How to Choose the Perfect Email Provider
how to choose an email provider

Knowing how to choose an email provider (aka email service provider or ESP) is tough. And it's especially tough when you're just getting started in your online business and have no idea what you're even supposed to be looking for!  

In this guide, I'm going to explain what an email provider actually is (because email marketing is FULL of jargon and it's enough to make your brain hurt) and then I'm going to highlight all the key things you'll want to consider before you make your choice.

(Oh, and because I'm SUPER kind, I'm also going to give you a free gift at the end - go on... scroll down now if you can't wait! 😉 🎁 )

Sound good?  Let's get started...

What is an email service provider?

Before we look at how to choose an email provider, let's get clear on what that actually means. Email Service Providers are the companies who provide an email platform for you to build an email list and to send email marketing messages. At a very basic level an ESP should allow you to:

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    Create an email list
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    Send bulk emails to your subscribers
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    Create and use email templates
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    Track the results of your email campaigns

But there's so much more that a good email service provider will allow you to do - and this is where it can start to feel rather overwhelming.  If you were to type 'email service' into Google, the sheer volume and variety of results is mind-boggling. According to a list of ESP's by the website, Email Vendor Selection, there are a massive 438 different options!

So how to choose an email provider that's perfect for you and your biz without spending months locked away in research mode? 🤓

Let's start by looking at some of the key features and services that you'll want to consider...

Things to Consider When You Choose an Email Service Provider

Cost

Let's face it, if you're just getting started in your business (and even if you're more established for that matter!) cost is going to play a role in your decision making process.  You'll need to weigh up what you can afford to budget for email marketing against the advantages of certain features that we'll discuss below.

Scalability

Your email list may be non-existent right now, but hopefully that's going to change and before you know it, you'll have your first 100 subscribers, and then your first 1000...

Most ESP's will scale their prices according to the number of subscribers you have, so while a service may appear to be the cheapest to start, it may not be the most economical option in the long run.

Check a provider's full pricing structure before making your final choice so you don't get any nasty surprises down the line.

Usability

The last thing you need is to sign up for a service that you then discover is FAR too complicated to use! Now you might be wondering how to choose an email provider that's easy to use without actually committing financially and starting to use it! Luckily, there are a few ways you can do just that...

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    Check whether they offer a free trial: this will give you the chance to 'try before you buy' and get a feel for how everything works. You can even sign up for multiple free trials and test different providers against each other!
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    Look out for free training: Companies may run free webinars or even 1-1 'tours' to allow you to see the service before signing up
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    Do some research There are TONS of ESP reviews and comparisons out there! Many services will also have free communities that you can join so you can get a feel for the types of queries and frustrations that come up often

Customer Support

On a similar subject, if you do get stuck - or worse still, something breaks or doesn't work the way you expected, how much support will you have?

Do you want access to customer service support or are you happy to use customer forums or to browse the FAQ's? Bear in mind that the better the customer service, the higher the cost (at least in most cases)!

Deliverability

Firstly, what is deliverability? Basically it's how likely your emails are to end up in someone's inbox rather than their junk or spam folders. There are a number of factors which can affect your deliverability and your choice of email service provider is one of them.

So how to choose and email provider that will give you good deliverability?

While doing your research, check providers' delivery rates and aim to go with someone who has a rate of 98% or higher if possible.  If you're unable to find an ESP's delivery rate (it's not something they'll always advertise!) then it can be worth reading other user reviews and doing some testing to see which service gives you the best results.

Reporting

If you're going to send marketing emails (and I'm using this term in its broadest sense to include things like newsletters, welcome emails and anything else you'll send to your subscribers) then you should be tracking how they perform.

There are 2 key statistics that pretty much all ESP's will provide:

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    Open rates
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    Clickthrough rates

As the names suggest, these tell you what % of your subscribers are opening your email and what percentage of those people are then clicking on links within the email.

Make sense?

Of course there's a whole raft of other reporting statistics that you may also need for your business.  Here are just a few:

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    Unsubscribe rate: the % of people who are unsubscribing from your list
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    List engagement: it's good practice to 'clean' your list every few months. Essentially, clearing out any subscribers who are no longer engaging with your emails in any way. This improves your open rates, and in turn, your deliverability.
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    Conversion rate: If you're using emails to sell, then you'll want to be able to track customers who click through from your emails to your sales pages and then go on to buy. 
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    Deliverability: there's that word again!
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     Subscriber demographics: Understanding more about the people who are subscribing can give you valuable insight on what type of customers are finding your content most engaging - and who are most likely to buy!

It's worth putting some reporting requirements of your own together before you choose your ESP so you can ensure they'll offer the analytics you'll need.

Interested in chatting 1-1?

If you're sick of 'Googling' your way through building a business and you're ready to invest in moving to the next step (and getting there faster!) then I'd love to help!

Email Design

Aside from the content itself, the look and feel of your emails is probably the factor that is most going to directly impact your subscribers.

Do you want your emails to be highly stylised with beautiful branding and eye-catching design?

OR

Do you want plain templates that appear as emails sent from a friend would?

There are no rights or wrongs here (although recent research has actually shown that it is the plainer option which receives higher engagement. In a test by Hubspot, plainer emails received up to 51% more clicks than their more styled counterparts!)

This is another important decision to make up front because email service providers vary hugely when it comes to the amount of design functionality they offer.

List Management

Now this one can be tricky to get your head round if email marketing is new to you...

List management allows you to organise your subscribers so that you can a) keep track of their interests and b) only email people with information that's relevant to them.

Most business will have 4-5 high level topics that they tend to talk about or 4-5 categories that their ideal clients could fall into.  These topics and categories will determine what content we create AND what lead magnets we use to lure people on to our email list.

Let's look at an example...

Dog Groomer

Key topics might be:

Home grooming tips

Grooming products

Grooming trends 

What to expect when you get your pet groomed

Ideal Client Categories might be:

Never had pet groomed before

Regular

Wants to do grooming from home

Or perhaps they might want to sort people by dog breed!

With me so far?

Great! Now email service providers have 2 main ways that they will allow you to organise your subscribers:

Lists

Services such as Aweber and Mailchimp allow you to create multiple email lists in order to manage your subscribers.  When you create a lead magnet, you'll connect your sign up form to a specific email list and each list will be distinct and separate from each other.

You'll be able to email specific lists or you'll be able to email all.

Tags

Services such as ConvertKit or Active Campaign use a Tag Management System.  This means you'll have just one email list but you'll be able to multiple tags to subscribers which you can then use to segment and categorise them.

So how do I choose?

If your email marketing needs are fairly simple and you don't have too many different ways that you want to categorise customers then email list are probably the option to go with.

If you're looking to create automated email campaigns and you want to create more sophisticated segmentation for your subscribers then stick with tagging.

A/B Testing

This is where you compare 2 versions of something (in this instance, it would be email subject lines) to see which performs the best.

Some email service providers have functionality that allows you to test subject lines in this way when you send emails to your subscribers.  This can work in 2 ways.  You can send your email to a sample group first to see which subject line performs best - and then use the 'winner' when you send your email to your remaining subscribers.

While your list is still small, it isn't really worth doing this but it might still be worth testing subject lines so you can get a feel for what tends to work best with your audience.

Honestly? I wouldn't make this a make or break factor when you're just getting started but it's definitely a great function to have as you start to grow.

Landing Pages

As we've discussed, if you're building an email list, you're going to need landing pages. This is where you'll send people to enter their details.

Some services come with functionality to create landing pages and some don't.

If you can't create a landing page through your ESP, you'll need a separate landing page service, which will be at extra cost.  Weigh up which option makes more sense for you.

Automation

Email automation just means email campaigns which are triggered by a subscriber's action, rather than manually triggered by you.

You will use automated email sequences when people sign up for your lead magnets. When they enter and submit their details, they'll trigger whatever welcome series that you've put in place to send them their freebie.

This is automation at its most basic level but some services will allow you to create much more complex journeys.

Speaking of Welcome Series...

Not sure what to even write in your emails?  Don't worry - I've done the work or you 😉

Grab your free copy of my Email Welcome Series Cheat Sheet and I'll lead you through a fab 5 email welcome series that will make your subscribers fall in love with you and your biz - and ready to buy what you're selling 🙂

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Integrations

There will be various services that you'll want to hook up to your email marketing. For example:

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    E-commerce/Payment Portals
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    Lead Capture (allowing you to collect subscribers details)
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    Membership Sites/Online Course Platforms
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    Webinar Services
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    Surveys
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    Your Website
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    A Scheduling Service

It's a great idea to list what integrations your email service will need before you make your choice.

Reviews

Finally, nothing beats good old word of mouth.  Check out the reviews for all your shortlisted options and see what others have had to say!

Read this if you're feeling overwhelmed right now...

Now, I HOPE this has helped to make your decision making process a bit clearer, but I'm also conscious that it may well have left you feeling rather overwhelmed.

SO MUCH INFORMATION!!!

So I'll leave you with this.

Right now, budget and word of mouth are probably going to be your biggest deciding factors. Do what you can, but don't worry about what doesn't make sense yet.

At the end of the day, you can always swap later.  You're not signing up for life 😉

🎁Don't go without your Welcome Series Cheat Sheet!🎁

Grab your free copy of my Email Welcome Series Cheat Sheet and I'll lead you through a fab 5 email welcome series that will make your subscribers fall in love with you and your biz - and ready to buy what you're selling 🙂

Download Now!

Colette Broomhead

Helping you to leave your 9-5 behind for good and create a business and life you love.