Part 2: Email Service Provider Round-up

Email Service ProviderCriteria for evaluating the ESPs.

Now that we have our ESP selected we need to create a way to fairly evaluate the ESPs against one another. We have chosen five areas of Email Marketing to evaluate:


Which features are critical to your marketing team will vary from the list we have here but many of them will match:

  • Automated mailings– Email campaigns that run automatically based on a query string that updates the mailing list automatically. Usually run on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
  • ISP / server relationship management– Ho closely does the ESP work with the major ISPs to spot problems and intercede on your behalf if a campaign gets flagged as spam. Find out if they have a dedicated ISP management team and then find out who is on the team.
  • Personalization– If i get an email that says “Hello Lary,” I am so much more likely to continue reading then if it says “Hello patron” Even if I know that it is an automated system it just feels like the sender cared more.
  • Subscriber preferences– Don’t just offer an opt out form. that all or nothing choice will reduce your mailing list way more than it needs to be. Instead offer unsubscribe preferences. Maybe they don’t want to receive “special offers” at this time, but they still want to be updated about product releases or tutorials.
  • Generate reports on completed campaign– How well are your marketing efforts performing over time?
  • Unsubscribe and bounce reports– Did that last email get a disproportionate number of unsubscribes? It is better to know and see what you did wrong then to not get this kind of report.
  • Email exception handling (bounces etc.)- How many times will you try to send an email to a soft bounce before you give up and call it a bad email address? Make sure the ESP can handle this for you automatically.
  • Custom Templates– Don’t get stuck with just being able to use the standard templates that are provided by the ESP. Make sure you have the option to create custom templates with the same capabilities as their standard templates.
  • Dynamic content – Dynamic content is content based on the users history or preferences. Say your email has a sales offer in it. You can assign dynamic content to display a special offer for new customers and an upgrade message to existing customers in the one email.
  • Short processing time– If you have a large mailing list you are going to want them to get processed quickly. The system our company had in place took as long as TWO WEEKS to complete a mailing. That really impeded our email marketing efforts.
  • Multiple, simultaneous mailings– Another issue if you have multiple lists, segments, or marketing efforts if you may have multiple mailings trying to be sent at the same time.
  • Enforce Best Practices– Having an ESP should mean that you have an industry expert at the forefront protecting you from making email marketing mistakes that will hurt your email reputation. Make sure that the ESP solution enforces industry best practices.
  • Identify known SPAM traps- Spam traps are email addresses that ISPs float around message boards or old email addresses waiting to see if anyone picks them up and starts spamming them. They can also creep into your lists by people filling out your forms with fake email addresses.
  • Multiple variations of list segmentation– Once you have your database integrated with your ESP you will want to segment your list based on the data you are collecting. Being able to do this through the ESP will save your marketing team a lot of time trying to ask IT for new segmentation every time a new need arises.
  • Work flow for processing and approving email campaigns– Depending on the structure of your marketing team you may want to create approval processes and work flows so that users can’t send campaigns without proper authorization.

User Interface:

A bad user Interface can lead to confusion by your marketing team as they are trying to train on a new system. If features are not easy to find or use your team may not be using the application to its full potential or worse they may be using the tool incorrectly and hurting your marketing efforts. A poor user interface is also a sign of bad product management and can be a sign of problems with the solution performing as it should.

Deliverability Testing:

Test campaigns will be sent through each ESP to evaluate the baseline deliverability of each ESP

  • The email campaign will be a Product upgrade message campaign.
  • Sent to 200 subscribers from the our mailing list. Since Campaigner Pro is charging $200.00 and they allow up to 25,000 emails to be sent we will be sending the maximum amount allowed.
  • Each ESP will provide us with campaign results and the campaigns will be tracked through Google Analytics.

API integration:

Part of the success of this project will be dependent on the interaction between our corporate database and the ESP database. Determining at what level of integration we need to have between the hosting company and the master email database will allow us to evaluate the options of each ESP.

Market Presence:

Is the ESP’s management team known in the marketing industry? Are they asked to speak at marketing events? Are they talked about in news blogs and other industry portals? What kind of presence do they have in the ESP space? This doesn’t necessarily have to do with how much market share the ESP has but more often then not the two are related.

Up next: The results of the evaluations