April 20, 2022

Choosing an Email Service Provider (ESP) for Your Email Marketing

By: Shelby Dias

If you’re ready to scale up your digital marketing, email is a great place to start. In fact, 59% of marketers see the most ROI from email. While an email service provider (ESP) like Gmail or Outlook might fulfill the email needs of your business internally, they’re not equipped with the email marketing tools you’ll need to reach your audience.

The first step in setting up your email marketing strategy is choosing an ESP that allows you to schedule emails, manage your list, collect analytics, and more.

What is ESP in Email Marketing?

For marketers, an email service provider (ESP) is a platform that allows your business to send email marketing campaigns to a list of subscribers. Your customers and prospects join these lists by opting in to receive marketing messages from you.

ESPs for email marketing are more robust platforms than your regular email platform. It’s a necessary tool to create consistent, one-on-one communication with your subscribers at scale. Your ESP enables you to build visually dynamic marketing emails and then send them at the right time to the right people in your audience.

Popular Email Marketing Platforms

The best email service provider for your business depends on your goals and the scale of your marketing efforts. If you have less than 2,000 subscribers, your needs will be slightly different from a company with an email list of 12,000.

We recommend determining which features matter the most to your team. Then, try a trial version of the platforms that seem most beneficial. If you aren’t sure where to start, try comparing some of the most popular email marketing platforms. According to Investopedia, the best email service providers include:

  • Best Overall: Mailchimp
  • Best for Automation: ActiveCampaign
  • Easiest to Use: MailerLite
  • Best Affordable Option: Moosend
  • Best for E-commerce: Drip

Other well-rated options for small audiences and basic campaigns include Campaign Monitor or Constant Contact.

Features of Email Service Providers

There are a great number of email service providers to choose from. Not all of them will offer the same features because they have different priorities. For example, one ESP may emphasize e-commerce tools, and another may prioritize ease-of-use for small business owners.

Batch Sending

Mainly, an ESP allows you to send an email in bulk to hundreds, thousands, or a hundred thousand recipients.

Legal Compliance

Your email marketing campaigns must meet requirements for spam laws, such as displaying your company address and including an “unsubscribe” link. Your ESP ensures that all your emails meet the required criteria.

Building Contact Lists

Some ESPs include landing page builders, pop-ups with signup forms, and other tools to help you collect email addresses and grow your list of subscribers.

Segmenting Subscribers

Part of the reason email marketing has such a high ROI is that people sign up to receive messages from you. They want to hear from you – but not too much. You could send the same email to all of your subscribers, but not all of them have the same interests or are at the same stage of the buyer’s journey.

If you further personalize your message and send them only the most relevant content, you should expect even greater ROI. We recommend using your ESP to segment based on different factors, such as age, location, purchase history, and other behaviors. 

Custom Email Templates

Most ESPs offer a variety of templates to make it easy for you to send visually appealing emails with high-quality graphics, buttons, links, etc. You could build a campaign from scratch, but templates can help streamline your marketing.

Mobile Optimization

A majority of your audience is probably reading emails on their phones. Research shows that three out of five consumers check email using their smartphones. An ESP helps you design optimized emails for all devices being used by your audience.

Automation Workflows

Streamline your email marketing with automatically triggered email campaigns. You can schedule to automatically send emails to recipients based on their behaviors. For example, send an email if a customer puts an item in their online cart but doesn’t complete a purchase.

Email automation helps you reach your target audience at the exact right moment.

Whitelisting Services

ESPs help you send emails from quality IP addresses and avoid inbox spam filters. Your email marketing efforts are all for naught if your emails are never received by your audience.

A/B Testing

Optimize your email marketing strategy by finding out what works and what doesn’t. You can test variations of your email campaigns and determine a winner based on what performs best.

Monitoring Engagement

You can learn about your subscriber preferences by monitoring performance analytics such as open rates, click-through rates, and unsubscribe rates. We recommend continuously improving your strategy based on this data to reach more of your audience.

Questions to Ask Email Marketing Provider

Determining which of the features listed above are most important to your business may help you narrow down the search for the best email service provider. Choosing an ESP is an investment for your business, so you need to consider what you want before taking the plunge.

A guided demo of the platform with a salesperson or a limited trial might make your decision easier. As you evaluate different ESPs, asking the following questions can clarify if the platform has the necessary features to achieve your goals.

What size is the ESP?

You want to choose an email service provider already working with your size (or larger) businesses because it will be more likely to fulfill your needs. ESPs are typically three different sizes:

  • Small Business ESP: The benefits of these services typically include a free or low-cost plan perfect for small budgets. However, features and technical support may be more limited.
  • Mid-Market ESP: These platforms handle a large volume of emails and generally accommodate bigger clients. They tend to specialize in certain niches, such as e-commerce.
  • Enterprise-Level ESP: These services offer many features and powerful integrations. Additionally, they provide robust data and reporting to give you a complete picture of your audience’s behaviors.

Is the platform user-friendly?

You won’t progress past the basic features of your ESP if it’s not easy to use. This is why a platform demo and trial can be so beneficial when choosing which one you want. A simple platform with an easy-to-use interface allows you to learn quickly and become more efficient with your email marketing. 

There’s a learning curve for any type of software, but you can evaluate if the interface is well organized and intuitive during a test run or trial of the platform. Most ESPs include several templates for designs and workflows to make it easy to implement what you are looking for.

How reliable is customer support?

More than likely, you’ll have to contact customer support for something. Find out what that looks like for each email service provider you are considering. Do they include a knowledge base on their website? Is there a call support line or help chat?

Good customer support can be difficult to find. Consider if the support team is structured in a way that will empower your team to get the most out of your email campaigns.

How easy is it to set up automation?

Targeted, automated campaigns make your email marketing more efficient and scalable, leading to higher ROI. Research shows that relevant, time-sensitive messages perform better than bulk campaigns. Correctly utilizing automation can improve your click rates and other conversions.

We recommend that you pass on any email marketing platform with lackluster automation tools.

What personalization features are available?

You want your email marketing provider to help you translate audience data into targeted campaigns. For example, a dynamic email content tool allows you to create personalized messages within a single email. Additionally, you want an ESP that offers list segmentation by behavior, demographics, or other parameters.

Some ESPs include customer journey tools to set up automated campaigns based on conditions for different customer types. This level of personalization will help your email marketing send the right message to the right person at the right time – resulting in a higher ROI.

Can you optimize for mobile?

More than half of email campaign opens come from mobile devices. Most ESPs today should be optimized for mobile email marketing. This means that they utilize responsive design in their templates and campaign builder.

Additionally, some ESPs might support SMS marketing. If you are considering sending text messages to your customers, this might be a differentiating feature that you look for in an ESP.

What analytics are available?

Like any marketing strategy, you should review your email performance and make informed decisions about improving your efforts. This is only possible if your ESP provides the analytics you need. Explore the reporting and data export tools each ESP offers. Are you able to efficiently make sense of the data provided to you?

You should consider if the platform allows you to set up custom reports, export data into other tools, or integrate with third-party analytics.

What API features are available?

Application Programming Interface (API) allows two different platforms to talk to each other. For example, you may want your ESP to connect with your CRM or e-commerce platform and share data. Integrations are an important tool to improve the efficiency of your automation efforts.

Specifically, you should look into what customer support is available for integrations.

Want More Email Marketing Tips?

Choosing an email service provider is potentially a large investment for your business. If you want to make the most informed choice, our team can help you identify an email marketing strategy and the tools you’ll need to implement it. Contact a digital assistant for email marketing tips specific to your business.

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