Email marketing services: Free vs Paid, which one is better

An image of emails erupting like a flock of birds from a mobile device.
(Image credit: Pixabay | geralt)

When considering your approach to marketing, there are many different avenues you could explore. In terms of digital marketing, social media has become an easy ‘get out of jail card’ thanks to its reputation for reaching thousands of people and engaging with new audiences.

Social media has its merits, but conversions and engagement can be low in relation to the number of people reached. Email marketing, while one of the most rudimentary forms of digital marketing, retains its value even in today’s climate, generating high levels of click-throughs.

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What is an email marketing service? 

When looking to launch an email marketing campaign, you will be faced with tens of providers battling to offer the best service. Before you explore the route of free vs paid, it’s important to ascertain whether it’s an email service provider or a specialist marketing service you need.

An email service provider - or ESP - will allow you to build and store templates that can be sent out to lists of subscribers. This is probably the type of product you are imagining when thinking about sending out emails en masse.

‘Anything you can do, I can do better’ is the approach an email marketing service takes. It builds on the strong foundations set out by ESPs and adds extra layers of integration and automation. Likely to be a more costly option, it requires little human input and can provide more tailored communications. 

Free marketing services 

Many people dipping their toes into email marketing will want to start off with a free account. It offers the opportunity to become accustomed to the service that marketing tools offer, and to try different tools in order to understand what works with your business’s needs.

Storage in free accounts is typically restricted in order to entice you to sign up for a subscription-based model, though it can often be enough for small businesses and not-for-profit organizations.

The lack of commitment to a free marketing service provider is particularly attractive, allowing business owners to try different providers before settling for the right one. While this is a great way to test the waters, applying branding to, and removing watermarks from, your email marketing will likely cost.

Paid services usually come in multiple tiers, allowing business owners to pick a package that aligns with their company and offering the opportunity to scale with you. As such, a ‘one size fits all’ approach to business should be a red flag when searching for a marketing service.

A provider that you pay for will typically allow a greater range of customization, allowing you to add your own branding and offering domain integration to send from a company email address.

Free vs paid email marketing services: understanding the difference 

Searching for an email marketing service or email service provider can be a daunting prospect, particularly for those with little to no experience. There are certain things a good marketing tool should provide, however finding the right balance between powerful resources and a good price can be tricky. Pay attention to these five attributes when comparing free vs paid marketing services: 

1. Privacy 

If you cannot identify the product, you are the product - or so the saying goes when it comes to monetizing a business. That is, if you are not paying for a product, the company is likely making money off you. Typically, this involves selling your data to third parties, be it personal data like demographics or trends like how often you use certain features.

Privacy is generally expected with a paid service, though it’s good practice to check which data is being handled. 

2. Compatibility and integration 

Fail to pay for a service and expect basic tools in return. Add funding, though, and you could expect a return on your investment. As a business owner, you’re likely using a range of platforms to run and host certain aspects of your organization and to obtain analytics data. Being able to integrate these platforms together will only help in reducing the amount of behind-the-scenes clutter and confusion there is, helping to streamline your company’s running costs.

3. Accessibility 

Whether it’s because you’re on the road, run your business out of multiple locations, or for any other number of reasons, you may be accessing your email marketing services from a multitude of devices: laptops, tablets, and smartphones, for example. 

Paid systems typically have in-built hosting, though setting up your domain can often be a challenge for the inexperienced so having a support team can prove valuable. 

4. Branding and design 

Sending plain text-formatted emails from a generic email address (like Gmail or iCloud) can look unprofessional at best, and chances are conversions will suffer as a result. Being able to integrate your business’s email address adds an additional layer of authenticity.

Consumers now expect emails to be just as appealing as a website or social media page, so ditching the plain text format in favor of HTML is a must. Our guide to creating HTML newsletters outlines some design elements that will help you to stand out.

Above all else, your branding should be clearly visible through the use of logos and slogans, as well as your pre-determined fonts and colors. Equally as important are calls to action, which form a bridge between your email and the product or service you are trying to push. A paid marketing service will give you greater control of the design of your newsletter.

5. Cost 

The most obvious difference between free and paid services is the cost. Take the time to project where your business is heading in the coming years, and plan accordingly. You may find that one provider is cheap in year one, but price hikes mean that a ten-year plan could increase the cost significantly. On the other hand, a plan that is priced consistently could save you money. Anticipate the need to change tiers and increase your subscription if you need to add features with time.

TechRadar created this content as part of a paid partnership with Constant Contact. The contents of this article are entirely independent and solely reflect the editorial opinion of TechRadar.

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Craig Hale

With several years’ experience freelancing in tech and automotive circles, Craig’s specific interests lie in technology that is designed to better our lives, including AI and ML, productivity aids, and smart fitness. He is also passionate about cars and the decarbonisation of personal transportation. As an avid bargain-hunter, you can be sure that any deal Craig finds is top value!