How to Choose an Email Service Provider
As the worldwide leader in deliverability, Return Path is well positioned as a key partner between global brands, email service providers (ESPs), mailbox providers, and various spam filtering agencies. We partner with most of the major ESPs in the industry, and because of this, we have a lot of knowledge about the types of companies they serve and the products and services they offer. So it makes sense that one of the most common questions we get from our clients is: “who should I use as my email service provider?”
While seemingly an easy question to answer, it is actually one that requires quite a bit of research. Each ESP has their own niche and specializes in different aspects of email data and marketing. So, before researching ESPs, it’s imperative to know your budget, what email solution you are looking for and the types of products and services that are most important to you. For example, is it absolutely necessary to be able to integrate with a specific CRM tool? Are you looking for a multi-channel marketing solution or just an email delivery platform? Do you need the ability to send surveys and transactional mail? Do you require a dedicated support and deliverability team to be assigned to your account?
To help you in your selection process, I’ve compiled a list of things you need to consider when choosing a new ESP. Having answers to these questions can help you when interviewing prospective ESPs to see if they are a good fit for your business. When answering these questions, think about your current and future plans and needs. You want to be sure that the ESP you choose can help you as you grow to set you up for long-term success.
Email Sending and Scheduling
- What is your current or forecasted monthly email volume?
- What types of emails do you send (promotional, transactional, surveys, confirmations, etc.)?
- Do you need to be able to send triggered emails based on activity (or non-activity)?
- Is the ability to send A/B split tests important to you?
- Will you be using dynamic content within your emails?
- Do you want to be able to schedule email sends for a future date/time
Creatives and Testing
- Do you want to be able to send test emails to a small test group prior to live deployment?
- Is having a tool available to test your creatives in various email clients and browsers important to you?
- Do you need the ability to send emails through spam filters pre-deployment?
- Is having free, customizable email templates something that’s important to you?
- Do you need to be able to create and edit email creatives directly in the user interface?
- Do you expect your email content to be reviewed for CAN-SPAM compliance prior to deployment?
- Do you require access to subscriber management and list segmentation tools?
- Is it important to you to be able to manage and customize your opt-in page?
- Is having flexibility in terms of a single opt-in versus double (confirmed) opt-in a requirement?
- Do you want to be able to customize your subscriber opt-out experience?
- Is it important to have a user profile page where subscribers can update their preferences and email frequency?
- Do you want to personalize your email?
- Is it important to you to have access to reporting and analysis tools?
- Do you require real-time data reporting?
- Do you expect to have access to bounce reporting?
- Will you need click-through and website conversion tracking?
- Do you expect to be able to see the number of emails sent, delivered, and not delivered?
- Is seeing deliverability (inbox and spam folder placement) data important to you?
- Do you want to see metrics surrounding forward to a friend and opens (unique and total)?
- Do you want to allow for social sharing, and then have access to the related reporting?
- Is having visibility into unsubscribes and complaints important to you?
- Is it a requirement to be integrated with a specific CRM system?
Your Team and Support
- How many users will need access to the ESP interface?
- Do you require a user-friendly, intuitive graphical user interface (GUI)
- Are you most comfortable with a self-service or full-service model of support?
- Is having a dedicated deliverability team important to you?
- Do you expect your ESP to make regular releases and updates available to clients?
- Do you require a dedicated IP address or are you comfortable sharing an IP with other senders?
- Do you need help warming up a new IP and domain?
- Is using your own sending domain a requirement?
- Do you authenticate all of your email streams with DKIM, SPF, and DMARC?
- Is it important to you for the ESP to manage your complaint feedback loops?
- Do you want to receive alerts if there’s an issue with a certain complaint feedback loop or authentication?
- Do you require your emails to be throttled or is there a time requirement in terms of your email sends?
- Is it important to you to have an SLA set up with your new ESP?
- Is having a redundant data center important?
- How much are you willing to pay for an email service provider?
- Do you require a free trial?
- Are you more comfortable with a monthly or annual fee, or do you want to pay only for what you use?
- Are you willing to commit to an annual agreement?
- Is having a pre-pay discount available to you important?
As you begin your research, there are several excellent tools available to help you select the right ESP for your business. The first tool is the ESPinator by ClickMail Marketing. This free online survey takes you through an assortment of questions that determine the top three ESPs that best meet your needs. Also by ClickMail Marketing is their free “2017 ESP Selection Guide,” available to download here. This guide gives you essential questions you need to ask a potential new ESP. Finally, Red Pill Email offers their very thorough “Email Vendor Features & Functions Guide.” This extensive and extremely valuable guide is available to download here.
As you talk with different ESPs, make sure you ask a lot of questions about their capabilities to see if they match your needs and fit within your budget. Doing your homework can help you choose the ESP that’s right for you now and in the future.
About John Pollard
John is a Senior Knowledge Strategist at Return Path. He is dedicated to building and maintaining knowledge and content assets to help marketers maximize the value of their email programs. John believes that sharing knowledge feeds the imagination, fosters collaboration and empowers people to grow and evolve. He has been in the email marketing industry since 2008 and has consulted numerous businesses and ESPs on deliverability and email optimization. Prior to joining Return Path, John worked in the finance industry with roles in business analysis and system administration.