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choosing the best email service provider
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What is an ESP?

No, we’re not talking Extrasensory Perception. Although these ESPs may be just as useful!

ESPs – Email Service Providers – are email marketing and distribution services for your business. They can be integrated into your CRM or CMS to work seamlessly with any email lists you already have. But choosing the best ESP for your business isn’t an easy task.

Why do you need one?

Email Service Providers make managing your email lists, collecting new email addresses, and analysing email marketing campaigns simple. But an ESP will not only help you run email marketing campaigns with ease.

Choosing the right ESP will optimise your deliverability rates, your open rates, and ultimately lead to more sales.

Most ESPs will make it easy for you to customise your email marketing to different target segments within your audience. They’ll also help you ensure you’re complying with laws regarding marketing and spam.

The only problem is, with so many options available, how do you know where to start when choosing an ESP for your business?

Here are 8 things to consider when choosing the right ESP for you:

1. Deliverability

Deliverability, put simply, is the likelihood of your emails getting into the inboxes of your subscribers.

Sometimes your emails can get sent to a subscriber’s junk mailbox, get flagged as spam, or bounce, not getting delivered at all.

And apart from wasting money on sending emails that will never be read, this will negatively affect your reputation as a sender, and you could even be blacklisted.

Email Tool Tester recently did some research on which ESP has the best deliverability rate, and here are the results:

How to choose the best ESP - Email Tool Tester

Whilst this list is not representative of the all-round performance of these Email Service Providers, high deliverability is key to the success of your email marketing campaigns, so ensure you choose an ESP which has consistently high deliverability rates.

2. Security

Your ESP should give you peace of mind that your customers’ data will be secure.

While it’s up to you to decide the level of security your business needs, you should know what to look for before signing up with an ESP.

Look into aspects such as password policies, encryption safeguards, and use of firewalls.

With consumers becoming increasingly aware of data protection after last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s extremely important to choose an ESP with thorough security standards.

3. Reporting and Analytics

The reporting your ESP provides can help you adjust and improve on the performance of future campaigns.

Your ESP should report on some basics, including:

  • Open rate
  • Bounce rate
  • Click-through rate
  • Unsubscribe rate
  • Spam complaint rate

But you might want a more comprehensive analysis of data such as where your subscribers are located, the devices used to open your mail, and click maps, which show you how your audience is interacting with your email content.

Think about which metrics you want to track, and whether integration with Google Analytics is important to you. If so, ensure you choose an ESP which supports this.

4. Integration

Most ESPs offer integrations with major CMS, CRM and eCommerce platforms. If not, they may have plugins that will.

At the very least, they should have APIs that you can use to build custom integrations.

It’s likely you’ll need the help of a developer or someone external to assist in setting up and integrating your new ESP.

Then you’ll need to think about how much training is required to get you or your team set up with the new ESP. Is it going to cost you to keep your team up to date with any ongoing training?

Don’t forget to take all of these extra costs into account when you budget as well.

5. Your Strategy

When choosing the right ESP, it’s helpful to have a clear idea of what your email marketing strategy will look like. For example, how many emails are you going to send? 

How are you going to capture new subscribers? 

Do you want to be able to track stats in your database or within the ESP itself? 

Which metrics do you want to track?

What are you going to use your emails for? E.g.:

  • Newsletters
  • Lead generation
  • Upselling
  • Product Launch

Knowing exactly what you require and how you want your strategy to play out will give you the best chance of choosing the right ESP for your needs.

6. Required Features

Once you’ve mapped out your strategy, the features you require from an ESP will be clearer. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Do you want ready-made templates? Or is the ability to customise important to you?
  • What’s your budget? – take into account added costs, the price per thousand emails, included features, scalability and long-term payoff.
  • How big/small is your business, and what size email lists are you expecting to maintain?
  • How much segmentation and personalisation do you require?
  • Is it important for you to be able to customise your subscriber opt-in page?
  • Do you want to be able to manage and customise the opt-out page experience?

Other features can include:

  • Maintaining subscriber lists
  • Automation/triggered emails
  • Custom fields for targeted messaging
  • Spam filter testing
  • A/B testing
  • Scheduling
  • Analytics reviews
  • Marketing program planning and assessment

7. Customer Support

Reliable customer support is essential, especially in the early stages of integrating a new ESP.

But sometimes campaigns just don’t go according to plan, and you’ll need a strong customer support system to get you out of these tricky situations.

While all good ESPs should have email and phone support, check for other options like social media support. Another handy function in an emergency is the 24/7 chat function on some sites.

When it comes to customer support, more is more. Having lots of contact options will reduce your stress levels if something does go awry.

8. Your Budget

Of course, having the best features and the most comprehensive reporting is ideal in any case. However, it’s important you keep your budget in mind, and know exactly what you’re able to afford in an ESP, and what you can do without.

Make sure you take all additional costs into account, such as dedicated IP addresses, extra features, and data storage.

You’ll also need to check how your ESP calculates price – does it cost per thousand emails? Or subscriptions?

Remember to think about the long-term return on this investment. If more comprehensive reporting is going to enable you to improve your email marketing to a level where it is increasing your bottom line, it might pay off to invest a little more short-term.

Just be realistic when it comes to which features and extras you’ll actually use, and those which you can easily do without.

Once you choose the right ESP…

You’ll be glad you spent time getting it right.

Your email marketing will be much easier to manage, and your campaigns easier to analyse and improve on. This is a business investment that will continue to pay off long-term, especially if you do your research.

Want to find out exactly why email marketing is so important for your business? Read our last post on How to Save Money and Boost Sales with Email Marketing.

And if you’re ready for the next step in your email marketing journey, we’ll be showing you how to set up an email marketing campaign in our next post.

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