How do ESPs count contacts (and why does it matter)?
Updated: Jun 8, 2021
When you’re starting your business, email is an important tool.
Using the right tool to collect the emails of users, customers, potential clients, event participants and more, is key to great marketing and customer relations.
There are quite a few tools out there.
When I started my business, I wanted to find the tool that worked best for me.
I had experience with Mailchimp and with ActiveCampaign. I pretty much knew what I wanted and expected from my email service provider (ESP).
I was also pretty biased towards ActiveCampaign.
They are totally customer service oriented and it shows in everything they do.
But I also knew that they have many features that I didn't really need at the time.
And so I set out to try to find an ESP that would give me the features I want, for a reasonable price, with the user experience that just works.
Oh, and no, I haven’t found a tool to date that beats ActiveCampaign.
Here’s an example of why:
I like to use different lists in my email service provider for different purposes.
✔ Course participants
✔ Potential customers
✔ Upcoming events
✔ Sales and marketing
This gives me more control over my list, and is especially useful if I want to give my users the option to opt-in or -out of specific targeted content.
Critical if your ESP package is based on the number of contacts you have (and most of them are):
Here are some of my findings:
ActiveCampaign – counts them once
Mailchimp – doesn't check across multiple lists (audiences) so each entry is counted per list. This raises your contact count.
MailerLite – counts your unique active subscribers and the list is updated every 30 days. So, if you delete a user today, it will still count until 30 days since they were deactivated. This gives you less control of your list and forces you to update your list almost daily to ensure it's reflective of your active users.
GetResponse – each list is treated independently. This means that if an email address is assigned to multiple lists, it counts as multiple contacts. Similar to how it works on Mailchimp.
Flodesk – price isn't calculated by the number of contacts, so this isn't relevant. This products is actually still in Beta at this time, so who knows where they will take this.
ConvertKit – has only one list of subscribers with no option for multiple lists.
Pricing wise, there is also a big difference in the various packages you can find for email service providers. The prices changed based on the features but there are three main points I like to look at when comparing pricing:
The number of contacts you get for whatever the price is
The automation capability
Is there a free trial version?
ActiveCampaign has a very limited free trial version. They give you 14 free days to try them out with up to 100 contact. During those days, you'll get a phone call from a representative to see how your trial is going.
I loved getting the call when I set up my first free trial account. Personally, I didn't really need it, but I'm not sure 14 days is enough if you're just starting out. Having said that, they were more than happy to offer to extend my free trial if I needed it.
Their automation capability is out of this world. I can do basically anything I wanted. And if it's not natively built-in, I can use a thrid party tool like Zapier or Integromat.
Once the trial is over, if you don't upgrade they will close your account.
But upgrading isn't that expensive in the first tier. If you pay annually, it will cost you$9/mo for up to 500 contacts and $17/mo for 1000.
If you want their built-in CRM then the price jumps to $49/mo for 1000 contacts. You get more and more features as the price goes up.
Mailchimp has the best free trial plan by far. You get up to 2000 contacts plus endless segmentation, grouping and tagging.
You can add automations, but only with one step. So it doesn't really give you much to build on. For example, you can't really create a welcome sequence.
Their pricing also starts at $10/mo for 500 users for the basic plan and $15/mo for the standard plan.
They also have a CRM option but the pricing page just isn't clear enough to understand the what you get for each package.
MailerLite give you up to 1000 contacts for free and $59/mo with campaign manager. The trial is limited to 14 days and then the premium features close. I was unimpressed with their automation capabilities
GetResponse is built a bit differently than other ESPs. But they do have a free trial of up to 1000 contacts (for a limited time period). They then jump to $15/mo for 1000 users and $25/mo for up to 2500 users. All plans give you unlimited autoresponders and emails. Their automation sequencing works a bit differently. And basically you're building funnels. But overall I actually enjoyed a few of their features.
Flodesk pricing was hard to find. Because they are still in beta there is some confusion as to the price. Officially, as of this writing, they cost $38/mo for unlimited users. However there are affiliate links available for $19/mo.
I can't really compare what they offer to the other ESPs but I can say that I ran from them pretty quickly and have I mentioned that I was underwhelmed?
ConvertKit was one of the more disappointing ESPs I used. Their free account is for up to 1000 users. The paid account starts at $29/mo. The free plan doesn't include automations at all. And when I did build automations, I was so disappointed. There is limited control and the sequencing isn't clear enough.
I have put together a few blog posts with a very (!!) short summary of what I liked and what I didn’t like about various ESPs. You can read about them in my next blog posts.
I hope you find this series enlightening and that you find the tool that best suits your needs.
Note: this article contains affiliate links. The opinions expressed are my own.
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