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Choosing a comprehensive email service provider is no easy task. So many factors can influence your decision-making process. Considerations multiply when you’re working with a large team and multiple brands.

On top of all this, more than a dozen ESPs are competing to work with email marketers like you. How do you identify which one is the best fit for your email marketing needs?

Read on to discover why an ESP is essential for email marketing, as well as a dozen questions to ask when considering ESPs.

What is an ESP and why do email marketers need one?

Some marketing or technology experts may still refer to services like Gmail or Outlook as ESPs. Because these platforms provide you with an interface housing an inbox—along with folders to separate received messages, sent messages, draft emails, and more—they do technically count as email service providers. After all, they allow you to communicate with an audience via sending and receiving emails.

However, these days, it’s more common to use the initialism ESP to refer to email marketing platforms. These entities often offer automation features that improve how you create, schedule, and send campaigns to a specified list of subscribers. Other tools—like split testing, data reporting, built-in analytics, and more—may also be available.

Here are 12 questions to ask when considering ESPs.

Not every brand or marketing team needs the bells and whistles. The last thing you need is to spend too much on an ESP with features you don’t need and aren’t interested in exploring. However, you do need to assess the potential of an ESP to grow with your capabilities and your brand’s size.

When evaluating ESPs on your list, answer the following questions to help narrow down your choices.

1. What’s your email marketing budget?

Remember, when you pay for email—rather than social or other forms of marketing—you’re looking at statistically the best possible payoff. In the U.S., email marketing’s average return on investment is a staggering 3800%.

ESPs may have several pricing tiers and payment plans. Check for hidden fees, fine details, and restrictions. You may find that an ESP you thought was within budget doesn’t offer their full complement of features for what you can afford.

2. How does each ESP handle data security and regulatory compliance?

To keep both you and your audience safe, make sure that any ESP you consider protects and secures your subscribers’ and personal and sensitive information. Campaign Monitor’s Trust Center is a great example of transparency and specificity when it comes to outlining ESP security measures.

Screenshot of Campaign Monitor’s Trust Center

Source: Campaign Monitor

How an ESP lets marketers use subscriber data is also key. Look for an email service provider that’s able to flag questionable emails before they get sent automatically.

3. How much help do you need when it comes to email design?

Unless your repertoire consists of plain text and simple layouts, this is one of the essential questions to ask when considering ESPs.

Look for those with template libraries or email builders that match your level of expertise. Mobile-responsive template collections are a plus, as well as customizable drag-and-drop options. Below is Campaign Monitor’s own free template builder.

Screenshot of Campaign Monitor’s free template builder

Source: Campaign Monitor

You may also appreciate free image hosting, a well-populated knowledgebase, and the ability to control the designs directly you’re working on by editing email code.

4. Will your emails look and perform similarly on multiple screens and devices?

Choose an ESP that shows you email design previews based on subscribers’ email clients and devices. The same message can display in different ways depending on where they’re opened. Below is a side-by-side comparison of Android 8 Gmail App, iPhone X, Yahoo Mail on Firefox, and Outlook 2019 previews of the same Emma email.

 Emma email preview comparison sourced from Really Good Emails

Source: Really Good Emails

Mobile devices account for more than 50% of email campaign opens. Three out of five consumers check email using their smartphones. When you send optimized messages designed to work, no matter how they’re viewed, your email campaign performance metrics will improve.

5. Which ESPs offer email automation?

Numbers prove that relevant and time-sensitive messages perform better. Email automation can raise your click rates by almost 120%. Conversion rates and other stats may also increase.

Note also that, without automation, you’ll find it near impossible to execute email drip campaigns and triggered messaging effectively.

6. How advanced are the segmentation features offered by each ESP?

This is another one of those questions to ask when considering ESPs that you shouldn’t skip. Almost 40% of marketers using email list segmentation experience better open rates.

If you think you can get by without relying on technology, remember that segmentation is only the first step. What you do with it is what matters. To create and schedule multiple campaigns manually for each unique segment would simply take too much time and effort.

Look for an ESP with tools to add dynamic content to email designs. This way, you can create one campaign that’ll automatically display personalized and optimized content for each subscriber.

7. Which ESP offers the most robust A/B testing options?

You should be able to split test subject lines, sending times, and parts of your email body. Using the most favorable CTA lines and presentations—CTA button shapes and colors, for example—can significantly change the performance of your email campaigns.

With a hassle-free A/B testing tool, you can have better versions of your emails automatically sent to the rest of your list. No need to micromanage and spend too much time split testing.

8. What is the deliverability rate of each ESP?

You may simply keep ESPs with deliverability rates 98% and up in your shortlist, but that’d be an incomplete assessment. This statistic stems from both the efficiency of an email service provider’s backend and how an email marketer handles their campaigns.

The average email deliverability rate across the globe is a little over 75%. What’s more alarming is that most ESPs track this statistic, and a few may terminate accounts with consistently low deliverability to protect themselves. When choosing an ESP, ask if they help their clients improve deliverability through guides or customer support.

9. How does each ESP track the performance of email marketing campaigns?

This is one of the most crucial questions to ask when considering ESPs.

It’s not enough to create beautiful email campaigns and receive basic metrics. Email marketers these days can do so much more if they’re provided data analytics by their ESPs. Specific information allows you to get to know your audience better and uncover pain points to target in future emails.

10. Which ESP offers the third-party integrations you need?

You can’t expect every ESP to have the capacity to integrate with every single application possible. Different companies will cultivate different partnerships. It’s worth your time to browse an ESP’s apps and integrations library to find out what your options are in terms of a more comprehensive digital strategy.

This feature may not be a dealbreaker for you now, but that can change. Third-party integrations you don’t need at the moment—like those for Shopify or WordPress, for example—may end up being essential as your brand grows.

11. How easy is it to learn how to use each ESP?

Why make your life difficult on purpose? All the features and tools in the world can’t replace a user-friendly dashboard and intuitive controls.

However, ease of use is hard to assess from the outside looking in. You’ll likely need to test drive each ESP, so look for free trials or freemium models. Demos and reviews aren’t as useful but are the next best thing.

12. Which ESP offers the most dependable customer support?

Great customer support is something you should expect from any paid service. Check the specifications of each ESP’s customer service team: Can you reach them through phone, chat, or ticketing system? Are they available on weekends or odd hours of the night? Do they offer technical support and training?

Response time is important, too. Before you choose an ESP, you can contact their customer support with a question to gauge their speed and expertise.

Wrap up

With the numerous options available, it’s not always immediately obvious which email service provider is the best fit for you. Look for an ESP that does exactly what you need it to do, and then some—because it needs to be able to scale up when your brand does.

Ask these 12 questions to quickly evaluate the ESPs in your shortlist:

  • What’s your email marketing budget?
  • How does each ESP handle data security and regulatory compliance?
  • How much help do you need when it comes to email design?
  • Will your emails look and perform similarly on multiple screens and devices?
  • Which ESPs offer email automation?
  • How advanced are the segmentation features offered by each ESP?
  • Which ESP offers the most robust A/B testing options?
  • What is the deliverability rate of each ESP?
  • How does each ESP track the performance of email marketing campaigns?
  • Which ESP offers the third-party integrations you need?
  • How easy is it to learn how to use each ESP?
  • Which ESP offers the most dependable customer support?

Bottom line: Match the upper limit of your skills and strategy with what your ideal ESP can offer. Spending on what you’ll never use or limiting yourself to free ESPs with basic features won’t help you improve your email marketing game.

Campaign Monitor is a powerful email marketing platform that combines drag-and-drop simplicity with professional-grade data analytics. Request a demo or activate your free trial today.

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This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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