Email was invented in 1971, and since then, it has completely changed how we communicate with people we know and those we may not know in person. With the introduction of social media in 1997 and the rapid rise and evolution of these channels, it was thought email would quickly become extinct.
However, as we know now, this couldn’t be further from the truth!
For those who may still believe email marketing is old and outdated and social media is the only way to go when it comes to connecting with people online, let’s highlight a significant stat provided by our friends at Litmus:
In 2022, an average of 1.5 billion email opens occurred each month.
1.5 BILLION. And that is a message from you or your company being viewed in prime online real estate – a subscriber’s inbox. All over the internet, you can find posts and reminders about the impact email marketing can have on the connection with your audience — and your bottom line — but all the benefits stem from one thing: your email service provider.
Email service providers (ESPs), also known as bulk email service providers, newsletter providers, email marketing software, campaign generators, and so on, set the foundation for all of your email marketing efforts to come to fruition.
Choosing an ESP, however, can feel like an overwhelming task, as there are many to choose from – some long-established, and seemingly a new entrant every month! In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the key considerations to remember when choosing your first (or second, third, fourth, etc.) ESP to work with.
The goal of this guide is to help you create a set of guidelines for you to review and evaluate quickly and ESP to determine whether or not you want to start a trial and begin testing. We’ll do our best to keep our opinions out of things, but we are a little biased here at FeedBlitz HQ, so you may see some of that slip in below. (Not too much, though, promise!)
Without further delay, let’s get this ball rolling…
Four things to consider when choosing an ESP.
The first step in choosing an ESP? Recognizing you need to choose a new ESP. (WILL LINK TO BP)
The second step? Identifying the most essential pieces of the email marketing puzzle. Start by considering these four areas of focus:
- The Strategy: Your email marketing needs and goals.
- The Means: Your budget.
- The Who: The reputation of an ESP — both online and sending.
- The What: The available features, services, and support that the email provider offers.
Simple enough? Right. Let’s break down each consideration below with questions to ask yourself along the way.
1. The Strategy: Your email marketing needs and goals.
Ask yourself a series of questions focused on your goals, needs, and objectives with email marketing.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Who are you, and who is your audience?
- How does email marketing fit into your bigger communication or marketing strategy?
- How much time can you dedicate to your email marketing efforts on an ongoing basis?
- How will your email marketing grow?
- What are your top 3 goals with your email marketing strategy? (grow your list, boost revenue, connect with people, etc.)
A clear picture of what your email marketing strategy will look like and what you hope to accomplish with your efforts is the foundation of your search. If you‘re interested in sharing your hobby or life updates, your email needs will be very different than if you’re running a small business or corporate enterprise.
Answering this round of questions first helps you focus on the features and capabilities to support your needs and goals best.
2. The Means: Your budget.
Establishing a budget before you begin looking for an ESP is essential, as there are vital details to pricing and costs to watch for when making your selection.
- What determines your fee? Among the heavy hitters in email marketing, costs are determined by subscriber count, number of emails sent, or a set flat rate.
FeedBlitz, for example, charges solely by the number of active, unique email subscribers in your account, with zero limits on how many emails you can send each month. Other providers may charge by subscribers and still cap the number of emails you send, leaving you with surprise overages and bills at the end of the pay period.
- How often do you want to be billed? Many ESPs offer both monthly and annual billing options. This allows for greater flexibility to meet your needs and budgeting preferences.
Pro-tip: If you’re considering annual fees, double-check if you’ll get dinged with an overage charge if your list grows higher than the current pricing tier at the time of signup. FeedBlitz doesn’t charge you for going over your tier mid-annual plan, so you’re free to grow your list to your heart’s content and not worry about an increase in pricing until your renewal comes around.
- Are there any overages or hidden costs? This is the kicker. We touched on this in the two questions above, but always check if the ESP caps any of your capabilities on the pricing plan you’re considering. If you go over a certain number of emails per month, will you get charged an overage? Are you charged for more than one email list or a set number of funnel campaigns?
This is different from choosing a pricing plan based on available features. No matter your plan, these overages can be incurred, so it’s best to read the fine print when you see caps on the number of subscribers, emails per month, campaigns, etc., when evaluating providers.
Having a budget in mind will significantly help in your search. By taking the time to think about the above three questions, you’ll be well-prepared when comparing different providers and know what to look for when reviewing pricing and plan pages on their sites.
And here’s our plug:
FeedBlitz doesn’t believe in capping or restricting your growth whatsoever! That’s why you’re only charged for active, unique email subscribers. Each plan offers unlimited emails, lists, forms, tags, and more.
No caps, no overages, no surprises.
3. The Who: The reputation of an ESP — both online and sending.
Not all ESPs are created the same (trust us, we’ve been in the business for nearly 20 years now), and that’s why the reputation of an ESP can hold its weight in gold. And not just word-of-mouth reputation and referrals. While those have a lot of weight regarding user-friendliness and first-person experiences, we’re talking about the reputation of an ESP in terms of deliverability.
Deliverability is the process of getting the emails you send to a subscriber’s inbox.
Receiving internet service providers (ISPs) such as Gmail, Yahoo, or Apple Mail review, judge, and estimate the safety of emails being sent by a particular email address. Based on an ISP’s top-secret set of rules and guidelines, this process ultimately determines whether your email will be allowed or denied.
They assign reputations to ESPs based on the quality of the emails they allow to be sent through their service. The higher the reputation, the higher the deliverability rate you’ll see ESPs talk about having.
Each ESP has its own set of in-house protocols and processes to safeguard and boost its deliverability and reputation. Keep a watchful eye for this information when conducting your search, and it’ll give you a good idea of how diligently the ESP will work to ensure your emails reach their intended destinations.
Pro Tip: If you’re having deliverability issues with your current ESP, consider starting a free trial with a different provider. Then, upload a sample of your email list and begin sending email. This will help you compare the deliverability metrics of each provider and shed light on what’s happening with your campaigns.
Because it doesn’t matter how great your emails are if they aren’t getting to your subscribers!
Deliverability can feel complicated and technical, but our team put together an in-depth guide breaking everything down, even highlighting some of the things we do for clients. Check out the guide and reach out if you have questions: Pulling Back the Curtain on Email Deliverability.
4. The What: The available features and services a newsletter service provider offers.
This is often the first item up for consideration when choosing an ESP. Still, if you walk through the first three listed above, you’ll be in an excellent place to evaluate the myriad of features, capabilities, and services each ESP offers!
The list below is incomplete, but it highlights critical elements you may be looking for when choosing a new provider. For specific capabilities of a feature, it’s best to reach out to a provider’s support team to inquire before starting a free trial or plan.
- Email Campaigns – This seems basic, but what are the types of email campaigns offered? Single newsletters and broadcasts? RSS to email campaigns? How about funnel/drip/autoresponder campaigns? Not only do varied email campaign offerings meet various needs, but they also allow you to diversify your email efforts.
- Subscription Forms – The first step in growing a list is gathering email addresses. Check to see what forms the ESP offers and how they will fit into your list growth strategy.
- Email Automation – Watch for automation capabilities that allow you to send targeted, timely emails based on a subscriber’s actions and triggers. Key words to look for are funnels, workflows, journeys, drip campaigns, and autoresponders.
- Email Templates and Design Tools – Does your ESP offer easily customizable email templates to help you in the design process? Is their email editor user-friendly? What about stock graphics and images? These are all things to consider when choosing an ESP, as these details can impact the time it takes for you to craft and send an email campaign.
- List and Subscriber Management – How easy is it to view, move, manage, and work with your subscribers in an email list? Do you have access to tagging and custom fields? Are you able to move subscribers from one list to another, or duplicate lists? This flexibility allows you greater control over your audience and the email campaigns sent to them.
- Audience Segmentation – A vital step in sending targeted email campaigns, how does the ESP offer the ability to shape and target your email list for specific campaigns? Can this process be automated and easily replicated in any way?
- Analytics and Reporting – Robust, real-time analytics and reporting tools help you track the performance of your campaigns and make better education decisions. It can be as simple as seeing the open rate for your last email campaign or knowing the most popular email you sent in a given month.
- Integrations and API – Before signing up with an ESP, confirm the service will integrate with any other tools and platforms you’re using, such as a CRM, third-party subscription forms, shopping carts, etc. Another helpful item to search for is API access and the availability of dev materials if needed.
- Support and Training Materials – Learning a new app is hard, and you shouldn’t be left alone on an island to navigate it. How easy is it to find the answer if you have a question? Support goes beyond live person interactions to include knowledge base posts, tutorials, and even help text in the app itself. Ensure that the ESP you’re considering offers adequate support options (be aware that live support may be limited in some ESPs by the plan you sign up for), and remember to inquire about available training resources.
- Scalability – Is the ESP designed to grow with your business? As your email strategy, needs, and goals expand, you’ll want a provider that can handle increasing volumes and complexity.
The above feature and capability list doesn’t cover every need you may have, but it’s a good starting point for your initial round of searches.
Also, when it comes to features, it’s important to be mindful when reviewing the features of different providers, as pricing plans may limit them.
FeedBlitz offers all of the above features and more, starting with a free 30-day trial.
Check out all of the available features or read through a complete feature comparison by plan.
Email marketing is here to stay.
Choosing the right ESP is a critical first step toward sending successful, engaging email campaigns. Having your strategy, means, providers, and features prioritized leaves you well-positioned to make a decision that aligns with your goals.
While social media channels and other forms of communication may come and go, email is here for the long haul. Be sure you’re hitting send confidently by choosing an email service provider you can rely on.
Are you interested in giving FeedBlitz a try for your email marketing? Head to this page to start your free trial. Feel free to reach out with any questions through our Support Page. Live support is available Monday to Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM Eastern, and you can always find helpful information 24-7 at the resources linked here.