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You did it.
You finally decided to start a newsletter. Fireworks!
But now you need to make another choice: what platform should I publish on? So many options — so much paralysis.
What about beehive? “So hot right now…”
We have a lot of options.
And those choices are a double-edged sword: you’ll eventually pick one — but it’ll take way longer than when you had MailChimp as the only robust + free option.
Below I’ll cover 5 of the most popular email newsletter options along with their Benefits + Limitations.
But here’s the tl;dr…
Don’t need to waste time trying to find the “right” option. Because you know what? The right option is the one that gets you started.
Before we start — some caveats:
Mailchimp’s been around since 2001 (and now owned by Intuit). It’s been the default ESP for many businesses starting out thanks to its free account option. They do almost everything for almost every type of business. I’m starting with them because well… they were here first. They’ve earned the right.
A generous Free option. Mailchimp offers 10,000 monthly email sends & 2,000 subscribers for free. By the time you grow out of the free option, you should be able to justify the next paid tier.
Landing Pages for all your needs. You can create simple & effective landing pages to grow your email list — and then some. Create landing pages for free downloads and contest entries, too.
Robust reporting. Mailchimp offers a detailed report for each email send, including: open rates, click rates, total opens, bounces, deliverability, and a click map. You get strong insights to how your email performed, what worked, what didn’t.
Marketing Automations & Journeys made simple. Mailchimp’s email marketing automation isn’t the most robust in the industry. But most will be satisfied with the Customer Journeys feature — including the visual builder which makes them simple to build (paid plans only).
→ Scheduling emails requires paid account. Deal breaker? Could be. Something to keep in mind.
→ Visual editor can be frustrating. Copy & pasting with rich text and formatting is a bit of a nightmare.
→ No chat or phone support for free accounts. And only your first 30 days of email support. You have to pay for help. Mailchimp can obviously get away with this given their size.
→ No newsletter archive feed = no blog feature. You can share your emails as links, but there is not newsletter feed like you get with many other ESPs. Makes it extremely challenging for readers to dive into older content.
Mailchimp’s free option will continue to win over the masses. It has robust features for even the free plan. But for the writer or newsletter creator who doesn’t have a dedicated blog/website, I’d recommend going with one of our other options.
ConvertKit (aff) is the most successful creator-centric ESP. Mailchimp is robust in many ways, but ConvertKit has prioritized their platform and features to the modern day content creator rather than the brick & mortar or ecommerce business.
A Free option. ConvertKit was a paid product for a long time, only introducing a free option in recent years. The biggest limitation with the free plan is the inability to automate and set up sequences. Otherwise, it’s got everything you need to get started.
Insanely user-friendly landing pages. Using CK to build my first product landing page was a dream (image below). I didn’t need a domain, website, HTML skills or anything. One of CK’s best features for new creators.
Built-in commerce. Sell right on their platform. Easy setup tied right in with your newsletter. Substack takes 10% of your subscription revenue. Gumroad takes a handful, too (9% + $0.30 to start). ConvertKit takes far less. You pay a $0.30/transaction + 3.5%: sell a $100 product, keep $96.20.
Link tagging & segments. Automatically organize your subscribers based on links they click. Send highly-targeted emails to a tagged group. This is one of CK’s most useful features.
Marketing automations & sequences. Reserved for the paying customer, the CK automations and sequences are easy to use and ideal for the newsletter writer who wants to get more automated than what platforms like Substack & Revue have to offer.
→ Reporting isn’t amazing. You get the important bits, it pales in comparison to Mailchimp’s reporting features. Still, you can view opens, clicks, and unsubscribes.
→ Limited support for free accounts. Fortunately their community guides are robust. Because just like with Mailchimp, you have to pay for live chat & email support.
→ Limited design options. While their editor is ridiculously easy to use, the design customizations are limiting. There are 9 “out of the box” email templates to choose from. But! Use their HTML email template option to hyper-customize.
→ Weak SEO. Unless you’re searching pretty specific long tail keywords, you won’t find my newsletter archive on Google. Googling “Growth Currency” still shows my Substack account as the #1 result despite not posting there since October 2021 (over 6 months ago). In other words, don’t expect SEO traffic without a dedicated website.
Sure I might be biased, but ConvertKit is my ESP of choice (I’m also an affiliate😁). And I believe it’s a solid option for most creators — especially given the free tier option. If you go with CK, you’d be wise to build out a proper website at some point to capitalize on SEO as well. And if you find the options and customizations in CK overwhelming, one of the options below could suit you better.
Substack’s been around since 2017. It’s a fantastic turn-key newsletter product. You can sign up, optimize your profile, and publish your first newsletter in a matter of minutes. Oh — and you can monetize with subscriptions, if that’s your jam.
Free. Need I say more? There’s no cost risk here. The platform makes money if you create a paid newsletter — they take 10% of your subscription fees. But for most starting a free newsletter, this isn’t an issue.
Easy setup. As mentioned, you can get started super quickly. Choose whether you want a serif or sans serif font, upload your profile or logo image, and publish!
Blog-style feed. This is what attracted me to Substack in the first place. I didn’t have a website. So Substack acted as my landing page, newsletter, and blog feed all in one.
Simple & familiar landing page. Don’t like designing landing pages? Perfect, you don’t have to here. Just write some persuasive copy and upload your logo/profile image. The Substack landing page template provides familiarity & credibility — an added bonus.
→ The reporting kind of sucks. Really hard to know how many clicks a link gets without doing some math — it’s all in percentages. Plus, open rates can skew a lot. I would notice several readers displaying dozens of “opens”. One opener tracked over 160 opens. I followed up with them and they assured me they hadn’t even forwarded the email. Odd…
→ No automation. Well… that’s not entirely fair: your Welcome email is automated. But that’s it. Substack is not the platform for anyone looking to do advanced sequences or automations, or tag segmentation.
→ Limited design options. A blessing and a curse, right? On one hand, you don’t have to fret over a wealth of design options. On the other hand, you can’t get very creative with design. Some will love the simplicity. Others will not.
I began with Substack. I’m grateful it got me started. It’s free, easy to use, quick to set up. But, they’re focused on professional writers interested in paying subscribers. That’s their business model. I’m not a professional writer. But if that’s you, consider the cost of the platform taking 10%. Plus, you can always start with Substack (or any of these options) and switch later.
Founded in 2015 and purchased by Twitter in 2021. The acquisition quickly heightened Revue’s profile and popularity. Revue is now fully integrated with Twitter making it a strong candidate for power users of the platform.
Also free. No cost to operate a Revue newsletter. But Revue takes 5% of your paid subscription revenue (better than Substack’s 10% though!).
Twitter integration. Got a Twitter audience already— or plan on building one? Users can subscribe with one click in your bio. You can also include a ‘Subscribe’ button in your tweets. This integration is their big differentiator.
Simple user interface. Much like Substack, Revue is a clean and simple interface. If you fear complexity, Revue is right for you.
Loads of other integrations. Connect your Twitter account, sure — but also your IG, Medium, Facebook, Product Hunt, Dribbble, etc.
→ Lacking automation. Again, much like Substack, Revue isn’t trying to be an all-encompassing email marketing platform. You’re not going to get anything fancy with sequences, segmentation or automation.
→ Minimal design & editing options. Revue is great for editorial content and curation. But for anything more customized, you’re out of luck. Want to resize a photo? You can’t do it in Revue. Want inspiration with more templates? You get 2 options:
Revue is a fine product that isn’t trying to be everything to everyone (looking at you Mailchimp). It’s a solid option for newsletter writers looking to publish editorial and curated content. The Twitter integration is the big win and will be the clincher for many.
One of the NKOTB’s in the email newsletter space. beehiiv got on my radar with The Milk Road and I’ve been curious about it since. Co-founded by Tyler Denk, Benjamin Hargett, and Jake Hurd — three former Morning Brew staffers— it’s a newsletter platform by people who know what newsletter software needs to do.
Also… free! For up to 2,500 subscribers. Solid.
Built-in referral system. Morning Brew is famously known for their referral program. No surprise beehiiv has integrated a built-in referral mechanism. But it comes at a cost ($99/month plan).
Full customization suite. To quote their sales page, “Colors, fonts, spacing, sizing, and more. Customize every pixel of your newsletter.” Sounds enticing.
No revenue fees. You don’t share revenue membership with Beehiiv. You keep it.
Full API access. Integrate with Zapier? You bet. (No API access was one of the reasons I bounced from Substack.)
→ No email sequences (yet). At least not at the time of this writing. Tyler Denk has informed me that sequences and automations are coming in June 2022. Stay tuned! Mailchimp & ConvertKit offer automations & sequences in their paid tiers.
The team at beehiiv has tons of experience in the email newsletter space. I wouldn’t bet against them continuing to grow & improve their product (see the only Limitation update!). If you’re keen on pumping out a daily newsletter like The Milk Road or Morning Brew, beehiiv might be your best — or most interesting — option.
Any one of them. Seriously.
Pick one that’s best for you from the analysis above — and start publishing. Because publishing is what matters. The platform is merely a tool, like a pen and paper.
Pick one that feels right. Go with it. Change it later if need be.
If you have any more questions about this topic — I write a newsletter helping content creators start + grow + monetize their own newsletters.
Growth Currency⚡ is on track to earn over $10k in 2022—all while I've been working a full-time job. Here's how I did it.
I've been neglecting this for too long—and it's costing me. Don't make the same mistake.