Constant Contact Review – Email Program

In an earlier post (see Bridging the Gap Between Email and Blog Marketing) I mentioned how I’m trying to use email marketing to bring some customers to my sites who weren’t yet up to speed with reading RSS feeds. I looked at few solutions and decided on Constant Contact, because it seemed to offer the most features for the cheapest price.

Signing up for Constant Contact is fairly easy, getting it configured is a little more time consuming. You really should give yourself a hour or two of uninterrupted time to do it correctly. They do have a free 60 day trial, however if you are going to upload more than 50 email addresses you are going to give up the free trial period. I’d advise uploading a few test emails to while in set-up mode first. You do have to go through a few screens to enter things like web address, phone number, physical address, and links to standard pages on your site like about us, privacy, TOS, etc. You also have to configure a few other things like welcome email, list categorization, and sign-up box. Again nothing is too complex but there are quite a few steps you need to go through, and you want to verify it’s correct (you don’t want any “Welcome blah blah blah” messages to real customers).

Once you’ve got the base settings done you are going to want to test sending an email. There are lots of templates to chose from or you can construct your own from scratch. You can also monkey with the HTML to some extent. Personally I’d suggest picking a base template and modifying it. You can insert modules into the email like text blocks, promotions, and slew of other choices, again it’s going to take a little while to go through and find the ones that work best for you. You can change colors, insert pictures, logos and links back to your website. Again this all fairly straightforward and easy to understand, but there are quite a few configuration screens to browse through. The only problem I had was the inability to delete and rearrange the modules. It is a feature they are considering adding, but currently don’t have available, so you may have to employ some workarounds. My suggestion is play with the layout and get a base template you like save it and then copy it for future emails.

Once you’ve got it configured and entered your text, you can send a test email to addresses you specify. This gives you the ability to preview it in different email clients. It also gives you an idea how spam blockers will treat the incoming mail (an important consideration). Once you’ve got it tweaked and polished you can send the email out. You select a date and approximate time for the emails to be sent. From my two campaigns I found it went out within about 15 minutes of the scheduled time. Something to also note the emails go out en mass, not in a trickle. So if you have a large list of subscribers and an underpowered web server, you could end up shooting yourself in the foot. Once the emails are sent you have access to delayed reporting.

Constant Contact Screen Shot
Click to Enlarge

This is a high level report view and there are more in depth reports, however I would have to sanitize the screen shots so much they would be useless. You can see who opened the email, who bounced, who unsubscribed, who clicked, and what they clicked on. Hopefully this information tells you what worked, and what didn’t, so you can improve your next campaign. Yes both of my campaigns had pretty lousy results.

While Constant Contact is fairly time consuming to use, it is pretty throuough, despite some editing limitations. After signing up I did get a sales call the next day asking if I had any questions. For those of you who run multiple sites the service is not set up to handle that very well. The salesperson I spoke to had a few suggestions, but between us we worked out the best way to do it was to have a separate account for each website. Proactive and knowledgeable sales staff, that’s a plus in my book. The service isn’t overly expensive, but isn’t cheap, and is based on the number of subscribers in your list (0-50 – free, 50-500 – $15, 500-2500 $30 per month). You pay for the service per month irregardless of the number of emails you send out. You want to find a balance that gives you the most bang for your buck, without annoying your users. Once you get set up and get a base template going it’s pretty easy. I repurpose the content from the previous month’s blog, with a few ads, so it takes about an hour to get set up, tweaked, tested, and ready to go.

I’d like to see some improved editing features, I think the editing interface on Squidoo is a better execution for a similar purpose. However the interface is workable without being too cumbersome. The pricing is higher than I’d like, but still within reason. The service was excellent on both the initial call and a later email inquiry (less than 1 business day). If you are in the market for an email marketing solution Constant Contact is definitely worth a test drive.

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