What is Email Service Provider (ESP) and the relationship with Internet Service Provider (ISP)?
An ESP is a service that hosts email marketing services on their servers, which are specifically tuned and optimized for this purpose. While web marketer controls email marketing account and send out emails using a Web browser interface, the ESP’s servers and Internet connections (ISP) do the heavy lifting.
Below are 3 diagrams illustrating how email delivery works when sending emails through EMAIL SERVICE PROVIDER. (CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW TO ENLARGE)
Great! I believe you have a rough idea of how the ESP’s email delivery works. Moving forward is to pick the right Email Service Provider (ESP) for your email marketing campaigns. Choosing the right ESP can be daunting task but the process gets easier if you know what criteria to consider when selecting the best ESP for your business.
To begin,you will have to understand your needs in your Email Marketing Campaign
SIZE What is your current database size ? FREQUENCY How frequently are you emailing? MONTHLY VOLUMNE What is your average monthly volume of emails sent? PERSONALIZATION NEEDS Are you using techniques like personalization or dynamic content? TRIGGERED EMAILS Are you utilizing real-time triggered and transactional emails such as an abandon cart program and order confirmations? SEGMENTATION In what ways are you segmenting your database?
The answers to these questions may help to identify what type of email service provider (ESP) needed for your email marketing campaign. For example, if you have a low frequency without personalization or segmentation, a basic, no-frills plan will be more suitable.
Email Marketing Service or Marketing Automation Software needed for your email marketing campaign?
Email Service Provider provides Email Marketing Software, a solution for basic, mass volume email campaigns for the web marketer. Some ESP integrated their email system with Marketing Automation Software to provide a more sophisticated email marketing functions and broader set of features for targeted, 1-to-1 communications. These features make it easy to personalize, automate, engage sales with, and report on your email campaigns.
Having said that, you have to know what you want, ESP offering Email Marketing Software that provides all basic email campaigns functions or the one integrated with Marketing Automation Software. Be sure you choose the one that meets your business needs, within budget, fulfills feature requirements and meets the needs on the number of email contacts in database (now and future growth).
Let’s have a look at the differences between Email Marketing Service and Marketing Automation Software.
Some references on the differences between Email Service and Marketing Automation Software you can read up.
Here is a good site that provides a complete list of all Email Marketing Vendor and Marketing Automation Vendors available in the market. You may choose what is best for you and your email marketing campaigns from this list. (CLICK HERE)
Let’s say you have identified type of marketing software you want for your email marketing campaigns, next would be choosing ESP that offers the software. When choosing the ESP, be sure that the prospective ESP meets the below criteria to avoid future headache.
Check with the ESP if they have plans for growth and advancement in technology?
Be sure that the ESP has plans for growth and advancement in technology to cater future customer’s needs. Technology keeps evolving so it’s very important that ESP able to keep the pace with evolving technology.
How is the customer support and training like?
Talk to the ESP and check out how is the customer support and training like. The ESP should provide online/offline customer support and training services. The best is the one offering 24*7 support.
Everyone wants free stuffs! So go for the one that offers no operational overhead of maintaining servers, troubleshooting problems, or handling delivery issues and no additional charges for email storage and archive. OF COURSE!
Check with the ESP if they can assign a dedicated IP address or private IP address or Share IP with minimal number of users
It is advisable to check with ESP if they can assign a dedicated IP address/ private IP address or Share IP address with only minimal number of users to avoid spamming complaints from customers.
Internet protocol is unique for every computer on the internet. The IP address you are emailing from is like a house address. Obviously, you want to protect your IP address reputation and to be in the white list at all the times.
Sharing IP address are meant for small volume senders who do not have enough frequency or database size. If your ESP assign a share IP address with other customers and one or several of your ESP’s clients are spammers (or are labeled as spammers), your shared IP address might end up blacklisted by a major ISP. This would prevent your emails from being delivered and it takes long time for your ESP to get the IP off the blacklist from the ISP.
Having said that, be sure your ESP can provide you with a dedicated or private IP address to ensure reputation is not affected by what other emailers are doing especially if you are large volume sender. Large senders with many transactional or triggered emails may consider having separate IPs to send different types of emails from. This way, if your promotional messages have compliance problems, they will not affect the deliverability of important transactional messages like order confirmations or shipment notifications.
So ask yourself “Do you require a dedicated IP address or are you comfortable sharing an IP with other senders? “
Good Reporting features.
Check with the ESP what Email Marketing Software integrated with their email system. Make sure the software that your ESP is integrating provides easy tracking of statistic and detailed reporting on the results of email campaign: delivery success rate, email open-rate, not open rate and link click-through rate, bounced rate, spam reports, subscribe, unsubscribe, unique clicks, conversion rate, engagement and goal through Web APIs or customizable online dashboards. The data is very important to determine whether or not the emails are getting through to the subscribers. Some of the ESP even provides tool that enable marketer to see which of the subscribers performed these actions. Good reporting is an invaluable feature as it helps marketer to measure the effectiveness of email marketing campaigns and ensure deliverability is accurately measured. Most of the ESPs do provide real time analytics and tracking individual email address
Some ESPs offer upgrade plan for web marketer from basic email marketing campaigns plan (Email Marketing Software) that only track interactions related to email campaigns to a more sophisticated and robust marketing automation platform. When your business is growing and expanding, you may consider upgrading your plan to marketing automation software that provides a more sophisticated marketing functions like tracking the entire chain of online interactions that buyers have with a company, and can take intelligent actions based on those behaviors
To make it simple, Email Marketing Software “don’t” do anything with the results of campaigns whereby Marketing Automation will act on the results of campaigns.
CAN SPAM Compliance
Some ESP do provide tool to check and review email content for CAN-SPAM Compliance prior to deployment. CAN-SPAM stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing and it is very important for the sender to abide by the rules especially if sending commercial emails. For “EVERY SINGLE EMAIL” that violates the CAN-SPAM Act, the FTC will fine you $16,000. That’s a lot!
Click here for CAN-SPAM Compliance guidelines.
Email SPAM Compliance test tool to ensure deliverability to the Inbox.
Most ESPs also make it very easy for web marketer to comply with the CAN SPAM Act regulations.
For example, an ESP should automatically include an unsubscribe link in every email sent through their service (and automatically remove these addresses from your lists), as well as verify that all emails are sent from a valid, working email address. Most ESPs also require marketer to send only to lists of subscribers that have opted-in to receive emails from marketer.
Also, check with the ESP if their service include tool to check the email subject title, HTML source, plain text content and links analysis if being flagged as spam/junk or filtered away as spam/junk. (http://www.emailspamtest.com/)
Auto check HTML code and email address for correctness
Check with the ESP if their service include function to auto-check the content of the email template for correctness and the format of the selected email addresses against a predetermined list to carry out a base check and identify potential ‘fakes’ in the email list.
Is the ESP familiar with the bounce policies of the ISP
Web marketer must be familiar with the bounce policies of the ISPs that ESP will be mailing to. All ISP’s have bounce policies of some sort, and the chosen ESP should have its own bounced mail management policies and tools. ESP’s should go to lengths in order to learn the policies of the ISP’s the marketer mail to and categorize their bounces, so corrective measures can be applied in the campaigns.
For example if email got bounced back or being blocked at ISP level:-
The metric/number sometimes showing 98% or 99% emails delivered. Sounds good? Wait… Don’t get too excited yet because that metric/number received simply reflects the number of emails sent only. We have to minus the number of emails bounced receive after a while later. If too many emails bounced reported, web marketer will have to reach out to the ESP and ask for clarification on the metric rate, clear pictures of how the emails are being routed whether the emails are making in to the inbox or spam folder or been blocked. If being blocked, where the messages are getting routed. The ESP technical supports should be able to clarify the cause of the problem, and provide the right solution it.
Having said that, be sure that the ESP do have ISP monitoring facility to monitor the traffics. Choose a reputable ESP that knows the ISP’s policies well. The best way is to request for any documentations related to the ISP’s policies, bounced mail management policies and study them thoroughly to ensure that you have picked the right ESP for your business.
“List segmentation is the process of pulling out portions of the email list who are most likely to respond to an offer and then giving them that offer.”
Most of the ESPs do have email list segmentation function to create smaller lists, or segments based by demographic, behavioral or other criteria from a larger list. By targeting subsets of the email list with content relevant to them leads to more successful email marketing campaigns.
For Example :
Let’s say that you have an email list of 2000 names. 1000 of those people have previously purchased a fitness top from you, and 1000 of them have not. Sending one email to the 1000 people who previously purchased fitness top and offering them a discount on a matching fitness pant and a separate email to the 1000 people who haven’t purchased the fitness top that offers a discount when fitness top and pant are purchased together will yield a better result than sending the same email to all of your users with a more generic offer.
Robustness of the email infrastructure, hardware, software and internet connections.
Make sure your prospective ESP has multiple, high-speed connections to the Internet through more than one source and hardware redundancy. This ensures reliable email delivery and scalability of the real-time analytics aren’t affected. In case of the main internet connections fails or hardware failure, ESP will still be able to provide a fully secure email delivery network and a complete backup of email data.
Check with the prospective ESPs about their email infrastructure. As you know, most of the ESPs offer “click-tracking” tools and every click on the links will be tracked by ESP first. After tracking, the data will be redirected to your website site (that’s how most of the ESP tracking works). Imagine that sending your nicely created email template to your valuable prospects customers and having the ESP’s servers go down. It will be very disappointing when the people reading your emails won’t be able to click through.
Some ESP provides A/B Testing functionality to the subscriber. It is very important to have the ability to test different versions of email to find what works. A/B testing is one of the easiest way to test email content, subject line, header, images to see which version gets the best results. It is also a way to increase conversion rates and learn more about customer’s behaviours.
How A/B test is being carried out?
A/B test is executed by randomly splitting up the different versions of email and comparing the results to check which version of email provides the highest responds or conversion rates. Conversion rates can be any measurable actions and are not just restricted to eCommerce sites and sales. Conversion rates can include:
- Leads (e.g. booking a test drive or requesting a catalogue/sample pack)
- Newsletter sign ups
- Clicking on revenue generating banners or affiliate links
- Spending a minimum amount of time on the site (this is great for detecting low quality pages where visitors are not engaged)
Once you have decided what conversion rate you want to improve, the next stage is to work out what to change on the page to increase conversions. Below are the various elements you can consider to A/B test:
- Headings – size, color wording
- Images – placement, different images
- Content – amount, wording, font, size and placement of content on the page
- Call to action buttons such as: buy now, sign-up and subscribe buttons can be different sizes, colors, in different places on the page and have different wording.
- Social media buttons – placement, size and wording are all worth testing
- Logo and strapline
- Use of trade association and online trust seals such as VeriSign
Most ESPs offer a free trial. Do test to see if the service meets your needs. Understand the user interface and its ease of use before making final decision is important. You can ask yourself questions like
- Do you need to create and edit email creatives directly in the user interface.
- Is the user interface user-friendly enough for the you to work on.
- Is having a tool available to test creatives in various email clients and browsers important to you?
- Any send test emails to a small test group prior to live deployment require?
- Do you need the ability to send emails through spam filters pre-deployment?
- Is having free, customizable templates something that’s important?
- Is the tool provided fulfill your requirements?
ESPs usually offers 3 types of pricing plans
- Trial plan
- Free plan
- Paid plan
Trial plan is for potential customer to try out the plan within a period of time before purchasing the plan. This is to ensure the customer is satisfied with the service plan before committing.
Free plan is normally for small volume sender. In this free plan, sender is limited to number of emails send per month and number of users.
Paid plan is for a large volume sender. In this plan, ESPs require sender to pay to host the email list on their servers. Most of the ESPs charge monthly fee with terms and conditions apply. The fee applied normally based on :
- Number of emails sender allow to send per month/number of emails on sender’s list /pay for what is use.
- Number of users allow to use
- Basic email marketing feature or integrated with marketing automation software
- Flexibility of API to add on additional features of custom integration.
- Add-on special tools/services
Web marketer has to make sure that the chosen ESP offers services like ISP relations and mediation, feedback loop set up, blacklist monitoring, white-labelling, link customization, Sender Polices Framework (SPF), Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM), abuse board monitoring, and support for future authentication standards. Request information on pricing for each service and flip through sample reports, case studies and other documents generated by the potential ESP.