Your email list is one of the most important assets you have – but only if you know how to use it well.

Using your list correctly can be a difficult and time-consuming process. You have to figure out how to organize your subscribers, decide which emails to send to which subscribers, when those emails should be sent, and how to act on the data you get back.

Complicated.

Email marketing software aims to make these complicated things simpler, and a number of big names like MailChimp, AWeber, Drip, are all popular options.

All of these services offer a similar set of core features but tend to present them in different ways. As a result, what’s easy and intuitive on one platform might be hard to figure out on another – each platform has it’s own unique pros and cons.

Enter ConvertKit, stage right.

Around these parts, we’ve been MailChimp users for a long (long) time, but have recently started migrating to ConvertKit. MailChimp was fine – better than fine – but some of the key features we really need from our email platform are implemented better in ConvertKit.

After a lot of testing – well, playing around with cool stuff, really – we decided that ConvertKit just does a better job making the features we use the most easier, faster, and simpler to understand.

Let’s talk a little bit about the basics of email marketing software, and how ConvertKit works it’s fancy magic.

What is ConvertKit?

ConvertKit is an email marketing platform. It helps you collect email subscribers, organize those subscribers and figure out which emails to send to which subscribers and when to send them.

It was built by a former pro blogger, and is probably the best non-enterprise email marketing solution for blogs, podcasters, youtubers, and content creators – because it’s built specfically with that audience in mind.

The clean and accessible ConvertKit dashboard

ConvertKit is great because it makes common jobs easy to do and complex tasks easy to understand.

Conceptually, ConvertKit has five key parts:

1. Forms

Forms are how you collect information from your readers. The email signup boxes you see on websites are forms. So are the pop-up boxes that offer to email you a pdf or other resource in exchange for your email address. ConvertKit lets you create two different kinds of forms – embeddable forms that can be placed on your own posts/pages and landing pages that live on ConvertKit’s servers.

2. Subscribers

When someone gives you their email via one of your forms, they become a subscriber. There are many ways to handle subscribers when they first join your list. You can add them to specific lists when they sign up, you can include them in specific sequences of emails, or you can put them on some general mailing list. The subscriber is the base unit in ConvertKit, and you can add the same subscriber to multiple lists or let them participate in multiple email sequences at the same time.

3. Tags

Tags are how you organize your subscribers into groups, direct those groups down specific paths, and change paths based on what actions your subscribers take. In ConvertKit you can have as many tags as you want and can assign tags manually or have the system assign them automatically based on how your subscribers behave. T

4. Sequences

A sequence is the path you want a subscriber to follow. It’s a series of emails, delays, and offers that you’d like to present. The path can be different for different subscribers and ConvertKit lets you use automations to modify the sequence a subscriber is following based on actions they perform or data they provide.

5. Automations

Automations are a set of rules and actions that ConvertKit can automatically apply to subscribers and sequences. They’re a powerful way to easily manage list maintenance and build interlocking programs of sequences. While the idea of automation isn’t unique to ConvertKit, ConvertKit’s implementation is head-and-shoulders above everyone else.

ConvertKit’s Top Features

Email marketing platforms all do the same set of basic things, so rather than review a big, generic list of those basic features, let’s talk instead about what ConvertKit does better than everyone else.

This is a quick feature summary, but if you’d like to read about ConvertKit’s top features in more depth, we have a separate article that goes through them one-by-one.

Read More: ConvertKit’s Top Features

Top Feature #1: ConvertKit is Subscriber Centric

Unlike other platforms, which organize subscriber information by putting users into distinct mailing lists, ConvertKit is organized around individual subscribers. The lingo is that other services are “list-centric” and ConvertKit is “subscriber-centric.”

In a subscriber-centric system, you start by building a big pile of subscribers and then separate them into segments and groups by adding tags to each subscriber’s profile. This creates a more dynamic and adaptable workflow and avoids the problem of paying twice for the same subscriber – something MailChimp is notorious for.

Subscriber-centric models are better than list-centric models in almost every situation. They’re easier to manage, easier to maintain, and easier to automate.

Read More: The Difference Between List-Based & Subscriber-Based Services

Top Feature #2: The Automation Engine is Powerful & Easy to Use

Automations are the key to using your email list effectively. Being able to have a new subscriber magically proceed down a pre-determined path is a great way to build engagement and produce results.

Automations let you move subscribers from group to group based on behavior, they let you show specific content to specific subscribers, enable content upgrades for certain subscriber groups, and ensure that the right subscribers get the right emails at the right time.

If someone is in a sequence that talks about how great your paid content is and why people should sign up, at some point they might agree and decide to become a customer. At that point, do you want to keep sending them emails telling them how great the content they just paid for is? No way.

Instead, you now want to support the content they signed up for, offer education, and provide a chance for feedback. In response, you’d then send them off down a different path that provides value according to their demonstrated interests and behavior.

Automations let you do that.

While most email marketing services support some level of automation, it’s usually a little clunky and can be hard to set up and edit. ConvertKit turns everything upside down with an easy to use automation builder that lets you point and click your way through even complex sequences.

Read More: Using ConvertKit’s Crazy Good Automations

Top Feature #3: The WordPress Plugin is Pretty Neat

For the last couple of years ConvertKit has supported an official WordPress Plugin. The plugin is required in order to display forms on WordPress posts (even if you want to use shortcode) but it can do a lot more that that.

Through several cycles of rewrites and upgrades, ConvertKit’s WordPress Plugin has gained real utility and allowed ConvertKit to expand the reach of it’s data collection.

Some cool things you can do with the WordPress Plugin include assigning subscribers tags based on which pages they view, displaying subscriber-only content upgrades inline with your existing text, and dynamically changing which text you display to visitors based on which tags they carry.

That’s a lot of flexibility and power built in to a lightweight plugin.

Read More: Assigning Tags and Displaying Custom Content With the ConvertKit WordPress Plugin

Top Feature #4: Double Opt-Ins Can Be Tied to Content Delivery

The double opt-in is a time-tested way to cut down the amount of spam your database gets (fake signups) and is now required in most European regions because of newer legislation.

Double opt-ins are simple to understand. First, someone signs up via a form on your site. Second (“double”), they get an email with a verification link. They have to click the link to confirm their desire to subscribe and actually be added as a subscriber.

This is good for both subscribers and publishers because it adds a barrier to people abusing the system. Still, the more steps you make a reader take the less likely you are to end up with a conversion.

ConvertKit has a novel solution to this problem.

If you have a lead magnet that offers a download or upgrade to people in return for signing up, you can use the download as the second step of the opt-in process.

It’s clean, easy, and accomplishes the same purpose as a generic “click here to verify” email without actually adding the perception of an extra step.

Read More: Tying Double Opt-Ins to Delivery of Content Upgrades with ConvertKit

Tags vs Segments, Groups & Lists

Organizing your subscribers can get a little tricky. It’s so tricky, in fact, that no matter how hard I try, this section is going to be a little confusing.

So let’s start simply – You don’t want a big pile of generic subscribers. What you want is the ability to sort that big pile into groups subscribers who have things in common. Sorting changes big, generic groups into smaller, targeted groups. And that’s good, because being able to more accurately target subscribers’ interests will improve the value of your product and bring you more conversions.

List-centric services like MailChimp help out with this organization by providing two key tools – Segments & Groups.

The difference between a segment and a group is subtle, but the basic concept is that you can take a big list of generic subscribers and break them into smaller groups of similar subscribers by “filtering” them according to whatever criteria you choose.

You can organize by location, age, which form they used to sign up, previous email click history, prior purchases, or anything else that’s important for you to track.

An example of a MailChimp user creating specific segments and groups in order to target specific subscribers

To be honest, despite the fact that we used MailChimp for years and I’ve just spent time re-reading the official explanation about how segments and groups are different, I still don’t really understand it.

That’s a problem. This shouldn’t be hard to understand – because if it’s hard to understand, it’s hard to use correctly. And if it’s hard to use correctly, it’s going to negatively affect your ability to correctly sort and serve your subscribers.

I love examples, so let’s use a candy website to illustrate the basics of how sementation works.

If you had a big list of people that all signed up from your website about candy, you could potentially filter that big list into three segments – people who like chocolate, people who like gummy bears, and people who like candy corn (ick, why?).

The idea here is that you don’t want to send gummy bear emails to chocolate people and segmenting your big “I like candy” list into more specific segments helps avoid this. It makes the emails you send more specific – they’re better tailored to a subscriber’s interests.

If you wanted, you could go back through and create groups – dark chocolate lovers vs milk chocolate lovers – or you could use some kind of automated process to do the assigning for you.

Overall, what you’re doing is breaking your big list of people into smaller and smaller cohorts of people.

The problem with lists, segments, and groups is that – beyond being confusing – a system like this is hard to keep track of and hard to edit. Luckily, ConvertKit solves this complexity problem by opting to use high-level tags instead.

Tags are a better solution.

You can add and remove as many tags as you want, as often as you want, without worrying about reconfiguring a list. You could go through and manually tag everyone you met face-to-face at a conference. Or, if you had a form on a post about blogging courses, you could have the system auto-tag everyone coming from that form as interested in blogging courses.

Because you don’t have to worry about lists, but can instead just add and remove tags as people activate triggers, tag management is very easy – and intuitive. Ultimately, tags can easily solve problems that lists struggle with.

Forms & Landing Pages

ConvertKit offers the two basic data collection elements standard across the industry – embeddable forms & landing pages.

Embeddable forms are what you’d create to put forms on your own posts or pages while landing pages are standalone mini-webpages that live on ConvertKit’s servers.

Creating a new form or landing page is accomplished by choosing a pre-made template and editing it to fit your needs.

ConvertKit’s Templates (An Exercise in Simplicity)

A fair number of reviews are pretty tough on ConvertKit’s built-in templates and editor. They say the editor is very basic and the number of available template designs is limited.

Factually, this criticism is true. It’s also completely irrelevant.

The small selection of form templates available within ConvertKit

Yes, ConvertKit offers a limited number of simple templates. Yes, the templates are the same for both embeddable forms and landing pages. And yes, it’s also true that there’s no fancy drag-and-drop editor.

But this simplicity is on purpose, not because they couldn’t include complex templates and a big, fancy editor if they wanted to. Portraying this conscious choice as a negative is like criticizing Ferrari because the cars they make don’t have trunks big enough to hold a Christmas tree – It’s true, but dumb.

Just like nobody buys a Ferrari to haul Christmas trees around, ConvertKit lacks fancy form templates and a wiz-bang editor because it’s built with a different a different goal in mind – success!

If you’re looking for fancy, image-based templates or a million and one design options, you won’t find them in ConvertKit. But, if you care more about conversions and subscribers than you do about pretty pictures, then ConvertKit has everything you need.

Rather than spending a lot of time and money creating form templates that tend to perform poorly, ConvertKit instead focuses on forms that produce results.

ConvertKit’s forms are so basic because basic forms work.

Embeddable Forms

Embeddable forms are forms that you place directly on your site. They’re what you’re likely to build and use most of the time.

Only four flavors of embeddable forms are available – Minimal, Clean, Full, and Deluxe. The design of each form is very basic.

Only two form types – Full & Deluxe – allow images. And even then, you can only include a single, small image. The simplest form type – Clean – only displays a naked “Name” box and an “Email” box – there’s not even any editable text.

When you create an embeddable form, you first have to choose how that form is going to be displayed. There are three options:

  • Inline – a static form that gets inserted inside the flow of a normal post
  • Modal – a dynamic form that can be displayed when a visitor scrolls a certain way down a page, when they’ve been on a page for a specified period of time, or when it looks like they’re about to leave a page (“exit intent”)
  • Slide In – a dynamic form that slides in from the bottom left or bottom right once a reader either scrolls a certain way down a page or has been on a page for a specified amount of time

Once you choose the display type, you just select one of the four available templates and customize it according to what you want.

ConvertKit’s Form Editor

Because the forms types are so simple, there’s no such thing as a real drag-and-drop template editor in ConvertKit. Instead, all form customizing is done using their inline editor.

Here’s a quick video that shows the ins and outs of using the form editor.

A ConvertKit video demonstrating how to create and edit forms. Rehosted from ConvertKit.com

Integrations

ConvertKit has a lot of integrations. A lot – more than eighty at last count. Some of them are easy – like passing data back and forth between ConvertKit and a form you create in GravityForms – and some are quite sophisticated.

A partial list of the eighty integrations available for ConvertKit

You can link your Facebook Ads to tag people who click specific ads. You can link your Teachable account, so that people who browse specific course pages get added to a sequence. Or, if they purchase a course you can transfer them to a sequence that pitches related courses or offers support.

If you’re a webinar type person, you can link your entire Easywebinar workflow to ConvertKit – signups for the webinar can be added as subscribers and you can track who actually showed up, who stayed for part of a presentation, who did the whole program, who “raised their hand” to ask a question, and on and on.

Sophisticated.

Toss in Zapier and the list of interesting things you can do with integrations gets exponentially bigger.

Check out ConvertKit’s list for a complete, searchable database of all the integrations available.

Deliverability

Solid. As with any other top level service. We’ve never had any issues.

The folks over at EmailToolTester did a big roundup of several different mail services and used some good methods to actually figure out how different services stacked up. Here’s a summary of their findings.

emailtooltester.com

Analytics

I’m a little torn on ConvertKit’s approach to analytics.

On one hand, the analytics provided by ConvertKit’s native system are fairly sparse. You’re able to see data about open rates, conversion rates, and other key statistics within the ConvertKit dashboard. You can also easily track A/B test conversion rates.

An example “Engagement Overview” from a broadcast email sent from ConvertKit

Overall, though, the level of drill-down available is limited. Data can be aggregated at the form and subscriber level only, there’s no support for custom groupings, campaigns, or tests.

You’re also not able to do revenue-linked tracking like some of the enterprise (i.e., not MailChimp) platforms can. ConvertKit doesn’t track detailed ecommerce data or total return on investment. It also won’t interface with a tool like Mandril to do domain verification.

I really like data, and you should, too. More data will make you more money – the more data you have, the better your decisions will be, and the more effective you’ll be at giving your subscribers what they want. So, from this point of view I sometimes miss not having more data tracking available within ConvertKit.

On the other hand, this focus is kind of in line with the overall way that ConvertKit seems to approach its business – Simple, easy to use, and not bogged down with a lot of things that might get in the way of the core feature set.

And, they don’t leave you hanging – you can track all this data, you just need to use another tool.

Rather than trying to track everything in the service itself, what ConvertKit does is provide a guided walkthrough of how to track any kind of event, metric, or behavior you’d like by creating goals within Google Analytics.

This approach keeps the most essential data tracking within the ConvertKit service and offloads the other tracking to a more robust data tracking platform. And I’m ok with that. We’ve set up several trackers in Analytics (some of them are even kind of clever) and they seem to be working well. So we’re getting the data we need.

We’ve actually followed the lead of some smart people and created a section of our Analytics account specifically dedicated to tracking metrics from ConvertKit.

An example of setting up goals within Google Analytics to track ConvertKit data

I guess where I end up on this issue goes something like this – do some other platforms offer a broader ability to track data from within the tool itself? Yes. Do I sometimes wish ConvertKit did the same thing? Yes. But, do I trust Google to do accurate data tracking via Analytics and still end up with what I need. Absolutely.

Is ConvertKit Better than Mailchimp?

That’s a big question, and it will have it’s very own article so we can talk about it in some detail. But, as I mentioned at the top of the piece, we were with MailChimp for a long time and ended up switching to ConvertKit. I don’t think we’re generally dumb, so I guess that’s a testamonial for you.

For bloggers, ConvertKit is better. For people who sell stuff, ConvertKit is probably better. Overall, ConvertKit is probably the best choice for about 80% of online businesses I can think of. The other 20% either need a different set of features or are big shots who need real enterprise level service from someone like Infusionsoft (and can hire developers to make it all work).

Pros & Cons

When you toss everything into the blender, ConvertKit has some notable pros and cons – just like any other product or service.

  • CON: Can’t track revenue and thus create revenue targeted campaigns
  • CON: Can’t track page clicks on standard websites as actionable events that trigger an automation – You can do this in WordPress, using the plugin
  • CON: Limited A/B Testing options. ConvertKit will send A and B versions of a subject and auto-track the winner, which is then sent to the rest of the list
  • CON: Unsubscribe removes a subscriber totally
  • PRO – You can watch what people do and add them to a sequence based on their behavior. If they spend a lot of time looking a product page, you can subscribe them to a sequence about that product
  • PROReally good dynamic email building. Can merge fields (as expected) but ConvertKit also has robust fallback options and can even dynamically add and remove blocks of content based on who’s getting the email (people who have previously purchased might have a block of text removed, people who are part of another sequence might have a block of text added, etc)
  • PRO – Automatic cold lead tracking and reengagement

Overall, the pros tend to out-important the cons, which are either not mission-critical or have easy workarounds (tracking revenue can be done with Google Analytics, for example).

ConvertKit’s one true drawback is its limited support for A/B testing, and we’re hopeful that this will be addressed in upcoming revisions.

How Much Does ConvertKit Cost?

ConvertKit has no free tier of service – though they do have a pretty insightful blog post about why they made that choice. Service starts at around $20 a month, which is reasonable. You could also pop your email in that nice form right there and try it out for 14 days totally free – no credit card required.

Of note – the only difference between the pricing tiers is how many subscribers you have. ConvertKit provides it’s fullfeatured service and support to everyone.

Read More: ConvertKit Pricing Explained

Get a Full Demo of Everything ConvertKit Can Do

We think ConvertKit is pretty darn terrific, and are glad to be aboard. If you’d like to check out what the system can do, you can either use the box below to sign up for a free 14 day trial (no credit card required) or you can head over to the ConvertKit Website and ask the support team to set you up with an appointment to do a live walkthrough. Either way, it’s a risk free way of checking out what ConvertKit can do for your business.

Check it Out: Get Hooked Up With A Live ConvertKit Demo Today

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