Why I Chose ActiveCampaign Over MailChimp to Help Me Become an Email Marketing Rockstar

Why I chose ActiveCampaign over MailChimp to become an email marketing rockstar

If you caught my hidden message in my productivity post, you might have seen that I now use ActiveCampaign (affiliate link) for my email marketing.

You might be wondering, “Why didn’t you choose MailChimp?”

If I’m being perfectly honest, I never even considered MailChimp when I thought about moving away from my own email plugin. MailChimp just wasn’t what I wanted. It didn’t have enough to lure me in.

But when I saw what ActiveCampaign had to offer, I switched over almost right away.

Add tags to learn more about your subscribers’ behaviour.

When I started re-coding my own newsletter plugin, I knew I wanted to add tag functionality to subscribers. These tags would tell me about who this subscriber is and what they’ve done. Examples might be:

  • Purchased Ultimate Book Blogger
  • Uses WordPress
  • Interested in Email Marketing
  • Interested in Moving to WordPress
  • Likes Reading
  • Is a Book Blogger
List of tags in a subscriber's ActiveCampaing profile
List of tags in a subscriber’s ActiveCampaing profile

These tags would get added to the subscriber based on actions they’ve taken on my site, such as purchased products, downloaded freebies, or clicked links in my emails.

Then, let’s say I’m releasing a new plugin for book bloggers. I don’t need to email my ENTIRE mailing list. Instead, I could only email the people who I think might be interested (has tags: Is a Book Blogger and uses WordPress).

As far as I know, MailChimp doesn’t have tags like this. But tags alone weren’t enough to make me move to ActiveCampaign. Adding tags to my own newsletter plugin was very easy, so I already had those.

So let’s talk about what REALLY made me move.

ActiveCampaign is king of segmentation and automated email marketing.

Paid MailChimp does indeed have automation features but ActiveCampaign is like that on steroids.

With ActiveCampaign, it’s not just about sending emails at certain times. That’s only one small aspect of their automations. You can also use them to:

  • Subscribe/unsubscribe someone from a list.
  • Add/remove tags.
  • Add notes.
  • Adjust their “score”.
  • Create complex if/else branches.

To help put it in perspective, let me show you an example.

Create an automation to identify subscribers who aren’t engaged.

With email marketing, it’s important to maintain a healthy, quality list. You don’t want it to be full of people who NEVER read your emails. That costs you money.

So I’ve created an automation that flags subscribers who never read my emails and sets them up to be removed from my list. There are two different automations.

#1: Identify people who aren’t engaged.

Automation in ActiveCampaign that tags disengaged subscribers.

  1. Whenever a new person subscribes, the timer on this automation starts.
  2. After 60 days, the following question is asked: has the subscriber not opened any of the emails I’ve sent?
  3. If they HAVE opened emails, then they go back to the beginning and the 60 day timer starts again. This way they’re ALWAYS being checked—not just once.
  4. If they HAVEN’T opened any emails, then they receive a new tag on their profile: “Disengaged”.
  5. Then the automation ends.

#2: Contact disengaged contacts.

This next automation gets triggered whenever the “Disengaged” tag is added to a contact’s profile. So it would begin right after step #4 from the above automation list.

Automation that sends an email to a disengaged subscriber

  1. An email is sent to the subscriber, asking them if they’re still interested in receiving my emails. If so, they’re invited to click a certain link within two weeks.
  2. Then the automation waits for two weeks.
  3. After those two weeks, it checks to see if the person did in fact click the link.
  4. If so, the “Disengaged” tag is removed and a new tag is added: “Removed Disengagement Tag”. This new tag lets me know that the subscriber was disengaged at one point but asked to remain a subscriber. I don’t do anything with this tag, it’s just for my reference.
  5. If the person DID NOT click the link, then they’re automatically unsubscribed from all lists.

This is just the tip of the automation iceberg.

This example is honestly quite simple.

I haven’t yet dug super deep into automations but I know they’re something I want to explore more in the future as I get more serious about email marketing.

Powerfully target specific groups of contacts.

Okay to be totally honest, I’m not sure how good MailChimp is at this. I know you can create “groups” in MailChimp, but I’m not sure how awesome they are.

Well, in ActiveCampaign, they’re insanely awesome.

Look at this one way I was able to target a small segment of my mailing list to advertise a flash sale for Ultimate Book Blogger:

List segment using tags in ActiveCampaign

As I expand my email marketing, I’m starting to really focus on sending people content that’s RELEVANT to them and their interests. So in this case, I only wanted to contact people who:

  • Were on my main mailing list.
  • AND had NOT purchased Ultimate Book Blogger.
  • AND were interested in books.
  • AND had at least one of the following tags:
    1. Likes Discounts and Coupons
    2. Downloaded the free Rating Report Plugin (free plugin similar to UBB)
    3. Downloaded the free What I’m Reading plugin (which means they’d like UBB)
    4. Doesn’t Have UBB

My automation plans for the future.

Once I finish some of the projects I’m working on now and free up more time, I’m going to really focus on my email marketing.

Right now my #1 goal is to create a variety of automations targeted at specific interests.

So if someone downloads a content upgrade related to book blogging, they’ll then get a series of emails that offer exclusive book blogging tips.

If someone downloads an upgrade related to business, they’ll get a series of emails where I share my business insights, goals, and lessons.

MailChimp is a great option if you have one main list or want to deliver simple email-based automations.

I’m not bashing MailChimp; I think it’s a great platform. It just wasn’t going to work for me and the direction of my business.

I recently complained about my lack of niche and multiple audiences. I felt like I didn’t know how to handle catering to book bloggers, freelancers, and WordPress-ers.

But through advanced tagging, segmentation, and automations, I feel like ActiveCampaign has helped push me in the right direction. I don’t have to send everyone everything. I can send people only the content that they’re genuinely interested in.

I recommend MailChimp if:

  • You’re only just starting out with your blog/business.
  • You want to send the same emails to everyone on your list.
  • You only want a simple RSS-to-email campaign.
  • If you do want automations, you only need to be able to send automated, scheduled emails.

I recommend ActiveCampaign if:

  • You’ve used MailChimp and feel like you’ve outgrown it.
  • You’re looking to expand your business.
  • You want to create/expand/optimise your sales funnel.
  • You want more advanced list segmentation to target groups of subscribers.
  • You want to collect more data about your subscribers using tags.
  • You’re a developer who wants an incredibly simple and useful API to work with.

Let’s chat about email marketing.

Do you think it’s a good idea to only send people content they’re interested in?

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I'm a 30-something California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). My three great passions are: books, coding, and fitness. more »

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  1. I’ve never looked into ActiveCampaign before but its definitely on my list to check out when in ready to migrate from MailChimp. I need to get really active with email marketing. So far for my blog most all emails are relevant to everyone on the list, but I can see cases where tagging would be beneficial and having automated lists.

    So far I’ve been eyeing Get Response, ConvertKit, and now l’ll add ActiveCampaign.. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Sasha-Shae recently posted: 5 Easy Ways to Relieve Stress
    1. ConvertKit looks like another great option for advanced automation. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve heard about that one before.

    2. I’ve used Get Response and am now starting to use Active Campaign. There’s no comparison. Active Campaign is what I thought I was getting (and more) when I signed up for GR.

  2. I think the amount of options ActiveCampaign offers is awesome! I’m planning on ditching Feedburner and moving to MailChimp, though after setting it up on a test site I’ve realised it gives my physical address away to anyone who hits subscribe, so now I’m a little more wary. I’m planning on looking into a few more options before I choose anything. But I think I’ll definitely look into ActiveCampaign if/when the time comes!

    1. Yep the basic plan does include those features. The automation I described is “marketing automation” and you can see that’s included in the basic plan.

      The main thing the “plus” Plan adds in terms of features is the CRM. That’s where you can list people as leads and create deals and stuff. I’m on the plus plan but don’t use the CRM stuff at all.

    1. You’re welcome!! ActiveCampaign is a huge part in my “business upgrade” plan for taking things to the next level. ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Well said, Ashley. That’s the same reason why I changed from Mailchimp to ActiveCampaign. I am still getting familiar with it, but as far as I can tell yet, its features are amazing.
        What about your plans for publishing some of your experiences with us since you’ve been starting with AC? I’d appreciate it, and I’d love to hear how well things went for you since then.

          1. I’d like to figure out how I could integrate AC into an easier content upgrade delivering workflow. That’s what I am trying to figure out right now. So far, I build custom forms for each and every content upgrade offer, and put the code into a shortcode with a little bit of CSS – and that’s it.
            Another topic I am interested in would be the ‘deliverability thing’. Did you experience any changes in deliverability in comparison to your Mailchimp campaigns?
            Cheers. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. MailChimp’s marketing automation is pretty basic, but it’s also their newest feature so I’m waiting to decide if I want to move away from it. I figure I’ll look at the next update to see what improvements they make. Plus it integrates with so many other tools that I’ve been able to build things out anyway without using their official features. It’s pretty scrappy and messy haha, but it’s better than nothing! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Once I’m in a place where I’m more comfortable upgrading, I’m looking at Mautic Customer.io. I hadn’t looked at ActiveCampaign before since I hadn’t heard much about it, but it looks *really* awesome and it’s now tied with Mautic on my list. ๐Ÿ™‚ My only hesitation is that it looks like basic accounts can’t do much rebranding. :/

    1. I totally understand your hesitation. If I wasn’t a developer, I’d probably pick MailChimp just because of all the integrations. But since I am a developer, I’ve been able to use ActiveCampaign’s API to connect it with everything I use. I find the ActiveCampaign API a lot easier to work with than MailChimp’s actually lol.

      One of the downsides of ActiveCampaign is that their forms look really… dated. I know updating them is on their to-do list, but the forms are seriously not so pretty. But again, for me that’s a non-issue since I use their API to custom build all my forms. I even made my own WordPress plugin for automatically delivering content upgrades. This plugin prevents me from having to build a custom form in ActiveCampaign for each content upgrade I have. (I believe you have to do that in MailChimp too.) I’ll be sharing that soon!!

      By the way, I’m 99% sure the “branding” you see on the pricing page refers to the admin area. ActiveCampaign allows you to totally white label the admin area so if you run a company or something it looks like you’re logging into the “Nose Graze Marketing Interface” instead of “ActiveCampaign Admin Panel” or whatever.

      1. Yeah, that was my hesitation about Mautic too, since it’s self-hosted (or so I thought). This post actually made me look them up again and they have a $12/mo hosted version now that looks too awesome to be true – so now I just need to make sure it’s not too good to be true haha.

        For ActiveCampaign, the branding looks like what MailChimp does with the free plans “sent on behalf of” and a logo in the footer. Not a big deal, and in a crap-ton of marketing emails out there, but makes me go “huh” for a paid plan.

        Brittany recently posted: Review: Dirty Talk by Megan Erickson
        1. Unless you’re seeing something I’m not, the branding thing isn’t anything that your recipients see. It’s not like the MailChimp “sent on behalf of” thing.

          It’s like when you login to the MailChimp admin panel (on ALL plans) there’s the MailChimp logo on the site… Because you’re on mailchimp.com. But the branding option lets you customize the admin panel of ActiveCampaign so instead of logging in on youraccount.activecampaign.com and seeing the ActiveCampaign logo in the header (on the admin panel), you can make it so you log in on marketing.yourdomain.com and there are no references to ActiveCampaign anywhere on the admin panel.

          As far as I know, ActiveCampaign credits don’t get injected into any recipient-facing stuff on any plans (like email footers).

      2. Hi Ashley,
        Love this post, i am an Active Campaign user for a long time and i have been using their automations and tag systems.It’s pretty awesome.You said

        “since I am a developer, Iโ€™ve been able to use ActiveCampaignโ€™s API to connect it with everything I use. I find the ActiveCampaign API a lot easier to work”.

        That really intrigued me.I have been wanting to integrate AC with some other tools that are not integrated yet.Could you help me how to can i connect AC to other tools through API.For example, i am trying to use Selz to sell a digital product.It doesn’t integrate with AC yet.

  4. Awesome post! You are so making me want to switch from Mail Chimp. I love the idea of tags, although I haven’t explored Mail Chimp to its fullest yet. And I’m just beginning to understand how it works. But this is a great option for the future.

    1. For sure! Maybe get comfortable with MailChimp now and get all the basics set up and figured out. Then eventually you’ll start to feel like you’ve outgrown MailChimp and you’re ready to “level up”. When that time comes, you can check out ActiveCampaign. I know they have a migration tool if you’re coming from MailChimp so I imagine it’s super easy to move!

  5. Great post and absolutely what I think. Active Campaign is affordable and powerful.

    How do you make the content upgrade system, btw?

  6. OMG! I was just thinking about that this morning! I have been with ac for some months but I have just vague idea how to use tags, segments and automations. I wish you could make a tutorial video. I would pay for that ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks for this usefull post

  7. Hey Ash. After reading this post I jumped ship from mail chimp to active campaign (which is only a paid account w a free trial period). My issue w MC was that after I paid to upgrade, I still couldn’t get my automations to work. MC has no customer support so if u can’t find an answer to your problem in their f&q, then you feel totally screwed. Meanwhile in working with active campaign (who are amazing with customer support) I learned the automations only work with the help of Zapier. While I have finally figured my automation out and have it working….now Zapier wants a minimum of $50/MONTH. ugh after paying for mail chimp and active campaign (and also lead pages). My question to you is do u need zapier to send automations? Can you shed a little of your expert knowledge with your e commerce platform too? Perhaps my use of PayPal is why AC needs zapier to work ? Thanks so much. Xo

    1. What’s your goal? Automations themselves don’t require Zapier. If you’re trying to do something super specific that isn’t supported, then you might need it.

      1. After someone purchases a service or product from my site via paypal, their email is sent to that specific list and an auto email is triggered immediately after PayPal receipt. Is paypal my issue here? I have seen so many other people sending auto emails after I buy something and I love that method for my own biz. Thank u.

        1. This is something that’s typically done on the e-commerce platform end rather than on the payment (PayPal) end.

          For example, if you use WooCommerce, there’s probably some kind of WooCommerce ActiveCampaign add-on you can install (as a WordPress plugin) that triggers upon successful payment. The customer get auto added to your mailing list on ActiveCampaign.

          I personally coded my own solution using the ActiveCampaign API that auto adds customers to my list and tags them with “Purchased {product name}”.

          I know that plenty of ready-made plugins exist though.

          This assumes you are in fact using a plugin on the WordPress end and not simply PayPal buy now buttons.

  8. Do you know how to set up an RSS feed for new blog posts with active campaign? I have a group who loves that and I want to keep that going while offering more to my other lists!

    1. Absolutely!

      1) Create New Campaign
      2) One of the options is “RSS Triggered”
      3) I kind of forget the exact steps beyond this point but I know it involves making it to the template editor and you just put in the URL of your RSS feed.

      It’s quite similar to how it’s done on MailChimp in terms of workflow. They also have a guide about it here: http://www.activecampaign.com/help/how-to-use-rss-in-your-email-messages-campaigns/ I think the article is quite dated since that UI just doesn’t even exist any more, haha. But some of the steps might be useful.

      1. Thanks so much! Yeah, I found that. It just looks a lot different now. I’ve figured it out a bit I just can’t get the format to look the way I want (and could on mail chimp) I want the image to fit the width & the font/ text to format better! lol. I”ll keep looking into it! I sent them an email so we’ll see if that helps! It kinda bums me out that all their examples are the wrong user face! It doesn’t make it very helpful! lol.

        1. I guess that could come down to customizing the template, so that’s something you just need to play with (or dig into code to create your own).

  9. Inspiring article, seeing as I’m at the “tearing my hair out/throw something” stage of learning how to use Active Campaign (day 1 of 14-day trial).

    When you can’t change the font colour on a button .. well, what can I say !!

    But I’ll persevere, and DEFINITELY pinch your disengaged idea, if I may ๐Ÿ™‚ (and manage to get past this frustrating newbie stage).

    Keely Worth recently posted: 5 Popular Websites to Download Free Images
    1. I’m sorry you’re having difficulties, Keely!

      I’m a developer so I code my own templates from scratch. I suspect that probably helps since it means I don’t have to use their template builder at all.

      I’m sure you’ll adjust though, just give it some time. ๐Ÿ™‚ Trying any kind of new software can be a bit overwhelming – like being thrown into the deep end. But with a bit more time and practice, you’ll come to understand it!

  10. Hello, can you help me with email marketing and ActiveCampaing. I’m looking for some advanced tutorials for AC

  11. I’ve been thinking about switching up my email provider. Currently on Mailchimp, but find that it’s not really working for me the way I want it to. I’ve been looking at Convertkit, but haven’t heard anything about ActiveCampaign until I stumbled across your post. Do you know anything about Convertkit and how the two compare?

    1. Absolutely!

      ConvertKit and ActiveCampaign are fairly similar. Here are a few differences:

      • ActiveCampaign has more templating options. ConvertKit only has a plain, non-styled template. If you want something fancier with ConvertKit, you have to code your own. But MailChimp’s template builder is probably more user friendly than both AC and CK.
      • ActiveCampaign is more powerful. ConvertKit is pretty powerful too (moreso than MailChimp, IMO), but ActiveCampaign is the next level. There are more advanced automation options. (Though ConvertKit does have enough for most people.)
      • I personally prefer ConvertKit’s interface to ActiveCampaign, though I’ve seen other people say the opposite. It’s really just down to personal preference.
      • ConvertKit has a better UI (again, in my opinion) for email series. You can absolutely still create email series in ActiveCampaign, I just think ConvertKit has a much simpler and more intuitive UI for it.
      • ActiveCampaign probably has more third party integrations simply because it’s been around longer. ConvertKit is adding more all the time though.
      • Some of ConvertKit’s form options might be slightly better or easier to set up. I don’t really know for sure though since I build all my own forms in ActiveCampaign – I don’t use the options they have built in.
      • Since ConvertKit is newer, there are a few more kinks, from what I’ve seen people talking about in various Facebook groups. There are less and less every day though, from what I’ve seen. The platform is definitely maturing.

      Ultimately they’re both good choices and I don’t think you can go wrong with either of them.

      I know that ActiveCampaign has a free trial. ConvertKit doesn’t, but they do have a 30 day refund policy. So you could sign up for both and just cancel the one you decide not to use.

      1. You are the best!! Thank you so much for this awesome comparison! I think for me, tech-wise, Converkit might be the better option from what you’ve said about the user interface being a little easier to navigate. I don’t really need to fancy up my emails too much. I think simpler is better anyway so I can’t see myself needing to do much coding in Converkit. The expense is just hard for me to swallow. I signed up for Leadpages a couple months ago mostly for the leadbox integration for sending content upgrades. Now I’m starting to use their landing page features which is really what it’s for. But I know Convertkit allows you to send lead magnets as well so I’m wondering if I need both or if I’ll be able to cancel Leadpages once I sign up for Convertkit. I obviously would want to do this sooner rather than later so I don’t have to spend a crap ton of time re-doing all my lead magnets. Thanks for all the awesome info!

        1. Yeah I personally don’t think you need ConvertKit AND LeadPages unless you really have money to burn. You can absolutely do really well with just ConvertKit. Plus, Tweak Me v2 has a “Landing Page” template you can use if you want to create a stripped down page with just a ConvertKit opt-in code/form and a simple footer (it removes the header/top nav from the page).

  12. GREAT info thank you so much.

    I am looking to do the following can AC do this?

    I want to place a survey on my website. NOT email a list.

    I want to ask 2 questions. Male or Female? Live in US or outside US.

    I want 4 email lists automatically created. 1 for each combo of answer such as Male in US, Male outside US, Female in US, Female Outside US.

    Thank you!

    1. Well ActiveCampaign doesn’t have survey functionality. But if you find a survey feature that integrates with ActiveCampaign then it can absolutely be done.

      1. Thank you so much Ashley for your quick reply.

        That is the problem AC says it will work like that with Survey Monkey but SM says no lol

        The other thing is if we switch to AC it will cost us $300 a month yikes that is a quite a bit more than we pay now.

  13. I like the graphics on this a lot! I am having a very hard with activecampaign, so glad I found this article on pinterest! I can easily understand and follow it

  14. Hi! Thank you so much for talking about this service! I haven’t moved to a stage in which I’m able to say, I have an online business (Not even close!), but doing some research, I’ve been more and more interested in the value of the email list. A lot of people seem to completely adore Convertkit, and I can tell it’s pretty neat! But… That seems a bit over the top and pricey for what I predict I will need if everything I have in mind works out. Mailchimp seems to be okay now with my normal book blogger needs. It sends nice enough emails for free since small list!

    But I would definitely consider Active Campaign in the future if the Automated emails and cool features are included in the package with such a MUCH more reasonable price for a 20 year old XD So again, thanks for the introduction to the service!

    1. Yes I definitely still recommend MailChimp to plenty of people. ๐Ÿ™‚ If you’re only interested in RSS to email campaigns or just regular ol’ campaigns, then MailChimp is a better option.

      You only need to start looking at ConvertKit or ActiveCampaign if you want more intuitive segmenting and/or automations. ๐Ÿ™‚

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