more power over their email marketing, with less work.

The company has become one of the biggest email marketing platforms on the market, and it’s also one that we — the Authority Hacker team — use on a daily basis.

ActiveCampaign Review

For this review, I fired up ActiveCampaign to see how it performs as a standalone tool, and in comparison to popular alternatives.

As I mentioned above, this is one tool that has been part of our arsenal for some time, which makes this review different in the sense that I’m much more aware of the nuances — both good and bad.

Regardless, I’ll do my best to give the most objective review of this software in terms of where it is today.

If you want a more in-depth breakdown of the process I used to review ActiveCampaign, I suggest you check out my email marketing tools roundup.

System & Segmentation

ActiveCampaign offers the best of both worlds in terms of list segmentation, as it utilizes both lists and tags.

Personally, I like this approach because you, the user, can choose how you want to manage your subscribers — whether that’s using multiple lists, or a single list with multiple tags.

You can do all this manually, and in bulk, either from the contacts menu or the lists menu.

That said, to really take advantage of what ActiveCampaign can do, you’ll definitely want to be using tags, or more specifically, automated (or behavioural) tagging.

Using automation workflows, you can set up conditions that will tag your subscribers based on various actions they take.

Here’s how that might look:

A basic example I’ve been using a lot in this series is applying a tag to subscribers who click a specific link in an email.

Doing this in ActiveCampaign couldn’t be easier, and you don’t even need to leave the email editor.

The real magic, however, comes when you combine ActiveCampaign’s tagging system with their site-tracking feature, which allows you to tag subscribers based on their interactions with your website.

The more you know about a person’s interests, the more specific you can get with your marketing — and this email marketing tool provides countless ways to leverage that information.

(More in that in the next section )

Everything considered, there is one downside to ActiveCampaign in terms of subscriber management, in that it offers so much flexibility it can be easy for things to spiral out of control if you don’t keep a tab on things.

So if you’re the sort of person that has a desktop like this…

…well, you better change this habit when you start using ActiveCampaign, or you’ll be wishing you did.

Verdict

The management aspect could be a bit overwhelming for noobs, but you really do get the best of both worlds here with lists and advanced tagging.

Automation

If ActiveCampaign was a Bugatti Veyron, the 1,000 horsepower engine would sit firmly under the ‘automation’ tab.

This what makes this tool.

It’s the primary reason we use it for all our email marketing on Authority Hacker and Health Ambition — both sites that are able to rake in a comfortable 6-figures per year.

Like Drip and GetResponse, ActiveCampaign uses a visual workflow builder to create automations.

You’ve seen some basic example above, but these things can also get pretty meaty with some creativity.

This is excellent for building complex automations with conditional logic, because you can branch out into different segments and do all sorts of crazy stuff with your contacts.

ActiveCampaign calls these ‘Actions’, and just like Drip, you have plenty to choose from.

Drip

ActiveCampaign

When you combine these actions with intelligent tagging and site tracking, the possibilities are almost infinite in terms of what you can achieve with marketing automation.

If you want some ideas on how site tracking can be used to put your automations on steroids, I recommend giving this article a read.

That’s not to say ActiveCampaign doesn’t come with it’s quirks. It definitely does.

For one, the visual builder can be pretty slow and clunky (but not always, Gael sent me a screencast where everything is fast and smooth for him).

Adding a new email to your workflow, for example, takes you out of the builder and into a completely different area of the tool — making what is an otherwise simple action frustratingly slow.

We were able to get a response from ActiveCampaign on the speed issue, however:

We’re continuously tweaking things with the platform to improve speed. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as flipping a switch or improving our servers or something like that.

But, we’re always optimizing and making slow and steady improvements. It may not be a night and day difference, but the platform should feel faster today than it did 6 months ago, for example.

Brian Gladu @ActiveCampaign

Personally, I haven’t seen any noticeable speed increase since I started using the tool over a year ago, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe improvements have been made.

It also isn’t helped by the fact that you have to use an advanced builder for every automation, including really basic ones.

An alternate, faster and leaner automations builder is something that both Drip and ConvertKit offer which I’d like to see implemented.

(ConvertKit Automation Rules)

Of course, if you can see past the inefficiencies of actually building out automations, you’ll be blown away by what ActiveCampaign can do here.

Seriously, I’ve been using this thing for over a year now and I still find new things I didn’t know it could do.

Verdict

There are few better options on the market when it comes to the raw power and flexibility of ActiveCampaign’s email marketing automation features. I just wish the workflow builder was faster to navigate.

A/B Testing

There are two ways to run split-tests within ActiveCampaign.

The first is more of a traditional approach, in that you select the option as part of setting up a new email campaign.

As you progress through the setup process, you’ll be asked which type of split-test you want to run.

The first option works as you’d expect, as in you’ll have to fill in two subject lines instead of one.

If you choose the second option as shown above, you’ll essentially be given two different email templates to work on.

Here’s how that looks:

This allows you to test as few or as many different variables as you want, and ActiveCampaign will divide your list in order to test which one performs the best.

What I love about this is, you can determine a winner either after the campaign has run, or during.

As you can see, ActiveCampaign gives you a LOT of control over how the test should play out, including how the winner is determined and the exact ratio to use.

If used correctly, this feature alone can be worth hundreds, if not thousands of extra dollars in revenue for your business.

But, as I mentioned earlier, there’s also another way to leverage split-tests with ActiveCampaign.

Instead of testing emails against each other, you can split-test an entire automation workflow.

All you need to do is add a single action at the start of your automation, called “Split”.

You can then determine how you’d like to split your contacts, and whether you want a winner to be determined.

This is how it looks:

The best part about all this?

ActiveCampaign holds nothing back when it comes to selecting the conditions of these tests — meaning you can crown a winner based on dozens of different criteria.

I’d be lying if I said I’ve used this area of the tool to anywhere near it’s full capacity. It’s still a rabbit hole of discovery in many ways.

One thing’s for sure though — this alone can be HUGE for your bottom line if used strategically and effectively.

Verdict

I honestly cannot fault ActiveCampaign when it comes to split-testing functionality. They’ve got it all covered.

Form Building

Like most email marketing tools, ActiveCampaign does have it’s own form builder.

The problem, however, is that you can only build an “inline” form unless you’re on the more expensive plans.

And when I say more expensive, I mean more than double the price to go from the “Lite” plan to the “Plus” plan.

Ultimately, if you really want the ability to create different types of forms, you’ll have to pay significantly more for the privilege.

Keep in mind, Authority Hacker has a list of around 60k subscribers and we still haven’t felt the need to upgrade. That certainly won’t change for additional form styles.

So what about the form builder?

As you can see, it’s pretty straightforward and feels congruent with their email builder (which I’ll get to shortly).

In terms of design flexibility, well… there isn’t much of it here.

For example, clicking on a field only gives a handful of options, none of which are able to change the actual design of the field itself.

ActiveCampaign does partly redeem itself with the inclusion of a CSS editor, though you will of course need some basic understanding of CSS to be able to use this.

(The ‘Inspector’ button allows you to select any element of your form, so you don’t have to worry about finding the correct CSS selectors.)

One thing that immediately stood out to me though, was the branding at the bottom of the form — “Marketing by ActiveCampaign”.

Not only are you limited to inline forms on the Lite plan, but you cannot remove this branding.

Personally, this is a deal-breaker for me when it comes to using ActiveCampaign for forms.

If you’re willing to accept branding on your opt-in forms, you may as well use free email capture software—like List Builder from Sumo.com— and integrate with ActiveCampaign. (At least that way you’ll be able to use different form types.)

Finally, let’s talk about actually implementing the form, and this tool gives you several options.

  • Embed: Copy and paste the code into your page
  • Link: Get a direct link to the form, hosted by ActiveCampaign
  • WordPress: Install a plugin to easily display the form on your WordPress site
  • Facebook: Add the form to your Facebook page

A fair number of options there, making it what I would say is the strongest aspect of ActiveCampaign…

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