How to Find the Right Email Service Provider
Sending quality marketing emails is about more than just a pretty design – and finding the right service provider is an important step, says Sebastian Kluth from the CSA.
ESPs are more than just senders
Ever since the first electronic mail was sent more than 30 years ago, email has been an integral part of the marketing mix of almost all major brands and also small and medium-sized companies. Yet email marketing has long since become much more than just sending newsletters on a regular basis to the largest possible mailing list. Automated campaigns with personalized emails offer recipients exactly the information they want, and today it is common practice to have reporting that tells the sender which recipients have been interested in which articles in the newsletter.
For many years now, brands have for the most part no longer been sending their own mail, but rather marketers have been relying on service providers – to be specific, email service providers (ESPs) – to send their mail. The requirements from the marketing departments of companies are as varied as the ESPs' offerings. So how can you go about finding the right ESP for your email marketing? The Certified Senders Alliance (CSA) has put together a few tips for choosing the right provider.
The first step in the search for the right ESP is a careful analysis of your previous email marketing. What works well, what works less well, what do you want to change in your campaigns in the future? Do you just send out regular newsletters and transactional emails, or do you want personalized multi-level campaigns? Orientate yourself on a concrete use case and play it through completely. This is the best way to find out what you really need. Afterwards, you can create a list of requirements that can be very helpful when choosing the provider. The following are some points that you should definitely consider when selecting an ESP.
In email marketing, the addresses of your recipients are your most important asset and the quality and up-to-datedness of the email addresses contributes significantly to the success of the channel. They should therefore be treated with appropriate care. The responsibility for the legally compliant subscription and unsubscription is, of course, yours as a brand. However, make sure that the provider of your choice handles the data in a legally compliant manner and provides the appropriate technical possibilities to implement these processes. The registration procedure for a newsletter, for example, should involve a Double Opt-In (DOI). Subscriptions must also be logged and must be retrievable at any time. Careful bounce and complaint management protects the reputation of your brand in the long-term, and thus also the deliverability of your mails.
Emails tailored to the respective target group are a basic prerequisite for successful email marketing. Therefore, you should also segment your mailing lists for different mailings according to relevant criteria, such as age, gender, or interests. Check to what extent your ESP supports this requirement.
Personalization and automation
Using a personal form of address for your mail recipients should go without saying, but email personalization goes far beyond this. For example, you can set individual delivery times or send individual product recommendations based on user behaviour. Fully automated, triggered multi-stage campaigns are also possible. Overall, you should try to integrate your ESP as much as possible into your ecosystem, for example by connecting it to your CRM and CMS systems, or your resource planning.
Analyses, tests, reporting
A good subject line can have a significant influence on the open rate of emails. But you will only know whether a subject line is good or not after you have tried it. Different test procedures, from the simple A/B test bin to complex tests with several different mail variants, are possible and allow you to optimize your mailings in terms of opens, clicks or the conversion rate.
After sending your newsletter, you naturally also want to know how successful your mailing was, and to what extent it has been read. Almost all ESPs offer extensive reporting and analysis functions for this purpose. To get the most out of this type of service, think carefully about which figures you need in order to evaluate your mailings.
Service and support
The most beautifully-designed email is naturally useless if it does not reach its recipient. So make sure that your ESP attaches great importance to the issue of deliverability and takes appropriate measures, such as certification by the Certified Senders Alliance (CSA). Also make sure that the ESP of your choice uses the standard authentication methods like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. That then allows the BIMI standard to be used so that your logo can be displayed in the inbox, which provides additional trust for the recipient. The more dedicated the IP and domain setup offered and implemented for you by your ESP, the better the deliverability of the emails to the inbox and the reputation of your brand can be monitored and influenced.
Another important issue is data protection. Violations of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which has been in force since 25 May 2018, are subject to severe penalties. When it comes to the GDPR, you are, of course, primarily responsible. You must ensure that your address database is clean and only contains addresses that have been collected in accordance with the GDPR. In addition, you should conclude a contract with your ESP for commissioned data processing.
Training and education on email delivery, deliverability, data management, and automation is not mandatory, but does provide a constant transfer of knowledge and can help you to increase the success of your email marketing.
A fast and reliable customer support service helps if problems occur.
In the end, it is you and your budget that decides which features will end up on your list of requirements
A look at the platform emailvendorselection.com can also help in deciding for or against a particular ESP. In addition to many useful tips on how to choose the right ESP, the site has a listing of more than 400 ESPs.
To learn more about the latest technologies, trends (e.g., BIMI, Email of the Future) and legal regulations in email marketing, visit the free webinars (and watch recordings of past ones) at the CSA Digital Email Summit. Under the motto "Bridging the Gap", the focus is on the different expectations of all those involved in the sending of an email. The division of responsibilities between ESPs and brand is one topic of discussion. The CSA Digital Email Summit brings the world's leading email industry experts together virtually. You can find more information and the complete programme here: https://summit.certified-senders.org/
More information about the CSA, a certification and also a list of certified ESPs can be found here: https://certified-senders.org/
Sebastian Kluth is an email marketer through and through. Since September 2019 he has been working as Technical Lead CSA for eco – Association of the Internet Industry in Cologne. As an experienced expert of many years’ standing, Sebastian Kluth advises customers and senders on individual solutions in the fields of email marketing, email deliverability, and email response optimization.
Most recently, the qualified computer scientist worked as Teamlead & Senior Email Strategist at Return Path. Before that, he worked in various fields and functions of email marketing with the netnomics agency, with Gruner & Jahr’s German press distribution, with Emailvision, and with Otto GmbH & Co. KG in Hamburg.