A quick guide to help you choose the right email service provider for your business

No matter which industry you belong to, the goal of your marketing campaigns is Return on Investment (ROI). The returns can be in any form such as revenue, reputation, engagement, conversion, etc.

While all the marketing channels are specialized in their niche and cannot be replaced by another provider, email marketing still manages to outshine others when it comes to generating ROI, acquiring and retaining customers, or providing a personalized communication service. Did you know that email marketing can garner an ROI of $44.25 for every $1 spent

These powers come at a cost though. You cannot simply create an email in Gmail and blast it to all of your mailing lists. Your emails will end up being undelivered or blocked. You need to start with choosing an email service provider and then work towards creating specialized email campaigns.

Why do you need an email service provider?

Emails function just like your physical mails. You are the sender, who creates an email. The sent email first reaches the email server of your internet service provider (ISP), which like a postal office, sorts the emails and checks them for any harmful code or attachments. On approval, the email is directed to the recipient’s email server, where it is once again checked for SPAM related content and on approval, delivered to your recipient’s inbox. Just like in mails where you need to specify the sender and recipient address, in emails, the address is the IP address which is unique for everyone.

As an individual, if you take 100’s of letters to a local postal office and ask them to send them to different addresses, they may suspect you of being a scammer or a fraud and decline your request. If the same set of letters were to be sent by someone who represents a business, the postal service will accept the request. Similarly, if you send 500 emails from your personal Gmail account (Gmail’s daily email send limit), chances are the ISP filters may block your emails from being either sent or delivered. 

On the other hand, an email service provider has a range of IP addresses registered under its name and can send emails in high volumes (>1,00,000) daily via these. Since ISP filters identify the IP addresses, they allow the custom email templates to be delivered as long as the sender follows the best practices of email marketing.

How to choose the right email service provider?

At the time of writing, there are currently 429 different ESPs and all of them will convince you that they are the best suited for your email campaign needs. So, choosing one might seem difficult but it is completely possible with logical reasoning and strategic comparisons. The first step to choosing the right ESP is determining the campaign strategy, asking the right set of questions and answering them yourself.

Finding your campaign strategy

The campaign strategy lists out the different tactics required for the success of the campaign. The campaign strategy gives you a clear idea about the goals of an email marketing campaign, how you are going to achieve them, what are your success metrics, and what future-proofing options you need while scaling. This clarity can help you determine the right set of features you need in your ESP that helps you bridge the gaps between your expectations and the possibilities available.

ESP features you need

Every ESP is built with different motives in mind. Some are focussed on eCommerce while some have better features aimed at retargeting dormant customers. While choosing an ESP you may come across different features and you may choose the one that fits in your current needs but don’t be restricted to your current needs. You need an ESP that scales as your business grows. The most common features can be broken into 4 fundamentals. 

1. User friendly

Being an email marketer does require basic knowledge of HTML coding for basic troubleshooting but it doesn’t mean they need to wade through lines of code to make an email template ready. User-friendliness doesn’t mean using attractive visuals and having colorful UI but instead how easy it is for an email marketer to find their way across the UI. A user-friendly ESP will have Drag and Drop email template builders, WYSIWYG HTML email template editors, easy navigation, and all active chat support.

2. Large email template library

Email templates are the backbone of an email marketing campaign and your ESP needs to have a robust library of Free HTML Email Templates or templates for a nominal price. These email templates can be then modified by an email developer to suit your branding and sent as engaging email campaigns. There are agencies that can help you create and integrate custom templates for the ESP you use be it MailChimp email templates, Salesforce templates, Pardot email templates, or any other.

3. Metrics tracking

Emails you send need to be trackable in order to measure the effectiveness of the campaign. This not only gives you an idea about what portion of your subscriber base is engaging with the content but also what email elements are performing well and which need improvement. Most modern ESPs provide you with this feature but it is good to check what is being offered.

4. Automation

Automation is a boon to email marketers as you can program certain emails to be sent automatically when a specific user behavior occurs. This requires inter-connectivity between the different tools you use and your ESP. Look for the 3rd party API integration support available with the ESP you choose and also check for the support for custom API integrations. 

In addition to above-mentioned features, modern ESPs offer many other features which are an added bonus and act as value addition. They are:

  • Optin and subscription forms
  • Inbuild CRM & segmentation
  • An option to resend an unopened email
  • Mobile app

From a future-proofing point of view, you may argue that the ESP with maximum features is the best choice but the bigger isn’t always better. The number of features and tools offered by an ESP often bring a heavy price tag with them and that is the next criteria.

Pricing

While you want an ESP that offers a wide array of features, you also need to stick to a budget. ESPs understand this and hence they have different pricing slabs. Some offer free trials while some offer free use of their services for subscriber limit (e.g. MailChimp is free till your subscriber base is <2500). Additionally, most ESPs also have the option for purchase credits that can be used for sending emails and name it as ‘Pay-as-You-Go’.

Email deliverability

Email deliverability is the ability of an ESP to deliver your emails to the intended inboxes. As we stated earlier, ISP filters recognize emails coming from a set spectrum of IP addresses used by the ESP. This makes sending mass emails easy but also increases the chances of spamming. So, an ESP periodically removes certain users known to spam as well as conduct IP warming activities to maintain deliverability. Yet, it is important to check the deliverability score of an ESP before finalizing it.

Wrap up

At the end of the day, it is all about choosing an ESP that matches your email marketing expectations and delivers on the promise made. There is no single best ESP out there and you need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages before choosing any. For your reference, here are some of the well-known ESPs.

Free to use:

  • MailChimp (upto 2500 subscribers)
  • Gmail (500 emails daily limit)
  • MooSend (Bare bone ESP with subscriber limit)
  • Automizy (email automation platform)

Enterprise:

  • Act-on
  • Hubspot
  • Litmus
  • ConstantContact
  • Campaign Monitor
  • Marketo
  • Salesforce 

Kevin George is Head of Marketing at Email Uplers, one of the fastest growing custom email design and coding companies, and specializes in crafting professional email templates, PSD to HTML email conversion and free HTML email templates. He loves gadgets, bikes, jazz and eats and breathes email marketing. He enjoys sharing his insights and thoughts on email marketing best practices on his blog.