What You Can Learn From My Decision to Finally Change Email Marketing Providers and My Migration to ActiveCampaign
After hemming and hawing for more than a year, researching, and wondering whether I should switch email marketing systems … I finally migrated to ActiveCampaign, am up + running, and am loving what it offers me.
Learn from my email marketing change!
It is a PROCESS with ups and downs. Fair point to note: it was much less a process or headache for me and my small email communities. It's a bigger decision and process for small business owners and solopreneurs who have larger or more complex email lists.
However, there are plenty of resources available from ActiveCampaign and online communities of helpful solopreneurs who can help make the transition smoother.
Why Did I Want to Change Email Marketing Services?
I wanted better automations, tagging that works, the ability to personalize emails and send you more things you DO want and less of what you're not so interested in. I also wanted a nice visual interface and modern tech and modern designs.
I was using AWeber for 5 years and while it does offer tags and tag-based campaigns, those have never worked correctly for me and many other solopreneurs I know. The interface isn't very intuitive and involves a lot of clicking and toggling to move between lists.
One huge problem with AWeber was that I had to have multiple lists in order to assuredly segment — which means names get counted twice or more and thus, count against my account limits and increase the price. The designs and forms are also outdated. Recently (mid 2020) may of my business pals still with AWeber experience another huge problem – AWeber was unsubscribing people who had opted in to their lists via events like bundles or giveaways. AWeber didn't give satisfactory answers and that overly protective practice is a big red flag for many online business owners and how they build their lists.
Although AWeber has made some improvements (including landing pages + new free plan in 2020), those weren't enough to make up for the things it wasn't doing well or easily. I do still think Aweber can be a solid choice for some solopreneurs.
For the automation and customization of messaging I wanted, at a really affordable price, the answer for me was ActiveCampaign.
What does advanced tagging or segmentation mean?
The point of niched, segmented, or personalized email – via automations – is to make our marketing easier and faster. We don't have IT departments here!
Maybe you wanted a checklist on social media management that was connected to a post about social media, but you don't care about an e-book offered on a post about referral marketing. Why should the social media folks have to read emails about referrals and vice versa?
Or what if you're already a member of my email community? What if you opted in for the referral marketing e-book at first, but later got really interested in social media marketing and wanted that checklist too? Or what if someone was interested in one training I offered but not another?
The only reliable way for me to make AWeber send emails about social media to social media lovers and not also to the referral folks was to use multiple, separate lists and legacy follow-ups. That's clunky and cludgy.
The power of tagging and segmentation is that I can simply give you a new tag in my email system (e.g. “social media checklist”) and that tag would trigger the system to send you your goodie and a few emails on how best to use that goodie.
Not all email marketing systems do this well or do it at all.
What email service am I leaving and what else did I consider
As I researched, my choice came down to ActiveCampaign and ConvertKit.
Along the way, I seriously considered returning to a MailChimp account — I had used their free plan when starting out as a budget-minded solo — because it has one of the cleanest interfaces and simple email editors out there, it has added other features, and its paid account has competitive pricing.
But MailChimp isn't so friendly if you're going to use affiliate links in any of your emails. I've seen a few solo biz owners in my communities lose their lists when MC decided it didn't like something. MailChimp wasn't highly recommended by other biz owners doing the type of online course-building and product selling I was beginning to think more about here at MMM.
I also looked into ConvertKit, which some solos recommended. Some say CK best understands bloggers, internet marketers, and those doing plenty of affiliate promotions.
I wound up crossing CK off my list because of a number of reasons:
- it won't let you manually unsubscribe someone, only delete them
- my list is too small to qualify for their Concierge service to help with migration
- it pushes users to focus on text-only emails, as it believes those convert better
- there's a lack of integration with third-party tools
- slow support response
- no autosave (?? what even what??)
- they have weird names for things (no, an autoresponder series is not a ‘course')
- I didn't like the interface
- and the price was higher per month ($24-$29/month at the lowest plan) than what I paid for AWeber and more than ActiveCampaign.
Other email marketing providers I researched include:
- Drip: I trialed and researched it and found it to be too expensive, overly complex, and complicated.
- MailerLite, GetResponse, SendinBlue (big in Europe), and CampaignMonitor
- GetResponse: I decided against it years ago but haven't checked it for significant changes lately.
- Mailerlite: some solo pals in my circles sing its praises but it didn't seem like the right fit for me. It's pretty budget-friendly and could work for you, though!
- ConstantContact, Emma, MadMimi: seem ok for e-commerce, bricks-n-mortar stores, some service providers – but not for many of the online biz owners I was talking to who mostly sell digital products, coaching, courses, etc.
- SendGrid, SES, SendLane, and Mandrill: these are transactional, behavior-based email services, which have a place … but they aren't for marketing.
[thrive_highlight highlight='default' text='light'] There are pluses and minuses of nearly every email marketing service out there – and I encourage all solopreneurs and small business owners to evaluate their own needs and preferences. If you're new to email marketing and need help with the steps in making a decision and getting set up for success – check out my free Email Setup Guide. [/thrive_highlight]
ActiveCampaign: the right combination of features and price
After hearing some of the concerns about CK from someone who thinks a lot like me, plus finding that AC was a cheaper price – it was a pretty quick decision for me (unusual!). I stopped researching!
AC offers free migration services for all customers. Note– I did NOT use this service because I didn't want to move all my data, as it was, from AWeber. I knew I'd be changing what lists people were on and what tags I might need, among other changes, which meant it was better for me to do the move manually. We'll see if I regret that …
The other pluses I found:
- AC has a really nice visual editor for emails.
- AC visual workflow or map for creating automations
- Lots of information on the dashboard – wow, maybe too much?!
- All those advanced tagging, segmentation, automation features I was looking for – but in a package that people said was easy to get started with.
- Friendly, competitive price – considerably lower than ConvertKit for the same number of contacts. [AC = $9-15/month at lowest plan; $17-29/month at next tier]
The Switch and Migration to ActiveCampaign – Ups and Downs
I was excited, I had made a decision, and decided I'd move over in February. After all of those pros and pluses, it was not reassuring when I had to email ActiveCampaign's support desk within the same hour of signing up.
Something didn't happen correctly at signup – although it recognized my email to send me the happy welcome email with start-up guide, it wouldn't recognize that same email and the password I set when I tried to login the first time. Not a great start.
So, off to find the help-desk and open a support ticket and get an early look at AC's customer service.
It was odd to be receiving emails from AC, to the very email that they said wasn't connected to my account. I got the first welcome email, their start up guide with a list of suggested resources to check out next – all best practices for welcoming a new subscriber or customer.
After sending the first request to the help desk (at 6pm), I continued to receive welcome emails. I headed to the gym and when I returned, I had an email from a new person at the support desk. Although no one was sure what happened, the setup process had clearly hit a glitch midstream.
All credit to the support staff, as my reply emails were answered quickly and she acknowledged that the issue was on their end and that this was not an optimal start for a new customer (as I had pointed out). She reset the login and password and we tried again ….
And finally I was in! About 3 hours after first creating the account and immediately encountering the problems. Not bad really, especially since we were outside of normal US business hours (and I noticed in the signature, my email support person was from Australia).
It was time for me to make sense of a dashboard that is infinitely more modern and complex than what I was leaving behind at AWeber.
Side Note -Advice I Did Not Follow on Migration
AC encouraged me to set up a form for a new or improved freebie/lead-magnet, and get as many from my current list on the old platform to click and grab that new/improved freebie. It proves to the new system that I have active users willing to engage.
I did not follow the advice on list migration deliverability as given by AC. I did not create a new gift and make my list re-opt-in. I also only sent one more email from AWeber after starting the migration process.
I listed to my my biz pals with ActiveCampaign experience, who said NOT to follow all of AC's advice, particularly on list hygiene related to deliverability improvements after migration.
If I followed all of AC's advice, I could see a large drop off or loss in my list if I was basically asking people to resubscribe via a new form. Why make people jump through a new hoop?! Nope, not doing that.
Instead, I moved the lists, started doing the tagging and segmenting in AC like I wanted, but mostly just started emailing. Sending good info and more free bonus goodies. Tag the folks who click on those links or take other actions, and roll from there.
All in all, the actual move of my lists went ok and felt like only minor hiccups. It's tech, stuff happens.
The things you wish you knew before starting some projects
While I was testing out AC and uploading contacts, I did hit a few walls. Some (maybe most) were completely my doing.
I didn't realize, or forgot, the limits of the free trial I was still operating under: 100 contacts and 100 emails sent. So chunks of my imports of contacts got cut off since I was over the limit – and I'm not sure who exactly got left off of the import. D'oh!
I made some mistakes on the initial upload of contacts – with a .csv file from a list in AWeber that was mixed. AND I belatedly discovered that while I had applied tags back in AWeber (and even used them in sending emails to segments of my email community), those tags were NOT saved in the master subscriber .csv file that you can export and save.
WTH AWeber?! %&*@ 🤬
I got to try out AC's chat support when I had a question on billing. Very quick responses. Cool. Good to know. So far their support is getting all pluses in my book.
I made a rookie mistake in using a new tool – I did NOT send an actual test email to myself too. IF I had, I would have seen that the image I put of me into my signature area showed up MONSTER HUGE in my own inbox.
Oh man, that's a bit embarrassing. I really should've read more of the getting started help guides I guess. So unlike me to just jump right in!
[update: I spoke with the ActiveCampaign team about this in Philly – the huge image thing wasn't my fault. They were stumped why it was doing that or how to fix. Beyond hand coding some CSS for the emails (uh NO!) the solution was to turn the image off for mobile. ]
I had to manually clean up some contact fields for first and last names because they didn't import correctly – not a big deal if you don't have a huge list. Something to double check if you are migrating thousands – and why you want concierge move-in service if that's your situation!
It's a learning process even for a techie geek like me to learn new software. I like the tutorials, videos and help I've gotten from Active Campaign. Plus, it helps when your other small business pals use the same tools and can shorten your learning curve!
Updates + Lessons – what I've seen in ActiveCampaign since migrating
Good news – that first email is doing ok. Good open rates, decent clicks, no one is running away in droves, no one has emailed to laugh at me for the picture or greetings snafus. And I'm going back to doing what I do best – research. I'm spending time with the AC tutorials and mini ‘getting started' course.
Lesson – Improvement in campaign performance reports vs AWeber
I can see which emails bounced!
I know, seems basic, but AW only shows the number of bounces, not who (you have to dig into the ‘manage subscribers' page – separate from your email performance data. Click contact details, look around, and even then, it's not clear)
Easy to see which links in an email were clicked – and the running total of ‘campaign activity' on the right side of the dashboard shows me when someone clicked.
Lesson – You must set up at least one form
Even if you won't use ActiveCampaign's native submission forms on your site (I prefer ThriveLeads) you DO need to create at least one form inside of the ActiveCampaign account. AC won't let you finish the setup for the AC plugin, site tracking, and connection back to your AC account unless you have at least 1 AC form created in your account.
I created a super simple form (took less than 2 minutes I think), activated it, and voila, the missing buttons appeared in the settings on my website and off we go again.
Do the tutorials and read the instructions – normally that's my M.O. – as a kid I read every rule book before we could start a board game. But I skipped some stuff since I thought I knew my way around email marketing. Advice – don't skip the set-up help!
Double Opt-in On by Default – You have to edit that required form to turn off double opt-in, which is the default for forms built inside ActiveCampaign. Without this help page, I might not have found the option or setting to do this on my own.
Lesson – ActiveCampaign Doesn't Play with PayPal for Free
ActiveCampaign does NOT directly integrate with PayPal. *$^% 🤬
ConvertKit requires Zapier for integration with 3rd-party tools and the same is true for AC – but that information was missing from the ActiveCampaign sales info available to non-users.
If you use a simple PayPal button on your site for someone to buy something, like a BorrowMyBrain session – because, hello, setting up a PayPal button is simple, easy, and fast – you can NOT simply add that customer to a list in ActiveCampaign.
Nope. You have to use Zapier.
And the Zapier automation between PayPal and AC is a PREMIUM, aka PAID, integration only. %&*$@ I don't want to pay a minimum of $20/month to have PayPal and AC talk to each other. That was actually something that AWeber did for FREE. Score a point back for AW.
So, the change in email marketing software has pushed forward my decision to move to new shopping cart software (the kind that handles multiple items or let you choose an item vs. separate PayPal BUY buttons for each service/course/product). It's either that or the paid, complicated Zaps.
Lesson – what happens when someone subscribes before an automation is set or active
Another accidental lesson because I sped through some steps … make sure you have an automation created and turned to active before you connect up forms, pop-ups or tools on your website. ‘
What went wrong …
I connected my main opt-in forms in Thrive Leads to the API connection for ActiveCampaign, having moved them away from AWeber.
I hadn't created or activated an autoresponder or automation sequence in ActiveCampaign to send out the free gift, the welcome email, and subsequent ‘get to know me', nurturing emails to new list members.
And sure enough, right in the middle of my software switch, I had 3 new subscribers opt-in and claim my free gift. YAY! New people!
Yay! They're in the right list in AC, they got tagged.
Booo, ohcrap. They didn't get any emails, including the links to the free gift, because there were no automations built and turned on yet.
I had gotten my steps out of order. I really needed to have built the automations, added in the revised emails, and THEN turned the integrations from AWeber to ActiveCampaign in all my ThriveLeads forms.
How to get the missed contacts into the new automated email series?
Each individual has a contact page and on that page after most form fields, you can select option for Add to Automation.
Clicked the +, chose the automation , told it to ‘force' add the contact to that automation.
Went back to the automation dashboard, and voila! The third contact has now been added to the automation. And she messaged me the next morning to say that she had gotten an email from me. (we're online pals and in the same coaching group so I had reached out personally when we realized she fell in to the email void and she promised she'd let me know if/when any emails showed up)
[NOTE: I learned during the Philly AC Study Hall this is the preferred way to add someone to an automation if they missed the initial trigger. Since then, for example, I've added my own test email accounts to various automations for testing purposes, to check the email deliverability – without needing to re-subscribe.]
I now have automations running and people getting specific follow-up emails! AC Works!
Despite the hiccups – mostly from user error and poor planning – I'm thrilled that I now have automation series built and running.
I'm happy that I will be able to send a targeted, on-topic set of emails to anyone who is interested in say, social media, and a DIFFERENT on-topic set of emails to someone who is interested in setting SMART marketing goals, or wants swipe files, or is interested in coaching.
My solo pals joining me won't have to receive or read stuff they're less interested in and should get more of what they are most interested in. My emails will be more targeted and personalized. And not take forever to set all that in motion and keep it going. The ENTIRE point of moving to ActiveCampaign.
This isn't the end the of the learning and migration process, but I'm finally feeling confident I made the right decision and that ActiveCampaign can work for growing my business more quickly.
UPDATE 2020: I can say making the move to ActiveCampaign has been one of the best business decisions I've made – ever – and is a big factor in my business growth.
I have multiple automations running, with different free gifts, webinars, courses, and coaching, because it's easy now. Ive sent more newsletters, more updates, more promotional emails since I moved to AC than in the 6 years prior – combined. The software does what I want and makes customizing, segmenting, sending the ‘right message to the right people at the right time' a lot easier.
In fact, I love ActiveCampaign so much, I featured it in the demos, videos, and course modules of my Hell Yeah You CAN Start Your Email List course. If you want to get started with email marketing, I recommend both my course and getting AC.
[Orig June 2019; Updated Sept 2020]