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How to Choose an Email Service Provider

This week I met with a company that was thinking about leaving their email service provider and building their email system internally. If you asked me a decade ago if that were a good idea, I would have said not. However, times have changed, and the technology of ESPs is pretty easy to implement if you know what you’re doing. It’s why we developed CircuPress.

What Changed with Email Service Providers?

The biggest change with ESPs has been in deliverability. It’s actually not the ESPs that changed, it’s the ISPs. Email deliverability professionals at major ESPs used to have direct contact with Internet Service Providers to troubleshoot and ensure good deliverability. Over time, though, ISPs have shut down those offices and turned to algorithms to monitor sender reputation, analyze content, block or accept email, and route it into SPAM folders or the inbox.

Keep in mind that getting delivered does NOT mean getting in the inbox! 100% of your emails could be going to the Junk Folder, and that equates to 100% deliverability. Whether or not you’re using an ESP doesn’t provide you any better chance of reaching the inbox if you know what you’re doing. It’s why you have to deploy an inbox placement monitoring platform.

There are discreet characteristics that Email Service Providers offer that you may not wish to redevelop internal, though. You’ll have to evaluate the cost of development to the cost of the email service. In my personal opinion, when you begin sending hundreds of thousands of emails per month, you may want to look at developing your own solution.

  • Speed – If you’re sending millions of emails a day, developing the infrastructure of a company like Salesforce Marketing Cloud is probably never going to make sense. They can put out billions of emails without blinking an eye.
  • Expertise – If you don’t have a savvy staff or need a lot of hand-holding through the creation and execution of your email marketing strategies, you absolutely don’t want to build your own solution. You may want to work with a great company like Delivra who provides fantastic customer service.
  • Bounce Management – Email deliverability isn’t as easy as sending an email. There are dozens of reasons why emails bounce and you have to build and manage a process for deciding whether to resend the email or to unsubscribe the email recipient.
  • SPAM Legal Compliance – There are different laws worldwide that govern the use of email for commercial solicitation. Ensuring you’re compliant can save you a lot of headaches.
  • Design – Do you need pre-made responsive email templates or designs? Or do you need drag and drop design? Or do you need advanced content and customization integrations in your email? You’ll want to ensure your ESP has the tools and capabilities you need to personalize and send emails properly.
  • Subscriber Management – content preferences, subscription forms, and unsubscribe centers are key to acquiring and personalizing email for subscribers.
  • API – Do you want to manage subscribers, lists, contnet, and campaigns outside the ESP? A robust API is critical.
  • Third Party Integrations – Perhaps you want off-the-shelf integrations to your content management system (CircuPress has this with WordPress), a Customer Relationship Management platform, E-Commerce platform or other system.
  • Reporting – click-through rates, A/B testing, list retention, conversion tracking, and other robust reports that fully report on email metrics will assist you on increasing the value of your email marketing program. Be sure to analyze and compare the features of each ESP.

And of course, pricing is key! We don’t see too big a difference in features between many of the top email service providers in the market compared to smaller ESPs. If you can narrow down the features above that are critical to your organization, then I think shopping on price makes sense. And if you’re sending millions of emails, it may even make sense to integrate with a third party like Sendgrid, or even build your own system.

How to Choose an Email Service Provider

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of the Martech Zone and a recognized expert on digital transformation. Douglas has helped start several successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to launch his own platforms and services. He's a co-founder of Highbridge, a digital transformation consulting firm. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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