Hey there fellow marketers and entrepreneurs! If you’ve decided it’s time to automate your marketing program with a CRM and marketing automation platform, you’ve probably already heard of ActiveCampaign.

It’s a bit like a little brother or sister to the big players such as HubSpot or Salesforce, but don’t be mistaken. ActiveCampaign has truly come of age and it’s a powerful force in its own right.

As a seasoned digital marketer who has been running businesses and growing businesses online for over a decade, I’ve had the opportunity to see first-hand just how powerful this all-in-one marketing automation platform can be.

In this comprehensive guide, I’m going to take you through the steps to getting started with ActiveCampaign from a beginner’s perspective, sharing some key tips and strategies that I’ve learned from the working with different businesses.

Understanding the Power of ActiveCampaign

Before we get into the step-by-step details of how to set up your account, let’s start by giving you an overview of the power of ActiveCampaign. ActiveCampaign’s marketing automation tools give you everything you need to engage, nurture, and convert your audience.

Integrated with email marketing tools, marketing automation workflows, CRM software, sales intelligence and reporting, it’s designed to help you deliver highly-personalized and targeted campaigns that your customers can influence.

It gathers intelligence on your customers’ activity and preferences, and measures what’s working and what isn’t, so you can optimize in real-time.

One of the most notable features of ActiveCampaign is its automation builder with its intuitive design that lets you put together even the most complex automations in a few steps.

No matter whether you’re looking to welcome more new subscribers, follow up with people who’ve left your abandoned cart, or deliver a sequence of educational emails—it’s easy to create powerful, automated journeys with ActiveCampaign’s automation tools that lead your subscribers towards a conversion.

Step 1: Creating Your ActiveCampaign Account

Now that you’ve seen what ActiveCampaign can do for your business let’s go ahead and set up your account.

Follow these steps to create your ActiveCampaign account:

  1. Go to the ActiveCampaign website and click on the “Free Trial” button in the top-right corner.
  2. Follow the instructions in their setup wizard, which will ask you to answer a series of questions about your business.
  3. Fill in your account information, including your name, email address, and a strong password.
  4. No billing information is currently required for a 14-day free trial, so just complete the questionnaire and you’ll be redirected to your new ActiveCampaign workspace.

Congratulations! Now you have an ActiveCampaign account and can start your journey in the world of sales and marketing automation. Take your time to explore the dashboard and review all the features you now have at your disposal.

Step 2: Importing Your First Contacts

Before you can start crafting and sending emails, you’ll need to import your contacts into ActiveCampaign. This process is relatively straightforward, and ActiveCampaign offers several methods to make it as seamless as possible.

Here’s how to import your contacts into ActiveCampaign:

  1. In your ActiveCampaign dashboard, click on the “Contacts” tab on the left side of the screen, in the main navigation menu.
  2. Click on the “Add Contacts” button, and from the dropdown menu, select “Import.”
  3. Choose how you’d like to import your contacts. You can import them via a CSV file, copy and paste them directly, or connect ActiveCampaign with other platforms like Shopify or Gmail to automatically sync your contacts.
  4. If you’ve chosen to import a CSV file, click on “Select File” and browse to find the right file.
  5. Follow the prompts to map your CSV fields to the corresponding ActiveCampaign contact fields. This step prevents bad data (that you don’t want) from being imported while correctly labelling and formatting the useful data that you do want to include.
  6. If instead you’ve chosen to copy and paste your contacts, paste them into the provided text box, so that each contact is on a separate line and that the data is formatted consistently.
  7. Once you’ve selected your import method and provided your contact data, click on the “Next” button to proceed.
  8. Review the import summary to ensure that everything looks correct. If you need to make any changes, click on the “Back” button to adjust your import settings.
  9. When you’re satisfied with your import settings, click on the “Import” button to begin the process. ActiveCampaign will now import your contacts, which may take a few moments depending on the size of your list.


Pro Tip: Whenever you import contacts into ActiveCampaign, use tags field to mark the records that have been imported so you can easily find them again. That way, if something goes wrong with the import you can quickly identify and fix the affected records.

When your import file contains data for which there is no field in ActiveCampaign, you’re left with a choice to make:

Do you want to create a new field in your ActiveCampaign CRM database, or ignore the data?

If you want to import data that doesn’t map to an existing ActiveCampaign field, all you have to do is add a custom contact field to the CRM.

Custom contact fields can hold text, numbers, dates, and multiple choice lists like dropdown lists, checkboxes, or radio buttons. You can create them by going to the Contacts tab in ActiveCampaign and then clicking “Fields” on the left sidebar menu.

Then you just click the Add Field button and fill out the popup form by naming the field and selecting the type of field you want from the list and clicking the Add button. Repeat this process for all the new fields from the import file you want to keep.

Step 3: Authenticating Email Sending Domains

There are a lot of new rules and regulations tightening security around mass email marketing so you need to do everything in your power to ensure your emails make it into your readers’ inboxes. That’s why all reputable email service providers now require you to authenticate your “email sending domain.”

This involves maintaining SPF, DKIM, and DMARC records that verify your sending mail servers are legitimate and not spam.

Set Up SPF (Sender Policy Framework)

SPF is an email authentication standard that allows you to specify which mail servers are permitted to send emails on behalf of your domain. An SPF record tells receiving mail servers: “These mail servers are allowed to send emails on my domain’s behalf.”

Follow these steps to implement SPF:

  1. Make a list of all the mail servers you use to send emails, as well as ActiveCampaign’s servers.
  2. It will appear like this: “v=spf1 include:activecampaign.com ~all”
  3. Add the SPF record to active in your domain’s DNS settings as a TXT record.

This action publishes the SPF record, permitting ActiveCampaign’s servers to send emails on your behalf while marking any other servers as untrustworthy by default.

Implement DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail)

DKIM is a supplementary email authentication standard that can be added to your emails. DKIM works by embedding a digital signature in each email, allowing receiving mail servers to prove the email was not tampered with en route.

To configure DKIM, do the following:

  1. Generate a public-private key pair for your domain. ActiveCampaign handles this for you.
  2. Install the public key in your domain’s DNS settings as a DKIM TXT record.
  3. Send the private key to your email service provider (ActiveCampaign), who will store them securely on your behalf.

When you send an email, ActiveCampaign will use your private key to add a digital signature to the message you sent. On the other hand, receiving mail servers can use your public key to see if this signature is valid and the email hasn’t been changed and is still original.

Configure DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance)

DMARC stands for Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance; it is a powerful email authentication protocol that extends SPF and DKIM by adding some protection and reporting features. It enables you to set policies for how receiving mail servers should treat messages that do not pass SPF or DKIM checks.

How DMARC works:

  1. Your policy determines how you handle emails that fail checks (none, quarantine, or reject) based on your needs and risk tolerance (this is set by ActiveCampaign).
  2. A DMARC record is created that specifies your policy, as well as any reporting options you’d like to enable.
  3. This DMARC record is added as a TXT record in your domain’s DNS settings.

With DMARC in place, receiving mail servers will follow your specified policy when handling emails that fail SPF or DKIM checks, and will also send you reports about the authentication status of emails sent from your domain.

Regular Monitoring and Reporting

Setting up SPF, DKIM, and DMARC is just the first step in maintaining a good email reputation. It’s essential to monitor the performance of your authentication records and adjust your policies as needed. Most DMARC policies include reporting features that allow receiving servers to send feedback about the authentication status of emails they receive from your domain.

Obviously, if you’re not playing by the rules ActiveCampaign is going to receive negative reports that they have to handle by suspending your ability to send emails. So don’t break the rules.

You can see how complex this overlapping system of authentication is to set up and maintain but, fortunately, none of that is your concern as an ActiveCampaign customer.

How ActiveCampaign Makes This Easy

Configuring all of DMARC, DKIM, and SPF records in ActiveCampaign is almost a one-click process. It’s definitely simpler than doing it all manually. And they take care of all the complicated processes around receiving feedback, adjusting policies, and so on, so that you can focus on just following best practices and sending good emails (because that’s what you’re doing…right?).

To configure authenticate your email sending domains with ActiveCampaign, simply visit your settings, and click Advanced, and then add an email sending domain. If you’re using a major web host like Siteground (in my example) this process is especially simple and mostly happens automatically.

If not you’ll need to add a three TXT records for each DMARC, DKIM, and SPF with whomever is providing your domain name service (again in my example, this is Siteground).

Manually adding the DNS records is not terribly complicated though, so don’t fear if your web host doesn’t provide this seamless experience. Just navigate to where your DNS records are managed, add a new TXT record and paste in the values indicated by the ActiveCampaign wizard.

Be sure to select a Time To Live value (TTL) that is the lowest available number (typically 5 minutes) so that you don’t have to wait too long to verify your edits were successful.

Test Your Configuration

After setting up your SPF, DKIM, and DMARC records, you generally want to test your configuration to confirm that everything is working as expected. ActiveCampaign will do this automatically and you see a green checkmark when it’s done.

At this point you can send a test email message through the system or create your first email marketing campaign, and send yourself a proof, to verify that everything is working correctly and appears normal to the end user.

Wrapping Up

By following the steps outlined in this guide, you’ve successfully set up your ActiveCampaign account, imported your contacts, and configured your email sending domains. Congratulations, this is a great start to building out your first ActiveCampaign implementation.

If you found this guide helpful and want to dive deeper into ActiveCampaign’s advanced features and strategies, be sure to subscribe below for more in-depth tutorials like this one.

In my upcoming posts, I’ll share tips on leveraging ActiveCampaign’s marketing automation features to create lead funnels, personalized campaigns, and lead nurturing workflows.

We’ll also explore best practices for list segmentation, A/B testing, and reporting to help you continuously optimize your efforts and maximize your ROI.

So, whether you’re a seasoned marketer looking to refine your skills or an entrepreneur just starting out on your email marketing journey, subscribe for more valuable content designed to help you succeed, I’ll have a lot more tutorials and other content to help you become a better (and more successful) marketer!


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About the Author

Nathan Binford

Creator & Digital Marketer

“The Mindful Marketer” 🧘‍♂️ I help people achieve freedom through marketing and mindfulness. | Develop the skills and mindset for success. Join for free at NathanBinford.com/subscribe.

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