How to Select the Right ESP: A Mini-guide

How to Select the Right ESP: A Mini-guide

Check out the ultimate guide to selecting the right ESP provider for your business as per your needs and requirements.

Many marketers are unable to make the right choice when it comes to ESP. Read through this blog to get actionable insights into the topic. 

Email marketing can work wonders for your business. That’s what literature says. And it’s true ONLY IF you follow all the best practices and use the right tools to execute it. Choosing the right ESP is one of the most crucial aspects that helps in effective email marketing. Webmail services like Yahoo!, Gmail, or AOL cannot be used to send marketing emails. They work well for one-to-one cold emailing but when you have to send bulk emails, you need to rely on ESPs.

If you search for the best ESPs on the Internet, you will get to see several names in the search results like Mailchimp, HubSpot, ConvertKit, and many more. So, how will you choose the right one for your business?

We are here to help you make the perfect pick. 

Let’s start with the importance of email service providers.

What are ESPs and why are they important?

ESPs are specialized platforms that ensure that your marketing and sales emails get delivered to the user’s inbox and help bypass the spam traps. 

They come with several features that facilitate email marketing execution. 

  1. A huge range of templates in the library
  2. Email list segmentation tools
  3. Database and App Api integration
  4. Functionality for A/B testing
  5. Email automation features
  6. Analytics to measure email campaign performance

right esp helps

Source

How to Invest in the Right ESP: Things to Consider

1.  Pricing

According to your budget, you can choose the ESP that best caters to your needs. For example: Mailchimp is a free ESP that provides a user-friendly email editor, a huge email template library, tool to set email automation workflows and a dashboard for email analytics. It will cost you nothing if you have less than 2000 emails to send every month. The only downside of this good deal is that the footer will have a Mailchimp banner and the email template is not originally created by you. 

mailchimp

Nonetheless, it is certainly a steal deal for startups and businesses on a tight budget. Their paid versions are also cheaper when compared to other ESPs. 

If you are looking for advanced features, you can go for ESPs like HubSpot, Act-on, and DotMailer. They are equipped with features like email heatmaps, dynamic content blocks, and CSS interactivity support. The pricing starts from $900 per month so it is only preferred by large agencies or luxury brands.

2. Deliverability standards

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) scan every email before delivering them to the subscriber’s inbox. In case the IP that you use to send emails is blacklisted, the ISP filter will prevent your email from landing in the user’s inbox. Before choosing the ESP, you must make sure that they follow the deliverability standards and assure you of optimum deliverability rate.

Inquire whether they use shared or dedicated IP. Using a shared IP increases the likelihood of your emails getting blocked as someone else might send spam emails using the IP. Also, check whether they use methods like SPF, SenderID, DomainKeys, DKIM, and DMARC. Assess the ESP for reputation support like feedback loops and whitelisting before you make the purchase.

Take a look at these figures to understand which ESP tops the race when it comes to deliverability rate. 

email deliverability

Source 

3. API Integration Support

You might need to add third party applications or plugins to keep tabs on some metrics that are not available from the ESP. Therefore, you must confirm that your ESP offers support for such tools. If not, you should rethink your decision to buy that ESP. 

4. Scalability

Suppose you are using Mailchimp as you have less than 2000 subscribers. Now, when your business grows to have 10000 subscribers, does it have the functionality to accommodate your needs? That’s an important aspect to be considered while choosing the ESP. 

5. Customer Support

Every ESP, no matter how robust it is, is bound to run into technical glitches once in a while. It is also likely to have some server downtime. To resolve such issues, you must be able to contact the customer support and get prompt answers. Go through the website and figure out how their customer service works. Also, check whether you can schedule a virtual tour or demo for the tool to understand the usage better.

6. User-friendliness

The ESP must be easy to use with a convenient interface. They must have a section of FAQs to solve commonly asked questions. Besides, it must offer digital hand-holding whenever required. While looking for the perfect ESP, look for the nature of workflow and the editor. WYSIWYG editors are the most comfortable to use.

Also, check out the pre-loaded templates whether they match your business type and emails you wish to send. It should have error recognition capabilities so that you do not have to spend much time figuring out what went wrong. The ESP should have HTML validation tools for easy trouble-shooting of coding issues.

7. Ease of migration  

Often, the need arises to switch to another ESP from your current one. So, does the new ESP offer the functionality to export data? Is it too technically challenging? Would you need expert help for the same? Find answers to all such relevant questions before picking the ESP. 

8. Anti-spam compliance

Your ESP must abide by all the anti-spam guidelines like CAN-SPAM, GDPR, and CCPA. It must offer safety against cyber threats and data breach. 

How to self-analyze the ESP?

It is advisable to figure out your needs before you shortlist the ESP. Here are some of the parameters to bear in mind. 

1. First comes migration. In case you are already using an ESP, you will have to make aggressive preparations for migration. When you code email templates, the ESP email editor modifies its HTML. It will be an issue to recode these templates for compatibility. Moreover, consider the fact that you will have to set up new automation workflows when you migrate to the new ESP.

2. It is commonly observed that whenever a company chooses a new ESP, there is a dip in the email performance. You need to invest enough time as well as money in the process. Weight up the impact it will have on your revenue and how much time will it take to warm up the IP and start generating conversions. 

3. Almost all the popular ESPs charge for a minimum number of subscribers. So, you must assess the number of current subscribers and the list growth rate. Accordingly, you would need to scale the email list in the ESP. Furthermore, check for the delivery capacities of informative and promotional emails. Do they have any long-term growth plans and scalability case studies to showcase? Check for the competitors’ scalability too.

4. Ask yourself: Do you need to measure any specific metrics through the ESP? Of course, all ESPs offer information on open rates, click-through rates, conversion rate, bounce rate, and unsubscribes. But, if you are looking for advanced metrics like email campaign health, you might have to go for a powerful CRM tool like HubSpot.

It will give you an insight into how to improve the overall health of your email programs. For example: If there is a steep decline in the open rates, it will let you know that you need to work on the subject lines. Also, if you are looking for predictive analytics and lead scoring models, you can consider buying Marketo or Salesforce if budget permits.

5. Very few ESPs support CSS interactivity in the emails. Marketers who are looking forward to sending interactive emails in the future must choose ESPs accordingly. The same holds for AMP emails. Mail.ru and AWeber are some of the ESPs that offer support for these emails. So, if you want to send AMP emails to your subscribers, you must consider these ESPs. 

Bonus points:

1. With big data gaining immense momentum in recent times, you must make sure that your ESP is good with data. It should provide integration with CRM, eCommerce, and other automated systems. Try to understand the type of API provided by the platform. Is it XML-based, Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Synchronous, or Asynchronous?

2. Termination of the ESP should be as easy as onboarding. Read the terms and conditions thoroughly to understand whether they have any hidden costs, complimentary services, or yearly usage commitment. Go through the payment terms and if there’s any doubtful clause, clarify it beforehand to avoid any setbacks later. 

Wrapping up

You have to spend a lot of time with the ESP. Make sure you choose the right partner so that you do not have to regret it. Your ESP must make things easier for you and facilitate email campaign management, automation, and reporting for you. If it adds up more baggage to your to-do list, it is time to reconsider your choice. 

Through this blog, you will get a clear idea of the factors that influence the choice of a right ESP. If you have anything to add, drop by the comments below.

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 responsive HTML email templates in addition to providing email automation, campaign management, and data integration & migration services. 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.

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