Tips for Selecting the Right Email Service Provider

EmailStockPhotoFinding the best email service provider (ESP) for your needs can be a rather overwhelming process – but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips to help ensure that your ESP search is simple, straightforward, and frustration-free.

First, before starting your search, it’s important to determine the size of your email contacts list. For the sake of simplicity, let’s segment size this way:

Small: 10,000 email contacts or less

Medium: 10,000 – 100,000 email contacts

Large: 100,000+ email contacts

Once contact list size has been established, the next step is to look at the different ESP features that are most relevant and valuable to your list size.


  • Platform Usability – In other words how easy or challenging it is to learn the email system. Companies with smaller contact lists may have high revenue and rapid growth, but they often don’t have the human resources or time available to figure out an email platform with a steep learning curve.
  • Email Creative Features – Does the email platform have templates or does the user need to know HTML? The reasoning is similar to platform usability. Companies with 10,000 email contacts or less often do not have resources with HTML expertise – or have the time to learn it. At this stage, easy-to-use templates are usually the way to go.
  • Email Reporting – Knowing the KPIs (key performance indicators) for your email campaign is important for every company, but especially for companies with a smaller list size. KPIs reflect things such as open rate (how many emails were opened), click-through rate, conversion rate, and unsubscribe rate. The better the reporting, the better a company can develop effective marketing contact strategies and prevent over- or under-emailing their contact list.
  • Growth Opportunities – If a company with 10,000 email contacts is looking to significantly expand their list in the next year or two in a way that would bump them up to the next size category (medium), it’s important to evaluate whether the ESP allows for that increased capacity. And if they do, will a company have to pay per contact or is there a monthly or yearly fee increase? In other words, is it financially palatable to significantly grow your list with that ESP?
  • A/B Testing – A/B testing can save companies a lot of time trying to figure out what messaging is working with different target audiences. Smaller contact list companies should definitely look for an ESP that gives them the ability to easily set up A/B testing – even if it’s done manually.

While a companies with a medium-sized contact list will benefit from all the elements that are necessary for a small list size, there are some notable differences.

  • Email Creative Features – The creative features that a company will need depends on their resources. For example, a company with a medium-sized list might have more HTML capabilities, but still want to use templates part of the time. Or, they might want to mainly use templates, but occasionally customize them for different campaigns. These types of companies will also likely benefit from more creative options (more templates, ability to add images, etc.).
  • Platform Usability – A company with a medium-sized list could very well be a small start-up with limited resources, in which case they’d be best served by an email platform that’s straightforward to use with a short learning curve.
  • Email Reporting – Reporting is critical for all companies. Tracking open rates, click through rates, average order values, spam complaints and many other KPIs will help companies keep their email communications efficient and effective.
  • Data Storage – As an email list gets larger, there is more valuable data to be gathered. Therefore, it’s essential to work with an ESP that makes it possible to safely store that information and store as many attributes as possible. For example, some ESPs only store things like name and email address. In order to implement more targeted marketing campaigns, it is important for ESPs to be able to store additional customer attributes such as purchase history and email behavior history.
  • Automation – The larger the list, the more critical it is for companies to find an ESP with automated email capability. (e.g. order confirmation emails, welcome emails, etc.). Manually sending out a welcome for a contact list of 50,000 is inefficient and drains time and resources.
  • A/B Testing – As noted above, A/B testing is an effective way for companies to understand what type of results their email content is producing. At a minimum, it’s important for companies with a medium-sized email list to be able to efficiently conduct A/B tests so they can use the email copy that is generating the best results.


All of the ESP features for a small or medium-sized contact list apply to large contact lists – just with some different elements.

  • Platform Usability – Companies with large lists are more likely to have the capability to create HTML emails, however they might not have a dedicated person to do so. At this level, there are often significant demands put on proving email performance and doing so quickly, so it’s vital for the ESP platform to be intuitive and easy to learn.
  • Automation – Due to sheer volume, companies with 100,000+ contacts must be able to automate their emails. This means that if an order is placed, the email system should immediately send out a confirmation email. In addition to transaction emails, larger companies need the ability to incorporate automated targeted email marketing, such as retargeting. The ESP should allow for manual email sending as well.
  • Website Integration – With a list this size, it’s critical for customers to be able to log in to an account on the company’s website and manage their own email setting preferences. Therefore, the ESP must be set up for this kind of website integration.
  • Contact Management/Behavioral Emails – An ESP that can target emails to customers based on their shopping behavior is an important feature for large contact lists. For example, if a customer clicks on a woman’s jacket, then that customer would only get emails related to women’s clothing.
  • A/B Testing – Companies with a large email list must be able to conduct A/B testing, but also have the winning email be automatically sent out to select recipients.

In selecting an ESP, first ensure it has the features and capabilities to meet the needs of your contact list size. Then you’ll be able to make a decision based on elements like cost and customer service.

A word of caution: if you lead your ESP search with cost, it’s likely that you’ll select a platform that you’ll quickly outgrow – not to mention waste time and money in the process. With that said, a factor that you could lead your search with is customer service. An ESP with little to no customer service puts the onus on the user to find the answers to their questions, which can eat up a lot of time – especially as your process gets more involved and complex.

After you’ve narrowed down your search to two or three ESP’s, the next step would be to set up a demo so that you’ll be able to see the usability and functionality of the platform first-hand and make an informed decision.

There are lots of email service provides out there and there is no one right solution for every company. That being said, here are a few options where you can begin your search:

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