An ESP (Email Service Provider) is a software-based service for email distribution, often based on its servers, optimized for high (mass) traffic. Many of them enable integration with CRM systems allowing independent actions such as the preparation of email templates and distribution lists (contact groups) based on segmentation. ESP platforms make it possible to track email deliverability (based on the recipient’s server response) and the number of opens or clicks. Conducting a subsequent analysis of data obtained and drawing appropriate conclusions may help optimize indicators and, as a result, increase conversions.
When looking for the right provider, it is first worth considering what type of service we are looking for. Some services focus solely on email marketing and don’t require much technical knowledge or experience – simply upload your contact database, prepare your email in a drag and drop editor, and click send. Others – are aimed at more advanced users (with programming knowledge) who want to connect different systems via API to gain access to additional functionalities. There are also service providers who are somewhere in the middle – offering the possibility of integration via SMTP or API while providing a platform for email marketing or analytical panel itself to check reports or statistics.
With so many services available today, choosing the right service provider can be a very difficult and overwhelming task. Here’s an overview of the top 10 questions to ask when choosing a service provider to handle your emails.
What may be the first thing that prompts you to use an ESP or change your current provider is problems with email deliverability. If your emails are being blocked by providers due to limits or spam filters, not only are you losing conversions, but you are also damaging your reputation as a brand. The quality of your contact list is one of the most important factors for deliverability, but proper infrastructure (prepared to handle massive traffic) and proper authentications (like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC) are also crucial. If you want to make sure you’ve done everything you can to increase the chances of your emails hitting recipients’ inboxes, it’s worth betting on an experienced ESP. Remember that not every provider will work as well in your local market as in other countries. Polish providers limit the receipt of messages from servers that have not been authorized by them with appropriate agreements – so analyze what part of your contact base relates to global providers and what part relates to local providers.
To be able to track deliverability and thus measure the performance of your mailings, you need access to detailed logs that include events such as rejected messages (Hard Bounces, Spam Bounces) and other metrics such as opens and clicks. Detailed data should be easily accessible in an intuitive analytical dashboard. At this point, it is worth paying attention to the time to live (TTL) of logs and the possibility of extending it. It is important to be able to export them (e.g. via API) for later analysis, statistics or just to store them on your side in case of any requests or complaints from recipients. The more data you have on completed sendings, the easier it is to verify where any problems lie so you can make the necessary changes to improve efficiency and maximize ROI.
When deciding on a particular service provider, it’s worth making sure that you get the option of a dedicated server as part of your contract. If you share your IP address with other users, you risk being exposed to their potentially harmful behavior such as sending to unverified contact databases or phishing, which can quickly get you blacklisted. Having IP for your use only allows you to have full control over its reputation.
Some ESPs allow you to separate marketing and transactional mailings by adding two (or more) dedicated IPs to your account, which will help you properly classify emails in recipients’ mailboxes. No one wants important correspondence with a purchase confirmation or invoice to get lost in the maze of marketing emails in the Offers tab.
The best email service provider cares about the reputation of its servers, so you should pay attention to whether the tool has a built-in system for blocking recipients who have previously received a Hard Bounce status e.g. due to a non-existent (wrong) email address. Such rejected addresses are added to an internal blacklist and blocked at the system level. Blacklisted are also recipients who have unsubscribed from a newsletter or marked message as SPAM (for providers that support this functionality). This means that if you accidentally send another message to such address, the email end up dropped and thus another Hard Bounce will not weaken your reputation. Taking care of database hygiene is an important element when it comes to good deliverability, and analysis of SPAM markings provides us with additional data to help us measure the effectiveness of our campaigns.
Many users are looking for a quick and easy way to integrate their website or app with the email system. Many ESPs allow you to connect to external CRM, ERP, or other marketing platforms via API keys or SMTP. Perhaps, the service you are considering allows you to integrate with the tools you already use and has clear instructions for doing so? This will certainly be a great advantage and will make it easier for you to continue working.
While choosing an ESP, checking the level of customer support probably won’t be the first thing that comes to mind. It is often assumed that good customer service should just ‘be there’ and you only appreciate its presence and assistance when you encounter an issue. Meanwhile, lack of proper service is one of the main reasons why brands switch suppliers.
What is worth taking into consideration?
Depending on where your subscribers are located, you must comply with all local privacy and data protection regulations. Some ESPs provide ready-made drafts of the GDPR Data Processing Agreement. It’s a good idea to check that the solution you choose is ‘flexible’ when it comes to the special regulations we are subject to and can add appropriate additional provisions in the agreement to ensure this. It is also worth paying attention to the location of servers of a given service, i.e. whether they are located in the European Economic Area or e.g. in the USA – which requires additional protection measures. Remember that any non-compliance with the GDPR raises the risk of penalties.
To ensure the highest possible protection of your information against various types of threats, check whether the ESP you choose has passed an ISO/IEC certification audit.
The best email service provider will allow you to try them out for free. A complicated, multi-step process to sign up for a new account, and the necessity of adding credit card details can effectively discourage a potential buyer. Some services allow you to test the service for free – with a limited number of contacts or messages to send, others restrict access to service for a limited time. This allows new users to see what the platform offers and whether it will help solve problems that prompted them to try it. The trial certainly makes it easier to decide whether the service is right for you.
Many of us prefer to conduct tests fully anonymously. However, it is worth notice that verification of new users before they are allowed to use the platform is to protect the server infrastructure against the negative actions of potential spammers. Let’s assume that malicious senders may use the same shared IP that you are currently sending from. Despite your best practices – implementing a double opt-in method and constantly monitoring your contact database and sending legitimate and engaging content – emails from other senders can ruin your deliverability. By having a platform checking new users, you can ensure that they are doing their best to keep existing ones safe.
While you shouldn’t choose a service provider based on price alone, it is worth paying attention to it. Sometimes we overpay just because the chosen tool is the most popular on the market. Perhaps another service will provide the same (or even more) features much cheaper. You should also make sure that you know exactly what subscription provide and which options are paid add-on.
What to pay attention to:
Even though you can theoretically send emails for free using a mailbox on a publicly available domain or as part of your hosting, it’s usually not a good idea – especially if we’re talking about bulk (mass) communication or transactional emails. Using an ESP is a much better solution. When choosing a service provider, you have to look at the bigger picture, defining what’s important to you and what you need to take your email communications to the next level. While some of the platforms may look similar, different ESPs tend to have different specializations, so it’s worth looking carefully at what their offer is focused on and what functionalities they provide. Remember, the tool needs to be right for you and your business first and foremost – making the best decision will help your emailing succeed.
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