Article first published in August 2016, updated in June 2019
With so many different options for email marketing software today, it can be challenging to know how to narrow down your options.
Do you go for the option that’s most affordable? Or the one that has the best email templates and tools for building amazing, professional-looking emails?
In most cases, the answer is: it’s a combination of factors.
Let’s dive into how you can pick the best email marketing platforms to help your business succeed.
How to pick the best ESP for your business
First things first—before you pick the best email marketing software, you need to understand how the right ESP can meet your business needs.
An email service provider (ESP) hosts email campaigns on behalf of your company. The best ESP needs to create subscriber lists, send emails, provide analytics, A/B test, personalize dynamic content, and so much more.
With all the reasons listed above, choosing an ESP can be overwhelming. You need to find the right fit for your business and consider all angles in order to execute successful email marketing. Are you on a strict budget? Do you have a large database? The ESP you choose needs to fit your business’s unique goals.
Overall, your ESP should put you first and help you deliver emails that drive more business to your bottom line. If you’re ready to get started, check out these five different elements to look for when choosing your email marketing solutions.
At a basic level, your ESP needs to deliver emails that drive awareness and sales—meaning the ESP should include a suite of features that not only helps you succeed, but makes the process significantly easier. Useful features include:
- Mobile-responsive templates
- List management
- Tracking tools
Source: Campaign Monitor
Even if you’re an experienced email marketer, there’ll be a time that you need to talk to your ESP’s support team for troubleshooting. Phone and email support are a given. However, the best ESP platforms need to also offer chat, social media support, and knowledge-base blogs that are filled with valuable information. The more support, the easier your job will be.
With marketing technology popping up left and right, new isn’t always better when it comes to choosing the best email marketing tools. You want to find a company that has a reputation for keeping up with industry trends and has credible social proof filled with reviews, testimonials, and referrals.
As a savvy email marketer, you know how important it is to have a plan. You diligently organize your editorial calendar; therefore, an ESP needs to also provide guidance on how to succeed with their platform. With a proper guide, you’ll learn the types of content to send and when to send it successfully to garner more engagement.
Email marketing is one of the most affordable digital marketing strategies, and your ESP needs to represent that with an attainable cost that fits in your budget. The best email marketing platforms offer varying plan options that provide different features depending on what best fits your needs.
What is email marketing software?
Now that you understand what an ESP is and how to pick one for your business, it’s time to choose your email marketing software. Email marketing software is service-based technology that can be used to help grow email subscribers, design email templates, and more.
So what should you look for when you’re assessing email marketing software or considering switching from your current service provider?
In this post, we’ll cover 10 must-haves (and a bonus) to look for, including everything from mobile capability to support.
1. Rich selection of email templates
In this day and age, no one needs to create an email from scratch. Who has the time? Your email marketing software provider should have a rich selection of email templates that serve many different email marketing purposes—from newsletters to promotions, announcements, and beyond—that can be quickly and easily customized to fit your branding.
Keep in mind that, aside from simple, elegant design, templates should also be flexible enough to include features like dynamic content and personalization so your messages are as relevant as possible for subscribers. If templates are missing these features, it’s a red flag.
2. A powerful email builder
In the era of DIY marketing, you need an email builder that’s intuitive and easy to use, with simple drag-and-drop features (so you don’t have to take a training course before you can get started using it).
Ideally, a WYSIWYG editor (what you see is what you get) works well, as there are no surprise changes that happen after an email is sent out to subscribers. You can simply click, drag, and drop different pieces within the template, such as:
- CTA buttons
- Hero images
From there, you can customize colors, text size, fonts, add your logo, and make the template completely seamless with your other branding elements.
3. Mobile-ready for the mobile world
In a world where more than 50% of emails are opened on a mobile device, you can’t afford to work with an email marketing software that doesn’t think with a mobile-first mindset.
The mobile trend is no passing fad, either. In recent years, mobile email opens have increased by as much as 30%, and data shows that one out of every three clicks within an email occurs on a mobile device.
Make sure you’re selecting an email marketing software that not only automatically optimizes your email campaigns for you on a variety of different mobile devices, but has plenty of mobile-friendly templates that make building a mobile email stress-free.
4. Built-in design and spam testing
Before sending out your email campaign, you’ll want to see a preview of how your template, images, and messaging will display in a variety of different inboxes, both on desktops and mobile devices. Look for an email marketing software that helps you ensure your emails look great in any email client.
And, because there are many strict laws and regulations around spam emails, you’ll also want to select a provider that allows you to test your campaigns before you send them out to subscribers. Testing your content pre-send helps you proactively catch any material that could trigger spam reports at the desktop, server, and firewall levels. That means more of your emails reach the subscriber’s inbox, and far fewer end up in the spam folder.
5. Reasonable sending limits and unlimited options
As your email list size continues to grow, you don’t want to be limited by the send frequency of your email marketing software. When you’re just starting out, look for a provider that provides a variety of levels for sending and offers both monthly and pay-as-you-go plans to provide you the best flexibility.
For example: If you have a list of 500 subscribers, you should be able to send them all at least three to four emails per month, right? That means you’d want to look for an email software that would allow 2,500 email sends per month at the 500-subscriber mark to give you some wiggle room.
Then, as you grow your list and upgrade to a higher sending tier, make sure you have unlimited sending abilities.
Taking this approach will help you scale your email so you’re making a smart investment with high ROI based on business size.
6. Flexible pricing
Do you need to start right out of the gate with a massive budget for email software? Probably not. But, at the same time, simply sticking with the tools included in most freemium models isn’t enough to give you all of the functionality and analytics you need to be successful.
So what do you do? Do you opt in for one of the high-end tools with a lot of features you’re really not ready to use yet?
No. You’d be throwing a lot of good money away. You need email software that can grow with you and can help keep your costs low and the return on your investments high (all while still delivering the functionality you need). Look for an email tool that can scale and grow with your business that has flexible pricing with low, medium, and enterprise tiers.
7. Rich reporting capabilities
With the right resources, email marketing is one of the most measurable marketing mediums marketers have at their disposal. Therefore, be sure the email software you choose has rich reporting capability that enables you to be sure you’re spending your time, money, and effort in the right places. Look for reports with key metrics such as:
- Open rate
- Click-through rate
- Unsubscribe rate
- Bounce rate
These high-level data points show the overall success of your campaigns. However, there should also be secondary reporting options that can be accomplished with integrations that reveal deeper metrics that can help you improve the design or strategy of your campaigns overall.
Look for deep-dive reporting that helps you better understand what works and what doesn’t in your email campaigns.
8. Seamless surveys
Surveys, delivered via email, help keep customers happy and keep your business functioning at a high level. From Net Promoter Scores to customer satisfaction, these email-delivered surveys help you keep a pulse on many different aspects of your business, at any given time.
And, by giving your customers a voice and collecting this valuable feedback, you can outpace the competition with an ever-improving business operation.
Look for an email marketing software that allows you to embed mobile-ready surveys in your email campaigns so you can optimize each and every customer experience.
9. Integrations and plugins
As email is often an important piece within a larger marketing technology stack, it’s important that it easily extends and integrates with a variety of other business applications—like your CRM, e-commerce, or CMS solution (just to name a few.)
By integrating these apps, you can make your email campaigns hyper-targeted, personalized, and extremely relevant to your customers based on their unique preferences and history with your brand. Doing so is proven to increase success with email marketing too. Campaign Monitor offers a powerful selection of apps and integrations in our very own App Store.
10. World-class support
From time to time, you’re going to need help with your email marketing service. It happens. When that time comes, you want to be sure your email service provider is there to help. Test the waters with a few different providers by performing a couple of experiments:
- How long it takes to reach a support rep via email or phone
- Browse online troubleshooting resources
- Ask for help with a common problem
- Seek out additional support resources
You should look for an email marketing software that provides support through a variety of channels when you need help.
Bonus: Marketing automation capabilities
We are always looking for ways to send better, more targeted content and at scale, and there’s no better way to do this than with marketing automation. Marketing automation is simply combining data about customer behavior with personalized journeys and beautiful, on-brand content to deliver the right message at the right time to the right person. Every ESP should offer a simple-to-use, but powerful marketing automation solution for you.
Here’s a quick roundup of the 10 email marketing software must-haves (plus a bonus):
- Great selection of templates
- Easy, powerful email builder
- Design and spam testing
- Reasonable send limits
- Flexible pricing
- Rich reporting
- Seamless surveys
- Integrations and plugins
- Fantastic, mind-blowing support
(Bonus: Marketing automation capabilities)
If you can find a provider who checks off all of these boxes, you’ve found a great match. Now that you understand how to find the best email marketing software, learn how you can utilize it to drive revenue to your business.