The Ultimate ActiveCampaign Guide for 2021

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If you’re looking for ways to break into email marketing tools – ActiveCampaign could be your first choice. It comes across as a super-powerful tool, and if you are someone looking at the most sophisticated features, this guide on ActiveCampaign would be most helpful.

With this ActiveCampaign review, we’ll take a close look at the platform and present a breakdown of each feature for you.

ActiveCampaign logo

Ready to get started? Let’s jump straight into an ActiveCampaign overview. 


What is ActiveCampaign?

ActiveCampaign is a cloud email marketing platform originating from Chicago. Starting off as a consulting firm in 2003, the company quickly shifted towards on-premise solutions and then finally towards software-as-a-service offerings. The company has since been skyrocketing in the marketing and automation world.

Currently, the company has over 550+ employees and claims to help over 100,000+ small and mid-sized businesses to interact and engage with their customers. I consider the company to be a top contender for any firm aiming for powerful automation suites. Pair their customer experience automation with the economical pricing they offer it at – ActiveCampaign does a good job at placing itself amongst market-toppers like Mailchimp. 

Where email marketing tools like Mailchimp and Mailerlite market themselves as strictly “email marketing tools” – ActiveCampaign doesn’t. The “customer experience automation” solution is a collaboration of marketing automation, email marketing, CRM, and sales automation.

Let’s get started with the ActiveCampaign review, shall we? 


Getting Started with ActiveCampaign

Now that you’re already equipped with a few things about ActiveCampaign – let’s review it all in detail.

First things first – you’ll be needing an account on ActiveCampaign to test the platform out. Luckily, they feature a free, no-cost trial period for 14 days with access to their email marketing, CRM, and marketing automation. You can test it out, whereas I’ll also take you through a list of paid features – which aren’t included with this subscription. 

RESOURCE: 20+ Free Email Marketing Services

Head over to ActiveCampaign, and you should see a clear input field in the middle of the screen (or on the top right) requiring your email address. That’s your cue – enter your email address and hit the “Try It Free” button. 

Next, it’s time to introduce yourself – name, phone number, and industry. Quickly fill it, and let’s move on.

Time to enter some key information about your business. After all, this is what’s going to help ActiveCampaign understand what your needs are.

Fill out your interests or reasons why you’ll be needing ActiveCampaign’s toolkit. Here you might want to factor in your industry and think about what your goals are. Do you wish to send out segmented emails to your user or possibly create a real-time chat option for your customers to engage in? 

Here, you can select as many options as you want. ActiveCampaign asks several questions during the course of setting up your campaigns and other features to assess your goals and recommend you better services on the basis of that.

Select the tools you commonly use in your daily business life to see if ActiveCampaign has a built-in integration with it.  

Lastly, establish a strong password – and you’ll be in. Your account has been made and your trial features are up for grabs. 


ActiveCampaign Features

ActiveCampaign offers a wide variety of services. Just as you get into your account, you’re greeted with a step-by-step beginner guide to get started with the platform. I’ll take an in-depth look at each step along with an overview of other metrics like deliverability and usability.

Here’s a good resource by ActiveCampaign on how to get started:

1. Dashboard – A Unified View

The dashboard is perhaps the most important page within a marketing tool. Who wants to visit each link separately and look for metrics? The dashboard sums all information up while also providing easy access to all options on the platform. 

Though you might feel it’s a bit overstuffed, it’s all up to you. Don’t like a segment? Hover over it and press the “X” on the top-right to get it off the dashboard. Personally speaking, I love having all useful information at a single place rather than locating them page by page.

Here’s a more in-depth video of all features within ActiveCampaign:

2. Creating and Managing Lists

Lists are one of the easiest ways to manage your contacts or subscribers. 

A contact is a single customer, user, or anyone who receives your email. 

Using lists and tags, ActiveCampaign makes it simple to divide your customers and then send out relevant emails to each list. 

Let’s say you want to segment users who are interested in Phones and Clothes. They just don’t belong together. But if you wish to segment these two lists even further – say a person with both interests – you can use tags.

Figure 1 – List Feature

This is a simple list that is created upon start-up, which is helpful to get started. Master Lists are practically your prospect lists where your “potential” customers or leads lie. 

Similarly, you can create a Customer List and add in your customers over there. With every single list, you get the following options:

  • Edit – include, add, or remove contacts
  • View contacts
  • Segments
  • Engagements per list 
  • Copy the list
  • Delete the list

Simply put – lists are essential to marketing automation, and ActiveCampaign’s flexibility is praiseworthy here. 

Usually, subscriber management is the name provided to lists. Here, ActiveCampaign offers you lists, segments, and tagging to differentiate a class of customers from another.

3. Dealing with Contacts

Yes, lists have an important value – but not more than the contacts which make up lists. These are at the very core of automation and drive your marketing campaigns forward. Contacts are simply constituted of an email address – that’s all until you decide to grow on it and expand your contact’s information.

With contacts, you can:

  • Add a contact – old-school typing out information about your contact
  • Import contacts – from files, copy & paste, or hundreds of services
  • Export contacts
  • Delete or merge them

Figure 2 – Importing Contacts

Import and exports are common to all marketing tools. But one thing which impresses me here is the Single contact view. You can view more details about a single contact while making edits to it as well and an easy-to-access ‘activities’ section to review changes on a contact. 

Figure 3 – Single Contact View

Contacts are a great addition to marketing tools. With the ability to individually target users and look for trends in a user’s behavior – you’re on your way to make the right moves at the right time. For a more detailed look at how Contacts work, give this video a look:

4. Automating Workflows

Wouldn’t it be great if your usual creating-managing-sending workflow was somehow automated? Although most email marketing tools are now building features to automating workflows, ActiveCampaign is an industry leader at it. 

Their automated workflows are probably the best-selling feature with workflows ranging from simple to fairly complex ones. 

You can do anything from contact interactions to customer engagement with automation – basically anything you’d do yourself. What I love the most here is the ability to combine multiple automations together. You don’t want complex automations? Break it down and let them work in conjunction.

Here’s an example automation workflow (which comes with the trial mode): 

Figure 4 – Interactive Guide to Automations

Automations are kicked off by triggers, which are like real-life events to start something.  But before you get into that – ActiveCampaign also offers pre-made recipes for automations. If your need fits them, you can pick one of those. Give it a look below:

Figure 5 – Automation Templates

You have over 60+ trigger options to choose from. This is great as you have much more control over how you wish to start your automation.

Figure 6 – Potential Triggers

As part of actions, you have tons of options to use. 

For instance, you might want to send an email after a form is submitted. Take a look at potential action categories for yourself: 

  1. Sending
  2. Conditions and Workflows 
  3. Contacts
  4. CRM
  5. Salesforce
  6. CX Apps

Using the sending options, you can email, message, or inform your users through some electronic means.

Figure 7 – Sending Option Actions

When you first begin sending email, you must first authorize and verify your email address and domain. If the domain is a publicly allotted email address like one from Gmail, then you might face Email authentication issues from ActiveCampaign – meaning you can’t send emails. To improve deliverability, sign up with your domain email.

Using the ‘Conditions and Workflows’ section, you can add in other automation, conditionals, or more such segments to control your workflow. The ‘If/Else’ clause is also helpful for segmenting your automation and make flexible paths.

Figure 8 – Conditions and Workflows in Automations

Using the contacts, CRM, Salesforce, and CX Apps features – it’s easy to manage your contacts, integrate third-party applications, impact business processes, and also sync contact changes with Salesforce. 

Figure 9 – Contacts as Actions

Figure 10 – CRM Actions

Figure 11 – Salesforce Actions

Figure 12 – Application Integrations as Actions

All in all, automation is one of my favorite features here. If I know I can relax over a weekend without worrying about missing out on prospects, I can rely on that platform with my business. Intuitive workflows, minimal training, and drag-and-drop features…impressive. 

If you’d like to know more about automation workflows, give this video a look:

5. Creating and Managing Forms

If we really talk about how contacts are made or prospects are formed – it’s through the power of Forms. Only be interacting with your forms can a user provide information for you to use. In ActiveCampaign, creating, editing, and managing a form is simple. 

Creation is quite straightforward as you can easily press the “Create a Form” button to get started. Fill in the type of the form and other details you might have.

Figure 13 – Form Creation

Based on your requirements, the form will be created. You can edit out the fields and see what information you need from your contacts. ActiveCampaign also allows you to substitute custom fields with the option to send out a personalized message to contacts registering over the form.  

Figure 14 – A sample form

Once you’re done setting up the form, you have two options to explore here. You can either use it as part of an automation workflow or integrate it with your application (website, etc.). Here, I love the fact that the service renders the entire form code along with the ability to use it in WordPress or Facebook.

Figure 15 – Form Integration with Apps

6. Powerful Email Campaigns

Campaigns are one of the most common features across email marketing tools – but here, it’s more than that. Campaigns are a set of email messages sent out to customers with a specific action in mind. For example, a campaign to drive sales with call-to-actions to buy a product.

ActiveCampaign supports six types of campaigns:

  1. Standard – a one-time email campaign which doesn’t repeat
  2. Automated – a combination of conditionals, email actions, and a whole lot of automation
  3. Auto Responder – a campaign launched in response to a subscription
  4. Split testing – a campaign to test out which email works out of many different ones
  5. RSS Triggered – a campaign sent out after RSS feed updates
  6. Date-based – a campaign sent out in response to a dated event e.g., birthdays 

Figure 16 – Campaign Type Selection

Like I said before – campaigns are pretty straightforward. However, I would like to draw special attention to ‘split testing’ here. This is by far the most impressive feature of ActiveCampaign after its effective automation workflows. 

Figure 17 – Split Testing Campaigns

Here, once I’ve selected the list, I can test out my emails with different subjects or information. Similarly, I can test out different content too. This way, I can test out which email campaign sits well with what audience. For the next step, you have to pick a template or design a style for one using a blank canvas.

Figure 18 – Campaign Design

The templates are quite simple here, along with a modern section of templates as well. Some templates are designed already for particular use-cases e.g., an application announcement.

Figure 19 – Email Templates

The drag-and-drop builder makes it super simple to manage blocks, design and content of the email. 

Figure 20 – Sample Email Content

Once you press next, this is where you decide the subjects and test emails. 

Figure 21 – Split Testing Email Settings

Since I had the “subject” testing enabled, I can evaluate different possible subject lines for my campaign. Set these settings first. Then, you can also enable more settings like tracking or calculating metrics for emails. 

Split-testing is sometimes called A/B testing. The feature set is the same and the concept behind sending out different emails to different segments still applies here.

Let’s say you send out a campaign to 50 people and the responses are great. Your next logical step should be to choose this winning campaign to be sent out to other people in lists too. 

7. Deals, Pipelines, CRM, and Lead Scoring

ActiveCampaign is far more than just an email marketing suite. You can integrate your sales and CRM solutions with it to complete a digital marketing ecosystem. Note: CRM features are restricted to paid accounts i.e., Plus, Professional, and Enterprise plans. 

CRM is composed of three main features:

  1. Deals – a way of identifying leads as potential sales or contacts who’re about to become actual customers
  2. Pipelines – business processes which can convert leads into customers 
  3. Stages – A single step in a pipeline which helps you progress through the pipeline

Figure 22 – A sample CRM view showing stages and a pipeline

How do you differentiate customers from contacts? It’s on the basis of lead scoring. When you feel a contact is a bit closer to being an actual sale, you can separate them out. By qualifying your leads and scoring them, you can target your prospects better. Deals move from stage to stage in pipelines i.e., from a mere contact to a customer.

Figure 23 – Adding Deals to It

Using the simple and intuitive UI, you can add deals to your stages and move them around in a manual drag-drop style. Ideally, you can break your sales funnel into these stages e.g., small achievable phases. You can create as many pipelines as you want based on the number of segments (of customers) you have. Deals can also be added in automations, along with being created and assigned automatically as well. 

CRM is seldom associated with email marketing. ActiveCampaign does one heck of a job at making sure users like us get the complete package at once. Here’s a great video by ActiveCampaign to top off your experience with the CRM:

8. Email Deliverability

Deliverability is the ultimate factor in deciding if a marketing tool is worth spending or not. If you’re impressed with my ActiveCampaign review so far – ready to be surprised again. The deliverability ratio of ActiveCampaign helps it rank quite high amongst competitors. 

Historically, ActiveCampaign has proven to have strong deliverability metrics. Based on ActiveCampaign’s reputation, it is likely that your email is going to land in your contact’s inbox rather than promotions or spam on emailing suites. 

9. User Engagement, Tracking, and Reporting Metrics

ActiveCampaign leaves out a few things to you to decide. For example, whether you wish to enable analytics for your contacts or not – that’s up to you to decide. I like the flexibility of this model and doesn’t enforce its users to act one way. 

For a single campaign, you can view user engagement statistics like opens, clicks, leads, unique stats, replies, and more. You can also integrate your campaign with Google Analytics. Reports can help you identify the effectiveness of your campaigns and help you change your methods for better automations.

Overall, I like the reporting feature. However, it’s a bit slow in terms of loading and can be a bit clumsy in terms of UI. You will have to take a look at it a few times to get used to it.

10. Integration with Apps

ActiveCampaign offers a large number of integrations (more than 300) with some of the leading services and applications in the world. PayPal, Shopify, Facebook, Salesforce, Google Analytics, and WordPress are just a few to name here. Whatever integration you want, give the complete list a look and see how you can integrate both your services together to reap the most advantage. 

Since WordPress is directly supported as a plugin or integration, you shouldn’t include form code directly on your WordPress. Rather, use the ActiveCampaign integration plugin to make sure it works smoothly. 

ActiveCampaign Review: Pricing

Impressed by the overview of ActiveCampaign? 

ActiveCampaign pricing starts with $9 for a yearly subscription for 500 contacts and $15 over a monthly expense. Similarly, for the same number of contacts, you’re charged $49 per mo/$70 per year for the Plus plan, $129 per mo/$159 per year for the Professional plan, and $229 per mo/$279 per year. 

If you decide ActiveCampaign is your long-term email solution, the annual pricing options can save quite a bit if you’re willing to commit to a longer contract period. 

You can also test out a few features in the 14-day free trial period provided by ActiveCampaign to audit their suite. 

The most basic of plans will get you an unlimited sending ability, marketing tools, forms, chat and email support, and a 3-user restriction. 

As you proceed, you’ll get more and more features to engage better with your consumers, get better reporting, and allow more people in your business to take part. 

RELATED: Read my full ActiveCampaign pricing guide.


Conclusion: Who Is ActiveCampaign for?

One thing’s for sure – ActiveCampaign isn’t free of quirks, but the service is still a great addition to the marketing ecosystem. 

It is economically priced, has great automation workflows, and offers excellent reporting features for small and mid-sized businesses to yield useful metrics from their campaigns.

ActiveCampaign will be a great addition to your suite of marketing tools if:

  1. Your deliverability is badly impacted by a low reputation or engagement, and you wish to boost it. ActiveCampaign is one of the highest-ranking tools in terms of deliverability and can ensure a higher rate if yours isn’t up to par right now.
  2. You want to take advantage of email marketing automation and workflows to send your subscribers/customers emails at the perfect time for your business.
  3. If your businesses’ conversion rates aren’t great – email marketing can help your users engage with you through powerful automations and effective lead-capturing forms. 
  4. If you feel your sales and marketing processes aren’t aligned properly, you can utilize the CRM solution embedded within ActiveCampaign to set up a more effective and streamlined process. It’ll take care of your sales from being mere leads to confirmed sales.

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