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Finding the Best Email Service Provider (ESP), 5 Things you should know

Recently updated on April 4th, 2020 at 07:36 pm

(Article 2: Email marketing for beginners)

An Email Service Provider is what you want when you need a service for email marketing. Basically, you control your account and they do the “heavy lifting.”1 Choosing an Email Service Provider (ESP) is a little like shopping around for a house – you should look for one that suits your particular needs and budget.

Here are a few things you should look for:

1. Customer care, free trial

When you’re new to email marketing, you might end up with more questions than answers. It’s important you make sure your potential ESP offers support and training. Have a representative from the company you choose come out and give you an onsite demonstration of what the company can offer you. Also, a lot of the ESPs offer a free trial which is a great way to try things out and see if they work for you.

2. User-friendly reporting

You’ll want a provider that integrates with an online analytics service like Google Analytics. Your ESP provider should also give you the ability to access detailed and easy to understand reports on the results of your email campaigns. Standard reports usually include delivery success rates, open rates, and click-through rates. If you can’t tell what’s working and what’s not you can’t learn and improve on your campaigns.

3. Ability to segment your List

You want the ability to separate your emails by the criteria of your choice. For instance, you might want to divide your customers by how much they spend, or their interests, or even location. When you target your specific groups with relevant messages you’ll get better results.1


Any ESP you consider “should require customers to comply with the CAN SPAM Act and make it very easy to do so.”1 In part this means all emails should have a working unsubscribe link3 that is visible and opt-out requests need to be “honored within 10 days.”4 For full details on the CAN SPAM act and all that it entails you can read about it on Wikipedia here.

5. Cost

Different ESPs charge in different ways. For example, by the month, or by the number of emails you’re going to send. Look for the pricing plan that you’re comfortable with and avoid long-term contracts. If you’re not happy you should be able to switch by the next month.

A Note about Free ESPs

There are also free email services for you to consider. The tradeoff is that the providers will have their own advertising around your emails and you’ll get limited space for messages. If you’re a very small company with a small email list and you are considering a free ESP read Pros and Cons of Using Free Web-Based Email Providers for an in-depth discussion.


  1. How to Choose an Email Service Provider (ESP) by Neil Anuskiewicz
  2. If Marketing Is About ROI, Email Fits the Bill by Neil Anuskiewicz
  3. Wikipedia: CAN-SPAM Act of 2003

4 thoughts on “Finding the Best Email Service Provider (ESP), 5 Things you should know

  1. This is not accurate. In item 4, that ONLY applies to unsolicited mail. A lot of Email providers are ignorant to this. If your customer has a relationship with you, you are not required to give them an opt-out line and the can-spam act is not relevant.

  2. I’m not sure where DB gets his/her information but taken from the CAN-SPAM act website
    it states…
    The law, which became effective January 1, 2004, covers email whose primary purpose is advertising or promoting a commercial product or service, including content on a Web site. A “transactional or relationship message” – email that facilitates an agreed-upon transaction or updates a customer in an existing business relationship – may not contain false or misleading routing information, but otherwise is exempt from most provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act.

    What the Law Requires
    It requires that your email give recipients an opt-out method. You must provide a return email address or another Internet-based response mechanism that allows a recipient to ask you not to send future email messages to that email address, and you must honor the requests. You may create a “menu” of choices to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to end any commercial messages from the sender.

    Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your commercial email. When you receive an opt-out request, the law gives you 10 business days to stop sending email to the requestor’s email address. You cannot help another entity send email to that address, or have another entity send email on your behalf to that address. Finally, it’s illegal for you to sell or transfer the email addresses of people who choose not to receive your email, even in the form of a mailing list, unless you transfer the addresses so another entity can comply with the law.

    The blog states it SUGGESTS you provide an opt out link.

    err on the side of caution and ALWAYS give your customers the option to opt out… can-spam is always relevant!!

  3. Opt-outs are good email practice for many reasons, not the least of which is keeping your abuse complaint ratio low and your IP clean. This is why most ESPs insist on them, especially if you’re sharing your IP with other companies – and some ESPs do this, so be sure to ask. The opt-out provides a bit of deliverability insurance and gives you a pulse on how interested or fed up your email list is. It’s not to be used as a legal safety net.

    However, it’s important to note how people perceive your messages. B2C studies have shown that recipients categorize most commercial email as “spam” even if they’ve asked to receive emails – or given expressed consent. They’re also more likely to hit the abuse complaint button if you’re not giving them an opt-out option. If complaints happen frequently and your ratio of abuse gets too high, you’ll be “blacklisted.” If the customer is upset, it takes less than 2 minutes to call the Federal Trade Commission and report you on their automated system. Keep your customers happy. Give them an opt-out. It’s worth it.

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