It seemed like everybody was telling me to use AWeber. I remembered that this guy who was speaking at a marketing seminar was saying he used it. I looked for what people on Quora were saying and AWeber seemed to be promising. I visited some of the famous internet figures to check if they were using it, which they were.
Convinced, I went to AWeber’s website, ready to see what it could offer. They have a one month trial period for US $1 so I decided to give it a shot. I wasn’t quite sure why they weren’t offering a free trial, but $1 was still inexpensive enough to pay if you just wanted to try it.
I tried and I didn’t like it.
Why I didn’t like AWeber
1. Webpage design is not very cool
Come to think about it, I had the first sign of disappointment even before I subscribed to the trial. As soon as I opened their website, I noticed that the design wasn’t exactly top-notch. You may say that the design is good enough, but in my opinion, if they’re supposed to be the best one in the email marketing industry, they should have something better than that.
You may also argue that as long as it’s functioning, the design doesn’t really matter. Well, I agree with you. I thought that even though the design left much to be desired, their service would be OK. But what I didn’t know was that it was just the beginning of a series of disappointments.
2. Cheap attempt to sell an e-course
Right before the payment, they tried to sell me their online email marketing course. The sales page was well integrated into the signing up process so as to make people read the sales letter, which I did.
I know that strategy works and they make extra money out of it. I appreciate their cleverness but, at the same time, I felt a bit deceived. It was like getting approached by a girl and thinking you are getting hit on, only to find out that she was actually trying to sell you something.
Unpolished design and a cheap sales letter didn’t look good. Their attempt looked quite unprofessional. I thought that wasn’t the kind of thing that a high-quality company should be doing.
3. Their message didn’t get delivered
The most important quality of bulk email services is arguably the delivery rate, or how many of the total messages actually get delivered. There are many possible ways that your message can get lost before reaching the recipients. Spam filters try to filter out unsolicited mass emails. If you send messages through a service provider that is known for spam messages, your messages will certainly get filtered.
So a good service provider gets the message delivered. But, guess what, one of the most important messages I was supposed to receive from AWeber didn’t reach me!
After signing up to AWeber, I received the ‘your account has been created’ message (which, by the way, arrived late). In that message, they said they had sent the password information in a separate email. I checked my inbox but I couldn’t locate the message. I waited for about half an hour; I still hadn’t received the message.
In the end, I had to request a password reset. Then, finally, I was able to receive the password and log in to their service. But the slow and unreliable delivery put me off. Remember, they are supposed to be the number one bulk email sending company.
4. E-mail Template Manager is hard to use
They had a good-looking application called ‘E-mail Template Manager’ that can create customised email templates. Although it looked intuitive and easy to use, it wasn’t. It took me quite a while to figure out how to get things right.
After spending some time struggling with the template manager, I finally managed to make something satisfactory. I saved the template and moved to the next step: creating a test message. There, I faced yet another problem.
I tried to use the template I had just created, only to find out that a lot of the elements (particularly images) I put in weren’t there. It seemed like I had to add them again manually. Well, if so, what on earth was the point of using the template?
Thinking there should be a way around it, I went back and forth between the template manager and the message editor. But I couldn’t find the way.
I realised that I had already wasted a couple of hours on this and I was getting pretty frustrated. I was losing my patience. I started to think that there might be better services around.
5. Sign up forms are ugly
And there came another disappointment: the sign up form templates. Even though it had more than several hundred sign up form templates, many of them were just too ugly to use (at least for my taste).
I knew that many people actually wouldn’t mind using those templates, but I cared about having cool-looking opt-in forms. I was getting more and more disappointed and, in the end, I lost interest in AWeber.
I decided to look for alternatives.
It appeared that there were numerous alternatives to AWeber. The one that people talked about most was MailChimp. The company is kind of famous for its culture so I already knew the name.
However, while MailChimp looked easy to use, it didn’t seem to give you much freedom. For example, it didn’t allow you to import role addresses (email addresses that begin with ‘roles’ like ‘info@’, ‘sales@’, ‘webmaster@’ etc.). Even though MailChimp explained how to get around it (http://blog.mailchimp.com/role-addresses-are-not-people/) it wasn’t too convincing. I didn’t like having arbitrary restrictions.
But the greatest deal breaker would be the rumour that MailChimp ban affiliate links. Again, they actually explained that it’s not necessarily the case (http://kb.mailchimp.com/article/does-mailchimp-ban-affiliate-links) but I felt like they were kind of over-parenting their customers.
I understand that it’s very important for them and their users to make sure that nobody abuses their service. The last thing they want is to be blacklisted by email filters because it would affect their delivery rate very badly.
But, as someone who had a technical background, I wanted to have something simple and basic that would give me a lot of freedom.
Too many alternatives (iContact, Constant Contact, Vertical Response etc)
The more I looked, the more confused I became. People were talking about services like iContact, Constant Contact, Vertical Response and many, many more. But, seriously, which would be the best for you? How do they compare with each other? It seemed I would need to do quite a lot of research.
Then one question came to my mind: what does Neil Patel use? Neil Patel is one of a few people I follow online. He has a company called CrazyEgg which I had used before, and they send me newsletters once in a while.
I checked my mail box and found one of their messages. I checked the mail header to see where the message came from. It said that the message originated from ‘o5.b99.sendgrid.net’.
That’s how I found SendGrid.
I checked their website. I looked at their pricing and I noticed something very interesting: SendGrid is significantly cheaper than AWeber.
For example, AWeber charges $19 a month for 500 subscribers. SendGrid is free of charge up to 200 messages a month. If you send 500 emails four times a month, SendGrid will only charge you $9.95, which is about half of AWeber’s price.
But what if you have 10k subscribers? That’s when it gets interesting. If you use AWeber, you will have to pay $69. But if you use SendGrid, you will still only pay $9.95.
It sounds almost too good to be true doesn’t it? Now, you may ask why anybody would pay much higher prices for AWeber when there are other services that are much cheaper.
The answer is that these two services are slightly different in nature. And that was why, when I was looking for AWeber alternatives, the name SendGrid never came up.
The difference is that AWeber is a marketing email solution provider while SendGrid is a transactional email solution provider.
Marketing email and transactional email
OK, it is generally said that AWeber is for marketing emails and SendGrid is for transaction emails. But what do these terms mean? I had to Google this to find out the differences.
- Marketing email – If you are sending newsletters to many people at once, that’s marketing email. They are messages that you send in bulk to inform people or promote your service.
- Transactional email – Think about when you sign up to Amazon. When you finish signing up, you will receive a ‘please confirm your email’ message. After confirming your email, you will get a ‘welcome to Amazon’ message. When you buy something, you will get a ‘your order detail’ message. These are transactional emails. Basically, you will get transactional emails based on your actions.
You see the differences? Marketing emails are mostly newsletters (and spam to a certain extent), and transactional emails are confirmation emails etc. The former is meant to be sent in bulk and the latter is meant to be sent individually.
Now the funny fact is, even though SendGrid is a transactional type email service, you can also use it to send marketing emails. Sure, their marketing email application is not as rich as that of AWeber, but it has enough features to manage newsletters easily.
But the funnier thing is this: you cannot send customised transactional emails with AWeber. (At least I couldn’t find any information on this.) It’s funny because AWeber is much more expensive than SendGrid.
In short, SendGrid looked very promising.
It goes without saying that SendGrid is not the only transactional email service. I did a bit of research to see what kind of providers were out there. Amongst the ones I found, I was particularly interested in MailJet and Amazon SES (Simple Email Service).
MailJet is very similar to SendGrid. What I liked most about MailJet was that it had a very comprehensive REST API. If you are a programmer, you know how easy it is to use RESTful web services. Also, the website was clean and easy to navigate.
I actually signed up to MailJet to test it myself. Their fast response impressed me (unlike the slow AWeber). I got the confirmation message as soon as I registered and I was able to log in to the site right away. Ladies and gentlemen, this is how things are supposed to work!
I would have used MailJet if it wasn’t for one thing: it didn’t allow me to create customer columns in their email list database. This means that you cannot store somebody’s name along with their email address or any other complementary information. This was the only (but major) drawback I found.
Amazon SES is something very different from MailJet and SendGrid. While these two have nice web-based user interfaces so that you can manage your email, Amazon SES only has an API. This means that you have to create your own mail management system entirely from scratch (if you need one).
I could write my own email management system, but that would take me a lot of time. In some situations, this wouldn’t be a problem, but it wasn’t the right service for me for the particular project I had.
My SendGrid review
Do you remember why I was disappointed by AWeber? There were five main reasons:
- Unpolished webpage design
- E-course hard sell
- Bad transaction email delivery
- Template management system
- Ugly sign up form
Let me compare these points.
1. Webpage design
SendGrid’s webpage looks much more professional and easier to navigate.
It also has very nice API documentation, which is very important if you need to incorporate the service into your web application. Having well-organised, comprehensive documentation is a huge plus.
2. Hard selling marketing course
SendGrid (and also MailJet) didn’t try to sell me anything in the sign up process. (Of course they didn’t! They are serious service providers for professionals.)
3. Template managing system
Even though SendGrid had far fewer features and pre-made templates, it was much easier to understand and manage. I was able to create a test message in a very short time and send a test message right away.
Their template is fully customisable. Quick frankly, that’s all I need.
4. Sign up form
OK, here’s why SendGrid is more basic than AWeber: SendGrid doesn’t have pre-made sign up forms. You have to code your sign up form and write code to handle the sign up process.
If you don’t know how to programme, or somebody who can, this could be a major problem. But if you do, it’s not hard at all to implement a sign up form. They provide a REST like API and SDK for major programming languages.
What SendGrid can and can’t do
Apart from pre-configured sign up forms, there’s another thing that AWeber has but SendGrid doesn’t have: a follow-up message management tool.
What is a follow-up message? Say you sign up to a 10 day online marketing course. As soon as you sign up, you receive the first message. You will receive another message the next day and you keep receiving one message a day during the 10 day period. This is basically what a follow up messaging feature can do.
The difference between newsletters and follow-up messages is that you send newsletters to everyone at the same time, but the follow-up message schedules are relative to each individual.
SendGrid doesn’t have this feature by default.
However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t send follow-up messages via SendGrid: you definitely can!
Since it has an API, you can write your own code to send follow-up messages. If you are a programmer, this is very easy. Since an API enables you to perform any complex tasks you can programme, it’s also possible to do things such as sending different kinds of messages to different segments of users based on the information they entered in the opt-in box.
API is a powerful feature. So basically, there’s nothing SendGrid can’t do that AWeber can. And it’s much cheaper. It even has a free plan.
This is why I choose SendGrid.
Is SendGrid for everyone?
Despite its clear advantages, SendGrid is not for everyone. Since SendGrid is for people who know how to implement their own functionalities, it’s not suitable for those without a technical background.
Use SendGrid if:
- You know how to code
- You know someone who can code
- You know how to hire programmers to code for you
- You have more than 2500 subscribers and you don’t want to pay tens of dollars each month
- You have a real, registered company
- You need total control of your email list
Use AWeber (and the likes) if:
- You don’t know anyone who can code for you
- You have no experience hiring programmers
- You have a very small number of subscribers
- You are happy using pre-made templates
- You don’t need total control of your email list
- You won’t have to export your email list in the future
Even though I don’t like AWeber, I know that it can be the right service for you. Many famous people recommend it (their affiliate commission is very attractive, by the way) and I have no doubt that they are happy with it.
But, as someone with a technical background, I just can’t justify the price of AWeber. So I’m sticking with SendGrid. It’s also much more powerful and versatile.