As an email marketer, I've used my share of email marketing software. ConvertKit and Mailchimp are two of the most popular, and they both speak to a small business audience, which can make it hard to decide between the two.
Here, I'll break down the pros and cons of each app and talk about the differences between using ConvertKit and Mailchimp for your next email campaign.
ConvertKit vs. Mailchimp at a glance
If you're just looking for top-line takeaways, here's a condensed version of our features comparison:
ConvertKit is best for creators and small eCommerce business owners. It offers more automation flexibility than Mailchimp, but its reporting capabilities leave a lot to be desired.
Mailchimp is best for small- to medium-sized businesses. Its wide variety of well-designed templates makes branding a breeze, and detailed reports allow marketers to gather essential performance data.
⭐⭐⭐ Limited free version for up to 300 subscribers and unlimited email sends.
Creator and Creator Pro versions start at $9 and $25/mo for 300 subscribers, and prices increase proportionally with subscriber count.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ Limited free version for up to 1,500 subscribers and 10,000 email sends per month.
Essentials and Standard plans start at $11 and $17/mo for 500 subscribers, and prices increase at 500-1,500 subscriber increments.
⭐⭐⭐ Basic email creation in WYSIWYG editor.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Choose between the classic drag-and-drop editor and an updated, equally easy-to-use template builder.
Design and templates
⭐⭐ Text-and-image-only capabilities with 3 basic template options.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ High design customizability plus 100 pre-designed templates.
⭐⭐ Can only test subject lines.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Not available in the free plan, but with paid plans, can A/B test subject line, "from" name, content, and send time.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ Flexible tagging allows for easy search and segmentation.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Tagging system is similar to ConvertKit but with more options to segment based on contact activity in addition to contact tags.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ Goes beyond the standard email sequence setup; you can automate actions triggered by subscriber purchases, form fills, and more.
⭐⭐ Templates are more limited in their functionality and more difficult to edit than ConvertKit's simple and familiar "if this, then that" automation format.
Creators, solo sellers, and users that prioritize highly customizable automations.
Small businesses and brands that prioritize design and detailed reporting.
The even parts of the playing field
First, let's talk about what's not different between the two email marketing platforms. If you're looking for a tie-breaker, none of these categories will be it.
Ease of use: Sure, some people will find one or the other more intuitive, but at the end of the day, both ConvertKit and Mailchimp are purpose-built to be user-friendly.
Customer support: Both companies are accessible via email or chat, and both provide similar levels of assistance.
Email sequencing: Both platforms have options for automating email sequences and drip campaigns that are functionally very similar. (Automations beyond email sequencing are a different story, which we'll discuss below.)
Deliverability: Though Mailchimp claims to have higher deliverability rates than ConvertKit, actual tests show the two platforms have comparable success rates.
ConvertKit: pros, cons, and details
ConvertKit is a meat-and-potatoes dinner to Mailchimp's fully catered buffet. It forgoes many of the "bells and whistles" features that other email tools offer and invests that energy in more powerful contact management, automation, and page-building tools.
Experienced marketers who are comfortable with email platforms and will utilize all of the extra features a tool provides may feel limited by ConvertKit's simplicity, but beginner and intermediate users will find that ConvertKit offers everything they need to get the job done.
Flexible contact management. ConvertKit's contact management system uses tags instead of lists, which makes the subscriber database searchable and allows users to create "lists" customized to their specific needs in the moment. For example, let's say I'm the email marketing director at a major wildlife conservation fund. My contact tags might look something like this:
Instead of creating a list for major political donors in each city, past attendees in each city, journalists in each city, and so on, now I can just use my tags to pull up the segment I want to target with whatever campaign I'm working on right now.
Increased automation capabilities: ConvertKit's automation tool goes beyond the standard email sequence setup and allows users to automate actions triggered by subscriber purchases, form fills, and other catalysts.
For paid users, a stand-out feature is the ability to create one-off "if this, then that" automation triggers outside of a fully templated workflow.
More landing page templates: ConvertKit offers at least 50 different landing page templates, with an easy-to-use editor. Customizability is limited, but since there's so much template variety, that's ok.
Bare-bones testing: Testing capability is extremely bare-bones. ConvertKit only lets you A/B test subject lines, not email content, images, or send times.
Few reporting options: ConvertKit's reporting options are limited to basic metrics like deliverability, open rates, and click-throughs. By comparison, Mailchimp offers highly detailed options for email marketing reporting, automation reporting, and campaign comparison reports.
Limited design capability: The platform only offers nine email templates that are essentially different variations on a text-plus-image-only format. You can also use HTML to write a completely custom template, but unless you're dev-savvy, this isn't particularly useful.
ConvertKit is best for:
Users who prefer a text-and-image-only email style
Marketers who are looking for advanced automation options
Solo bloggers, newsletter writers, and entrepreneurs
Mailchimp: pros, cons, and details
Mailchimp is the preferred email marketing platform among more established small businesses and full-time marketers at small- to medium-sized companies. Its paid version offers more customization, better testing, more templates, and more integrations with other marketing tools.
For smaller businesses and solo creators, these cherries-on-top might be a bit much, but for experienced email marketers who want or need premium tools, Mailchimp is the way to go.
Highly customizable design: Mailchimp completely outstrips the competition when it comes to email design.
Mailchimp is known for its super-stylish design templates that users can customize to send highly-polished emails with very little design skill of their own. They offer about 100 themed templates with options for newsletters, welcome emails, reminders, photo showcases, and more.
What I personally think is even more useful, though, are the layouts, or skeleton-structured templates that help users build their own templates from the ground up. For those who want something completely original but don't have the design skills to build a template from scratch, Mailchimp's layouts tool is a lifesaver.
More robust testing options: Whereas ConvertKit only allows users to test subject lines, Mailchimp users can A/B test subject lines, sender names, email content, images, and send times.
Far more integrations: Mailchimp offers over native integrations with over 300 different applications. While ConvertKit does integrate with a lot of programs, Mailchimp offers more. Of course, both apps integrate with Zapier, so you can connect them to thousands of other apps.
Learn more about how to automate Mailchimp with Zapier.
Limited automations: Mailchimp's automation templates (or "Customer Journeys") are more limited in their functionality and more difficult to edit than ConvertKit's simple and familiar "if this, then that" automation format.
Convoluted pricing structure: Whereas ConvertKit charges by subscriber only, Mailchimp has subscriber limits and it limits the number of emails you can send per day and per month. (Presumably, this is less about money and more about preventing people from using Mailchimp to send spam, but it can still be inconvenient.)
For paid users, this is less of an issue, since the send limits come out to 2-4 emails per week to each subscriber, which is a higher frequency than most campaigns (at least, most campaigns that don't immediately annoy the crap out of their subscribers and end in a deluge of unsubscribes). But for free users, the send limit can actually be, well, limiting.
Mailchimp is best for:
Users with larger audiences and higher subscriber counts
Small- to medium-sized businesses with design-intensive brand identity
Marketers looking for maximum extra features
ConvertKit vs. Mailchimp: the bottom line
Neither Mailchimp nor ConvertKit is the obviously better choice for email marketing, and neither is so limited in any category that it should be disqualified for use in any campaign. In other words: there are no "wrong" choices here, so rest easy.
If you're a small business owner or first-time email marketer, ConvertKit is definitely the way to go. Its free version offers a full suite of tools for creating, sending, and automating emails to smaller audiences, and design and testing limitations aren't as big of a deal in smaller campaigns.
If you're launching a larger campaign and already know you're going to need a paid plan, Mailchimp is likely going to be the greater bang for your buck. With more integrations and greater design flexibility, you'll be able to customize and scale your campaigns more easily than you would using ConvertKit.
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This article was originally published in August 2019 by Emily Esposito.