If you’re running a website that has any kind of commerce component to it, your number one tool, bar none, is Email Marketing. Nearly 90% of marketers still say email is their primary channel for lead generation. It’s important even on Black Friday, which is typically thought of as a “meat space” or physical store event; in 2015 over 25% of sales were drawn in via email marketing, topping both free and paid search and trouncing social media, at only 1.7%.
The continued effectiveness of email as a marketing tactic has made for a crowded software solutions market – there are over 300 options to choose from according to our research. Overwhelming choice makes it hard enough to choose a breakfast cereal; how do you select the right email marketing tool to use with your WordPress site?
Successful email marketing programs combine two elements:
1) Effective Email Management – you want an Email Marketing tool that schedules emails, tracks messages to see if they’re opened and if users have clicked on the content, handles any unsubscribe requests, and so on.
2) Email List Building – critically, you need tools and strategies to build your email subscriber list in the first place, mostly collected from visitors to your website, but possibly also from social media and third party sites.
Some solutions provide both components, but the reality is these are two distinct problems. We’ll address list building first.
Building a List
Getting users to join your list involves finding a way to capture their email. In the past, this was done with pop-ups that showed up when the user landed on your site. As pop-up blockers became the default on most browsers, this strategy evolved into “modals” which obscure the underlying web page content with a form that invites the user to enter their email or dismiss the modal, before being able to interact with the page. Google has recently made it clear that sites that obscure content with modals will be penalized in the search results.
There is a reason that people use such obtrusive calls to action – they work. Well, sort of and only for a while. Increasingly, users will “bounce” from your site if presented with a “nagging” modal. Overall, it’s not a great user experience, which is why Google is taking this step. A better option is to tie the request for an email address to a specific user action, as a “trade.” For example, having a page element that offers a coupon and asks the user for an email when clicked, or providing a free ebook to users in exchange for joining your newsletter. These strategies don’t obscure or block content until the user takes an action on your page and feel more like quid-pro-quo.
So, you’ll want an email collection or “List Building” tool that allows you to configure these kinds of options. You’ll also want these front-end tools to work well with the Email Marketing tool so that the addresses you collect are properly added to your mail lists, and also so that the users are sent a request to opt-in to your subscription immediately after providing their email.
As mentioned, there’s an overwhelming list of options to choose from. So where do you start? A great article by Blogging Aid collected recommendations from over sixty online marketing experts and came up with a list of recommendations. You may want to check out that article in the link we provide below; here we present our own recommendations, which are slightly different because our focus is on email list tools that work best with WordPress, the dominant platform for Content Management.
List Building Tools
List Building tools offer a variety of options including those discussed above. It’s a good idea to experiment with different strategies using A/B testing to determine which works best for your specific site. The options may include:
- Sticky Bars, which are little horizontal areas that “stick” to either the top or bottom of the browser view area with a small area for some “call to action” (“CTA”) text and then a simple form field to capture emails. These don’t block access to the content but are always visible to the user.
- Offer Pop Ups, which are tied to a user action, such as a discount coupon or code.
- Exit Intent Pop Ups, which for example fire when a user moves their mouse focus away from a page with a “before you go…” type of message
- Other options, which can vary slightly in implementation based on the tool, are things like in-line forms, welcome mats, and widgets. The important thing is to test the collection mechanism and make sure you are not blocking the majority of the screen with the form, lest you get dinged by Google.
Our top three List Building options that play well with WordPress are:
Available as a WordPress Email Marketing plugin, Thrive Leads allows you to create almost every type of capture form imaginable including popups, welcome mats, side widgets, and in-line forms. In addition, it includes a number of management and analytics tools, such as A/B Testing, Exit Intent configurations, and targeting. It has one of the better reporting dashboards we’ve seen and a nice WYSIWYG form editor which makes the tool easy to use for those less technically inclined. While the single use license of $67 might seem steep, ease of use and integration into WordPress make it worth the cost.
This tool makes it easy to build opt-in forms and deploy them to your WordPress site. The official WordPress plugin Optimonster provides has over 60K downloads as of this writing. There are a number of lead generation forms and designs included which are easy to integrate. It also provides solid page level targeting. The company provides deep documentation and well-rated support. Plus, it integrates with most of the leading Email Marketing tools right out of the box. It’s $29 a month but includes a lot of features and an unlimited number of sites so it may be a cost-effective solution if you run several online properties.
This service covers the lead generation and list building tools just as well as the other two options and integrates smoothly with most email marketing services. But it is one of our favorites because it does so much more than that. Sumome includes tools to help you build more traffic through social sharing and also analyze those user’s behavior through features such as heat maps. It’s like a “Swiss Army Knife” for list building. Each tool in the kit has a free and a paid version, which lets you test out the features then further customize them if you like. The free tier doesn’t have many integrations, and the pricing can get a little convoluted when you are picking and choosing different options. Diving in is worth the effort, though. It may seem intimidating at first, but it is pretty easy once you get into it.
Once you have collected an email via the lead generation forms in your List Builder, you’ll want to validate it and then add that user to your newsletter and promotions emails. There are hundreds of such tools available, often with a slightly different focus, sometimes with a differentiation that is frankly just a gimmick. Most make list management easy, and cover the basics like opt-in, validation, unsubscribes and tracking. They differ in their ease-of-use, fee structure, workflow automation and user-event based functions. User-event based functions can, for example, trigger specific follow-up emails based on what a user does when they visit your site, which is useful for following up on things like abandoned shopping carts.
Email Marketing Tools
Our top three recommended email marketing tools which also play well with the above List Builders and WordPress are:
Certainly one of the best-known email marketing tools out there, in part due to its unique branding, but mostly due to its friendly, easy-to-use interface. Creating and configuring campaigns in MailChimp is easy; making them look professional and even beautiful is also a snap with their templates and graphical editing tool. And if you want to tweak your designs even further, you can code your own templates using HTML and CSS for use with your campaigns. Newsletter campaigns are particularly easy to run; MailChimp includes A/B testing, integrates with many third party tools, and provides API support if you want to roll your own connections. By default, MailChimp requires double opt-in, which will make your list more valuable – any users who take that extra step likely really want to be part of your list. If you want to use single opt-in you’ll need to use their API connections, which can be challenging for less technical users. MailChimp provides some powerful automation tools for auto-responding, setting sending time, and configuring trigger-based campaigns. It’s also one of the best ways to get started for free – their starter tier includes up to 2000 subscribers and 12,000 emails a month for free. For most users, it should definitely be on your short list.
Popular with many online marketers and large scale bloggers, GetResponse provides a professional grade tool set. It does have a great User Interface but is more than just a pretty face. It provides a powerful email editor, a visual editor for creating workflow automation to customize your response process, and the ability to add tags to leads based on their actions. This combination of power-user features is why the pros swear by it. It also includes opt-in forms that are embeddable on your site via their official WordPress plugin (10,000+ installs), if you don’t want to use a separate list builder. What’s more, GetResponse allows you to create customized “squeeze pages” (sometimes also called “landing pages”) – a web page where you take potential customers through to a final sign up or sale. The squeeze page tool includes a drag-and-drop page editor and allows you to use custom subdomains. This makes it an almost complete marketing package, from lead capture via opt-in forms or squeeze pages, to standard email newsletters, to automatable follow-up workflows. Pricing is dependent on your total list size and the features selected, but the starting tier is $15 a month, which is competitive.
If you have specific workflows in mind for email and marketing automation, then you may want to consider Drip. From the developers of LeadPages, a platform tool for squeeze pages, Drip has highly customizable workflows which you can create and manage through a visual workflow tool with a wide variety of triggers, actions, tagging, and recording supported. The tracking tools are also quite good. You can automate your entire email marketing flow, from email capture to subscriber onboarding, to segmentation and conversion/sales. The WordPress plugin provided allows you to configure email capture on your site. Once in your funnel you can tag subscribers based on their behaviors, assign them with a score based on activity to put them into different quality of lead groups, then send them into different campaigns for the most effective follow-up. It has all the standard email campaign features and integrates with quite a few third-party tools, including the aforementioned LeadPages for squeeze page development. Workflow automation is the main draw here – it’s a powerful tool which can be intimidating to new users but is one the best options for serious internet marketing. They don’t have a free plan, but pricing starts at $1/month for up to 100 email IDs, so the barrier to trial is pretty low.
As we noted, our list of recommendations is based on both the quality of the tools and how well they integrate with WordPress, particularly in a hosted environment. If you’d like to read the recommendations from the other experts as collected and sorted by Blogging Aid, read their detailed article.