Email is a veteran channel. Unlike channels like push notifications and SMS, email has been around for half a century! As such, the email ecosystem has had ample time to mature and evolve. Now, there are a wide range of modern Email Service Providers, or ESPs, to choose from. Choosing an ESP is important because it can either enhance or compromise your email marketing program.

What is an ESP?

An ESP, not to be confused with an ISP, is an email service provider. An ESP is a business that hosts email services and software on independent servers. The best email service providers are a one-stop shop for clients, empowering their customers to send newsletters, distribute surveys, send bulk email, and more.

Do I Really Need One?

The short answer is yes. The right ESP will meet your business’s unique needs and make your marketing efforts more successful. With this choice, there are a handful of key factors to consider as you get a sense of your options. You’ll want to choose the most appropriate ESP for your business size and functions in order to minimize the time it takes to set up your campaigns, streamline your day-to-day operations, and easily analyze and evaluate campaign performance. With the right ESP, you’ll see savings from major productivity improvements.

Why is Using an ESP So Effective?

The right ESP can provide a variety of benefits for you, whether you're a small business or a large enterprise.

Driving ROI

For every dollar spent on email, businesses see an average ROI of an impressive $36, which represents a return of almost 4000 percent.

Boosting Acquisition and Retention

One study shows that 81 percent of small and medium-sized businesses rely on email for customer acquisition and 80 percent use email marketing to retain customers.

Managing Contacts

An ESP allows you manage lists, collect contacts, and evaluate and optimize email campaigns. Some email marketing software are part of an omnichannel solution, you can track these contacts and their behaviors across other channels such as push, in-app, and SMS.

Staying Compliant

ESPs also help you stay compliant with international email privacy laws, like CAN-SPAM. If you don’t comply with these privacy regulations, your business can suffer steep fines.

Supporting Authentication and Security

ESPs help authenticate your emails and protect your email lists from being stolen or hacked. Some ESPs support authentication standards such as SPF and DKIM.

Choosing an ESP

Here are some tips and basic steps for choosing an ESP.

1. Consider Your Main Use Cases

Think about the main types of emails you'll be sending. Are you sending mostly transactional or marketing messages? Are you hoping to send newsletters, dynamic content, drip campaigns, email blasts, onboarding sequences, or all of the above? Some ESPs will be better than others for different use cases, whether you're communicating to potential customers or existing ones

2. Think About Contact List Size

The best ESP for you will depend on the number of contacts you’re sending content to. Often, small businesses with smaller subscriber lists will opt to use providers with a streamlined customer experience, simpler functionality, and a more streamlined feature set. Larger enterprises with huge contact lists and a variety of use cases may opt for enterprise-level ESPs with more advanced features and complex functionality Alongside your list size, you should also consider your email send volume, or the number of emails you plan to send. This becomes a budgetary consideration because some providers charge based on CPMs (Cost Per Mile), or the cost of sending a thousand email messages, while others charge on a subscription basis.

3. Review Data and Privacy Policies

ESPs store your customers' data, which means data security is on everyone’s mind. The last thing you want is for sensitive information to be compromised while it's en route to its recipient. Consider whether a given ESP meets your security requirements and its capacity for protecting your customer database and preventing security breaches that could compromise your clients’ data.

Your security needs will also depend on your vertical. If you’re in the healthcare industry, you may need to be HIPAA compliant, for instance.

Consider the types of safeguards a given ESP has for maintaining security, such as firewalls, password policies, and encryption practices. You may also want to think about how accessible your data is, how quickly the database updates, and the given provider’s data storage limitations.

4. Compare Costs

If you’re on the search for an email provider today, you’re likely aware of the tremendous ROI this medium can have for your business. However, it’s still important to factor cost into your decision. ESPs tend to charge based on send volume or on a subscription basis. Factors that go into the overall cost of this channel include license costs, usage rates, and overage costs. You should also evaluate what a given ESP charges for ad-ons.

Are there sporadic billings customers should expect? Also, evaluate your budget based on how much you plan to grow. How much do you plan to grow your send volume and subscriber list over time? If you’re hoping to scale, flexible payment terms could be useful for your email user case

Keep in mind that some high-end marketing email providers can get expensive. One million subscribers could cost you $50K+ per year. Transactional email companies are a fraction of the price, but their features are limited. Think about what’s best in terms of your use case.

5. Don't Overlook the Benefits of a Consolidated Platform

If you’re managing multiple channels as an app marketer, it’s important that you can access your email and messaging data in one place. Some solutions will let you send from a single dashboard and API. An omnichannel platform can help mobile-first brands streamline processes to better meet their end goals in communicating across channels.

The most effective providers will provide Data Tags and segmentation to target the right audiences across channels, which can allow you to use key cross-channel behavioral data to better guide your users through their customer journey.

6. Evaluate Ease of Use

How easy is a given software to implement and get results from? How much technical support is needed? Take a look at the time and resources you’ll need to get up and running with a given ESP and land emails in your subscribers' inboxes. Do some research on how much their support team is available for migration, and what API implementation might look like.

Along with ease of implementation, you should also evaluate the size and bandwidth of your email team and the time you have to invest in learning your email provider's abilities. Ease of use may be a higher priority for you if your team has limited time to spend learning the platform.

In addition, you’ll want to consider how much technical support you have for your email design and execution. The right email service provider will have more robust features for non-technical users such as email builders and a single place to view data.

7. Compare Features

  • When you’re looking at providers, think about what capabilities on your wish list are must-haves. Some examples of basic features you might want include:
  • Tagging and Segmentation- Send email marketing campaigns to different list segments by dividing your email list with criteria like behavioral data.
  • Mobile Responsive Emails- Optimize your emails across devices
  • Personalization- Target exactly the right audience with personalized content based on their location, interests, and purchase activity.
  • Metrics -Understand who's clicking and opening your emails. Look at what types of metrics your ESP tracks and how useful they are to achieving better email marketing campaign outcomes.

8. Look for Email Automation Support

Automating your brand's emails and getting front recipients at the right time gives them a personal touch with minimal effort. See if a given provider offers message automation so you can optimize your organization's workflow for message scheduling and sending. It’s important to automate your sends and personalize your content based on your users’ actions and behavior to see better results.

For example, your organization may want to evaluate how easy it is to deploy email nurture sequences with a given ESP. f you plan on using other marketing channels, like push and SMS, look for a provider that lets you map and automate cross-channel journeys.

9. Find Good Customer Support

As with any tech provider, there are times when your organization may need help understanding next steps, assessing delivery rate issues (such as elevated spam complaints), understanding best practices, or resolving problems with your email campaigns. In comparing options, think about how easy or hard is it to get help—including the hours that live customer support is available, the average turnaround time for customer support tickets, and how robust the provider’s documentation is. You should also check out their documentation, resources, and guides to see if you can easily troubleshoot issues with the company’s available resources.

10. Consider Deliverability

Every email marketer knows that good deliverability is the foundation of an effective email marketing strategy. Look for an email marketing service that has a trusting relationship with key players in the email ecosystem and that has a high deliverability sender reputation, which will help you minimize bounce rates, increase message delivery statistics, and reduce subscribers' sending you to the spam folder. Generally, aim for an ESP with a deliverability rate of 98 percent or higher, which lets Internet Service Providers know they can trust you.

You should also check to see how an ESP’s features give you ways to achieve better deliverability —like whether they alert you when your domain is blocked or if you’re blacklisted. In maximizing your campaigns' deliverability, consider whether the ESP in question uses a shared or dedicated IP address. If it’s a shared IP, what is its reputation?

11. Check out the Integrations Offered

Connecting your data is one of the best ways to effectively reach customers, especially if email is one of many channels you’re using. You don’t want to risk siloed data, which is one of many reasons you should opt for an email marketing service that makes it easy to integrate with the rest of your marketing technologies. If you’re orchestrating omnichannel message sequences that depend on a variety of events and data, you’ll need a tool that easily integrates with your other solutions. This data creates a real-time feedback loop with users that empowers you to enhance your messaging strategy over time. Check out your email marketing service's API capabilities, and think about what tools you want to connect—from your CRM to your blog to other analytics tools.

Why Choose OneSignal?

With OneSignal, your brand can get your mailing list's attention, send dynamic email campaigns, and manage all of your cross-channel conversations from one intuitive platform. We partner with best-in-class email marketing service SendGrid, Mailgun, and Mailchimp. Try us out for free today!

Learn More About OneSignal Email