Why I’m Moving To ActiveCampaign And You Should Too

ActiveCampaign Review: Why I'm Moving

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After the popularity of my post about the best email marketing tools for small business, people often contact me asking me about different tools they’re using or have come across.

For the past few years I’ve been using and been very happy with OfficeAutopilot but then they released their new version Ontraport and long story short it left me feeling not as favourable of the software as I once was. (I’ve always steered people clear of Mailchimp but that’s for another post)

**UPDATE Sep 2017** Ontraport has made huge improvements since the original writing of this post – if you want to see what they are you can see my review at “Ontraport Review: What Nobody Tells You About Ontraport

Then someone suggested I check out this tool called ActiveCampaign, I dismissed it at first and didn’t think too much of it until another friend of mine Jake called me up and said “Dude, you’ve got to check out ActiveCampaign its amazing” so I did.

And I’m now moving my done-for-you agency systems over to ActiveCampaign and putting the majority of my clients onto ActiveCampaign as well. (Note: I still use Ontraport for my other businesses)

In this post I review ActiveCampaign and outline whats good about the system and what are the things I don’t quite like so you can get a fair and unbiased review of if the tool will be right for you too.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Some links on this page are affiliate links, if you click a link to sign up to a paid plan it won’t cost you any extra or impact you in anyway however they may give me a little thank you for referring you. If for some reason you don’t want that to happen, just google the tool I mention and find the site directly. 

What Is Active Campaign?

ActiveCampain.com Homepage

ActiveCampaign is an Email Marketing Automation & CRM platform that allows you to collect names, emails, addresses etc… and send both broadcast based emails (these those one of marketing emails) as well as automated series emails (also known as autoresponders or email sequences).

The power of a platform like ActiveCampaign is it’s not just about emails, but is really a platform to allow you to grow your business, manage your leads and your clients too.

Review: Feature By Feature

Contact Management

ActiveCampaign - Contact Overview

What I Love

  • Automatically detects the contacts timezone and location through IP Address when they opt-in, open an email or click a link
  • If the email address has a profile photo attached to it (ie. Gravatar, Social Media Profile etc..) it will add a photo automatically to the contact record
  • View/Add/Remove Tags that the contact is tagged with
  • View/Add/Remove Series (that’s what they call automation sequences) contacts are currently on
  • Can create unlimited custom fields to store additional information about your contact
  • Ability to create segments (called Groups in Ontraport this is essentially a saved search of contacts that meet criteria like has a tag, or a field equals a certain value etc..)

What I’d Improve

  • Hard to read the information when you have more than a few fields on the Contact Overview Screen
  • You have to add custom fields, as the only defaults are Name, Email, Organisation and Phone, so if you want address, state, country, etc.. you’ll have to add them manually as custom fields
  • Tagging is hard to manage and easy to create duplicates because there is no central tag management and there are areas that you set a tag that it doesn’t provide a drop down of existing tags – **Update: Central Tag Management added in February 2015**
  • Explanation of the Use of Lists as a way of segmenting contacts (just confusing compared to OAP or IS that aren’t list based)
  • It doesn’t offer directly any payment processing, however through integrations you can easily do this (Personally I also don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing as I like a tool that focuses on being great at what it does and leave the other stuff to tools that are great at what they do)

CRM Deal/Opportunity Pipeline

ActiveCampaign - Pipeline of CRM Deals

What I Love

  • Easy To Use
  • Simple Drag and Drop to move prospects through stages
  • Completely customise a pipeline with different stages
  • Stage changes, and deal updates can trigger Automations
  • Unlimited Pipelines for different sales funnels
  • Can track tasks, emails, notes on a deal and view it all
  • Can connect up to your email (Gmail, Outlook etc..) and track all back and forth outside of AC inside a deal

What I’d Improve

  • Automations can only run actions on the last created or last updated deal, rather than ensuring that the specific deal the automation is about is being linked to
  • Tasks aren’t obvious when they are outstanding, and don’t allow for task outcomes that can then trigger different automations (this is one area that Ontraport excels)

Email Newsletter/Broadcasts

ActiveCampaign Review: Newsletter & Email Builder Templates

What I Love

  • Emails Look Great
  • Easy to build nice HTML newsletter style emails (not that I personally recommend you do)
  • Able to create plain text personal emails that look like you sent from your standard email (my preferred style)
  • Conditional Email Content – THIS IS HUGE! – this means you can send one email and have someone with let’s say a tag of Client see one version compared to people who don’t have that tag like Prospects.
  • Merge Field Formatting (eg. %FIRSTNAME|TITLECAPS% which means if the contact put their name as JOHN or john, it will be merged as John. this is a simple but extremely powerful feature when trying to put your marketing on autopilot but keep the feeling of personalised contact)
  • Can track Opens, Clicks and Replys to the email broadcast
  • Able to Split Test Emails to test different designs and see which one gets our desired result better (the best bit, you define the criteria and they’ll choose the winner for you
  • Email Preview tool, to see what your email will look like in various email clients so you can find problems before you send

What I’d Improve

  • Those Merge Field Formatting I talked about aren’t built into the WYSWIG Email Designer, if you don’t know the code to add to format it was you want – you wouldn’t know you can do it.
  • It provides you a spam score at the end and says the lower the better, but you aren’t sure if the score it’s given you is high or low in the grand scheme (Ontraport used to colour its score red for bad, orange for warning and green for ok – this made it easy to know if you needed to go back and edit the email to improve deliverability) – **Update: The New Email Builder Now Has This **

Automations

What I Love

  • The amount you can automate for the price (most of the automations you can do with Ontraport or Infusionsoft can be done with the Series Automations or Date Campaigns in ActiveCampaign)
  • Visual Series builder makes it easy to see the workflow of a series and build it out
  • If/Else branches within a series (in Ontraport I would have to create multiple sequences to handle If/Else type scenarios) but with ActiveCampaign these can all be kept cleanly within the one series
  • Ability to send SMS Text Messages (USA, Canada and Australia)
  • Ability to automatically send a broadcast when your blog is updated
  • Ability to automatically put a notification on Facebook and Twitter when your latest newsletter got sent out

What I’d Improve

  • Advanced Automations aren’t as obvious on how to setup, for example it took me days to figure out how to duplicate the Date Based sequences I used in Ontraport to remind people about my upcoming events in Active Campaign. It was there and can be done it just wasn’t where I would have thought to look or configure a campaign like that.
  • The builder isn’t drag and drop, so you sometimes find you have to recreate a step in the series when you add in If/Else branches or want to move a step higher up **Update: New Drag and Drop Builder Added April 2015**
  • Emails in a series are only accessible from within that series (you can’t edit them or use them in another series) **I’m conflicted on if I think this is a good thing or a bad thing but I’m leaning more towards bad**
  • Allow us Australians to send SMS Text Messages without using a service like Clickatel with a Web Hook **Update: Australians can now send and receive SMS**
  • Give more options to trigger a series, like a field being updated, a webpage being visited (**Update: Now Possible**), a task being completed
  • One thing I always loved about Ontraport is the simplicity of automation of their Active Response sequences where you set a Trigger, set the Conditions like if field = and, then do this Action, which can all be done in ActiveCampaign too however it doesn’t feel anywhere near as obvious or straightforward. I’d prefer a simplified Trigger, Conditions, Action setup.

Integrating With 3rd Party Apps

ActiveCampaign Review: Integrations

*Update 29th November 2016* ActiveCampaign no longer provides a free zapier account as part of your subscription. However Zapier itself has a free plan to get you started anyway

One of the coolest things that sets Active Campaign apart is the fact that it comes with a free Zapier Account included with all accounts (including their Free plan). This means you are instantly able to integrate into hundreds of different SAAS products to import contacts and setup some integrations.

Now sadly it isn’t a fully functional Zapier account, its limited to only allowing you to integrate things into ActiveCampaign so you can’t link for example Xero with Aweber, it would need to be linking Xero with ActiveCampaign and Aweber with ActiveCampaign.

If you want all the full functionality then you still have to sign up to Zapier for a paid account just like everyone else.

Another great integration tool is from my friend Jake over at FuzedApp, he’s made it completely integrate with ActiveCampaign allowing you to connect Membermouse, GotoWebinar, Google Calendar and Wistia into it with all the great goodies of Fuzed.

If you’re a technical person, or have some custom built software then you’ll also be pleased to know ActiveCampaign have an API for custom development too.

Website Forms

ActiveCampaign Review: Creating Forms

What I Love

  • Customise the Double Opt In Confirmation Email per form (love this)

What I’d Improve

  • No way to make it Double Opt-In Optional where it opts them in but also sends them the email to get them to double opt in if they want – they only offer Double Opt-In on or off
  • If you do make your form Double Opt-In and someone who’s already on your database fills in the form, it won’t know they are already opted in and will still send them the email confirmation email before any automated series begin.
  • Thank You Pages and Email Confirmation Pages are set per list, not by the form. So if you want a form to go to a specific page. For example a download page for an opt-in you must create a new list for that offer to set those pages – **Update: Thanks You Pages now set per form since March 2015 **
  • Unable to copy an existing form and rebuild from that
  • Limited design options for the smart forms from within their builder

Import/Export

What I Love

  • Don’t have to be double opted in when you import a list form another system (unlike Aweber)
  • Easily import from existing tools with the built-in free Zapier Integrations
  • Manually add people one at a time, or import from a CSV option too
  • They offer to help you migrate over from another tool (haven’t used their service to do this so can’t comment on how good it is)

What I’d Improve

  • I haven’t really spent enough time exploring this functionality to find out what I don’t like yet

Behaviour Tracking

What I Love

  • You can track when people click, open, REPLY to emails (these can all trigger automations)
  • You can trigger a new automated series off of an email click, open or reply
  • You can tag a contact based on clicks, opens, replys
  • Simple tracking code to add to website to track webpage visits and activity
  • All activity displayed in order on the contact page of website activity, email opens and replys etc
  • Customised Lead Scoring that you can set the values of and what causes the score updates (very powerful)

What I’d Improve

  • Be able to trigger a new automated series off of a website or webpage visit (you can wait for this and then do something from within an existing series but not start a brand new series from the event) **Update: This is now possible as of September 2014**

Deliverability

The all important deliverability. I mean features are great but it’s worthless for your business if the emails aren’t making it into the inbox.

Now I’m no expert in email delivery and all the mechanics that are involved to ensure it gets into someones inbox but so far I’ve not found any issues with people not receiving emails, in fact emails are often in someone inbox within seconds rather than the minutes I’ve experienced on other more established systems.

Support

What I Love

  • Really pro-active, and fast even if you’re on the free plan
  • Offer 1 on 1 training sessions to help get you up to speed with the system
  • Live Chat Available
  • Email Support
  • Help Documents Searchable
  • Regular Software Updates! They seem to be on a major update drive at the moment with major updates coming out monthly (not sure if it will continue but it’s been great so far and if they keep it up will make for an even more incredible piece of software)

What I’d Improve

  • Don’t have anyone on the ground in Australia or compatible timezone so you deal with UK and US timezones for support (Honestly this hasn’t really been much of an issue for me – they have always been fast at responding)
  • Making the help documents more accessible from within ActiveCampaign itself, would have saved me some support tickets and wasted time

Price

ActiveCampaign Review - Pricing

Compared to other tools with comparable features that start from $199/m to $297/m it’s hard to believe that prices start from $9/m or $49/m if you want the CRM functionality

In fact there is even a FREE account! **Update: Now only a free trial**

If you’re a business you’d be better to go on a paid plan to remove the ActiveCampaign Logo from the bottom of all your emails – much more professional and will help with keeping your spam scores low. Plus allow you to set double-opt in optional on forms, and a slew of extra features only available on non free ActiveCampaign accounts.

Summary – The Best and Most Affordable Email Marketing Service For Small Business

Compared to other tools like Infusionsoft and Ontraport which start from $199/m for comparable features ActiveCampaign is an incredible tool.

You should sign up if you’re…

  • A Small Service Based Business
  • Looking for a tool that can give you more power than Aweber or Mailchimp without the price tag of the more commonly known tools like Ontraport and Infusionsoft
  • You’re using Ontraport or Infusionsoft and feel its overkill for what you need

Don’t if you’re…

  • After a complete all in one system to take care of payments, memberships, landing pages etc.. (use Ontraport or Infusionsoft instead)
  • Looking for a complex and detailed CRM tool (you’re better to look at a tool like Salesforce, SugarCRM or Zoho CRM)
  • You’re planning on just doing Affiliate Marketing – Active Campaign don’t like you if all you do is send Affiliate emails (use Aweber, Ontraport, or Infusionsoft instead)

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27 Comments

  • Jason VandeBoom

    Reply Reply September 3, 2014

    Thanks for the nice overview of ActiveCampaign! Glad to see you appreciate much of the functionality and work we have been doing.

    Just a couple quick responses to some of those areas you would want to improve:

    – Tags are fairly new to ActiveCampaign. Thus the whole Lists vs Tags thing is a bit confusing. We expect tags will slowly take over completely. We are also planning on developing a tag manager.

    – Automations that can start based on site or event tracking data is something we are pretty interested in as well. This is something we are actively looking into/working on. We want to take the site/event tracking pretty far (as in dynamic content, site messaging, etc..)

    – We are ramping up our support to include coverage for the Australian timezone and hope to have that fully available within the next month.

    We are moving pretty quickly (with improving and advancing the platform) and love all the feedback we get from users. Thanks again!

    • Carl Taylor

      Reply Reply September 3, 2014

      Hey Jason,

      Thanks for commenting and for the updates on some of these points.

      I’m looking forward to seeing them and hopefully some of my other ideas 😉 rolled into the platform soon.

      Keep up the great work.

  • Ken Wood

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014

    There’s a really big problem with ActiveCampaign, buried in the fine print of their terms of service, which will be a showstopper for many people. It is their kinda stupid attitude towards affiliate links.

    Their terms of service do not allow you to put any of the following into an email that you send through ActiveCampaign:

    * Affiliate links of any type
    * Links to a web page, even on your own website, that contains an affiliate link on it
    * A promotion that you’re sending on behalf of another company for payment (which we do occasionally for Google, Paypal and others)

    Most marketers would find those restrictions extremely limiting, so people considering ActiveCampaign need to know about them before they invest a lot of time & money to move across.

    I was impressed with ActiveCampaign’s functionality when I first saw it and wondered why I hadn’t heard of them before/why the company wasn’t bigger & more successful. I believe this is the reason.

    • Carl Taylor

      Reply Reply October 9, 2014

      Hey Ken,

      I agree that for many in the online marketing space this will be a show stopper and is actually why I decided not to move all my businesses over from Ontraport as I do affiliate marketing too.

      I did make sure I mentioned this in the summary of who should use Active Campaign or not so it’s great to have it made clearer here in the comments.

      For most of the clients we put onto it, they are small service based businesses like Corporate Caterers, Stylists, Accountants, Financial Planners, Consultants they don’t and probably won’t ever do affiliate marketing.

      Personally I actually appreciate that ActiveCampaign have this policy as it means they can keep the spammers out and keep the deliverability and their servers cleaner for these types of businesses.

      If you’re an affiliate marketer I still believe your best options are Aweber, Ontraport or Infusionsoft

      Thanks for stopping by and adding this helpful comment

      — Carl

    • Philip

      Reply Reply October 31, 2014

      But they have an affiliation-program themselves. Mmmmmmm. So they are basically telling people to affiliate for their product without using their product.

      • Carl Taylor

        Reply Reply November 3, 2014

        Thanks for stopping by and adding your comment Philip,

        Yes I agree it does seem strange that they offer an affiliate program, yet frown on people sending affiliate related emails.

  • Barry Smith

    Reply Reply October 9, 2014

    I’ve stumbled across ActiveCampaign a few times but I can’t see much written about it in the press … yours is the best review I have seen. Just odd to me.

    Also, you and your readers may want to see this as well … http://venturebeat.com/2014/03/12/8-free-or-super-cheap-marketing-automation-systems/ … I haven’t vetted the list yet

    • Carl Taylor

      Reply Reply October 9, 2014

      Hey Barry, thanks for your comment.

      As I understand it ActiveCampaign has only relatively recently entered the saas model, they previously sold their system as a Self Hosted solution that larger companies purchased and ran themselves on their own servers.

      Thanks for the link, there seem to be a bunch of tools I’ve never heard of on that list and a few I have.

  • Sanjay

    Reply Reply December 23, 2014

    I contacted Support and they confirmed that there is no Affiliate related emails allowed, which is a real shame. Great for traditional business and standard marketing but if you are playing in the online space, its a show stopper.

  • Christy

    Reply Reply January 31, 2015

    OMG! I pay $49 to aWeber for stats and between 2500-4999 contacts, but there isn’t much automation there. Are stats included free? Have any of the changes you hoped for arrived?

    • Carl Taylor

      Reply Reply February 27, 2015

      Hey Christy, thanks for stopping by. Yes a number of changes have been put in place, and I’ve done my best to update this post to reflect that.

      Stats are included, my suggestion is sign up for a free account and see if it works for what you need.

      Cheers

      — Carl

  • David Philips

    Reply Reply May 22, 2015

    Sorry for the elementary question, but can you please define Affiliate Marketing in the context of the limitation in Active Campaign?
    From Ken’s comment:
    “Their terms of service do not allow you to put any of the following into an email that you send through ActiveCampaign:

    * Affiliate links of any type
    * Links to a web page, even on your own website, that contains an affiliate link on it
    * A promotion that you’re sending on behalf of another company for payment”

    • Carl Taylor

      Reply Reply May 22, 2015

      I don’t have a definitive answer for you David unfortunately. However I have heard from many sources that if you are doing affiliate marketing in a classy way. As in you are sending them to a valuable content they are fine with it.

      But to be honest since it’s in their terms and conditions you’re better to ask their sales team for clarification if you are worried about it.

      • Mayank

        Reply Reply September 7, 2015

        Hi Carl,

        Great review 🙂

        I particularly liked the detailed “What I Love” and “What i’d improve” for the individual features. I was considering moving to either Aweber OR Active Campaign from Mailchimp and the main reasons were Deliverability and Affiliate Marketing. Even though Active Campaign does not allow Affiliate marketing they put forth their view on how to differentiate between what would be acceptable and what would be not as “Are the affiliate links supplemental to the content or are the affiliate links the focus of the content?” in their Help section, which seemed pretty fair.

        Mayank

    • Carl Taylor

      Reply Reply July 14, 2015

      As it’s been clarified to me David, basically if you aren’t spamming you’ll be fine. If you actually add value, like run a webinar or send them to a really valuable blog post that happens to have an affiliate link on it you shouldn’t have a problem.

      If however you are someone who opens up an account and just starts promoting affiliate offer after affiliate offer – then ActiveCampaign isn’t for you.

  • Jim

    Reply Reply June 16, 2015

    is the SMS in active campaign built in with a log manager, similar to email? were you can track ingoing and outgoing and see the conversation string?

    • Carl Taylor

      Reply Reply July 14, 2015

      Hi Jim, at this time the SMS functions are only subscribe by email and SMS out. So you can have a local number that people SMS and this adds them to ActiveCampaign. Or you can send an SMS inside an Automation just like sending an email. But there is no 2 way communication or log back and forth.

  • max bellasys

    Reply Reply July 4, 2015

    Found this by Googling “ActiveCampaign Deliverability Stats” and you’re #6. I’m on the west coast…

    Reviewing your review I have recently been asked to Integrate AC into our already scaled out Integrated system. I also use transactional mail responding to a multi-domain network, and we have maintained outrageous deliverability to our members, with a 98% Inbox hit rate based on initial contact. This is due to strict practices, and our own set of best practices with regard to transactional mail.

    We have been using Aweber for years for a marketing mail solution, and yet I hit a wall with them recently- I write this hoping to provide valuable insight on a different issue than is listed here in this very thorough review. (read: I’m not really here to talk about me)

    The recent snag is that while Aweber is effectively the only Email List Management Service in its class that allows you to turn off “double opt in”, their new rules and stricter (and seemingly random) algorithms to enforce extra security like a really tough captcha has destroyed our UX. We do actually use Double-Opt-In, however, WE perform this step within our system and then boost valid users to Aweber. Only those who have given US their permission to list them on 1 specific campaign will ever get added.

    To detail this fully would amount to a mini-case study, yet our usage is very simple. We hit Aweber via http POST submitting the client details as part of the same Double-Opt-In flow. POST? you ask. Why not use their API. Of course they’re going to start tightening security on POST operations. Deeper snag. They want to expose an OAUTH style App Permissions list to MY CLIENT, and make MY CLIENT jump through their hoop… Look, if I wanted to engage my client with a Facebook style “App Permissions” request why would I have bothered to code my own Identity Software? Why not just make everything on the web klunky and lame for that matter?

    It’s because I want to manage my clients experience and provide them with the best, most seamless interface I can, taking tech out of the way and just delivering content that they ask for. Yes I understand that there are bad apples out there. Really, I do…

    My point is that all of these things are simple to handle in AC. Theirs is a real API, not a “Big Brother” API or a “Mother May I?” API.

    The limitations we faced have forced us to move, and we’re moving to AC. As it turns out the basic level offers more automation than Aweber and costs less at our level. That’s insane(ly awesome)!

    Sorry about my lengthy post, and the opinionated tech- yet I find myself shaking my head that I missed AC’s transition from Software based to SAAS, because I would have been all over that a year ago.

    • Carl Taylor

      Reply Reply July 14, 2015

      Hey Max, thanks for sharing such an epic comment 🙂 I agree the API and integrations of ActiveCampaign are great and really provide flexibility.

  • Amy

    Reply Reply August 22, 2015

    Hi Carl,

    Thanks for your review. We’re looking to use WP eStore plugin for digital downloads, and we’re wondering if Active Campaign would integrate so we’re not collecting email addresses in two places? Or, can you recommend a good digital downloads plugin that does integrate with active campaign?
    Thanks!

  • Brenda

    Reply Reply November 14, 2015

    Hey Carl, great review, thank you. I’ve been weighing up Ontraport and ActiveCampaign as both were recommended to me by my business Coach. Your thorough article made the choice easy for my new business needs – ActiveCampaign it is – so will support your affiliate link as you’ve helped in my decision. Cheers, Brenda 🙂

  • Chris Baird

    Reply Reply February 6, 2016

    Great review thanks. Just signed up for trial and lookin forward to learning more.

  • Jordan Arsenault

    Reply Reply October 29, 2016

    I am just switching over to ActiveCampaign from MailChimp right now. I find their software is pretty powerful. Just getting set up with it, but it seems to be the best on the market for the price range. It would be nice if lead scoring was an option on the lite plan though..

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