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Benchmark Review: Best Email Marketing Software for Small Businesses

We recommend Benchmark as the best email marketing software for small businesses. We chose Benchmark from dozens of email marketing software options. To understand how we choose our best picks, you can find our methodology and a complete list of email marketing software vendors on our best picks page.

Benchmark combines ease of use with a wide variety of design options to deliver the best value for the price, which compared to many of its competitors is extremely affordable. (More about Benchmark's pricing structure in the "Cost" section below.) Here's a breakdown of why it's our best pick.

Ease of use

Out of all of the software we tested, Benchmark had the best combination of producing professional-looking emails, while also being easy to use, even if you have no prior experience with design or email marketing.

Rather than software that's stored on your computer, Benchmark is software as a service (SaaS) that you access online. There's nothing to download or install and it can be used from any computer with an Internet connection.

We were most impressed with the multiple ways in which you can create email campaigns. There's a drag-and-drop editor for those with no design experience, a code editor for advanced users who have expertise in writing their own HTML code, and a plain text editor for creating text-only emails that don't include any photos or images.

We found that the drag-and-drop editor doesn't take long figure out. It lays out all of the steps in a very natural way that makes it simple to understand. Before getting into the actual design stage, you choose a subject line, decide if the email should be shared on Facebook and Twitter, and choose which contacts to send it to.

Editor’s Note: Looking for information email marketing software? Use the questionnaire below and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need: 

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Rich design

The first step of the design phase is picking a layout. You can create your own layout from scratch or choose one of more than 400 pre-designed templates. The templates are categorized based on industry and theme. This makes it simple to scan through the numerous options to find the one that works for you.

Whether you choose your own layout, or use a pre-designed template, the emails are broken up into various content blocks, such as image, text, boxed text, buttons, social shares and navigation bars. Each of these blocks can be tailored in any way you like. You can adjust their size, add in text, change text size, alignment and color, and choose background colors for not only each box, but the entire message. You also have the option of adding or deleting content blocks from pre-designed templates. Even when using a template, you have full control over how the email looks and what's included.  

Benchmark's drag and drop editor allows you to add in or delete as many content blocks as you like.

                                                                                          

One feature in the email creator we found very helpful, that most of the other software we examined didn't offer, was a color scheme pallet. While you can choose all of your colors individually, Benchmark also lets you pick from nearly 30 preset color combinations that work well together. This lets you pick a color scheme without having to go through the hassle of choosing each color separately.

We also found it helpful that you can edit photos within the email creator. Instead of needing to choose a correct size and contrast before inputting an image into the system, which was necessary with some of the other software we assessed, Benchmark provides a complete photo editor in the email creator. With this tool, photos can be altered by size, brightness and contrast and have effects and frames added to them.

Testing tools

There are also a number of tests that you can run on emails as they're being designed. There's a preview tab that shows how the email will look on desktops and mobile devices, as well as a test tab that checks to ensure the email won't be flagged as spam and that everything is spelled correctly.

For more advanced users writing their own HTML, the software offers a dual-view option that lets them see the design of the email as they're inputting the code. This is a feature we didn't find in some of the other software we considered.

Once the email is designed and has been tested, the last step is to schedule when it should be sent out. You have the choice of sending it immediately, or picking a specific date and time.

Integration options

Building contact lists is just as simple as the design process. Addresses can be added individually or imported from an XLS, CSV or TXT file saved on your computer. Additionally, contact lists can be uploaded from programs you're already using, including:

  • Shopify
  • PayPal
  • Gmail
  • Google Docs
  • Salesforce
  • Zoho
  • Zendesk
  • Unbounce
  • Freshbooks
  • Highrise
  • Tumblr
  • Magneto
  • Digioh
  • Flickr
  • Zapier

Once an address is in the software, a complete profile can be created for that customer that includes, among other things, name, address, phone number, fax number, job title and any added notes. Not all of the software we looked at allowed you to create such in-depth profiles.

In addition to being able to create an unlimited number of lists, the software also lets you segment each list in an effort to send more targeted emails. Segments can be created by sign-up date, ZIP code, interests, purchase history or any other field, or a combination of fields.

Benchmark offers nearly all of the tools and features you need to create and manage email marketing campaigns.

Email analytics

To best determine how each campaign is faring, the software includes several tracking and reporting tools that provide statistics on how many emails were opened, how many were bounced, how many were unopened, how many had a clicked link, how many unsubscribes there were and how many were forwarded. Details on how well a campaign performed on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are also provided.

In addition, you're given geographic data on which states or even countries had the most email opens. This type of geotracking wasn't a feature we found in all of the software we analyzed.

Benchmark provides statistics on how many of emails were opened and how many were bounced, as well as details on how many were opened, forwarded and had web links that were clicked.

Responsive design

All of the 400-plus pre-designed templates have a responsive design, which means they are optimized for the device the email is being opened on. This helps ensure that the email looks as you intended when it's being opened on a computer or mobile device. We like that all of the templates have this design style. Not all of the other software we considered had a responsive design for all their templates.

A/B testing

The A/B split testing is another useful tool. This allows you to test out different aspects of a campaign, such as subject line, design or delivery time, to see which resonates with customers more. You can pick a certain percentage of your contacts to test each option to see which has more success.

Autoresponders

Autoresponders are emails that are automatically sent to contacts based on certain actions. For example, you can create welcome messages that are automatically sent to contacts when they register their email address or a birthday message that's sent out on each contact's birthday. This is a great way to keep in regular contact with subscribers without constantly having to create new campaigns.

Mobile apps

There's also a mobile app for iPhones and Android devices. With the app, you can design emails, view previous campaigns, add in contacts and see statistics on how campaigns are faring. Being able to manage your email marketing while on the go isn't a feature all of the software we examined offered.

Other features Benchmark includes are tools to create polls and surveys, the ability to add videos into email campaigns, and a web form creator that allows you to design a website email address collection form.

Compared with some of its high-priced competitors, Benchmark is extremely affordable software.

Free plan

What may be most appealing is the substantial free-starter plan Benchmark offers. With the free account, you can send up to 14,000 emails a month to as many as 2,000 subscribers. The only difference between the free and paid accounts is that with the free plan, the Benchmark logo is included on each email, there are no sub accounts (gives access to multiple departments under one bill), and there isn't the option of sending targeted emails. While some of the other software options we assessed offered free plans, most of those significantly limited users in the number of features and tools they had access to.

Paid plans

There are two main types of paid plans: send-based and list-based. The send-based plans are based strictly on the number of emails that can be sent each month. These are best for businesses that are planning to send only one or two email campaigns a month. There are nine send-based plans:

  • 600 emails for $9.95 per month
  • 1,000 emails for $12.95 per month
  • 2,500 emails for $19.995 per month
  • 3,500 emails for $25 per month
  • 5,000 emails for $35 per month
  • 10,000 emails for $60 per month
  • 25,000 emails for $112 per month
  • 50,000 emails for $200 per month
  • 100,000 emails for $375

There are also list-based pricing plans, which are based on the number of contacts a business has. These plans allow you to send up to seven different campaigns to your entire list each month. There are 11 list-based plans:

  • 600 contacts for $11.95 per month
  • 1,000 contacts for $18.95 per month
  • 2,500 contacts for $28.95 per month
  • 3,500 contacts for $39.95 per month
  • 5,000 contacts for $46.95 per month
  • 10,000 contacts for $73.95 per month
  • 20,000 contacts for $120.95 per month
  • 30,000 contacts for $179.95 per month
  • 50,000 contacts for $230.05 per month
  • 75,000 contacts for $339.95 per month
  • 100,000 contacts for $475 per month

The only potential add-on cost is for a dedicated IP. These are special Internet addresses that only your business uses to send out your emails. Without a dedicated IP, you run the risk that another business using your shared IP will damage your reputation by sending out too much spam. This can hurt your chances of your emails getting delivered. The dedicated IPs are $30 per month.

We were very pleased with the level of customer support we received from Benchmark. To test what customers can expect from the support team, we called the company posing as a new business owner interested in the software. A representative immediately answered our call and spent as much time as we needed answering our questions. Unlike some of the other providers that didn't seem comfortable or interested in taking the time to speak with us, the Benchmark representative was friendly and willing to make sure all of our questions were answered. We spoke for about 15 minutes on a range of topics, including the company's deliverability rate, how easy the software was to use, the software's mobile app, the type of support that's offered and the different pricing plans. While we did have to ask several follow-up questions to get the type of detailed answers we were looking for, in the end we were happy with the level of phone support we received.

Where Benchmark really shines is with its live-chat tool. We tested this out on several occasions and were thrilled with the response we got each time. While some of the other providers we examined had spotty live-chat service that wasn't very quick to respond or not available when we needed it. Every time we had a question, day or night, a Benchmark representative was able to answer our question within seconds.

What really sets Benchmark's customer support apart from its competitors is that each business is assigned its own account representative. That means that every time you have a question or problem, you can contact the same person for help. Knowing that there is one person dedicated to helping you is a huge plus in our eyes. This is a service most of the other providers we considered either didn't offer, or charged extra for.

In all, Benchmark representative are available by phone Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PST). The live-chat support can be accessed 24 hours a day Monday through Friday and limited hours on Saturday.

Benchmark also has an impressive help section on its website that features a learning center, frequently asked questions, video tutorials, webinars and an API toolkit. We found the videos to be especially helpful. They covered a range of topics and were an excellent tool for learning more about a specific feature or how the software worked.

While Benchmark is impressive on the whole, we did discover a couple of downsides. One drawback is the lack of landing page tools. Most of the other software we evaluated offered the ability to create landing pages. With Benchmark, you don't have this option. If landing pages are a priority for you, we would encourage you to consider a different option.

Another potential negative is that you can only get technical support with Benchmark. While we were impressed with the ability to receive a customer -support point person, they can only assist in helping you maneuver your way through the software. If you need design or strategy guidance, you're out of luck. Some of the other software we considered offered premium services for an extra charge that help businesses come up with overall, and individual, campaign strategies. That type of added guidance could be valuable to some small businesses.

Want to learn more about email marketing software? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:

 

Editor’s Note: Looking for information on email marketing software? Use the questionnaire below and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need:

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Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.