So you’ve decided to start focusing more effort on your ‘small’ business, and perhaps you’re still working out of your bedroom, but your customers don’t need to know that.
You’ve been sending out emails to your list of around 50-200 recipients that you’ve built up over the last few months, but Outlook isn’t quite cutting it anymore. Sometimes your emails get lost in the void that is spam folders, and then there was that one time you accidentally CC’d instead of BCCing! That sadly caused a few unsubscribes, which, of course, had to be removed manually.
There must be a better way, right?
It might be time to try out a more professional email tool. But wait, before you cry out ‘professional = expensive’, there are actually a bunch of free email marketing services that can do the job well. No more spam surprises and no more embarrassing personal data breaches.
Good question. I’ve put them into a handy table for you below!
|Provider||What's included for free?||Comments|
||MailerLite offer all features at all tiers, whether you’re on their free plan, or paid. This includes autoresponders, sophisticated webforms, reporting and full support options. Includes a small ad. (Read our full review)|
||Unlike MailerLite, you have restricted features available on the free account (e.g. advanced segmentation and delivery by time-zone). But you still have a more generous subscriber amount, and it’s just as user-friendly. And most importantly, you can't use their email or chat support. There's also a small ad banner in each email you send. (Review)|
||This simple and easy-to-use email marketing tool includes a sizeable sending allowance and some handy extras like automations and push notifications.|
||Benchmark’s numbers look very similar to MailChimp’s. As most email marketing software these days they sport a drag and drop editor. Not all features are included in the free plan. (Review)|
||Aside from a sizeable sending allowance, the free plan of this ecommerce-focused tool also comes with a lot of cool extras, including A/B testing and website tracking.|
||A large sending allowance and some unique messaging features make SendPulse’s free plan a top option for multichannel marketers.|
||A refreshingly simple newsletter software that runs on the Amazon SES infrastructure. Doesn't have a whole load of features but what it does, it does well.|
||SendInBlue’s free plan is a little more restricted in terms of emails. You can have up to 9,000 p/m, but there is also a daily limit of 300. You also have their branding present in all emails. (Review)|
||Similar to SendInBlue, Mailjet have a sending limit on their free plan, and a daily limit of only 200 emails.|
||CleverReach have one of the more restrictive free plans out there, in terms of subscriber and email numbers. However, there is a small ad in your outgoing emails that can’t be removed.|
||A 100-subscriber limit probably won’t get you very far, but on the upside, you do get access to automations, forms, and analytics.|
||Their service is free to use for only 30 days, but in that time you get to try out some useful features including automation, SMS and landing pages. Plus, their templates are some of the most modern-looking out there.|
||This Amazon-powered email service is disappointingly stingy in their free plan, with a limit of just 300 emails per month and 1 campaign per day.|
||YMLP (Your Mailinglist Provider) is threadbare in both form and function. The design looks as if it's a relic from the 90s, and you'll need to be versed in HTML, or have a designer handy, to get something useful from the editor.|
With the above table, you can see that it’s perfectly possible to use a free newsletter creator for your small business needs, at least up to a certain point, depending on how big your dreams (a.k.a. contact lists) become.
As its name suggests, MailerLite’s focus is on delivering a simple, no-frills email marketing service. The result is an easy-to-use newsletter tool with some surprisingly useful features (think landing pages, forms, and marketing automation). What we really love? That their generous ‘Free Forever’ plan gives you unlimited access to all of them.
What we liked: Their tool is super intuitive, so even if you’re an email marketing novice, you’ll have no problem getting campaigns up and running. And as long as you have less than 1,000 subscribers, you can send unlimited emails, and even set up automations and landing pages for free.
Where they should improve: Unfortunately their template range isn’t the most extensive – you’ll most likely need to edit them or build your own. There’s no spam or design testing, and while we like their workflow-based automation editor, it’s limited to just a handful of automation functions (sending trigger-based emails, updating contact fields etc).
Who is the free plan suited to? We think MailerLite is one of the best free email marketing services around. But we think it’s especially handy for budget-conscious businesses looking for an easy, all-in-one solution for their inbound marketing.
Free trial: www.mailerlite.com
Let’s face it – email marketing can be a little dry sometimes. MailChimp is a breath of fresh air, and their fun and quirky branding, paired with some solid, user-friendly features, have helped it quickly become the world’s most popular email marketing service.
Their free account gives you 12,000 emails a month for up to 2,000 contacts, with access to A/B testing, forms and reporting. However, if you want ad-free emails and access to features like chat/email support, inbox previews, and time zone delivery, you’ll need to upgrade to one of their monthly or pay-as-you-go plans.
What we liked: They have a great variety of well-designed and (mostly) mobile-responsive templates, with plenty of flexibility to edit as needed. Their reporting is comprehensive, with stats on conversions, social activity, e-Commerce tracking and email domain performance. You’ve also got forms that easily integrate with your site, landing pages, and over 800 third-party integration options.
Where they should improve: Although they promote themselves as ‘the world’s largest marketing automation platform’, their automation could be massively improved with a workflow editor and more automations beyond just autoresponders. Emails also have a tendency to end up in Gmail’s Promotions tab – fine if your emails are promoting sales and offers, but less than ideal if they’re informational or transactional. The interface could also be a bit more user-friendly.
Who is the free plan suited to? Marketers who want to send nice-looking promotional emails to a relatively large number of subscribers, and access to deep-level reporting. Be aware that Mailchimp doesn’t have the most competitive prices in their paid plans.
Free Trial: mailchimp.com
A simple interface and smooth user experience make Sender one of the easiest email marketing tools to use. Its free plan also has a substantial allowance of 2,500 subscribers and up to 15,000 emails per month. You get a nice amount of features included too – automations, transactional emails, push notifications and forms.
What we liked: The automations included on the free plan are surprisingly advanced – you’ve got options to send abandoned cart campaigns, for example, and to perform actions such as moving subscribers to different lists or updating custom field values. In general, the simplicity of the tool is a nice change from the overcomplexity of other similarly-featured tools.
Where they should improve: While the email template designs aren’t bad, it would be nice to have a few more on offer. Integrations are limited to just a handful of third-party applications, including WordPress, WooCommerce and Magento.
Who is the free plan suited to? If you’re after an easy-to-use, no-nonsense email marketing service (with a few nice extras thrown in), you’ll appreciate Sender’s simplicity and utility.
Free Trial: sender.net
With a clean and minimalist design, Benchmark is one of the most user-friendly newsletter tools we’ve tried. What’s more, their free Starter plan gives you access to all areas – marketing automation, forms, surveys and reporting included – with a few caveats (you won’t be able to activate automations or A/B tests, for example, and sign-up forms will only allow you to add 75 subscribers a day).
What we liked: They have a great variety of modern-looking and mobile-friendly templates, and a drag-and-drop editor that’s hard to beat in terms of usability. Support, even on the free plan, is fast and responsive. And they offer integration with over 300+ tools, including WordPress, Facebook and Shopify.
Where they should improve: Deliverability rates with Benchmark were disappointingly low (particularly to Outlook and Hotmail inboxes). You’re also unlikely to stay on the free plan for very long, as they charge $5/month to upgrade your image storage from 10mb to unlimited.
Who is the free plan suited to? Businesses who tend to send more text-based emails might have a better chance of staying under the file storage limit (and having their emails delivered) – so if you’re after a nicely designed and straightforward tool, Benchmark is a good choice.
Free Trial: www.benchmarkemail.com
As an email service that’s strongly geared to ecommerce, Omnisend has a lot of exceptional features, including automation workflows, the ability to automatically add your store’s products to your newsletters, and cool email add-ons like scratch cards and gift boxes. The bad news – none of these are available on the free plan. Regardless, the free plan is pretty hard to beat if you’re looking to send email in high volumes, with an allowance of 15,000 emails per month (2,000 per day). You also get A/B testing, website tracking, 24/7 support, deep reporting, and up to 3 forms/landing pages. Not bad at all.
Free Trial: www.omnisend.com
SendPulse offers a multichannel platform for marketers looking to do more than just email marketing. Its wide solution set includes web push notifications, SMS, Viber and even transactional emails via SMTP.
SendPulse’s free plan is one of the more generous in terms of sending limits, with a monthly allowance of 15,000 emails to up to 2,500 subscribers.
What we liked: You get access to some very useful features even on the free plan, including autoresponders, A/B testing, and advanced reporting such as click heat maps and opens by location. Web push notifications come included in the free plan, and you can also opt to have a free monthly plan of 12,000 SMTP emails.
Where they should improve: I came across a few issues with their email editor, which was at times buggy and slow. Without a workflow-based editor for basic autoresponders, these can also be a bit cumbersome to manage. And while they do offer more advanced automations, these are only available on paid plans.
Who is the free plan suited to? A multichannel platform won’t appeal to everyone, but if your business uses web push or transactional emails to communicate with customers, SendPulse’s free plan could save you a considerable amount of time and money.
Free Trial: sendpulse.com
After Mailchimp, here's another animal in the email marketing zoo. EmailOctopus is a special breed: it's built on top of the Amazon SES service that provides the email infrastructure. The Octopus takes care of the newsletter tool in which you build your email campaign and manage your subscribers. Once you hit the send button it will be channeled through Amazon's email server.
They let you have a generous 2500 subscribers for free, without any sending limits of their own. Amazon, however, currently limit your free quota to 62,000 emails. “Currently”, because this can always change.
What we liked: prices on the paid plans are very low (50,000 subscribers for only $39 per month) and once set up, the Octopus proved a well-spirited newsletter tool that is extremely easy to use. There's an API available as well as a Zapier integration.
What they should improve: It's probably more of a feature than a bug but definitely one of the things I don't find ideal – you're completely dependent on Amazon SES. Because of that, the setup process takes a lot longer than for other newsletter tools. You have to register for two different services and Amazon requests a lot of information from you.
Who is the free plan suited to? I'd recommend EmailOctopus mainly to cost-conscious developers who maybe already have an Amazon SES account and don't mind the techie language Amazon Web Services uses.
Free plan: www.emailoctopus.com
Starting out as a transactional email provider, SendInBlue have successfully expanded into the email marketing service space, offering advanced features such as SMS marketing and email automation.
On their free plan, you can have an unlimited number of subscribers and send up to 9,000 emails a month, although there’s a daily cap of 300 emails. A few of the features are also off-limits – you won’t get access to email heat maps, details of openers and clickers, or ad-free emails.
What we liked: Marketing automation is a little more sophisticated than other tools’, with options to build and even test various campaign workflows (e.g. based on page visits, email engagement, product purchases). Reporting is also pretty good, although it’s a little annoying that the free plan doesn’t give you details of who opened and clicked. Their paid plans are pretty affordable, starting at only $25 for 40,000 emails.
Where they should improve: While their templates are mobile-responsive, they could do with a wider variety (although you can always find and use your own templates). And they’re missing features such as A/B testing, which come as standard in most other tools. In our tests, they also had one of the lowest rates of deliverability out of all the providers.
Who is the free plan suited to? If your email marketing is less about newsletters and more about sending trigger-based campaigns (such as welcome emails, abandoned cart emails, or emails based on web visits/email engagement), SendInBlue is a decent option to try.
Free Trial: www.sendinblue.com
Another newsletter provider traditionally known for sending transactional emails, MailJet has evolved into a more complete email service, although their features are still relatively basic (statistics, for instance, are still in beta). Their free plan is generous in terms of capacity (unlimited contacts and up to 6,000 emails a month, with a 200-email daily limit). It’s a little less generous in terms of access, however – premium features like automations, segmentation and A/B testing are only available to try out for free for 30 days.
What we liked: The drag-and-drop editor is a breeze to use, and they have a decent range of email templates to choose from.
Where they should improve: Everything still feels a little new and unpolished – there’s just a handful of automation workflows available, for example, and lots of features still under development.
Who is the free plan suited to? If volume is important to you, and you don’t need sophisticated features, MailJet’s free plan will serve you well.
Free Trial: www.mailjet.com
CleverReach offers a complete, enterprise-grade email marketing service, with functions like marketing automation, forms, and reports. Their free plan gives you access to most of their features, although you’re restricted by a 250-subscriber limit and only 1,000 emails per month.
What we liked: Their editor is solid and extremely easy to use. They also have a nice range of template designs, many of which are mobile-responsive. We also like their workflow-based automation editor, comprehensive reporting, and handy campaign calendar.
Where they should improve: Autoresponders aren’t available on the free plan, which you may find quite limiting. And it’s a shame that not all their templates are responsive.
Who should use the free plan: If your list is small and EU compliance is a big priority for you, CleverReach is the way to go – double opt-ins come as standard, and data is hosted within Europe.
Free Trial: www.cleverreach.com
Describing itself as an ‘ECRM’ (ecommerce CRM), Drip’s focus is all about managing the customer lifecycle. This is evident in its comprehensive library of workflow-based automations, ample ecommerce integrations, tagging functionality and conversion tracking. Drip’s easy-to-navigate interface and solid deliverability rates also get a big thumbs up from us. Its main drawback? The free plan’s unlimited email sends are a little pointless considering the 100-subscriber limit.
Free Trial: drip.com
Traditionally a software-based email service that required local installation, Mailify now also offers a web-based service that’s very app-y in look and feel. Still, it’s a useful tool for those who would prefer to keep their data in-house. Their free plan gives you access to all areas, including automations, SMS, landing pages, and some modern-looking email templates, although you’ll only be able to trial it for 30 days. The bonus is that you can send up to 1,000 emails and 10 SMS in this time, so you’ll really be able to get a feel for whether it’s worth paying to continue using Mailify.
Free Trial: www.mailify.com
MoonMail leverages Amazon’s cloud network to send their email and was built with volume in mind. Their free plan however is one of the most restrictive, with just 300 emails a month, and a daily cap of 1 campaign a day (with only 10 recipients per campaign). You’re obligated to use their own domain as the email sender address, and have no access to automations. Support and the ability to edit custom fields is also limited. Plus, we have to say their tool isn’t the easiest to use, with a lot of back and forth required to set up campaigns.
Free Trial: moonmail.io
This Belgian newsletter provider do have a free plan for up to 1,000 contacts, with a pretty good level of access to different features, but there’s a lot that needs to be improved. For one, both their templates and editor are extremely outdated (ever seen an email that looks like it’s been put together in Microsoft Word? Then you get the picture). The reporting on the free plan is also a little scant – you won’t get data on opens, clicks, or contact activity. And their navigation is a bit clunky. In general, YMLP feels like a bit of a dinosaur compared to the other more modern-looking and feature-rich tools. It’s not one of the free email marketing software we’d recommend.
Free Trial: www.ymlp.com
If you’re like me, whenever you hear the word ‘free’ for apps or tools you’re probably wondering ‘so what’s the catch?’
Well it’s not a catch so much as a ‘freemium model’. This basically means that you may have certain restrictions perhaps based upon the amount of subscribers you can have, emails you can send or features available. In most cases, though, if you’re a small business these plans will be enough to get you up and running!
And I guess the ‘catch’ is that once your budget has become a little less lean, you’ll be so happy with the service you’re using that you’ll stick with it and invest in a higher plan. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Well, to begin with we’ve only shown you ‘hosted’ newsletter services, which basically just means that you don’t need your own email server or to install anything on your computer. In other words, they’re fully self-contained services. Nice and easy right?
Also, they all have a form of bounce management. This means that the service automatically takes care of emails that don’t reach their recipient, after a couple of tries, by removing them from your list. This helps keep your contact lists clean and uncluttered.
Even though your newsletters will most likely be the most useful emails your customers have ever received, there will always be those who aren’t as enlightened, and that’s where the next service comes in handy. They all offer quick and easy unsubscribe management, which can take place without you needing to do anything.
And finally, another useful feature of these providers is that they can provide you with statistics. Now you’ll be able to find out who’s actually opening your emails, and which ones are more popular than others…after all, it’s basically a popularity contest. May the best newsletter win.
Most email blast services restrict either subscriber or email numbers, and sometimes both, so pay attention to these amounts when deciding. And while some will allow you access to all their features on their free plan (such as MailerLite), others restrict access to premium features (such as MailChimp). Also, most newsletter tools also put their own branding within your newsletters (usually a small badge in the footer).
A premium feature that you won’t find with any of these providers is marketing automation, so it’s worth taking that into account. It’s often also not possible to access advanced reporting with most of these free accounts either. So if you need this kind of sophistication you may need to open up your wallet. You can get an idea of prices, and compare them between providers, with our newsletter cost calculator.
In regards to recommendations, I’d probably try out MailerLite or MailChimp to begin with, they have relatively good subscriber and email limits, along with an easy to use system. MailerLite has some great features, such as landing pages and multiple languages, while still being wallet-friendly, even in their paid plans. MailChimp can get pretty pricey in their paid tiers but has some really great integration options.
While there are a number of free services, it’s good to not only be aware of the limitations of each, but also to go with one that feels best for you. To figure this out, simply TRY them…they’re free after all!
20 Sep 2018 – SendPulse added to list
4 Dec 2018 – Sender added to list