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Email marketing software review: iContact vs MailChimp

Feb 3rd 2012

For small businesses and non-profit organizations, one of the easiest ways to stay in touch with customers and supporters is to send them a weekly, monthly, or quarterly email newsletter. We look at two of the biggest players in the Email Marketing software field, iContact and MailChimp.

For small businesses and non-profit organizations, one of the easiest ways to stay in touch with customers and supporters is to send them a weekly, monthly, or quarterly email newsletter. Sending newsletters via email instead of in the post can be a very cost-effective strategy, eliminating the need to print the newsletter, stuff them in envelopes, and pay for postage.

If you’ve got a Blog, a News letter is also a great way to deliver your existing blog articles, after all, your social media fans have seen your articles, so why not everyone else?

We’re big fans of iContact and MailChimp, these are both leaders in their field, however they’re not the only packages of this type, there are a good many others.

How much do they cost?
Email marketing is a competitive industry and things change often as the services constantly try to one-up each other. As of this writing, pricing for iContact and MailChimp is not identical, but it’s close enough that it probably won’t play a factor in your decision in most cases.

However, if you have less than 2,000 subscribers and send less than 12,000 messages per month, MailChimp is free. You’ll pay $29/month ($24.95/month with an annual discount) for an equivalent plan from iContact. This might make the choice clear enough that you stop reading now and click right over to MailChimp, but there are other things you may want to consider.


MailChimp’s “less is more” approach results in a less intuitive user interface. In many cases, you are shown only what MailChimp thinks you need to see to complete the current action (e.g., creating a campaign). That said, once you’ve figured it out, it’s very logical, just not what you’d expect at first.

We often build templates for MailChimp, and as far as we’re concerned one of its biggest strengths is that we can define editable areas, so with the right layout, it’s very easy for our customers to be productive, very quickly. Why is this such a big deal?
Well, many of its competitors have a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editor that gives you full control of the content and layout of the email. But this comes at a price, and often results in broken layouts and hours of frustration spent lining boxes up. MailChimp’s approach with pre-defined editable areas, avoids this problem well.

MailChimp has many alliances with other software packages such as SalesForce, so if you’re looking to add email marketing on to a well recognised package, then MailChimp is the most likely to fit the bill.
Getting email addresses in to the software is easy, however watch out for MailChimp’s policy on generic email addresses such as info@, enquiries@, sales@ etc. If you’re importing email addresses from an existing source, these will be ignored.

MailChimp offers spam checking for paid accounts as well as an Inbox Inspector, allowing you to see your campaign in 30+ email clients as well as check for spammy content before you send, on a pay-as-you-go basis.



We generally find iContact much easier and more logical to use. It’s simple, intuitive and tidy, but watch out for the editing area. You have full control over the content and layout of the email, which can in some cases end up in disaster and needing some knowledge of HTML. Sometimes, if you’re not confident with all things IT, you may prefer the less is more approach of MailChimp.

iContact lets you edit inline, right in the message, so you can see what it looks like as you do it. With MailChimp, editing opens just that section in a new window so you lose the context of the whole message.
By displaying more on the screen, iContact allows you to get to pretty much whatever you need whenever you want to. Though the navigation is more complex than MailChimp’s, it’s also significantly more intuitive.
Importing email addresses is very simple, as is sending, previewing, spam checking and testing emails.

What they do the same
In both applications, messages can be sent immediately or you can schedule them to be sent later and both offer the ability to post to Facebook and Twitter automatically.
Both have multiple contact lists and can handle different campaigns with different sending email addresses.

They also allow you to imbed a subscription form in to your website that subscribes interested readers straight in to your mailing list. Want to see one in action? Go to our website www.fl1group.com and sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of the page and see for yourself.

So, which one is better?
The two services have very different looks. Whereas MailChimp’s is a very minimalistic look and feel, iContact takes a more direct approach, displaying more information and options, but in an organized way.

Based on this high-level review, if you’re a low-volume sender and cost is your primary concern, MailChimp is the way to go. You’ll get used to the interface after sending a few campaigns.

If you have lots and lots of contacts and send them lots and lots of messages or if you want to jump right in and start using the tool right now with the least amount of frustration, iContact might be a better fit for you.
Both MailChimp and iContact have loads of other features that might make one or the other a better option for you. If you’re interested, there are a lot of side-by-side reviews of these and other email marketing services on the Internet as well. Be warned, though, the results vary a lot between reviews.

Since MailChimp has a free plan and iContact offers a 30-day free trial, why not try them both and decide for yourself?