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Post originally published March 2016, updated April 2020.

Choosing the right email service provider (ESP) is like finding the perfect shoe. You can limp along if that shoe is too big or too small, but you’ll only get optimal comfort and performance from a great fit.

So how do you get there?

Read on as we offer five actionable tips for choosing the right email service provider (ESP) for your business.

Chapter 1

ESP: What is it and why do I need one?

An ESP is an email service provider. An ESP is the place that houses your inbox, sent spam, and draft emails. If you want to communicate with modern society effectively, you need an ESP.

When email was first invented, there was only MAILBOX and SNDMSG, and now there are millions to choose from.

Some of today’s top ESP providers include

  • Gmail
  • Yahoo
  • Outlook
  • iCloud Mail

What is the safest email provider?

Data security is a huge issue in today’s society.

According to a study done by Hotspot, “150 billion emails are sent every day, and of those 150 billion sent each one has about 15 attachments every day. 53% claim that they lose files that have sensitive information on it.”

This can mean that your information is available for anyone to get their hands on.

Although there are preventative measures to take to ensure that this doesn’t happen, it is something to think about when you’re choosing an ESP.

Chapter 2

Consider your strategy

What makes ESP email marketing so effective?

The cost is relatively low, and the upside can be tremendous. It’s easy to start and you can begin as big or small as you like.

But before you start testing solutions and providers, it’s important to figure out how email marketing fits into your overall marketing strategy.

Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter.

With all that potential, it’s vital to make sure you have clear goals, processes, and tools in place.

Questions to consider as you build an email marketing strategy:

  • What are your goals for email marketing?
  • How are you going to achieve those goals?
  • How will you use emails? Newsletters? Lead gen? Upselling?
  • What metrics do you want to track?
  • Will you use features like mobile-friendly templates, A/B testing, dynamic content, and others?
  • Your answers will help dictate the features and priorities you need from an ESP.

Remember: The purpose of email marketing is to build relationships and grow your business, so think about where your business will be in a year or two and make sure your provider can scale with you.

Chapter 3

Rank the features you need

Below are four must-have features in any email service provider (ESP).

You’ll want to make sure your email provider offers the features you need and that it’s easy to use. Once you prioritize the features you need and want, you can better evaluate potential providers.


The key part of email marketing is the emails. So you need an email service provider that helps you create simple, elegant emails quickly and easily. Look for a provider with a range of designs, flexible layouts, and mobile-friendly templates that look great on any device. Free image hosting is an added bonus.


Those beautiful emails won’t do you much good if you don’t know how they perform. Make sure your email service provides a consolidated dashboard with all the statistics you need; open rates, clicks, bounces, unsubscribes, and social sharing—both large scale and drill down.


It’s important to send the most relevant messages to the right people at the right time, and automation helps you do that. Make sure your email service provider offers solid workflows to help you schedule and send automated messages.


Your emails must work across the various devices people use to consume email. Today, 53% of email campaigns are opened on mobile devices, while 28% are opened on desktop clients, and 23% are opened in Webmail. Unless your email campaigns are specifically optimized to work across all of those devices and clients, you’re missing out on conversions and revenue.

Chapter 4

Define your budget

Email doesn’t need a big budget to be effective but, in marketing, effective often isn’t enough. If you want awesome campaigns and analytics, you need to make sure you’ve got the appropriate budget in place.

There are very basic free email marketing tools available and there are email marketing tools that cost tens of thousands of dollars with heaps of advanced functionality.

While enterprise-level providers may seem attractive in theory, if you don’t actually use all those extra features (which can take a lot of time to learn how to use) you’re just throwing good money away.

You have your choice of low, medium, and enterprise-level providers. Choosing the right one for your needs can keep your costs low and the return on your efforts high, while still delivering the functionality you need.

Keep in mind that investing in email can result in a much better payoff than investing the same amount in search or social.

In fact, email marketing yields an average 3800% return on investment for businesses in the United States.

Budget tip: Look for an ESP that offers a variety of payment plans. Most services offer monthly subscription plans for those who mail regularly and have sizable lists; however, some include the ability to “pay-as-you-go” for less frequent senders.

Chapter 5

Look at delivery rates

Why? Because, by investing in your email programs, you’re building customer relationships. Investing more in email marketing doesn’t just mean sending more email.

To have a chance of engaging customers and prospects, your messages have to land in their inboxes.

Not every email service provider can ensure your emails get delivered at the same rate. Ask potential email service providers about their delivery rate and how they work with their customers to keep that rate high.

You want to look for an average delivery rate of 98% or higher.

Look for providers that have solid relationships with internet giants like Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo.

Keep in mind that delivery rates are a combination of how the email service provider ensures delivery to inboxes on the backend and how you use the service, so be sure to ask for any resources they offer on best practices for content and list management.

Chapter 6

Check out customer service

Your email service provider should function as an extension of your marketing team—seamlessly and without much hassle.

But there will be an occasions when you’ll need some help. When that happens, it’s critical to have access to a smart and resourceful customer support team to help you address any issue.

See how long it takes to get through to a rep via email or on the phone.

Browse the online knowledge base.

Ask for help importing your list or creating segments.

Ask what other resources they offer to help customers succeed.

While a lot of the free ESP tools might seem appealing, many aren’t set up to support you when you really need it. If you’re a professional marketer—with goals and KPIs to achieve—you need to know that, if something goes wrong, you can get help quickly.

You’re much better off using a professional email tool that offers around-the-clock customer support.

Wrap up

Make an informed decision

Choosing the perfect email service provider is critical to your company’s success, but it doesn’t have to be hard. Use the tips in this guide and this handy checklist to help make your choice.

Consider your strategy.

  • Define your goals for email marketing.
  • Decide what types of emails you will send.
  • Decide what metrics you want to track.
  • Decide which features are important for your email marketing.

Rank the features you need.

  • Templates: Look for a range of mobile-friendly designs.
  • Tracking: Get a dashboard with all the statistics you need.
  • Automation: Include workflows for sending and scheduling.
  • Mobility: Ensure your emails are optimized across devices.

Define your budget.

  • Make sure you have the right budget to achieve your goals.
  • Invest in email marketing to build customer relationships.
  • Look for an email service provider that offers a variety of payment plans.

Look at delivery rates.

  • Look for an average delivery rate of 98% or higher.
  • Find a provider with solid relationships with the internet giants.
  • Choose an email service provider that works with clients to keep delivery rates high.

Check out customer support

  • See how long it takes to get through to a rep via email or on the phone.
  • Ask for help importing your list or creating segments.
  • Browse the online knowledge base.
  • Ask what other resources are offered.
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