- Email marketing services are designed to help your company reach consumers efficiently and in a way that aligns with your business’s style.
- Email marketing software gives business owners more control over the way they reach their customers and is usually inexpensive.
- If you partner with an agency, look for a firm that assigns you a designated account representative who is interested in learning about your business and fulfilling your vision.
- This article is for business owners who want to improve customer engagement with email marketing campaigns.
Email marketing services are designed to help businesses grow their customer bases and market their services and products. The best email marketing platforms make it easy to create professional-looking emails, seamless workflows and up-to-date contact and mailing lists. If you’re looking for email marketing software, this guide has everything you need to know, including what email marketing services offer, how to choose one and how they differ from email marketing firms.
Editor’s note: Looking for an email marketing service? Fill out the questionnaire below to be connected with vendors that can help.
What is email marketing?
Email marketing is an online version of direct mail. Instead of mailing flyers and coupons to a customer’s home, an email marketing program sends messages digitally to a customer’s inbox. Whereas the impact of direct mail can be difficult to track, email marketing services let businesses know exactly who is opening their emails and which messages are leading to sales, thanks to detailed analytics.
Businesses can use email marketing in a variety of ways, such as to build brand loyalty, find new customers and encourage repeat business. You have a choice between using an online DIY service and partnering with a full-service agency that does all of the work for you. You can read more about the differences below.
Check out our roundup of the best email marketing software to see which platforms we recommend and why.
Pros and cons of email marketing
By 2025, more than 376 billion emails will be sent and received around the globe per day, according to Statista. But like all marketing strategies, email marketing has advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of email marketing
- High return on investment (ROI): Email marketing is less expensive than other types of marketing strategies. Unlike direct mail, email marketing doesn’t have printing or postage fees. Those small savings have big financial benefits: According to a Litmus report, email marketing has an ROI of 3,600%. Email marketing also leads to a higher ROI than display ads, videos and social media do.
- Actionable insights: With email marketing, you can identify which emails were received and which ones went to disabled email addresses. You can also see which emails were opened, which ones were deleted right away, and which ones enticed clients to click through to your website. You can then use this information to adjust your campaigns and strategies.
- High visibility: Email marketing has an edge over social media because it’s more likely to be seen. Whereas emails go directly to someone’s inbox, users have to scroll through timelines to see social posts, so there’s no guarantee they’ll see any message you share.
- E-commerce boost: Email marketing is a great way to reach customers whether you have a brick-and-mortar establishment or an online-only business. E-commerce websites greatly benefit from email campaigns that recommend products, offer discounts and encourage users to return to their shopping carts.
Disadvantages of email marketing
- Potential to turn off customers: The main drawback of email marketing is that some people consider these kinds of emails to be spam, so they may go unread and cause customers to form a negative opinion of your brand. If an audience feels bombarded with unwanted emails from a business, they’ll be less likely to become new or repeat customers.
- Risk of being overlooked: People receive so many emails that they may not even notice your messages in their inbox.
- Technological hurdles: It can take a lot of time to learn the ins and outs of email marketing technology, though some platforms are easier to use than others.
Types of emails in an email marketing campaign
There are many ways brands and businesses can use email marketing services. Here are some types of email messages you can send to consumers:
- Newsletters: An email newsletter is sent at regular intervals, like every week or month, and is an easy way to keep customers informed about your business.
- Promotional emails: These emails let customers know about upcoming sales. They can be sent in the days leading up to or during the sale.
- Invitation emails: This type of message keeps clients updated on special events. You can send invitation emails weeks or days before an event to encourage customers to attend.
- Catalog emails: You can send these messages to highlight your products or services.
- Lead-nurturing emails: Designed to spark consumer interest, these emails are sent regularly to your target audience until a potential customer is converted into a paying customer.
- Survey emails: You can send questionnaires to learn more about your customers’ needs, wants, suggestions and satisfaction.
- Transactional emails: You send transactional emails after a customer makes a purchase to confirm the transaction, say thank you and encourage the customer to shop with you again.
Now that you have a better idea of what email marketing entails and how it might benefit your business, the next question you need to answer is whether you want to handle the process on your own with email marketing software or hire a dedicated agency to do the work for you.
The types of emails you can send to connect, advertise and communicate with customers include newsletters, promotional messages, invitations and surveys.
Email marketing software
Email marketing services are available as software as a service (SaaS) from various vendors. These programs provide businesses with all of the tools needed to create and execute email marketing campaigns, including templates, email design tools and contact management solutions. Once you use the platform to create a message and decide which contacts you want to reach, the service sends the emails for you from its servers.
Email marketing software services also provide a variety of analytics to help you improve your campaigns. For instance, you can track open rates, bounce rates, unsubscribes and other metrics.
Pros and cons of email marketing software
Email marketing software is best for small businesses that don’t want to spend a lot of money on marketing and have in-house personnel to complete this kind of work when needed. Below are some of the pros and cons that can come with using email marketing software.
Advantages of email marketing software
- Low cost: The biggest advantage of using email marketing software is that you can do it all on your own for a relatively low cost. The tools make it easy for people without any HTML or design experience to create and execute a variety of email marketing campaigns. These services also give you an assortment of data to determine if the campaign was a success.
- Increased traffic: Email marketing software can help drive traffic to your website, thus increasing the possibility of sales.
- Customization: These tools allow you to customize your email marketing campaign. For example, you can sort and target your customers by their interests and other traits.
Cons of email marketing software
- Limited support: The main downside is that, for the most part, you’re on your own. Although most vendors provide technical support options and informative blogs, it’s your job to design and send the email campaigns in a timely manner.
Email marketing software can often integrate with other applications you use to run your business.
Email marketing software features
Here are some of the essential tips and features to look for in email marketing software.
- Email list segmentation: Kimberly Smith, web marketing manager at Audicus, suggested finding email marketing software that includes email list segmentation capabilities. “Contacts will have varying levels of interest in a product or service or be at different deal stages,” she said. “It’s crucial to meet prospects and existing customers where they’re at and to personalize communication accordingly. By leveraging segmentation and targeting, marketers can craft content for a narrower audience in order to maximize growth and conversions.”
- A/B testing: Seek software that offers or is compatible with A/B testing so you can identify which emails resonate most with your audience. “To maximize ROI, we need to have an understanding of what works best, and A/B testing provides us objective answers, founded in data, regarding effectiveness and optimization,” Smith said.
- Marketing automation tools: This feature allows you to send targeted emails to your customers when they sign up for your email list or interact with your website, thus saving you time and helping you reach the right customers at the right time.
- Contact management: Managing your subscribers is a big part of ensuring you’re reaching the right crowd. Contact management allows you to organize your customers by their level of interest and preferences, and helps you eliminate duplicate and unsubscribed contacts.
Email marketing software costs
Many factors affect how much you might pay for email marketing software. Typically, providers charge a monthly fee based on the number of contacts you have and how many emails you intend to send. Prices vary widely, from an average of $10 a month for 500 contacts to $4,000 a month for 1 million contacts.
Free platforms are a bit more limited in features but often offer around 10,000 messages per month. You can also opt for a pay-as-you-go model, which allows you to pay per email and for the number of contacts you use instead of committing to a monthly subscription.
Top email marketing software
Finding quality software is the first step in creating an effective email marketing campaign. Here are some popular email marketing services that are ideal for small businesses.
- Constant Contact has all of the tools small companies need to create personalized and professional emails. It also has a very user-friendly interface and a range of pricing tiers that can fit a small business’s budget. The free trial even allows you to try all of the software’s features. Learn more in our detailed Constant Contact review.
- Benchmark Email is a great low-cost email marketing service. Even the free plan permits 3,500 emails per month and 500 contacts. Despite its low price, Benchmark offers valuable tools, like a drag-and-drop editor and its own email template for you to create quality email messages.
- Mailchimp is also a good choice if you’re looking for a free email marketing program. The company’s free option allows you to send 2,500 monthly emails and record 500 contacts.
Email marketing agencies
Another option for carrying out email marketing campaigns is to use a fully staffed marketing agency that works with you to create a strategy that best suits your business’s needs. The agency’s staff then creates the campaigns that align with your overall goals. The firm also takes care of the design work and deployment.
In addition, the email marketing agency’s team can help with functions such as A/B testing. The agency also handles all contact management tasks, including building and segmenting your contact list.
The cost of using an agency typically depends on how in-depth your strategy is and how many campaigns you want to run each month. The monthly cost ranges from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
Pros and cons of email marketing agencies
Email marketing agencies can be great partners for midsize or large businesses that have the money to pay for these firms and don’t have the time to manage everything on their own. Still, like other options, email marketing agencies have both pros and cons. Here are some of the upsides and downsides.
Advantages of email marketing agencies
- Experience: The biggest benefit of using an email marketing agency is its experience and expertise. Whereas email marketing software typically requires you to take a trial-by-fire approach to determine what works and what doesn’t, email marketing agencies already have that knowledge, so they can craft campaigns with proven records of success.
- Fixed costs: You can use agencies that charge a fixed fee, which helps you pay within a range you can afford. “Knowing your budget will be fixed helps ease the strains of business a great deal,” said Shobha Ponnappa, founder and CEO of Shobha Ponnappa Content Services.
- Time and resources: Agencies ensure your brand has a clear vision. They are very good at helping businesses map out their goals and plans for their products without wasting time. “You can keep apace with new trends in email marketing better with an agency that is dedicating quality time and resources to follow research, trends and technology – and translate these into practice for you,” Ponnappa said.
Disadvantages of email marketing agencies
- Cost: The biggest downside is the cost. These agencies can be at least 10 times more expensive than DIY email marketing services. Ponnappa said you may need to pay about $300 to $500 per month to work with a quality agency, though many charge much more than that.
- Slow results: Email marketing reaps rewards, but the results come slowly. Hiring an agency can reduce some of your workload, but it’s still a risk because the firm may not be right for your business. It can take a while for you to determine whether an agency is beneficial for your company, which means if you eventually have to switch partners, it can be a frustrating process that delays results.
How to choose an email marketing agency
The right email marketing agency can have a huge impact on your consumer reach and the trajectory of your business. Here are some things to consider when choosing an email marketing agency.
- Find the right fit. Make sure the agency you choose meshes well with your business’s goals. Amanda Murray, vice president of operations at seoplus+, said you should team up with a firm that is willing to understand the complexities of your business and align with your vision.
- Ensure that it works with your CRM software. Make sure the agency’s email marketing platform is compatible and integrates smoothly with your customer relationship management (CRM) system. “This will help you manage content, customer data and an overview of the performance of your campaigns,” Murray said. [Visit our overview of the top CRM software to find the right fit for your business.]
- Ask for a plan. Find an agency that is willing to craft a short- or long-term plan for your business so you can gauge whether the firm is in step with your goals.
- Find out the agency’s standards. Ask what the agency’s day-to-day operations are like and how it goes about seeking and pursuing new marketing opportunities for its clients.
- Ask if you’ll have the same rep. It’s important to build a steady relationship with your agency, and frequent client management turnover doesn’t help, Ponnappa said. Find out how consistent your account representative will be.
Email marketing FAQs
If you’re still unsure whether email marketing is right for you or which type of email marketing service to choose, these answers to some frequently asked questions can help you decide.
What should I look for in an email marketing service provider?
One of the most important considerations is to ensure the software actually delivers your emails. You want a program that delivers your emails to your customers’ inboxes, not to their spam folders. Segmentation and automation are also essential features small businesses should look for.
What is the difference between traditional email marketing messages and transactional messages?
Traditional email marketing is used to communicate with many people at one time. These emails can share information about your business, such as news, promotions and special events. You can send these to your entire subscriber list or to segments of your list.
Transactional emails are sent to individual customers after they take certain actions. For example, when a customer makes an online purchase from a business, the confirmation email they receive is considered a transactional email.
What are automation tools, and how do they make the email marketing process easier?
Automation tools allow businesses to set up recurring emails, which automatically go out to certain subscribers based on specific actions they take. For example, if you set up a welcome series, a new contact will receive a welcome email once they subscribe to your list. [Learn more about using triggered emails.]
The right tools for better marketing
With the right email marketing software, you can reach your customers and drive sales more efficiently. There are many email marketing services with a range of pricing options, so you can easily find a solution that meets both your business’s needs and your customers’ preferences. Alternatively, you may find it more beneficial to outsource email marketing to an agency. In either case, taking advantage of the right tools will improve your marketing.
Shayna Waltower, Saige Driver and Chad Brooks contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.