When it comes to email marketing and automation, iContact is usually the first service that comes to mind. Founded in 1992, Swedish-owned Cision is the leading provider of public relations media contact services. iContact was launched in 2003, bringing the software contact technology to the business market. And the company is now headquartered in Chicago. With more than a decade of online marketing under its belt, there must be a good reason why iContact is still one of the most recognizable names, right?
If you’re interested in exploring what iContact can do for your business, the company makes it pain-free with a 30-day free trial. iContact only offers two plans, and you’ll have the option of testing one of them for the free trial. We tried out their more expensive plan to get a good sense of the range of capabilities iContact has to offer.
After you choose which plan you want, you’ll have to provide the usual information: name, company, phone, email and password. Additionally, you’ll have to choose what size your email list will be. If you’re new to email marketing, you probably have absolutely no idea how big your list will be. Don’t worry, there’s an option for that, too. After you enter all the necessary info, you’ll be taken to your dashboard, where you’ll get a short introduction to several important parts of the product. You’ll also get a confirmation email with the link to confirm the email address you’ll use for your account. Once confirmed, your subscriber limit increases from 10 to 100, and you can begin to send emails.
Components and details
Design, navigation and user friendliness
After you’re all set up and go through the short introduction of basic navigation, you still may be bewildered by all the options on your screen. Don’t be overwhelmed by this. Although there’s a slight learning curve, everything is relatively simple to use. We encourage you to explore and test the features.
On the top bar, you’ll see Home, Contacts, Activities, Campaigns, Monitor and Dashboard. On the right side of your screen, you’ll have menus for creating a new list, campaign and a profile menu. Last, you’ll have buttons for Settings and Help.
Below that is the cluttered part of the homepage. In reality, once you get used to using it, you’ll be glad to have all those shortcuts. Three largest windows are Recent Activities, Most Recent Send and Subscribers. On the right side of your screen is a big purple button, Create New, that will allow you to create a new list or campaign. The same thing is in the drop-down menu on the bar at the top, which in our opinion could be left out. Below that is Need Help or Inspiration?, which is also duplicated in the drop-down menu. A bit of repetition never hurts, but things could be cleaner with one or the other. Below is Account Health that shows your monthly sends and contact count numbers; last is Recently Viewed. The rest of the pages, like Contacts or Campaigns, are far less cluttered, but with time, you’ll fill them with your activities and work.
When you want to create a new campaign, all you have to do is give it a name and describe it. When you’re ready to write a new email, you can choose template, HTML or plain text. There are almost 700 templates, but a lot of them are variations of the same design. Our estimate is that there are about 400 distinct templates, which still gives you a lot of options. After you create your email, you can save the template or send it right away. If you want to customize templates with your own visuals, there’s a storage area called Asset Library. If you want to create a landing page, you can do that too, but it’s a bit less intuitive than working with templates.
Features and Specs
Since we couldn’t determine how much storage the plans provide, we presume it’s “unlimited.” However, there’s a restrictive size limit on files. You’ll be limited to 200KB for images used in emails, 20MB for non-email images and 20MB for files. This leaves you with relatively small files by today’s standards. There’s also a limit to the types of files supported—for images, you’re stuck with jpeg, png, and gif. There are more file types, but if you want to have, for example, a video that is over 20MB, which is not hard to exceed, you’ll have to host it somewhere else.
Another critical issue is importing contacts. You’re out of luck if you want to import your list of contacts from another email provider. You’ll have to import them one by one, from a spreadsheet file (and they only accept .xlsx and .cvs formats). Your other option is to copy and paste the chunk of text that contains email addresses, which will automatically ignore any text surrounding the email. That might sound okay, but this method only imports email address, nothing else, so if you need more information, you’ll have to put it in yourself.
Additionally, if you’re constantly on the go and on your phone or mobile device, you’re out of luck. They don’t offer any kind of app to manage your account. iContact is very versatile but in-house oriented, so despite the possible and available integration with third-party apps and iContact API, if you’re not versed in tech jargon and DIY software, you may well be confused.
Setting the bad stuff aside, iContact has a lot going for it. When it comes to social integration and interaction with your customers, they are quite savvy. You‘ll be able to connect Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn accounts so publishing is streamlined. You can create landing pages and sign-in forms that are easily shareable, even among the users, and you’ll be able to create a workflow, which will allow you to tailor customer experience individually.
iContact provides a lot of versatility if you want to create a newsletter. We already mentioned that you’ll be able to build it from scratch, with plain text or HTML, or you can customize one of their templates. So, if you’re a more advanced user and like to do everything from scratch, this just might be the right tool for you. You’ll also be able to do split A/B testing, and if you want more analytics (and they provide good real-time analytics and reports), you can connect Google Analytics. There also are an autoresponder, campaign tracking, API support and, although there is a price increase with the number of contacts you have, there’s no cap on how many emails you’ll be able to send.
iContact includes a spam checker. This will tell you what items or lines you should eliminate to help you bypass your customers’ email spam filters. This is helpful, it’s far from foolproof. Although it will suggest what section of HTML you should remove from your custom newsletter, it won’t specify the exact line of code, so you’ll have to eliminate the whole chunk.
Also, what’s really unique is that you‘ll get a personal advisor, which is something very few services offer. Not only will you get help with creating a marketing plan, you’ll also get support for troubleshooting problems.
The iContact team is available via email, telephone and chat from 01:00 PM to 01:00 AM GMT, Monday through Friday. If you need help outside of their working hours, you can search their knowledge base, video tutorials and, if you’re lucky, you can sign up to attend one of their webinars. Unfortunately, none were upcoming when we were testing their service.
There were two past recordings of webinars available on their video tutorial page, and both were a little over a half hour long. Another kink is that you’ll have to be logged in to your iContact account if you want to access their knowledge base. One detail worth noting: during our trial period, we received several phone calls from an unidentified number with support/sales representatives who asked us about our plans with the account. So you might have a conversation or two that include some upselling.
There are three plans: Email Automation, Pro Automation and Premier. Pricing depends on the size of your list or you can pick pre-defined sizes of 500, 2,500, 5,000,10,000 or 15,000. If you have a longer list, you can contact them for custom pricing. All plans have a discount for prepaying for the full year.
Email Automation $14 per month to $117 per month
List management, autoresponders, campaign tracking, social media sharing/posting, live customer support, API support, custom templates, A/B testing and more.
Pro Automation $99 per month to $249 per month
Includes everything in previous plan plus workflows, triggered messages, landing pages, engagement tracking, behavioral targeting, social monitoring, funnel reports, onboarding advice and more.
Premier Custom pricing
Because the Premier platform is for high-volume users, you’ll have to contact them for pricing. The plan will include everything from the previous plans plus a dedicated strategic advisor, personalized hands-on training, email marketing audit, 90-day action plan, high-volume sending, custom design services, email design testing, advanced email analytics, custom in-depth reporting, deliverability advocacy, inbox troubleshooting, lead scoring, salesforce sync and premier customer support.
- personal advisor
- great social media integration
- developer portal and API
- inability to import contacts from a third party
- no weekend support
- image import limitations
iContact is one of the most touted email marketing tools for a reason. You can make a great campaign with it and track and adjust all the details. Signing up new customers is easy and if you’re software savvy, you’ll get one big sandbox to play in. Segmented marketing, detailed reports and real time analytics, combined with good social media integration and a personal advisor will help safeguard you from errors.
However, there are a few kinks, The biggest one is the inability to import contacts from third-party address books. Image limitations and phone upselling during the trial also mar the service. There’s a slight learning curve and, if you’re used to more intuitive drag-and-drop mobile apps, iContact might not be ideal for you. Despite that, the 30-day free trial gives you a good amount of time to test the service and determine if it’s a good match for you. If you’re new to email marketing, you might be a little intimidated, but we encourage you to try it out.