MailChimp started it’s life back in 2001, and has since grown to a ridiculous 15 million customers — making it currently the world’s most popular email marketing service.
The tool offers everything from sending emails, setting up automations and running targeted campaigns to your email subscribers, seemingly everything you need to grow your business with email.
But just how well does MailChimp work for email marketing?
For this review, I fired up MailChimp to see how it performs as a standalone tool, and in comparison to popular alternatives.
From here on out, I’ll share my experiences using this software, along with what I liked and didn’t like along the way.
System & Segmentation
This is a big one because MailChimp is one of the few popular email marketing tools that are still heavily list-based.
There’s really no debating the fact that tag-based systems are better, and quite frankly, it boggles my tiny mind that MailChimp refuses to make the leap.
Currently, subscribers are counted multiple times if they appear on different lists, and the only way around it is to use the inherently limited and overly complicated segmentation options.
You can create “groups” to segment lists, “segments” to group subscribers, as well as “hidden fields” that can be used to emulate tags, but like I said, this whole system is more clunky and confusing than it is useful.
For example, what if you wanted to identify and target subscribers who clicked a specific link in one of your emails? Well, since MailChimp doesn’t let you add behaviour-based tags, it’s very difficult to pull off.
You can get pretty close with post-campaign segmentation, but that approach will count for ANY link clicked within a campaign.
And it is technically possible by downloading your campaign report, identifying subscribers who clicked a specific link, and re-uploading a CSV of those subscribers into a new segment…
…but seriously, I can’t think of a more convoluted process for what should just be a simple click of a button.
This is easily one of the biggest issues I have with MailChimp, and I feel it’s one that ultimately prevents it from being as strong as they could be in today’s competitive market.
What’s even more frustrating is that the technology does exist inside MailChimp, but it’s limited to a one-off segmentation within an automation sequence.
As for things like site-tracking and tagging subscribers based on page visit or interaction, you can forget about it. (At least until MailChimp reintroduce their “goals” feature.)
MailChimp seems to be stuck in a list-based era, and it’s not clear when, or in fact if they’ll ever make the transition to what is quite obviously a better subscriber management system.
So I just briefly touched on automations above, but let’s dive into what is arguably the most important aspect of any email marketing tool today.
MailChimp offers a bunch of what they call, “workflow recipes”, which give you common a pre-made automation framework to build from, instead of having to start from scratch.
The workflow recipes have little substance, often giving you something that could be replicated in seconds… but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Where I really struggled with MailChimp is with the automations builder, which was a lot more rudimentary than I was expecting from a company of this size and stature.
For one, you can only build automations in a linear fashion, which makes creating anything remotely advanced about as easy as sitting through the entire Twilight trilogy. (Never again!)
This approach severely limits your ability to build intelligent, event-based automations that branch off accordingly, and even if you did manage to “hack” something together, it’s just not a maintainable solution.
If you’re looking to create anything other than very basic email marketing automations, MailChimp isn’t for you.
This is where I can finally give MailChimp some credit, because if there’s one thing they’ve absolutely nailed, it’s the split-testing functionality.
Not only does it give you a bunch of options to play with — including everything from subject lines, send time and email content — but it manages to do so without ever feeling complicated or overwhelming.
Now, impressive as this is, there is one caveat; it only works with one-off broadcast emails.
There’s currently no support for autoresponders, and certainly nothing to split-test automation workflows. If they do manage to carry this over, though, they’re onto an absolute winner.
While it doesn’t allow you to split-test automations, MailChimp does offer one of the most easy to use A/B testing environments I’ve ever come across.
Forms, forms, forms. Who doesn’t love forms? (Nope, me neither.)
Straight off the bat, MailChimp gives you the option of building hosted forms that live on MailChimp’s website, or embeddable inline and pop-up forms that live on your own website.
Options we like. Much we do.
Either way, the actual form builder is where the real magic happens, and while it’s not prettiest builder you’ll ever lay eyes on, it does give you everything you need to build a clean, high-converting form.
And it’s important to note that configuration and design options will change depending on the form type you choose.
For example, embeddable forms come with some additional layout styles that you don’t get with hosted forms…
And for designing your forms?
Just like with the layout options, the level of control over customization changes depending on which type of form your building. Would have been nice to see some consistency there.
Sure, it worked. But even at the best of times, the interface felt a bit old school — almost like I was designing something in Adobe Dreamweaver. (Okay, not quite that bad.)
MailChimp does the basics really well here, and even allows you to build embeddable pop-up forms. It’s only really let down by what I would consider a very inconsistent, and very average form builder.
If you’ve been caught up in the page builder hype, it’s likely you’re using something like Thrive Content Builder or LeadPages. If that’s the case, this entire section will likely be irrelevant to you. :/
MailChimp’s email templates are excellent.
In fact, of all the email marketing tools I’ve reviewed, these are hands down the most diverse and well-designed templates across the board.
And what I like even more is that you don’t even have to choose a pre-designed template (or theme). Instead, you can start off with a more barebones layout…
This approach focuses on the actual goal of the email — like selling a product or telling a story — rather than simply looking nice.
So far so good, but what about the template editor?
Regardless of whether you start with a theme or layout, the visual template editor was very workable in terms of customization.
There were some minor limitations — like not being able to adjust top/bottom margins — and some occasional glitches with changes not being updated immediately, but overall, I was impressed.
MailChimp has some of the best email templates I’ve ever seen from any email marketing tool, and the visual email editor is not too shabby, either.
There’s no two ways about it, MailChimp is the most heavily supported email marketing service out there, with around 700~ integrations currently available — including integration with Zapier.
If you currently have an obscure setup running, and you rely on your email marketing service integrating with slightly more “unknown” applications, then MailChimp is a good shout.
With that said…
…if you’re using tools and services that are even remotely popular, it’s likely that any of the email marketing tools I’ve reviewed in this series will be compatible with your stack. Just something to be aware of.
MailChimp’s integrations are unrivaled in the email marketing space, and whether that’s important or not ultimately depends on the obscurity of your current setup.
Tracking & Reporting
This is another area of MailChimp that took approximately 0.3545 seconds to completely win me over.
I mean, just look at ‘er. She’s a beaut.
The combination of useful, comprehensive data and straightforward design works flawlessly. Very beginner-friendly with enough meat for anyone who wants to really geek out on the analytics.
You also have access to automation reports, which include some additional statistics as well as a monthly performance overview:
And not to mention the“comparative reporting”, which allows you to dig deeper into the numbers and make side-by-side comparisons across your campaigns. (Video here.)
Unfortunately, comparative reporting is only available on the higher-tier plans, so I wasn’t able test it out myself.
MailChimp packs a heavy punch with their reporting features, it’s just a shame about the comparative reports being restricted to the more expensive plans.
Support & Documentation
The knowledge base is where MailChimp will try to funnel you for any support queries, and honestly, you’ll find the answer to most questions here anyway.
If you just want to talk to a human, you’ll first have to search the knowledge base, then you’ll notice some options in the sidebar.
I found both the email and live chat support to be very responsive, and the staff appear to have good knowledge on the product itself. (Surprisingly not always the case.)
I also got through to a live chat agent within a matter of seconds…
Finally, you also have the option of joining the MailChimp Answers Facebook community group, which currently has over 2,000 members.
MailChimp clearly takes support very seriously, offering a number of high-quality support channels alongside a comprehensive knowledge base.
One thing we really wanted to test with all the email marketing tools in this series was deliverability.
As you can imagine, this is quite a difficult thing to test and we spent a lot of time coming on with various ways to do it, but we eventually settled on two separate methods.
- Run the same campaign across all tools and measure open rates
- Use GlockApps to get a more instant, analytical result
I cover our exact process in more detail in the email marketing tools roundup review, so I recommend you check it out if you’re interested in the specifics of these tests.
From our own testing, MailChimp achieved a respectable open rate of 35.7% in the given time frame.
As for the GlockApps test, here’s a summary screenshot of how it performed in terms of email placement:
To give you a better picture of how this stacks up, I put together a table that shows and compares the results across all tools in this series.
Here’s what that looks like for MailChimp:
Aweber is missing some results because they repeatedly refused my import of the GlockApps seed list, meaning I was unable to run the test. Very frustrating to say the least.
Is MailChimp Right For You?
Now that I’ve covered all the different features and functions of MailChimp, weighing up the pros and cons and giving my experience along the way — let’s talk about YOU.
As with any tool, MailChimp isn’t going to be the right choice for everyone, so let’s get to the bottom of who exactly this email marketing tool is suitable for.
If you’re looking for email marketing on a budget, MailChimp is widely regarded as one of the more budget-friendly options out there.
Let’s take a look at the numbers, based on the lowest-tier plan for common alternatives:
|Tools||Free Plan||1,000 subs||10,000 subs||25,000 subs||50,000 subs||100,000 subs|
|No||$29 p/m||$139 p/m||$225 p/m||$299 p/m||$459 p/m|
|No||$29 p/m||$69 p/m||$149 p/m||$392 p/m||$792 p/m|
|No||$45 p/m||$95 p/m||$295 p/m||$335 p/m||$595 p/m|
|No||$29 p/m||$119 p/m||$199 p/m||$379 p/m||$679 p/m|
|Yes||$49 p/m||$149 p/m||$254 p/m||$429 p/m||$779 p/m|
|No||$15 p/m||$65 p/m||$145 p/m||$250 p/m||$450 p/m|
|Yes||$15 p/m||$75 p/m||$150 p/m||$240 p/m||$475 p/m|
While MailChimp does manage to stay fairly competitive as your subscriber count increases, that’s not actually the reason it’s so popular for those on a tight budget.
The real reason is the famous Forever Free plan, which allows you up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 email per month before you have to hand over a single penny.
Not only that, but MailChimp recently decided to give free users access to marketing automation, a change that many people — including myself — welcomed with open arms.
The only downside to the free plan is that all your emails come with MailChimp branding, and, of course, the automations aren’t the best as I pointed out earlier in the review. (But that’s true on any plan.)
Despite all that, though, it’s still in my opinion the most competitive free email marketing plan you’ll find today.
MailChimp is well-known for it’s simplicity, and that certainly held true throughout the majority of my testing.
Most of that, of course, it’s due to the noob-friendly user interface. It does a great job at breaking down otherwise advanced features — like A/B testing — into manageable controls.
That said, I think the addition of groups, segments and fields do add a layer of complexity that even experienced email marketers will find confusing. Something I feel takes away from the whole “simplicity” argument for MailChimp.
It’s also worth noting that with the automations builder, while easy to use in some senses, can quickly become your worst nightmare when trying to set up anything other than basic sequences.
If you can get your head around the slightly odd segmentation approach MailChimp offers, and you don’t plan on getting fancy with automations, I’d recommend you give this one a shot.
Otherwise, if you want something that takes a better approach with segmentation and automation without sacrificing on simplicity, I’d advise checking out ConvertKit instead.
MailChimp does a lot of things well, but if there’s one area where it falls completely flat, it’s in the “automation” department.
The core problem is how automations work linearly, which, aside from some minor segmentation options, ultimately takes everyone within that automation down the same path.
I’ve talked about this a lot already so I’ll keep this short, but if you’re already established online and you’re looking to take advantage of advanced marketing automation, which you absolutely should, well….
…MailChimp isn’t for you.
MailChimp has been around for as long as I can remember, and it’s a shame to see that in some areas, like tagging and automation, they haven’t been able to keep pace with newer companies entering the market.
That said, despite some of the negative points I’ve emphasised in this review, MailChimp did perform well in my overall testing, and it stood strong against the competition in every other aspect.
If you’re a non-techy entering the world of email marketing, and you want something that doesn’t break the bank, you honestly can’t go wrong with MailChimp.
But for anyone outside of that description, I suggest you check out my full roundup review to find an email marketing tool that better meets your needs. (Trust me, there’s no shortage of these bad boys.)