Having trouble choosing an email provider? Read this comparison of MailChimp, ConvertKit, and ActiveCampaign

mailchimp vs convertkit vs activecampaign

Email Marketing software is simply a must-have for any small business who wants to embark on online marketing or sales. The software available have also gotten much more powerful than just sending newsletters. Many now support segmenting, creating email automation sequences and integrating with shopping carts and other online tools. There is a lot of choice out there, and simply looking at the websites or asking around in Facebook groups, often just results in more confusion than when you started. MailChimpConvertKit* and ActiveCampaign are all good options for your business. While on the surface they may look like similar tools, they are quite different in how they operate so here I want to give you an insight on the key differences that might help you make a decision on what is the better fit for your business. (*Full Disclosure: I am an affiliate for ConvertKit as this is what I use. However, I do recommend all three – the choice depending on your personal preferences.

consideration 1: price

I’ll get this one out of the way first as it is often the first thing small businesses ask about. ConvertKit starts at US$29/month for up to 1,000 subscribers, ActiveCampaign for US$9/month for up to 500 subscribers and MailChimp starts with a free package and can be free for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. However, before you go jumping straight in thinking that MailChimp is for you because it is free or cheap, I want to encourage you to step back and think about the rest of the features first and how it will support your business by saving you a lot of time and creating sales for you on autopilot. In other words, pay for itself over and over.

consideration 2: multiple lists vs a single list

This is where things get a little bit techy but this is the most important difference for you to understand. So please bear with me. MailChimp uses a Multi-List system. What this means is that if you have multiple opt-in forms on your website, you will need to have a separate list for each of those forms. So if you have an opt-in for someone to download your free pdf checklist they will be added to the pdf checklist list. Then if they purchase something from you, they will be added to the customer list. All sounds good right? Well this is where a lot of people get caught out. Now if you wanted to send an email to everyone on your database you will either need to move them to a master list and email from there or you would need to send a separate email out to every single list you have. Perhaps more importantly, if someone is on more than one list you are paying for them for every time they appear on a different list. So if they are on 5 lists because they have opted-in for 5 things, that counts as 5 subscribers not 1. This might not matter to you when you are on low subscriber numbers but if in the future you were to grow your list to a high number every subscriber will count. ActiveCampaign, is also a multi-list system. However, no matter how many lists someone is on you will only get charged once per unique email address.  You can also send to multiple lists at once. ConvertKit, on the other hand, sends everyone to the one list no matter where they sign up from. So, if you are in a business where you think you will be having multiple opt-in offers, you might want to consider going with ActiveCampaign or ConvertKit from the beginning.


So if ConvertKit has everyone going to the same list, how do you know where they came from? The Answer: Tags. You can create “tags” in ConvertKit for virtually anything. So you can tag a subscriber as signed up from A form or subscribed to B sequence or opened C email  or clicked on D link or purchased E product. Or you can tag them with all 5. What this means is that you are given the power to send emails that are customised to specific portions of your list, easily and quickly. Here are a couple of scenarios where you might use this:

  • As part of your welcome email, you want to ask a question to gauge what products or services your new subscriber will be most interested in.  For example, if you are a personal trainer you might ask if they are totally new to exercise, somewhat fit or an exercise pro. Based on their answers you can then create a customised email sequence based on their individual needs.
  • You have 3 main product categories on your website and you want to do a promotion for Product X. You know that people who signed up for a particular opt-in (and not the others) will be the ones most interested in this product so you choose to only email that group.
  • You are in the middle of a launch or sales promotion and as part of your strategy, you will be sending a lot of emails. You are worried that by sending the emails you will get a lot of unsubscribes. To avoid this you can add a special link at the bottom of the email where your subscriber can choose to only unsubscribe from your sales emails but not your wider list.

You can also group a few tags together to make a segment. ActiveCampaign also uses tags along with multiple lists so you can have the best of both worlds. MailChimp,  works by using “Segments”. You can segment your audience based on any field you have created against their name. A common segment you might like to use is a “Region” so you can send different emails based on where they are located. Or you could create a segment based around what form they signed up from (if you choose to manually merge your lists). In order for this to work effectively the field must be populated. This can be done in 3 ways:

  • You add an extra field at signup for the subscriber to complete.
  • You manually add the information after the fact.
  • You add a “hidden field” to the form which will populate itself (a special plugin will be required for this and this may not be possible on all website platforms).

consideration 4: extra fields

This leads to the next consideration which is how many fields you can have against a subscriber. As of the time of writing this post, ConvertKit, only has the ability to use two fields with custom coding: First Name and Email. While you can create tags after the fact to add in additional information, this is not ideal especially in cases where you want to gather a lot of information about your subscribers. MailChimp  and ActiveCampaign enables you to have as many fields as you like so you can go for your life! This will be a requirement if you want to send emails around things like birthdays or how far along someone is in their pregnancy or also want to include a physical address.

consideration 5: templates

MailChimp includes a huge variety of different email templates you can use to create emails that are highly polished and visual. ActiveCampaign also have a range of templates but not quite as “sexy” as MailChimp ones. ConvertKit is much more limited with its layouts and while you can add images and line breaks, it isn’t anything fancy. This is totally a personal preference issue as some people like emails that look more like they are written by a person and some like the bells and whistles.

consideration 6: integrations

Before you choose your email marketing software it is highly important to check if they are compatible with other software you use such as your shopping cart, website provider or plugin, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system or lead page. Software can be integrated in one of two ways: using an API or using the backend. It is preferable to have one that is integrated using an API because all this means you need to do is copy and paste an API code and it’s done. MailChimp has been around much longer and therefore integrates with a lot more things. ConvertKit and ActiveCampaign are catching up. Either way it is worth investigating before you commit.

consideration 7: deliverability

This is probably the most important factor as an email system is not doing its job if people aren’t seeing the emails! While there will always be a proportion of your subscribers who won’t get your emails for one reason or another, you can improve the deliverability by your choice of email marketing software provider. I have heard from multiple sources that ConvertKit’s and ActiveCampaign’s delivery rates are significantly higher than MailChimp’s. However I don’t have the personal experience to back that claim up so I won’t do so. However, one big difference you can see immediately between the two is that (at the time of writing) in Gmail MailChimp always gets delivered to the Promotions folder whereas ConvertKit mostly goes to the main Inbox. In other words, the ConvertKit ones are more likely to be seen.

consideration 8: automations

All three providers provide automation capabilities but in different ways. Automations include things like a series of emails that a subscriber gets when they first sign up, birthday offers, abandoned carts and post-purchase. With MailChimp, these automations can only be set to one list at a time. So if you have multiple opt-in’s you run the risk of someone getting a similar welcome message every time. With ActiveCampaign and ConvertKit,  you can ensure subscribers will only get any given email once. Both offer visual automation setup but ConvertKit only recently. ActiveCampaign’s setup looks like this with a drag & drop builder:   ConvertKit provides a simple list style automation setup, in addition to its visual automation field. It looks like this: In addition , you can setup a range of automations based on triggers. For example, “subscribe to form” = “add tag” or “click on link” = “subscribe to sequence”.

consideration #9: ease of use

This really is a personal preference thing, but after trying all 3, in my opinion, ConvertKit wins the award for the easiest and quickest way to put your systems together. The best example of this is in creating sequences. In ConvertKit you can do this all from the one screen (pictured above) easily jumping between emails. With the other two, you need to do each email individually in its own window which often means jumping from one to the other and back again multiple times.

a few other tidbits:

RSS FEEDS If you want to use an automatic RSS feed for your regular emails such as automatically sending an email once a month with all your blog posts, MailChimp and ActiveCampaign handles this much more seamlessly. IN BUILT LEAD PAGES If you don’t have a website yet but want to capture email addresses, ConvertKit and MailChimp have the ability for you to create lead pages as part of your account. These are housed on their platform so you don’t need to worry about getting your own URL yet.

FORM ANALYTICS While both provide analytics for emails such as open rates and click-through rates, MailChimp doesn’t offer statistics on the performance of an individual form. ConvertKit allows you to see the percent of people who saw the form and signed up. This helps with optimising your conversion rate performance. DOUBLE OPT-IN Thankfully, MailChimp no longer requires that your subscribers do a double opt-in no matter what so with all 3 providers you can skip the double opt-in step. With ConvertKit there is the added benefit that you can incorporate it as part of the opt-in incentive download email. So when they receive their free pdf they can click the button to download and it confirms them at the same time.  This results in less delays and emails before your new subscriber gets what they asked for.

so which should you use?

As I mentioned at the top of this post, it all depends on what you want to use it for and your personal preferences. If you are just starting out and only have a very basic email newsletter setup, MailChimp will get you started easily. If you are an e-commerce store and will likely only have 1 or two opt-ins, MailChimp is a good choice. They seem to be specialising more and more in e-commerce automations. If you want advanced automation but something simple and quick to set up,  ConvertKit is the way to go. This is what I use and it has made everything so much easier. If you want advanced automation, fancier email templates and more field choices, I would recommend ActiveCampaign. If you want a CRM as part of your email system, then ActiveCampaign has you covered.


The below table summarises the difference between these systems and your final decision will come down to what features are most important to you and your business. MailChimp vs ConvertKit vs ActiveCampaign These are just the main considerations you might want to look at when choosing your email marketing provider. By all means, this isn’t an exhaustive list and there are plenty of other options out there that you can look at including GetResponse, Aweber, Infusionsoft and Ontraport. I just haven’t personally used those ones to be able to provide an informed insight. However, it is my hope that by providing this list of considerations you now know what you would like out of an email marketing system that will serve you both now and in 12 months time. If you do decide you want to go with ConvertKit, I would be so grateful if you used my affiliate link by clicking here. This doesn’t mean you will pay any extra it just means I get a little thank you commission for introducing you. Disclaimer: While I do my best to provide the most accurate and up to date information it is still worth checking the provider themselves to get a full idea of their feature set.

Do you have any other questions about Email Marketing Software that I haven’t answered? Or are you still unsure how to apply this to your situation? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll see if I can help you out!


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