If social media is the fun and unpredictable uncle of the marketing family, then email is an old, reliable grandparent. Sure, it might not be as cool, but it has been proven effective and addresses a very important need. Besides, they’re more similar than you might think.
No matter what’s hot or if new marketing trends surface, email continues to be one of the most targeted and valuable channels when you know how to use it. But a lot of email marketers sort of stumble into the field, which makes it crucial to know where to find all the help you need for success.
Just like having the perfect social media publishing tools, you need to know where to find the best free email marketing tools.
Choosing the Right Email Service Provider
There are countless email marketing services out there to choose from and plenty of reviews on each. They all have their own benefits and drawbacks depending on your specific needs. ExactTarget, Vertical Response, Marketo, and Silverpop (just to name a few) are all incredibly powerful paid platforms.
They come with marketing automation tools, customizable email templates, list building features, and more to help you get the most out of your email program, and even marry it with other aspects of your overall marketing strategy.
But that’s a decision you need to come to on your own through trials and discovery calls. If you’re not ready to commit, here are 11 free email marketing tools and solutions for some of the problems you may still face while using your ESP (and some problems you didn’t even know you had):
This is probably my personal favorite. You think your copywriting is clear and conversational? Wrong! Despite what Lupe Fiasco says, we need to dumb it down. We talk about our own products everyday, so we understand the terminology more than the average user or customer ever will.
We live and breathe our own products everyday, so we understand the terminology more than the average user or customer ever will. Because of that, it’s easy to fall victim to the curse of knowledge and include tech-speak in our writing. Plug your copy into this brilliant tool, and it will tell you when you’re being confusing or overly wordy—even if Hemingway himself doesn’t always pass the test.
“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”
Well said, Ernie.
MailChimp also offers paid plans as an ESP, but its free service contains some pretty useful features too. One of the more popular tools available from MailChimp is the Subject Line Researcher.
With a user base of more than 7 million, MailChimp has gained great insight into what works and what doesn’t. This tool allows you to plug in keywords or phrases you’re considering for a subject line and see how well they performed for other users. People helping people. This is how the world is supposed to work.
While Litmus offers some outstanding features on their paid plans (cough…Builder…cough), they also provide free email tools that you’ll wonder how you ever lived without. That’s why they take the next three spots on our list.
Email marketers tend to keep their own inboxes pretty full, looking for cool ideas. With Scope, not only can you review and share desktop and mobile previews of your own emails, but you can also take an email you’ve received and use the Code Inspector tool to look behind the scenes and see how they pulled it off.
They describe it as “the place for email designers and marketers to learn, grow and educate each other about everything email.” Brands’ online communities are often rabbit holes of unanswered questions and less-than-helpful meanderings, but Litmus is different.
These are smart, tech-savvy problem-solvers helping each other conquer Gmail and Outlook. Whenever someone on my team is struggling with something, we frequently respond with “Have you checked on Community?”
Need to know what your email will look like in the inbox? Litmus PutsMail lets you enter your HTML, subject line and desired recipient addresses (up to 10) to see a fully functional preview of your campaigns.
Once you find a template that works, when you get into more complicated designs, nested tables will become the bane of your existence. This tool automatically indents your HTML files so you can quickly identify which <td> relates to which </td> so you don’t break everything.
7. Sublime Text
Not everyone is a coding pro, and if email isn’t the only thing you work on, odds are you don’t have a ton of time to code out fancy emails. Maybe someone else at the company does it, or maybe you use free templates.
But when you need to dig into the code to find errors or make subtle tweaks, the what-you-see-is-what-you-get editors available with most major ESPs can be difficult to use. Sublime Text color codes your HTML files to make it easy to find what you’re looking for.
Pro tip: Work with the saved file open in your browser and refresh while you edit and save within Sublime Text to test your edits.
Testing & Tracking Tools
Once you build a great-looking, great-sounding email, it’s time to make it actually serves its intended purpose and figure out how to make it even better. VWO offers a variety of paid and free testing tools and case studies for marketers.
Sometimes, differences in conversion rates are so subtle that it’s hard to determine how long to run a test or when to give up and start over. With this tool, you simply enter the current rates, desired improvement, number of variations, and daily sends, and it will tell you how long to run a test before throwing in the towel.
Pro tip: Test everything. Have a hunch? Test it. Happy with how something’s performing? Test it anyway. Don’t want to test it? Just test it.
So now you’re testing like crazy, but you need to know whether or not your results are statistically significant. Enter this nice, clear tool to visualize your data.
Simply enter the number included each test group and the number of conversions for whatever you’ve chosen as your desired action, and IsValid will tell you if you’re ready to make a decision on the test and the exact percent improvement you saw.
Note: It’s crucial to understand what’s within variance when looking at your data. Run some A/A tests to see how much randomization you typically experience to ensure you don’t go celebrating a false positive.
If you or your team use Google Analytics to track site visits, it’s crucial to know where those visits are coming from. Knowing the sources not only helps you determine where to focus your marketing efforts, but it also helps prove that what you’re doing is working.
The Raven URL Builder makes it easy to tag the links you use in your emails with custom variables to see how much traffic they’re driving compared with other channels promoting the same links.
Email & Social Tools
RyanSolutions is actually a resort and hotel marketing tool, but they happen to have an excellent link builder for social sharing across multiple networks. One of the best ways to unite your social and email efforts is to encourage sharing directly from email.
Social media exploded because of people’s desire to put information out there. Make it easy. Including recent articles in a weekly or monthly roundup type of email? Give them the option to read more or just share it immediately.
Whether it’s newsletter articles, deals, or whatever else, RyanSolutions helps you build out links with pre-populated text for sharing on social pages. And don’t forget to use that Raven URL Builder on any links you include in those pre-populated social posts. You want your email to get credit for those visits, right?
Get Out There & Market
No matter what free email marketing tools you decide to use, it’s always smart to test everything so you find what works best for you. For the email and social media marketers out there, you want to have the best publishing tools available at your finger tips.
Think you know the best email marketing services? Let us know what we missed in the comments.
Zachary Hanz: Zack is an Email Marketing Manager at Sprout Social and former wildlife card collector and singer/songwriter. He’s obsessed with compelling messaging, fitness, and hip-hop music (all music, really).
Nice post. Thanks for the software suggestions. As for email marketing I'm using GetResponse and it covers some of the software mentioned here.
@BiancaStone1 I actually have yet to use GetResponse. I'll need to try it out.
@Nymdar4eg Hey Igor. Thanks for reading. Automation is a totally different animal, but I do have opinions from my own experience. Message me on Twitter @ZacharyHanz if you'd like to discuss further.
Excellent article, Zachary. A great list of some nifty and no-risk tools indeed. Cheers, Niraj (Founder at hiverhq.com)
i use sendingmail.in becasue it is less price and we can bargin with them...open rate is around 15%...so avg performace but economical due to price. they also offer 5000 free emil credits if you request them...
@Phil Stone Hey Phil, thanks for the suggestion. Someone else on here mentioned FreshMail as well. I actually haven't really used them in my experience, but I'll have to check it out and see if this article becomes the *9* best...
Hi Zach, I wouldn't say that people have to come to their ESP choices all on their own. :)
The MailChimp subject line tool is nice, but only accesable from inside MailChimp if I am not mistaken. An alternative (and also free) is the tool by AlchemyWorx called Touchstone Subject line gold:
http://www.subjectlinegold.com (you need to register, but can play around for free).
I keep a list of ESPs and we are did some research on their functionalities through a guide: http://www.emailvendorselection.com/email-marketing-software-selection-buyers/ If anybody has any questions on those, be sure to let me know.
@jvanrijn Ha, fair enough Jordie. And yes, you do need an account for MC's subject line tool, but they offer free accounts. So that and Touchstone seem similar in that regard. I've never used Touchstone, though, and will have to try it out!
Thanks for the suggestion.
Could someone tell me, which "e-mail marketing" software should I use to publicize the activities of a museum through a list with 900 e-mails?
@MNAA Can't speak to what will for sure be right for you, but with that size of a list, you can likely get away with some free or pretty cheap software. I have a lot of experience with MailChimp in the past, but here's a good list: http://upcity.com/blog/2013/05/top-25-free-or-low-cost-email-marketing-web-applications/
Really nice collection of tools. Helps to reach maximum customer through email marketing.
Hello Zachary ! I simply want to give you a huge thumbs up for your excellent info.
Nice list Zachary. MailChimp is what we use internally and what we recommend to all clients just starting out.. This gives them a free EMS until they outgrow, at which point their email marketing efforts are generating enough value to fund paid options. I look forward to kicking the tires on some of the other tools outlined here.
@ebizroi Thanks Rick! Let me know what you think of the others or if you have any different tools you recommend.