I got started with online business more than 6 years ago.

I got it drilled into my head back then that “the money is in the list”. And in order to build this mythical list, you’ve got to have an email autoresponder account.

So, like thousands of other people chasing the 4-Hour Workweek, I signed up for an Aweber account and jumped right in!

Back then everyone was using Aweber because it was the most sophisticated email tool around that didn’t cost insane amounts of money.

Even though that was only 6 years ago, it’s a veritable century in “tech time”. Indeed, since then, email marketing & automation apps have become unbelievably sophisticated. Aweber is now almost obsolete next to a smorgasbord of more powerful, user friendly and affordable (even free) tools.

Thanks to my line of work, I’ve had the unique privilege to play around with many of these different email marketing platforms, including:

…and many more.

The two email marketing platforms that I finally decided to use in my own businesses are Drip and ActiveCampaign. I use Drip for my front-end lead generation and email marketing, and I use ActiveCampaign for my online training portal, Dorfman.Training (coming soon).

Both apps have their pros and cons. And because there’s no “one size fits all” email marketing platform, my hope in writing this article is that you’ll have as much impartial information as possible to help you make the best decision for you and your unique business.

Before we take a look at either Drip or ActiveCampaign, let me address why I’m not even taking any of the dozens of other tools out there under serious consideration.

Why Not MailChimp, or InfusionSoft, or Another App…?

Most of the email marketing tools on the market suffer from one of these three shortcomings:

  1. It does far too little (e.g. Aweber)
  2. It tries to do too much (e.g. ClickFunnels, InfusionSoft)
  3. The pricing doesn’t make sense (e.g. MailChimp, InfusionSoft, ClickFunnels).

MailChimp illustrates some of these issues well.

Is it a highly popular email marketing app? Undoubtedly. Would I recommend it? Certainly not.

Whilst good at what it does (efficiency), MailChimp doesn’t do enough of the right things (effectiveness) to be terribly useful for any serious online business endeavor past a certain, basic point. It lacks the true marketing automation that you get with Drip or ActiveCampaign.

It has some basic automation capabilities but it’s not sophisticated enough to actually make a difference in your business. Even something that should be simple (like delivering a content upgrade) is unnecessarily challenging in MailChimp. Part of the reason for that is because it’s still stuck in the “email marketing 1.0” paradigm, which is based on lists.

Lists still have a place in email marketing but the trend now is towards greater segmentation and personalization. And for good reason; it works like gangbusters. In order to deliver your segmented, personalized message, that sounds like it was written individually for each subscriber, you need tools like:

  • Tags
  • Custom Fields
  • Advanced automations (aka workflows)

Furthermore, once you approach 3000 contacts with MailChimp you’re already paying $50(!) At that price point you could be using a much more powerful email marketing tool like ActiveCampaign. You’d be able to do everything that MailChimp does, plus much, much more.

ActiveCampaign pricing for 5000 contacts on the “Lite” plan is very reasonable

Even if your email marketing is intentionally barebones, you’re still better off with a provider like Drip or ActiveCampaign. You may not anticipate it now, but when your business starts to grow you’ll breathe a sigh of relief that you’re not hamstrung by an email marketing app that isn’t able to support that growth.

On the opposite side of the spectrum you have a tool like InfusionSoft.

InfusionSoft is more of an “all-in-one” solution that covers your needs for email marketing, a shopping cart, a CRM, reporting, and your affiliate program.

I quite like InfusionSoft because it makes a lot of sense for certain business models (for instance, a digital agency who does a lot of outbound sales). But is it “best in class” in solving any one, specific problem (besides providing an integrated solution)?

I’d argue that it isn’t:

  • The shopping cart is cumbersome and often requires paid 3rd party additions (like Spiffy checkout) to look and feel halfway professional.
  • The CRM is solid but there are more intuitive solutions whose sole focus is the CRM game (e.g. PipeDrive).
  • The affiliate module has great tracking (I’ve heard that many “super affiliates” insist on using InfusionSoft in order to promote an offer because of the highly accurate tracking), but is rather basic. In contrast, an excellent self-hosted solution like iDevAffiliate provides waaay more flexibility for running a proper affiliate program. This is unsurprising because that’s their sole focus!
  • The reporting is great but needs a lot of configuration. Again, a dedicated tool like KlipFolio solves this problem better.
  • The email marketing is quite good. It helps if you’ve done InfusionSoft’s expensive-ass certification program that has an entire big-ass module on deliverability. I have to give InfusionSoft credit: their certification program is legit and they really care about making sure you leave the training knowing your stuff.
  • The campaign builder is clunky and, while functional, it’s certainly less intuitive than the ActiveCampaign automations editor. (You’ve got to mark each step of an automation as “ready” before you can publish it…total PITA.)

InfusionSoft doesn’t come cheap, either. You’re looking at a minimum of $300/month plus a setup fee, unless you can get an insider deal from one of the InfusionSoft certified consultants. If you can get a deal, you might actually wind up with a good value. A friend of mine runs an agency and pays $300/mo for 50k contacts: that’s a steal! All the more so because InfusionSoft is a good fit for the agency model.

MailChimp and InfusionSoft are just two, contrasting examples of email marketing tools that do certain things well, but for a combination of reasons, don’t make a lot of sense for the majority of small to mid-size online businesses. There are dozens of additional tools along this spectrum that, hopefully, I don’t need to review one-by-one!

The point is this:

Since you’re working online, trying to grow your business, and are possibly looking to add a membership site to the mix, it’s important to pick tools that do what you need very well, do as little of what you do NOT need as possible, will grow with your business, and that are (relatively) reasonably priced both in the beginning, and at scale.

In my experience, Drip and ActiveCampaign are the two email marketing platforms that best satisfy these criteria in 2017. And with Leadpages recently acquiring Drip and investing heavily in its expansion—and with ActiveCampaign recently getting a round of venture funding—I suspect that both of these players will be around and innovating in this space for many years to come!

So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at these apps, starting with Drip first.

Why I’m Bullish on the Drip Email Marketing Platform

Drip

About a year ago I went all-in with Drip. I switched all of my email marketing from Aweber to Drip. And now, more than a year later, I’m very satisfied with my decision.

It seems like every time I log into my Drip account I notice some new features, both cosmetic and functional.

The Drip dashboard: clean and intuitive.

For example, Drip recently (mid 2017) added the ability to export workflows.

This was one of the huge selling points that ActiveCampaign advertised (arguably Drip’s biggest competitor) and which Drip lacked at the time.

This was a huge development because it meant you could now share your automations and download other Drippers’ workflows as well. If you want, you can even sell the automations you’ve created.

Because of my own encouraging experience with Drip, I’ve recommended it to several of my customers. And the feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

The only real complaint I’ve heard is that it takes a bit of time to understand how to use Drip, especially if you’re coming from a “simpler” platform like Aweber or MailChimp.

But that should neither surprise nor deter you. When you start working with a new tool that lets you do more, you’ve got to learn more. Can it be any other way?

From day one, Drip has provided comprehensive and easy to understand educational resources, guides, webinars, courses, live certification events, and an excellent knowledgebase – all for free to their users.

This is actually a big deal because, believe it or not, many widely-used apps lack good (or even barely acceptable) documentation and training. This hinders adoption, creates confusion, makes troubleshooting frustrating, and ultimately results in a lose-lose situation for both vendor and customer.

Drip has shown consistently that they care about their customers’ success by making such a wide range of training resources available. They sagely understood that it’s not enough to simply use a powerful platform like Drip; you’ve got to actually understand how it works, what it’s capable of, and how to implement the marketing automation strategies that give you the leverage that lesser platforms simply don’t offer.

Education is the key that unlocks and shows you this magical world.

Some of my favorite Drip features

Great training – Drip really cares about making sure their users know how to make the most of their app. They’ve got a comprehensive knowledge base, plenty of YouTube videos, guides, webinars, and articles all aimed at helping new users adopt the tech quickly, and existing users to continue making the most of it. As someone who does a lot of troubleshooting for my customers, I appreciate the ability to quickly find the answer to my tech concerns with a quick search.

Great support – If I can’t find the answer to a particular question or concern, I can always count on Drip’s support to be thorough and helpful. I’m actually surprised by the quality of Drip’s support given their mushroom-like growth. Perhaps the fact that they’ve been acquired by LeadPages has played a role in their ability to scale support smoothly along with their user base.

Powerful community – Drip’s got a loyal community of folks (mostly on the LeadPages Facebook group) who are keen to help, share, and ask for advice. I haven’t had much occasion to make use of the community but it’s good to know it’s there if I need to appeal to collective wisdom.

Free forever plan up to 100 contacts – You can take Drip for a nice, long test drive because they give you a free account up to your first 100 contacts. Boom!

Epic collection of integrations – It’s great to have native integrations inside of the apps you work with because they tend to be more reliable than using Zapier. Plus, unlike Zapier, you don’t have to pay extra to be able to use them. Check out Drip’s impressive list of integrations here.

Aggressive roll-out of new features – Drip regularly releases new features. They seem to put a lot of attention into improving the user experience inside of the app and making things easier to use. But they haven’t neglected functionality as evidenced by the recent update that allows you to export and import automations (among other updates).

Stable infrastructure – I’ve never had a problem with Drip going offline, or somebody not going through an entire automation. Which is unfortunately more than can be said for ActiveCampaign at the moment. The only complaint I have is that there’s sometimes a delay between an opt-in and that person being added to your account. This makes testing in Drip a bit frustrating. In ActiveCampaign, on the other hand, it’s instant.

Awesome affiliate program – I love Drip. So when I endorse it and get well paid for my recommendation, I appreciate the little bit of extra cash. And indeed, Drip has an excellent referral program that pays 30% recurring commissions in perpetuity.

I try to never let the prospect of getting paid a commission bias me. Methinks it helps that I’m not a terribly successful affiliate marketer. In my entire career I’ve earned maybe $5000 worth of affiliate commissions in total; and I’ve been at this online business stuff about 5 years now.

On the other hand, I’ve earned a pretty decent living by building a trusting relationship with my audience, which is something that it makes no sense to sacrifice for the prospect of a few affiliate dollars. I happily promote tons of apps, people and services without any kickback whatsoever (like ActiveMember360, for example, which doesn’t even have a referral program).

So when I get the opportunity to evangelize on behalf of a company that deserves it and earn a bit of coffee money at the same time, I think of it as a win / win. 🙂

Great deliverability – A lot of people report deliverability issues with ActiveCampaign. But I’ve not heard of any similar issues occurring with Drip. Deliverability is a huge deal in the email marketing world, so having strong inbox penetration out of the gate is one less headache to worry about.

List pruning – Drip makes it easy to “prune” your list of contacts who don’t open or engage with your emails via the bulk operations action. You can even create an automation to remove contacts after they’ve not opened your last 5 emails (for example).

Resend to unopened – A cool little feature of the email broadcast functionality in Drip is that you can check box that will re-send your email to anybody who hasn’t opened it in “x” days. You can also change the resend email headline to increase the chance of an open. Drip is bursting with thoughtful little gems like this.

Unsubscribe from campaign but not from list – If you run a promotion or some kind of campaign it’s good to give your subscribers the opportunity to opt out if they’re not interested. But you don’t want to remove them from your list entirely. They’re just not interested in that specific thing. With Drip’s Campaigns feature you can remove people from a given promotion without irrevocably losing them as a subscriber.

Liquid – Liquid is a language created by Shopify which allows you to easily create if/then scenarios with email.

Simple “if, then” logic that shows a different sentence to the subscriber depending on which tag they have in their contact record.

You can see in the above screenshot that liquid basically pulls data from a contact record and shows different content based on the conditions you specify. Can you imagine how much time you could save by using some Liquid tags in ONE email, instead of creating 10 variations of the same email…?

For a breezy intro to liquid check out this article:

5 Email Personalization Tricks to Increase Engagement Using Liquid

Pre-built email sequence blueprints – Drip features a growing library of email sequences that you can pre-load into a campaign with 1 click.

I mostly use these to start a campaign with a proven template and modify them as I go along. But you can just as easily use them “as is” if they fit your use case. Just change out the details to reflect your particular promotion and you’re good to go.

Choose one of the proven email sequences written by master marketers such as Ryan Deiss

Unlimited sub-accounts – One thing that annoys me about ActiveCampaign is that you mix all of your subscribers in one “pool” within your account. In Drip, you simply create as many sub-accounts as you want. Like the song says, “you gotta keep ’em separated”.

Having unlimited sub-accounts lets you neatly separate different projects instead of trying to sort through them one one big ass list of subscribers

The value of a virtual mentor / evil genius.

Have you heard of Brennan Dunn? If you have, I needn’t say another word.

Don’t let the college boy smile fool you; this dude is an evil genius.

If you haven’t, here’s the scoop: Brennan is a well-known Drip guru who regularly posts tutorials on how to do incredible stuff with Drip. He’s even got a course called Drip Mastery which includes his infamous “Drip Pro Tools”.

To me, having a virtual mentor in the form of Brennan whom I can emulate and learn from takes so much guesswork out of the most difficult and yet most valuable part of email marketing, that I’d rather use Drip and have Brennan in my corner, than use another, more powerful tool, and try to figure everything out by myself.

The first strategy will make me a lot more money a lot quicker; the second strategy will lead to me having a great tool and not knowing how to make the most of it.

Brennan brings in $200k/mo in sales of his freelancing course virtually on autopilot by making the most of Drip’s segmentation, personalization capabilities. In one test, Brennan was able to double his sales just by personalizing the sales page to reflect the avatar of the subscriber who was viewing it (e.g. designer, developer, copywriter, etc.).

Check out Brennan’s funnel teardown here and tell me that it isn’t totally epic:

Don’t Let a Tool Turn You Into a Bitch

I got so caught up with trying to decide whether to use Drip or ActiveCampaign that I actually developed a mini-complex around the issue. I got uncharacteristically indecisive and bitch-like.

And then I had a moment of clarity, like an alcoholic who’s had so much to drink that he all of a sudden speaks with remarkable lucidity. In that moment I realized I’m NOT going to let a damn tool dictate terms for the growth of my business.

I personally know two individuals – and there must be thousands more – who still make a high 6-figure, mostly passive income with crappy ol’ Aweber. Do you hear them boo-hooing about how Aweber doesn’t have automation capabilities and that’s why they’re not achieving their goals?

So my advice – unless you’d like to develop an ulcer – is to pick a tool, stick with it, resist the temptation to monkey branch to a new, shinier tool, and get creative with its use instead of blaming it for where your business is at, or isn’t at, as the case may be. (I’m directing this advice at myself first and foremost!)

And the biggest reason I’ve written this post is to save you that trouble by helping you narrow down your options to one or two proven apps, instead of trying to navigate, research, and pick from dozens of options that you may or may not know anything about.

So if I love Drip, why am I also using ActiveCampaign?

While I adore Drip, I have to admit that I spent a good month or so agonizing over whether or not to switch to ActiveCampaign.

The agony and the ecstasy both came from the fact that Drip and ActiveCampaign boast very similar features. And yet, each app has a distinctly different feel. Now why would that matter?

One explanation I can offer is that when two rival tools are more or less evenly matched in terms of functionality, then subjective personal preference starts to play a large role.

(For example: even if you love Aweber and have been happy with their software for years, would you still stick with them knowing that by NOT switching you’d be preventing your business from growing to the next level of revenue and success…? Not bloody likely.)

To make matters worse, trying to find an impartial comparison of these two tools will make you feel like a 3-legged cat trying to bury turds on a frozen pond. It seems that most “reviewers” are too busy hawking their affiliate links to take the time to understand how Drip and AC truly stack up beyond a rather superficial level.

It doesn’t help matters that many companies embark on ethically dubious campaigns to fill the internet with bullshit about their products. To wit, here’s an email I recently received:

No conflict of interest here…

Because of all the BS out there, I decided to run Drip and AC side by side on two separate (but related) sites, to gather my own data, and to make my own daggum conclusions.

Drip vs ActiveCampaign – My findings revealed

While Drip is nipping aggressively at ActiveCampaign’s heels, ActiveCampaign still excels in several key areas:

The Drag and Drop Automation Builder – If you build a large, complex automation in Drip, and you discover that you’ve made an error somewhere along the way, you’ve got to go back and delete (or replace) the offending elements. Luckily, you don’t have to rebuild the whole dang thing. But that’s a mere consolation prize to what I consider to be fundamentally inferior functionality.

With ActiveCampaign, you simply drag and drop the elements of your automations as you please. How the heck is Drip not offering this? It’s not that this is simply better than Drip’s automations editor; it’s the only proper way I can conceive of building and editing automations.

Suppose you build a sexy automation in Drip and then discover you’ve made an error early in the workflow. While you can go back and delete the offending element, you’ll need to rebuild everything that immediately depends upon that element in the forked path below it:

This, however, is only a minor irritation. What becomes a real pain is when you need to rearrange parts of a workflow. That requires rebuilding entire sections of a workflow because, unlike ActiveCampaign, Drip doesn’t let you simply drag the elements you need to the places you need them.

I’m willing to bet my bottom Bitcoin that sooner rather than later Drip will also make their automations / workflows editor drag and drop. But until then, ActiveCampaign wins the workflow editor face-off.

Integration with the new generation of tag-based membership plugins

ActiveCampaign features “deep” integration with my membership plugin of choice, ActiveMember360. This is the biggest selling point for the use of AC for me because I need a robust membership plugin to run my training portal. If you’re taking your membership site seriously and looking to build it up to a substantial level, then in my opinion this should be the foremost consideration in your mind.

ActiveMember360, along with a few other scrappy plugins in this space, is changing the way membership plugins are conceived. It’s based on the idea that your membership site should have a “deep” integration with your email marketing app; in this case, ActiveCampaign.

You see, while most membership plugins maintain a database of member info on your WordPress site, AM360 simply “calls” ActiveCampaign, checks the user’s contact record for tags, and then performs the actions you’ve defined on the site based on those tags. While there’s a WordPress user corresponding to each member, the “action” takes place in ActiveCampaign.

For example, suppose John has a tag for awesome online course in his AC record. When ActiveMember360 sees that John has the tag needed to view this particular content, it will show him the course content. Conversely, if John has a tag that indicates his subscription has lapsed, ActiveMember360 can show him a message prompting him to update his credit card, lock him out, or perform any number of other actions that you can configure.

This puts your email marketing app front and center in your business, which is, for the majority of online endeavors, its proper role.

There are a few pros to this, as well as a few cons.

Deep integration membership plugins: Pros and Cons

PRO: It eliminates the need to maintain multiple databases and keep them in sync (a common source of headaches for membership site owners).

PRO: It simplifies and decentralizes subscription management and makes it more flexible.

PRO: It permits a much wider range of more extensive integrations and operations via API for the simple reason that there are far more integrations available with ActiveCampaign than there are with a given membership plugin (e.g. MemberMouse, MemberPress, DAP, etc.).

PRO: Migrations from a plugin like MemberMouse, MemberPress, DAP, etc., to ActiveMember360 (or iMember360, the InfusionSoft brother plugin by the same folks) is relatively easy because you don’t have to migrate WordPress stuff; you only need to assign tags and create automations in AC. Migrations from a 1st generation membership plugin to another first generation membership plugin (e.g. DAP => MemberMouse) is such a nightmare that I no longer even do them; I don’t care how much you’re willing to pay me! Maybe I’m precious, or maybe a near-nervous breakdown isn’t worth the money. One of the two.

CON: passes passwords as text fields in your AC account. If some unscrupulous character were to get access to your AC account, they could wreak havoc on your members by changing their passwords, logging in and changing their account details, etc.

Edit: this has been resolved by an encryption option in AM360!

CON: It represents a single point of failure because if AC goes down for maintenance, or due to a glitch (as it has more than a few times in recent months), your membership site will be affected as it depends on AC to work. Whereas with the previous generation of membership plugins, everything is stored in WordPress so an issue with AC wouldn’t affect the membership.

Competing membership plugins with deep API integrations

For me, the pros outweigh the cons because I think of online business as a marathon. It pays to invest in powerful tools that won’t hamper you when you’re in a position to grow.

At the moment, Drip can’t offer quite the same degree of deep integration because insofar as I understand it, their API is more throttled than ActiveCampaign’s.

Just like the drag and drop workflow editor, I’m willing to bet that Drip will address this sooner or later, thus encouraging developers to explore membership plugins centered around Drip.

How is ActiveMember360 different from other deep integration membership plugins?

There are already several plugins that do in fact feature tag-based integration with Drip, including:

I don’t have experience with any of the above software so I can’t comment on their merits or shortcomings. I will, of course, update this post as that changes. 🙂

What I do know is that AccessAlly and WPFusion are different from ActiveMember360 in the sense that they’re not as deeply integrated with the CRM. For that reason, it’s easier for them to take on any other CRM, even if throttled.

The Drip throttling issue is going to be a problem because it prevents the plugin from working with the API to the same extent as ActiveCampaign / ActiveMember360.

That said, the ActiveMember team has the same issue with Infusionsoft / iMember360. In theory, they’d be able to apply the same type of “smart” caching mechanism that they use in iMember360 to Drip.

Time will tell. In the meantime, my experiences working with ActiveMember360 and the whole support team and Facebook community around it have been nothing short of exceptional, which is why I’m using it for my training portal.

What real customers think about ActiveCampaign

I emailed some of my customers and friends who use ActiveCampaign to get their honest take on the tool. I hope you’ll find their comments as insightful as I did:

 “I’ve previously tried all the others but AC seems the best – value for money and functionality. It would be great if you move to AC then I can learn more of your handy tricks 😀 I’m probably only using a fraction of its full potential.” – C

***

“Initially, I was really excited about Active Campaign. But I have to say I def experienced a big drop in deliverability. It’s really frustrating. I think the automation emails especially go to spam. I’ve noticed this with the welcome emails people never get them in the inbox, and I’ve also conducted deliverability tests in Active Campaign and Convert Kit and Convert Kit does much better.

I really respect Andre Chaperons opinion on email. He was a big Active Campaign guy and decided to switch to Drip. He outlined his reasons why here and you may want to check it out.

Article: https://tinylittlebusinesses.com/email/drip-review/

I don’t really love the email building in AC although I haven’t had as much issue as he outlines. Also, I’ve experienced several pretty big delays with AC sending emails out. It hasn’t happened in a month or so but on several occasions, I had set specific times I needed to send out an email i.e watch your inbox tomorrow at 11 am when we open the carts. Then 11am rolls around and the email won’t send for four hours…it looks really bad.

The tagging is cool, and the automations are pretty good. It’s not cheap. Drip seems like a better price if I’m not mistaken.

Overall I’m fine with AC, but not blown away.” – B

***

“I’ve been overall happy with AC. No tagging or deliverability issues. Their API had some issues last week that messed up purchases made for a few hours, but I’m sticking with them.” – C

***

“I never had any problems with AC (that I was aware of), but, man, I just hated using their email creator, to the point that I often didn’t send an email that I should have been sending.

I did smooth out my own system eventually, and had a simple template to duplicate and use, so it was all ok, but when I gave Drip a trial, I just felt that it was a much smoother set-up for someone like me, sending simple text emails.

I also like their vibe — I know they’re with LeadPages now, but they still feel like a scrappy little company, and I like that.

That said, I’ve been drooling over using one of the AC-based membership plugins — I’m using DAP still. DAP does the job, and integrates with Drip, but it feels very heavy for my little projects.

That’s crazy that your client had such a drop off with AC. I wish I had some more concrete info for you — I’d love to hear what you decide to do. You’re my tastemaker for email and memberships!” – D

***

“I came directly from Infusionsoft and find ActiveCampaign such of breath of fresh air in comparison.

Incorrect reporting: I think sometimes things are a little off, but I have no way to know for sure. In particular this issue that has come up several times with the number of people being held in the queue for the next step in a automation.

Deliverability: I seen complaints in the forum… But I honestly have nothing to compare it to. I’ve used both Infusionsoft and get response (I still have an open account) but I have no way to actually compare. I’ll say there’s no obviously noticeable drop in deliverability if that’s any help.

Tagging: I occasionally see a contact that I think should have been tag that wasn’t. Could be something I did wrong, or it could be the program that was supposed to send the tag. Again I can’t say for sure and only comes up occasionally.

All said and done I love the with they created the automation builder, and it’s an active company that seems to be developing things with a good speed of improvement. Also because it’s getting popular a lot of companies are now integrating with it (not so much in the beginning).

There is a learning curve but it’s because it’s so incredibly powerful. There are so many things I know I could do that I haven’t the time to work on yet.” – T

***

As you can see, ActiveCampaign isn’t perfect.

People have different experiences. At the same time, occasional glitches are part of the online biz game. So the question becomes: how much error are you willing to accept in exchange for all the cool stuff that you can do with AC? Or would you rather just use Drip…?

Deep integration with my favorite shopping cart app

We use ThriveCart in our business. ThriveCart features a very extensive native integration with ActiveCampaign that allows you to perform various actions based on different triggers:

I wrote about why I chose to use ThriveCart in my post about the Ultimate, Anti-Fragile Membership Site Tech Stack.

This saves you the headache of creating a million Zaps in Zapier. And if you’re running paid traffic and seeking to optimize your funnel, having these rules readily available (such as the abandon cart rule) will make your conversion rate optimization efforts that much easier.

The ThriveCart + Drip integration is also solid.

Longer track record, more users, marketplace – ActiveCampaign has been around and improving their offering since 2003. They have a track record. Certainly, it’s not a unilaterally rosy track record. But they clearly care about improving their product, making their customers happy, and staying on the cutting edge of their industry.

ActiveCampaign’s got far more users than Drip, which means a broader community of contributors to the braintrust. It also means there are more “squeaky wheels” voicing their complaints, both of the legitimate and piddling variety.

AC’s got a marketplace where you can buy and sell automations. And more recently, AC scored a round of venture capital that will, I hope, at least in part, go towards ironing out some of the widely-reported technical snafus.

In a word, ActiveCampaign is a more mature platform with greater capabilities, more users, and a larger community. That means you’ve got more resources at your disposal to make the most out of AC, including the experience of many smart people who have come before you.

Problems with ActiveCampaign

I’ve identified five main concerns with ActiveCampaign as a result of my research, testing, and conversations with friends and customers:

Concern #1 – Email Deliverability

One of my MemberFix customers switched to ActiveCampaign and almost immediately noticed a substantial drop in email deliverability. In fact, his first task request after joining MemberFix was to look into and improve his email deliverability. So we did.

In the first place, we found out that it’s not at all unusual to experience a drop in deliverability after moving over to a new email marketing platform. That begs the question, “how the heck do I fix it?”

Well, it turns out that email deliverability is a rather extensive topic. And improving your deliverability is not simply a matter of moving to the provider who has the best deliverability “out of the box”. That strategy will result in you chasing your own tail. Instead, I suggest looking at what you can do to improve deliverability with the email provider you already use and like.

Luckily, there’s quite a lot you can do to improve your deliverability, especially with ActiveCampaign. My team and I spent about 20 hours and close to a thousand dollars researching, testing and documenting how to improve email deliverability in ActiveCampaign.

You can learn more about our ActiveCampaign Email Deliverability Guide here (coming soon).

While it would be great to have 100% inbox penetration out of the box, and while it’s a pain in the ass to have to take extra measures to ensure your emails reach their destination, that’s just the name of the game. Personally, I’m happy that ActiveCampaign gives you the ability to make these improvements if you wish, which is more than you can say for some of their competitors.

Concern #2 – The email editor seems to suck…for some people

The only instance of moving from ActiveCampaign to Drip I could find by Googling was detailed in this post by Andre Chaperon.

His main complaint about AC seems to have been the email editor. One of my friends (a former MemberFix customer), shared a very similar frustration with me via email:

“I never had any problems with AC (that I was aware of), but, man, I just hated using their email creator, to the point that I often didn’t send an email that I should have been sending.

I did smooth out my own system eventually, and had a simple template to duplicate and use, so it was all ok, but when I gave Drip a trial, I just felt that it was a much smoother set-up for someone like me, sending simple text emails.”

So when I began my experiments I intentionally spent extra time playing with the email editor. So what’s my verdict? Here it is: I honestly don’t see what the big deal is.

I just delete all of the HTML, post a plain text email, and then add line breaks. It’s considered a best practice in email marketing to send plain text emails anyway, and I hardly ever worry about images or HTML styling.

Actually, that’s primarily what Andre does as well. But apparently, the process of adding trigger links is more complicated than with Drip. I’ve confirmed this to be the case. But again, it’s not such a pain that I would switch my entire email marketing platform over to Drip if I were an established AC user.

At some point after you’ve taken all of the facts and features into consideration, your choice of tools becomes a matter of “fit” with your personal style and the goals you’ve got for YOUR particular business. For Andre it made sense, so more power to him. For others, it wouldn’t make sense, and that’s fine too.

Concern number #3 – Banjaxed reporting

I must say that messed up reporting is a significant concern. It seems that while ActiveCampaign doesn’t impose sending limits on its users, it does charge based on the number of subscribers you’ve got stored in your account.

Drip provides easy list pruning actions that allow you to remove inactive subscribers but AC doesn’t. I suspect this is the cause of a lot of the so called reporting errors.

I haven’t got much more information besides a few folks telling me that their reporting has gone wonky a few times. I’m not discounting that possibility. But at the same time, my experience in this line of work leads me to the high incidence of user error and/or misinterpretation. And other users have told me that their reporting has been fine. So I honestly can’t say more on this topic without more first-hand information, which I’m in the process of gathering as we speak!

Concern #4 – Erroneously applied tags, automations not finishing, and sundry weirdness

I’ve heard reports of folks getting “stuck” in the middle of automations for no apparent reason, getting tags applied / removed randomly, and other funky shit.

I haven’t seen this yet myself but I have no reason to suspect these reports are fabricated. And I’ve heard of similar reports in various Facebook groups and forums.

This is among the issues that I, and many others, are hoping that some of the venture capital moolah that AC recently acquired will go to solve.

Concern #5 – Costs

ActiveCampaign is priced competitively. You can do a lot with the Lite plan which starts at only $9/month. If you want to do more advanced stuff, however, you’ll need to upgrade to one of their higher tiers.

Drip, on the other hand, has a free plan up to 100 contacts but then jumps up to $47/month, and increases as you add contacts. They, too, have tiers of service based on which functionality you want.

Now I won’t go into a point by point comparison of the prices at different numbers of contacts and on different plans.

My philosophy is to not pay too much attention to the relatively insignificant cost differences between Drip and ActiveCampaign.

The only time it matters is in the beginning when you don’t have much money to spare. But once you’ve grown your list to several thousand people it should be easy to liquidate the cost of your email marketing app. That’s assuming of course, that you’re actually making use of the powerful automation and marketing capabilities of your tool, and not just using it to store subscribers; a gross misuse of a powerful resource.

Drip vs ActiveCampaign: The great review Boondogggle

As I mentioned earlier, the biggest obstacle I’ve encountered in deciding whether or not to switch to ActiveCampaign from Drip was finding unbiased, objective information on the pluses and minuses of each platform.

Drip’s excellent affiliate program, which pays 30% commissions in perpetuity, incentivizes people to lionize Drip’s benefits while glossing over its faults.

Pro tip: if you read a review about anything that doesn’t list at least a few negative aspects of the item being reviewed, I suggest taking said review with a big ol’ grain of salt.

The ActiveCampaign affiliate program, in contrast, is somewhat uninspiring: only 10% recurring commissions.

Considering the relatively small payoff, you’d probably be more inclined to promote ActiveCampaign to your audience because you thought it was good, rather than with the expectation of making any substantial affiliate cash. To be fair, I suppose that if you have a large audience and you refer quite a lot of business to AC you can earn a decent affiliate income.

Or, if you sell some kind of AC-related products / services (as I do), then it would be in your interest to promote the use of AC. Although I kind of tend to think that what’s in your interest is being as objective as possible because A) it’s the right thing to do and B) people will trust you to tell it like it is and not because you’ve got a vested interest.

But the point is that ActiveCampaign’s affiliate program isn’t so generous that it would sway most people to promote AC solely in the hopes of earning some commissions.

Because of these bias issues, I eventually decided that the only way to arrive at the truth was to use Drip and ActiveCampaign side by side. So that’s what I did. I continued running Drip on VicDorfman.com and MemberFix.rocks. But I’m using ActiveCampaign (in conjunction with ActiveMember360) for my training site, Dorfman.Training.

Conclusion from the confusion

All in all, there are some concerning issues with ActiveCampaign. But do they happen often enough to be a deal breaker? Are you willing to accept hiccups from time to time in exchange for an otherwise extremely powerful app? And does ActiveCampaign feel intuitive to YOU and match your personal style?

These are all legitimate considerations. As you’ve seen, Drip and ActiveCampaign are actually remarkably similar. Ultimately, the choice is yours.

In the end, I decided to use BOTH tools but for different projects.

On on the one hand, I prefer ActiveCampaign from a user experience perspective. It “feels” right to me and matches my style. I didn’t want to stay with Drip and wait for them to catch up to ActiveCampaign with the features that I want. But in the end I decided that moving to AC from Drip would be more trouble than it’s worth for my main site so I’ll continue using it there.

Like I said earlier, I’m also a fan of Brennan Dunn. So being able to follow what he’s doing, and quickly apply it to our marketing is a huge selling point for me.

Yet because I love ActiveMember360, I’ve decided to use ActiveCampaign for my training portal. If I were starting from scratch I’d probably have just used ActiveCampaign for everything.

I believe that AC is the top contender for the best overall email marketing tool of 2017 AND the best email marketing app to use with your membership site. Drip is a very close second.