ActiveCampaign Review and Demo: The Best Marketing Automation Tool for You?

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.

Now that I’ve been an ActiveCampaign customer for over a year, I wanted to share a review of my experience so far.

In this post, I’ll go through why I made the change from AWeber, and give you an in-depth look at the pros and cons of Active Campaign.

Why I Switched from AWeber to ActiveCampaign

I was a long-time customer of AWeber, and still have nothing but love for their service. There’s a lot of things they do really well — including deliverability and customer support!

My business wouldn’t be where it is today without AWeber. (I’m actually wearing my AWeber t-shirt as I type this, and still maintain some smaller lists there.)

My son calls it “daddy’s robot shirt.” I actually have two because they’re awesome!

But as the Side Hustle Nation email list grew to 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 subscribers and beyond, I started shopping for a new email service provider.

Specifically I was looking for smarter and more robust segmentation, and the ability to send new subscribers down an autoresponder path based on what they’d opted in for.

That wouldn’t normally be an issue, but with the breadth of topics covered on this site, it became one.

With AWeber, everyone was funneled through a watered-down, one-size-fits-all onboarding sequence, that I felt was doing my readers and listeners a disservice.

I reasoned I could be more relevant and helpful if I moved to a more modern platform.

(AWeber has since added some of the tagging and automation features I was after.)

I was also growing frustrated with their limited filtering and segmentation capabilities. In some cases, it didn’t make sense to message everyone on the list — but it was hard to slice and dice the AWeber audience in such a way that I was able to target the right people.

Who Else I Shopped

Aside from ActiveCampaign, the two other services I took a hard look at were ConvertKit and Drip. I took a shorter look at Get Response, but ultimately decided to give ActiveCampaign a shot.

ConvertKit

ConvertKit is the darling of many friends in the blogging space, and bills itself as very beginner-friendly.

convertkit vs activecampaign

But during my trial, I was disappointed with the bare-bones interface.

I couldn’t figure out how to do basic tasks like add a first name field to a form or search for subscribers that met certain criteria.

The response from customer support: “Oh, that form can’t have a name field.”

Lame. (But ultimately a non-issue since I run almost every form through either LeadPages, Sumo, or OptinMonster.)

On the plus side, their onboarding was fantastic. I got a personalized video welcome and intro call with a member of their team.

Drip

A few other friends swore by Drip, the marketing automation side of LeadPages.

Since I was already a LeadPages customer and drive thousands of sign-ups a month through them, it made sense to shop the “in-house” solution.

Elements of the Drip interface were beautifully designed, and I was excited by the possibilities. It was priced a little higher than what I was paying at AWeber, but given the importance of my email list to my business, that wasn’t a dealbreaker.

Still, a couple of issues gave me pause.

The biggest was geo-tagging, the ability of an email service provider to “guess” where a subscriber is located based on their IP address. This is a feature I use all the time to host meetups whenever I travel.

In Drip, they would tag a subscriber’s time zone, but nothing more specific than that. If I’m hosting a meetup in San Diego, it doesn’t make much sense to message everyone in the Pacific time zone!

To Drip’s credit, they offered a few workarounds, including a potential Zapier integration for more accurate location targeting. But ultimately it was too much work to set up and too technically confusing — especially when other providers had that functionality off the shelf for a much lower price.

Key Features I Was Looking For

I went into this with a few items on my wish list. Some of these were to make up for shortcomings in AWeber, and others were to make sure I didn’t lose some functionality AWeber did well.

Geo-Tagging

As I mentioned above, the ability to know where subscribers are in the world is really important to me. I’ve hosted meetups in Japan, Europe, Mexico, and all over the US. This was one of the coolest features in AWeber and one I really took advantage of by inviting only the people nearby to the local events.

In ActiveCampaign you can do this a couple ways. You can search by city, state, or country, or you can search by telephone area code. Since most big cities encompass dozens of smaller cities, I usually end up using the area code filter.

For example, here’s a segment I created for a Seattle-area meetup that includes the 206, 425, and 253 area codes:

geographic segmentation in activecampaign

Multiple Tags

This is a feature AWeber was just rolling out as I was leaving, but its absence was definitely a pain point for me.

The idea here is that Side Hustle Nation subscribers could have multiple interests or attributes. In AWeber — at the time at least — not so much.

With ActiveCampaign, I can tag someone who’s expressed interest (based on what they opted-in for) in blogging, or e-commerce, or freelancing. That would allow me to send more targeted and relevant offers.

For instance, this spring I promoted an Amazon FBA bundle sale. The only people who received it were those subscribers who had opted in for something e-commerce related. Pretty cool, right?

No need to bother everyone else if it’s not relevant them.

You can also do behavior-based tags and all sorts of other cool stuff — all on autopilot.

One automation I have set-up automatically tags subscribers as “Engaged” if they open a message or visit the website. If they don’t do either of those things for a few weeks, the tag gets removed. It doesn’t impact any of their other tags.

Offer-Specific Autoresponders

One pain point with AWeber was forcing all subscribers through the one-size-fits-all welcome sequence. In ActiveCampaign I was able to create half a dozen different onboarding sequences based on what subscribers were interested in.

This was huge, and something offered by all the services I tried, but ActiveCampaign made it very easy and straightforward.

Offer-Specific Opt-Outs

One feature I was looking for was the ability for people to opt-out of certain messages but stay subscribed to others.

This might come in handy if you have a specific offer or promotion. It might not be a fit for everyone, so I thought it would be a cool feature to allow them to say “No thanks, don’t message me again about this,” instead of “Never email me again.”

This wasn’t something that AWeber allowed.

I could accomplish this in ActiveCampaign with click-based tracking and tagging, but I actually haven’t used it yet.

Easy Integrations with Sumo and LeadPages

I wanted to make sure my new email service provider would play nice with the key email capture tools I was using. This wasn’t a huge deal since integration support across these popular platforms was pretty universal.

Migration Help

With 50,000 subscribers, I was hoping email service providers would be willing to offer migration help in getting everything switched over.

The bigger issue for me wasn’t actually the subscriber import — that’s pretty straightforward — but rather switching over the 100+ opt-in forms that are on the site.

I believe this is something ConvertKit and ActiveCampaign offered, but Drip did not. In the end, it still took me and my VA a couple days to re-create all the forms in ActiveCampaign and switch everything over.

Recurring Revenue Affiliate Program

And lastly, as someone in the “online marketing” space, I hoped to find an email service provider I loved and could recommend to my readers — and that had a recurring commission affiliate program.

This is actually really common in the email service provider space, with AWeber, ConvertKit, Drip, and GetResponse all offering 30% recurring commissions for referring them new customers.

The ActiveCampaign program starts a little lower; at 20%, but can climb up to 30% as referral volume increases.

ActiveCampaign Demo: A Look Inside My Account

Migrating to ActiveCampaign

Weighing all the features and options above, I decided to go with ActiveCampaign and set out to migrate 4 years worth of ties to AWeber over to the new platform.

My sales rep Emmet was super helpful and responsive during this trial period as well!

Importing Contacts

The first stage in the migration was importing AWeber subscribers into ActiveCampaign.

I should add another key feature I needed: not making subscribers re-confirm their subscription!

That’s a good way to lose a majority of your list.

Now, if you’re starting your email list from scratch, you can skip this section.

I actually did this in stages, importing my most engaged subscribers first. The reason is I’d be sending emails from a new server, and to get the best odds of hitting the inbox, I wanted to show super high open rates.

Over the next few weeks, I imported everyone else.

You can map columns from your previous email service into ActiveCampaign fields, choose which list to add subscribers to, and add custom tags as needed.

Duplicating and Re-Integrating Forms

Once you have all your existing subscribers into the new system, you have to make sure new subscribers are getting added as well. The way to do that is to update all the entry points to your list to point to ActiveCampaign instead of your old email service provider.

Re-creating hundreds of sign-up forms (you probably don’t have that many!) was a simple but time-consuming process.

Since most forms on my site are served up via LeadPages, we just selected the new form integrations from those drop-down menus.

Even after all these updates, a few subscribers were trickling into AWeber. It was like a fun little detective game to figure out where they were coming from and to update those forms.

Creating New Onboarding Sequences

The ability to send people down specific, relevant paths based on the lead magnet they opted in for was my primary motivation in switching email providers.

But actually creating each of those specific, relevant paths took some serious brain power! I’d sit down to map these out and write them and would feel excited, but definitely mentally drained at the end of the day.

ActiveCampaign calls these sequences Automations; others call them welcome series’, indoctrination sequences, or autoresponders.

In the end, I created 10 different paths; one each for:

Each of these has between 4 and 8 emails. There’s some overlap between them, so I wasn’t writing 50 messages completely from scratch.

Inside Automations, you have all this cool decision logic and can route people down certain paths. The visual editor inside ActiveCampaign is helpful to visualize how this is all going to work.

It’s hard to fit on one screen and still be readable, but here’s what my Blogging Automation looks like:

In this case, new subscribers will get information specific to starting and growing a blog, including:

  • The 5 posts I think they should write first.
  • Ways to drive traffic.
  • My favorite plugins.

The “goal” of this automation, in addition to providing great value, is to drive visitors to my free “How to Start a Blog” course and ultimately earn hosting commissions.

Not all of my automations have that kind of specific conversion goal attached, but I tried to design each with the end in mind. If I just signed up to receive Lead Magnet X, what additional information and resources would be most helpful to me?

In most cases, another goal is to get people to reply. I want people to reply to learn more about what they’re working on, but I’m also working under the theory that that kind of engagement (especially early on in a subscriber’s relationship with you) can improve deliverability.

Results of the New ActiveCampaign Automations

Was it worth it?

I’m actually seeing MUCH higher engagement and reply rates to the new-and-improved welcome sequences.

Which makes sense. Based even on very limited information about subscribers, the messages are much more relevant than they were before.

Opens and Unsubscribes

Here’s the high-level engagement report you can see in ActiveCampaign:

The two bars shown for each Automation are Interacted and Completed.

Interacted measures the percentage of people who opened a message in your sequence. For the most popular sequences, I’m seeing between 53% and 74% interaction rates.

The Completed metric tracks how many people make it all the way to the end of your Automation. In other words, how many unsubscribes did you get during onboarding.

For me, completion rates are 92-99%, with several popular Automations running over 98%.

If you click on a specific Automation, you can see how the individual messages are performing:

In the Blogging Automation, for example, I’m seeing open rates in the 38-64% range.

Compared with AWeber, I saw similar numbers at the high end, but a steeper dropoff later in the welcome sequence:

Replies

I get around 10 responses a day to my various welcome messages. I’m adding over 100 new subscribers a day, so it’s less than a 10% response rate, but still higher than what I was seeing before.

(I probably saw 10 replies a week before!)

My theory is if people write you back, your future messages are more likely to show up in their inbox. Plus, I try and write back to those replies whenever I can. It’s sending the signal you’re a real person (because you are!) and that you care.

Money, Money, Money!

The income earned directly from the new Automations is difficult to track because I use the same affiliate tracking links in other places on the site.

In fact, most email content directs users back to relevant content on the site — as opposed to directly linking to affiliate offers in the email.

Still, the business is up roughly 40% in terms of profit since I made the switch so I can only imagine it’s had an impact.

Inside the ActiveCampaign Interface

Like any software, there’s a bit of a learning curve to the ActiveCampaign user interface.

When you login, you’re greeted with this dashboard view:

activecampaign user dashboard

It gives you an at-a-glance look at your subscriber count (“Active Contacts” in the image above), and the recent activity on your account.

I exclusively use the sidebar navigation to get where I need to go:

  • Contacts
  • Campaigns
  • Automations
  • Lists
  • Forms
  • Reports

It may not be the most beautifully designed software in the world, but it’s functional. Much like AWeber.

Let me go through the pros and cons of each of these main elements, understanding of course they’re subject to change at any time.

Contacts in ActiveCampaign

When you click on Contacts, you’re brought to a master list of all your contacts:

What’s Cool?

  • You can customize the columns that show up by default on this page.
  • You can import subscribers in bulk or manually add contacts.
  • You can sort by date added to see your newest subscribers.
  • The basic and advanced search features are really strong to slice and dice the list any way you like. I use those all the time to create custom Segments.
  • You can easily apply bulk edits to groups of subscribers you’ve filtered.
  • ActiveCampaign doesn’t charge you for unsubscribed contacts (AWeber does. Lame.)
  • There aren’t any on this screenshot, but sometimes the little profile pic gets automatically filled in, which I think is pretty cool to put a face with a name.

What’s Not So Cool?

  • You can’t make any edits from this screen. You have to click on the individual contact.
  • Searching and filtering can be slooooow.
  • By default, unsubscribed contacts are still shown on this list. (You can toggle Status to “Active” to only show active subscribers.)

If you click on an individual contact, you can view and/or edit their information:

activecampaign contact view

The system will pull in links to their social profiles (if it finds a match), which is cool, especially if you’re using ActiveCampaign more for a sales CRM.

You’ll also see a feed of that subscriber’s recent activity, how they entered your system, what Automations they’re currently in or have completed, and what tags they have assigned.

ActiveCampaign is guessing that Cory (above) lives or works in Chandler, Arizona based on his IP address at the time he opened the last email.

All the other blank data fields you see are residual from AWeber — if you start a new ActiveCampaign account you won’t have those.

Composing Messages and Campaigns

To send an email to your list, you’ll use the Campaigns tab. When you click on it, you’re taken to this screen with a listing of all the broadcast emails you’ve sent.

(Weird bug: in my account, the “sort by date sent” feature doesn’t work.)

If you’re brand new to ActiveCampaign, you’ll probably start by hitting the “New Campaign” button. Since I’ve already sent a bunch of messages, I just copy a previous one and change the text.

The New Campaign screen looks like this:

You’ll choose a name for your campaign — mine usually corresponds with the subject matter or subject line — and what type of email you want to send.

I always use the Standard option, just a plain old broadcast message. But you can also set up your autoresponder messages here, split test messages, and even set it up to send messages based on certain triggers like a contact’s birthday or when a new post shows up in your blog feed.

It’s a powerful tool; you could set up completely automated sales sequences or webinar funnels here. I’m just not that advanced yet.

ActiveCampaign includes a number of off-the-shelf templates to make designing your emails easier:

email templates in activecampaign

You can customize these or add your own. I tend to send just plain text emails.

What’s Cool?

  • The email composer is pretty straightforward and easy to use.
  • You can select which segment of subscribers to send to.
  • You can schedule messages to be sent in the future.
  • You can now include emojis in your subject lines.
  • It’s easy to re-send messages to the people who didn’t open your email.
  • Reply tracking.

What’s Not So Cool?

  • My biggest pet peeve with the Campaigns section is that the interface has you input your subject line AFTER writing the whole email. I wish it was on the same screen as the message editor.
  • I’ve gotten used to the workflow, but the interface can be slow and clunky.

Automations

The bread and butter of ActiveCampaign is the robust Automations feature. With all the ways to slice and dice your list with tags and action-based attributes, this is truly a powerful marketing automation machine.

For me, it took a little practice to figure out all the various levers and operators I could use and how to logically piece everything together.

I know I’m just scratching the surface with my different onboarding sequences, but I’m confident the software will be able to handle whatever future needs I may have in terms of email automation.

Perhaps one of the coolest features is the built-in Automations ActiveCampaign has ready for you to plug in and customize for your needs:

activecampaign recommended automations

You’ll find pre-built automations like abandoned cart follow-ups, product interest tagging (when people visit certain pages on your website), and customer service follow-ups. Pretty slick!

I modified their Engagement Tagging automation to automatically identify which subscribers were opening my emails and which ones were ignoring them.

That’s helpful for me because I usually do broadcasts in two sends; first to the engaged subscribers and then an hour later to everyone else.

What’s Cool?

  • Super powerful automated marketing engine.
  • Off-the-shelf automations you can customize to your needs.
  • Almost limitless triggers and logic branching to really make sure the right people are seeing the right message at the right time.
  • Ability to pause automations if needed.

What’s Not So Cool?

  • The visual editor is slow and it can be hard to get a view of the big picture. (I imagine every ESP will have that visualization problem.)
  • Some sort of error check would be helpful. Like to step through the logic of your Automations, and ask, “Wait, under this scenario someone could get 8 emails in 6 minutes. Is that what you meant to have happen?”

Email Lists in ActiveCampaign

The Lists section of the interface is probably the place I visit the least. It’s kind of confusing because on the surface, ActiveCampaign is a tag-based software.

You can create segments of your subscribers based on any number of criteria you like. Because of that, the need for multiple “Lists” doesn’t make sense.

That’s why I only have the one:

By default, all new subscribers are added to this list. When they unsubscribe, they’re removed from this list.

I also send an occasional “re-engagement” email to inactive subscribers. If they don’t open that one, I remove them from the list.

The only thing I really use this screen for is to access the different list Segments I’ve created, which for whatever reason isn’t an option from the Contacts tab.

What’s Cool?

  • Only active contacts count toward your subscriber count for billing purposes. Once they’re bounced or unsubscribed, you don’t get charged for them.
  • You can view your pre-saved Segments from this screen. Useful if you want to check which filters you used.

What’s Not So Cool?

  • Seems unnecessary?

Building Forms in ActiveCampaign

The Forms area in the interface is where you may start your adventures with ActiveCampaign. It is, after all, through these forms that subscribers will likely find their way onto your email list.

You’ll be able to create opt-in forms here, with the following process:

  • Naming your form
  • Selecting your form fields (first name and email address, in my case)
  • Designing it with the built-in editor
  • Telling ActiveCampaign what to do with the information once they have it

For each form, you can set a custom thank you page and actions. For instance, which list to subscribe the person to, and which tags to add to their contact record.

In my case, those tags dictate which welcome sequence they begin to receive.

I have hundreds of forms set up to correspond with my many lead magnets, but you probably won’t have that many.

I think the ActiveCampaign forms look OK, but they’re not the most modern or beautifully designed forms in the world. Instead, I use integrations with LeadPages and OptinMonster to display these forms. From a reporting perspective, it’s as if a subscriber filled in the ActiveCampaign form.

This lets me see which forms (and corresponding lead magnets) are the most popular.

What’s Cool?

  • Quickly build and embed forms (or duplicate existing ones).
  • Take different actions and trigger different automations based on which form was filled in.
  • Quickly see which forms are performing the best.

What’s Not So Cool?

  • No split-testing of forms.
  • No date-range or conversion-rate reporting.
  • Not the best looking forms on the planet. Like other areas of the interface, function rules over beauty here too.

Reporting in ActiveCampaign

I use the built-in ActiveCampaign reports to track subscriber growth and to see how my emails are performing.

For example, under Contact Reports, here’s what the total Active Contacts looks like recently:

It’s a slow and steady climb, and the little drops are where I’m manually removing inactive subscribers. The summary data is helpful to see: I added 33 net new subscribers per day over this period.

You can also click on the New Contacts report to get a snapshot of the new subscribers getting added to your list:

new contacts report in activecampaign

This is helpful to measure the impact of any specific marketing efforts that may have driven traffic to your site.

I use the Campaign reports to get a snapshot of open and clickthrough rates from email to email:

campaign open rate activecampaign

If you mouseover the chart, it will give you both the percentage and raw number of opens and clicks. You can see I have most campaigns set to deliver in the 2-send setup, first to the engaged subscribers and then to everyone else.

I typically see 45-55% open rates from the engaged segment and 8-16% for the non-engaged segment. It adds up to 24-28% open rates overall, which is similar to what I saw in AWeber.

For reference, those open rates compare pretty favorably to industry standards.

In addition to the Campaign name shown on the report above, I’d love to see the subject line.

As mentioned above, the Automation Reports are cool to see how you Automations are performing and how the individual messages do as well.

The drawback? There’s no date range option so if you make any changes it can be hard to measure the impact.

I’d also like to see more robust reporting in the Forms section or the Contacts Report section to see where subscribers are coming from for a given date range.

I haven’t set up any goals so haven’t tested the Goal Reports section. (I actually think my account tier doesn’t allow for Goals; more on the ActiveCampaign account levels below.)

Deliverability

Not long after my switch to ActiveCampaign, I had some deliverability problems. Not only were certain subscribers not opening my messages, they weren’t even getting sent.

I’d message segments of 5000 people and have literally ZERO opens. Even my worst campaigns to my least engaged subscribers would see a handful of opens in AWeber. Something funky was going on.

At first ActiveCampaign denied the problem. Then they assured me the problem was fixed several times before it actually was.

At one point I went so far as to reimport a segment of subscribers BACK into AWeber. I sent them the same message with the same subject line. The result?

Zero opens in ActiveCampaign. Hundreds of opens in AWeber.

The frustration actually had me second-guessing my decision and I was shopping other email service providers. I mean, if an email service can’t send emails, what’s even the point?

Thankfully the issue was resolved and people started getting my emails again.

Today I see 24-28% open rates overall, and while I’d love for it to be higher, I understand that’s pretty strong for a list this size.

For what it’s worth, according to at least one 3rd-party test, ActiveCampaign actually has some of the best deliverability in the industry.

Pricing

Pricing is definitely a strong point in favor of ActiveCampaign. It’s probably the most affordable marketing automation platform out there, with plans starting at just $15 a month.

(You can drop that down to just $9 a month if you pay annually!)

Like all other email service providers, the prices increase as the number of subscribers in your account grows.

One thing that ActiveCampaign does differently though, is they have different service tiers depending on the needs of your business.

activecampaign pricing

I’m on the Lite plan since I don’t have much need for the CRM functionality with lead scoring in the Plus plan. The SMS marketing could be interesting for certain users, but it would also mean collecting phone numbers (something I don’t currently do).

I pay $325 a month for up to 75,000 subscribers. The slider tool on the ActiveCampaign site indicates the rate for an account that size is $379 so it’s possible I’m grandfathered in at an older price.

For the sake of comparison, I was paying AWeber over $400 a month when I left — for around 55,000 subscribers.

I put together the table below to show the approximate pricing of different email services based on how many subscribers you have:

Subscribers (up to)ActiveCampaignConvertKitDripAWeberMailChimpGetResponse
500$15$29$49$19$10$15
1000$29$29$49$29$15$15
5000$89$79$99$49$50$45
10000$139$119$149$69$75$65
25000$225$199$299$149$150$145
14-day free trial14-day free trialFirst 100 subscribers free30-day free trialGet started free1-month free trial

For most of these services, you can achieve better pricing when you pre-pay annually. That could be a good way to earn a new credit card sign up bonus!

Integrations

As a well-established “name brand” email service provider, ActiveCampaign integrates with pretty much everything you want it to.

With more than 50k fellow customers, you’re in good company.

I haven’t had any problems integrating ActiveCampaign with LeadPages, Sumo, or OptinMonster. In fact, the app has support for over 150 popular programs:

Bottom line: don’t stress about being able to connect ActiveCampaign with the other tools you use in your business.

Customer Support

As a Lite plan customer, I have access to ActiveCampaign’s live chat and email support.

In contrast with AWeber’s 24 hour customer service — including phone support for all customers — this is an area that could be better.

That said, the email and chat response times have been good, and aside from the initial deliverability issue, I haven’t had any major problems.

(The live chat isn’t always online.)

When I was testing the platform and migrating everything over, my sales rep Emmet was super helpful.

Also, I’m not sure if this is because of the account size, but ActiveCampaign has assigned me a dedicated account rep I can email with specific questions.

Conclusion

After a year on ActiveCampaign, I’ve come to really appreciate the software.

If you’re looking for email marketing with a ton of muscle for a great price, you can’t go wrong by joining me on the platform.

Like any email service provider, there are pros and cons, but for my needs, the combination of functionality and value have made ActiveCampaign a great choice.

2 thoughts on “ActiveCampaign Review and Demo: The Best Marketing Automation Tool for You?

  1. Wow, this is officially the book of ActiveCampaign. So useful!! I started thinking about them when I heard that Scott’s Cheap Flights manages his 1mil+ list on the site and geo-targets users.

    Thanks for the epic review!!

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