Email marketing is one of the most cost-effective ways to increase revenue while staying in touch with your customers. It takes time and resources to craft a killer email campaign, which is why you might want to call in some backup. An email service provider, or ESP, can help your small business generate and send emails that are targeted to your customer niche, get them delivered and provide actionable results. If you’re in need of some marketing help, look no further. VerticalResponse has put together a list of criteria you’ll want to look for in your search for the right ESP for your small business.

To nail down the details you need to know, we turned to Kim Stiglitz, our Director of Content Marketing, for some advice. When selecting an ESP, she says you’ll want to look for three key factors: features, fees and delivery. 

1. Features

How will email marketing fit into your business? Your answer will dictate what features you need from an ESP, Stiglitz says. Make a list of potential providers and comb through their list of features. Remember, you want a provider that will grow with your business. You might just use basic features, but as your business and email list grows, you may want to up your marketing game. Make sure the provider you select can support your business now and in the future.

You shouldn’t look for a laundry list of features, but there are some specific items that you’ll want. Here’s a list of must-have features:

Email templates
You want every email to look sharp, but you don’t want to spend all day creating an email. To get a professional looking email done efficiently, you can use templates. Make sure the provider has several eye-catching templates to choose from so that you can just pick one and go. That’s the kind of efficiency you need. 

Easy to use
Having a variety of templates is a must, but you should also make sure the templates are easy to use. Drag-and-drag templates make it a snap for you to add images and text in seconds.

Your customers will probably open your email on their smartphone or tablet. Everyone is on the go, so you want your emails to look sharp on mobile devices. You want an ESP that makes mobile marketing a priority. With VerticalResponse, every email is optimized for mobile devices with responsive templates.

Social media integration
Email and social media marketing go hand in hand, so you’ll want a provider that helps you use both. Look for a provider that makes it easy to share your email on social media. Let’s say you just sent a promotional email, offering your customers 30 percent off. Wouldn’t it be nice to share that on Facebook without logging in and creating a separate message to post? Sure it would. Look for a provider that makes it easy to share emails on social media platforms.

Why not get ahead? If you can sit down and create three or four emails to send throughout the week, why wouldn’t you? To make this a reality, you’ll need the ability to schedule your emails.

Tracking tools

An ESP can have all the bells and whistles in the world, but if you can’t tell how well your emails are doing, it won’t matter how many features you use. You need easy-to-read statistics that breakdown your open rates, clicks, bounces, and unsubscribes. You want it all in one location, like a central dashboard, where you can see at-a-glance how well your email campaigns are performing.

Support staff
Whether you’re an email novice or a pro, there will come a time when you have a question. As a business owner, you know that customer service is paramount to your business. It should be in email marketing, too. You want a provider that has an excellent support team in place to help you with any questions or concerns.

2. Fees

You want a provider with a diverse array of features, but you also want a service that fits into your budget. We get it. After you’ve perused providers for features, make a list of companies that fit your needs. Now, start investigating cost. Most email providers offer a free trial, or free services, if you have a small email list and only want to send a few emails. Take it for a test drive, Stiglitz suggests. Use the free services to see if you like the provider. If you do, you’ll likely have two payment options:

Monthly rates
Most providers offer a monthly plan based on the number of people on your email list. For cheaper rates, there might be restrictions on the number of emails you can send within a given month. Do a little comparison-shopping and see which provider gives you the best bang for your buck.

Pay as you go
Not ready to make a monthly commitment? No problem. Look for a pay as you go option. This way, you’ll only pay for what you use. It’s another way to give the provider a try before signing up for continued services. Once you’re on board, it will probably be more cost effective to sign up for a monthly plan.

3. Delivery

You want emails that land in the inbox. Make sure the ESP that you’re leaning towards has a high delivery rate. The delivery rate is the number of emails successfully delivered to your customers. You want a delivery percentage rate in the high 90s, Stiglitz says. (VerticalResponse has a delivery rate of 98 percent).

To get a high delivery rate, the provider should meet the following criteria:

An arsenal of tools
You want a provider that has invested in some behind-the-scenes tools that give your emails the best chance at landing in the inbox. We’re talking about things like accreditation and authentication tools that verify a sender’s identity. These kinds of tools tell the Internet filters that you’re a real person sending a legitimate email, not some scammer with ulterior motives.

Other tools, like spam scores that identify the likelihood of an email hitting the spam box, and suppression lists, which maintain customers that opt out of your emails, are also helpful tools. Third-party partnerships with deliverability experts like Return Path are also a good sign.

These aren’t the glitzy features that an ESP advertises, but they’re important, so be sure to ask if these tools are in place.

Reputable provider
You want an email service provider that’s in it for the long haul. Fly-by-night providers don’t have relationships established with Internet giants like Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft. You want a provider that has a history with these Internet service providers so your emails aren’t mistaken for spam.

Opt-in process
You have high standards and so should your ESP. To reach your customers through email, you want a provider that has opt-in requirements. If customers sign up to receive your emails, you’ll have a much higher delivery rate. If you send emails to people who aren’t expecting them, they can be blocked or reported as spam. It might seem advantageous to beef up your list with a bunch of contacts that haven’t given you permission to send them email, but in the long run it hurts your credibility and engagement while increasing unsubscribe rates.

While features, fees and delivery are “the big three” when it comes to selecting an email service provider, you should also look into the educational resources that the provider offers. Look for a blog with how-to articles and other helpful guides to ensure your email campaigns are the best they can be. Overall, an email service provider should offer affordable, top-notch service that helps you reach your customers with effective and creative emails.

This guide written by Lisa Furgison for VerticalResponseFurgison is a media maven with ten years of journalism experience and a passion for creating top-notch content. This guide edited and produced in full by VerticalResponse.

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This guide written by Lisa Furgison for VerticalResponse. Furgison is a media maven with ten years of journalism experience and a passion for creating top-notch content. This guide edited and produced in full by VerticalResponse.

© 2014 – 2016, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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