As a digital marketing agency, r2integrated often has clients ask us for advice when selecting their email service provider (ESP). Unfortunately, there is not one clear choice for everyone. But, there are some questions that everyone should answer before moving forward with the researching and contacting phase.
- What is your annual budget for an ESP? Be realistic.
- How many emails will you send out per month? ESPs often provide pricing based on a monthly or annual number of email sends. Be optimistic about this number—if you go over your allotment, some ESPs will charge you an additional fee.
- Do you have a list of email addresses? If so, have all contacts on this list provided their permission to be contacted within the last year? If your contacts did not opt-in or are not current customers, it is unlikely you will find an ESP that will let you email this list. Start collecting opt-ins as soon as possible.
- If you have a valid email list, how many contacts are on your list? The answer to this can also determine your pricing.
- How often do you plan to send out emails? Think about your content-producing capabilities over months and how many emails your subscribers expect to receive. If you plan to segment your emails, which you should, modify the math accordingly.
- What level of customer service will you need? Some ESPs provide you with your own customer service representative, some offer a 24/7 help line, and others offer a basic online FAQ / Forum.
- Are the primary users of the email account familiar with email software? If not, then a user-friendly, step-by-step email load and send process may be more of what you need.
- Do you currently send out emails to a list? If so, what software or ESP do you use and what are the pros and cons of this method? Write them down so you know what to look for in your search.
Once you have the answers to the questions above, you should determine whether or not you actually need the following features, or if they would be nice-to-haves:
- List Segmentation / Filtering
- Dynamic Field Insertion / Tokens (beyond the Greeting)
- Automatically Generate an Online Version (for those who cannot view the email properly)
- Custom Unsubscribe Landing Page to Update Subscriber Preferences, Database Information
- Automatic Insertion of Google Analytics Tracking Code
- A/B Testing
- Metered Send (drip out email send over a few hours)
- Automatic Response Campaigns
- Triggered Emails based on On-Site Behavioral Tracking or Form Conversion
- Text Version
- Mobile Version / Detection
- Lead Scoring
- Automatic Removal of Hard Bounceback, Undeliverable, Unsubscribe Addresses From Database
- Single or Double Opt-in Capabilities
- CRM Integration
- Customizable Email Template Designs
- Share with your Social Network
After you put together a realistic view of what you are looking for in an ESP, you or your digital marketing agency can then start contacting ESPs to narrow down your options, based on your criteria.
Depending on the ESP’s level of service, I highly recommend letting a customer service representative set up a webinar to walk you through the interface, or go through their online demos so that you can determine how user-friendly it is. Not only will this allow you to see the interface, but it will also give you an indicator of their level-of-service.
Selecting an email service provider can certainly be time consuming if you’ve never looked for one before. However, the time used will be nothing compared to setting up and activating an ESP only to find it doesn’t suit your needs, requiring you to start all over.