Iuliia Nesterenko

Technical Writer

How to Choose the Right Email Marketing Service That Would Fit Your Business Needs

How to choose the right email marketing platform is a big question for anyone serious about their marketing activities. The choice determines your sender reputation, the success of your campaigns, and the eventual profit. Moreover, although we say “email marketing platform”, the term covers way bigger functionality: additional communication channels (Web Push, Mob Push, SMS), omnichannel workflows, wide analytics, website recommendations, pop-ups, social media integration, mobile marketing.

That’s why it is so important to carefully think over all pros and cons in advance. Below, I’ll be speculating over 18 questions a marketer should answer before sticking with the marketing automation platform. Check them to make the right choice that would benefit your business.

Price

1. How flexible are the pricing plans and what do I pay for?

Prices you see the first thing on the site may not be what you need to pay in the end. Your company is constantly evolving: you launch new communication channels, your subscriber base is growing, you start using new external data sources or CRM, etc. That’s why it’s important to choose not the cheapest digital marketing platform but the one with flexible pricing that can be customized to your current business needs.

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To use basic functionality, you’ll most likely be offered the following payment options to choose between:

  • You pay for contacts and get unlimited messages;
  • You pay for sent email;
  • You buy a package of messages and send within this limit.

However, advanced email marketing automation will require additional expenditure depending on the features you would like to add to your plan. They can include

  • extra email editor features;
  • data storage;
  • web tracking;
  • contact base segmentation;
  • frequency strategy;
  • product recommendations;
  • website recommendations;
  • AI-supported solutions etc.

Even if you aren’t planning to use any as for now, it’s always better to know what the extra charges may be.

Also learn if you can switch between pricing plans and on what conditions, are there any discounts for paying in advance and what are the refund policies in case you want to terminate your relationships.

2. How much do I pay for settings? Is technical support free?

It may be difficult to set up all integrations, workflows, web tracking, segment conditions, etc., (especially if you lack technical expertise) without clarifying questions or consultation.

So it is essential to know you can address support any time and have explicit answers quickly. Such assistance gets even more important when there are some problems (system operation, API events, contact import, etc.), that require an immediate response. And if you don’t have your own support team, the timely and comprehensive help of your ESP support may mean a lot for the campaign results and profit.

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Trial Period

3. Can I test the system?

You definitely don’t want to buy without seeing. And the only way to see the system is to register for a trial period and test it on your own. Feedback and testimonials are also worth checking, but they give only a general idea of what to expect.

During the test period, however, you can learn the following:

  • How convenient and understandable the interface is;
  • How support works;
  • Whether support articles are clear and comprehensive;
  • How integration is configured;
  • How data is transferred to the system;
  • How to build workflows;
  • What other functionality features there are: segmentation, additional communication channels, omnichannel workflows, mobile marketing, website recommendations, Artificial Intelligence;
  • What additional tools the current ESP lacks you may need in the future.

The duration of a trial period may vary from 7 days to a month. And of course, the longer it is, the better you’ll study the system.

Also, before testing, find out what functionality is included in the trial version and whether it includes features that are most relevant for you. If not, ask if it’s possible to activate them for your account at least for a limited time or how else you can see them working.

4. What support material can I use?

Whether you’re a new or experienced marketer, a new system always requires additional information. Typically, you can find it in:

  • blog;
  • support articles;
  • YouTube videos (instructions, webinars, Q&A, podcasts);
  • reports;
  • training.

Most probably, support articles would be the resource you’ll refer to most often. They should be clear and crisp and include images where necessary. A good support article shouldn’t contain ad content or partner’s offers; its only purpose is to help you perform the necessary action.

Check how easy it is to follow the instructions and how successfully you perform the action. If every step needs additional clarifications and support help, chances are good you’ll spend much time before getting familiar with all inner processes.

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5. Do people like this platform?

Real testimonials and feedback (on social media, on the company’s website, in YouTube blogs, in articles and lists by marketing platforms) are important first of all to see what problems you may face in the future. Since comments (especially long ones) are often written by unsatisfied customers rather than satisfied ones (just a short nice job or thank you), they will help you see the inner side of the platform that isn’t typically told about on landing pages.

But make sure you get a rational perspective on such reviews, as they are all subjective anyway. People might have failed to use the system due to human error rather than technical, so use critical thinking to process outside opinions.

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Convenience and Functionality

6. Is the interface user-friendly?

A user-friendly interface is an interface with an intuitive navigation that allows you to use the system easily and perform routine tasks fast. The basic characteristics of such an interface include:

  • consistent, clear menu with logical tabs;
  • easy search within the system (tags, ID, keys);
  • relevant icons;
  • understandable names of tabs, features, buttons;
  • appropriate and clear tooltips;
  • load speed;
  • comprehensive analytics within one tab;
  • explicit explanations of errors and how to fix them;
  • clear payment history and message calculator.

The system which you navigate intuitively without checking support articles upon every click is designed well, and that’s a crucial aspect when making a final choice.

7. Does the functionality fit my business needs?

 

You don’t need the system with a thousand solutions; you need a digital marketing software with solutions that help your company communicate with customers, meet your marketing goals and generate profit.

  • Want to segment your audience by order history, average check or website activity – you need an ESP that offers advanced segmentation.
  • Want to send location-based messages – you need an ESP with geomarketing (geotargeting, geofencing).
  • Want to send personalized messages tailored to each customer – look for an ESP with AI-supported solutions.
  • You’re an app service that operates via the application only – you need an ESP with mobile push notifications and effective mobile marketing.
  • Want to use dynamic content in your emails – look for an ESP that supports velocity.
  • You’re an international brand that wants to write messages in the language of the audience – look for an ESP with multilanguage functionality.

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8. What integrations are available?

You may need to integrate with external parties for different reasons:

  • To transfer contact data;
  • Send order information;
  • Confirm payment;
  • Send event from a CRM;
  • Import analytics.

API

The most common tool for integration of a site or CRM with an email marketing service provider is API. Using it, you can transfer any parameter in the request body.

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Third-Party Services

An EPS can have integrations with third-party services, for example, Zapier (to connect the ESP and another platform with which there is no other integration) or Google's BigQuery (to import or export contact data).

Plugins

Most CMS and CRM can have ready plugins for integration, but you still need to clarify this question, as well as to find out whether they are supported by your ESP.

A proper data transfer is essential to take full advantage of the ESP functionality. The absence of integration is one of the main reasons for the inefficiency of marketing, and you need to make sure from the start that you won’t face it.

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Contact Base

9. What contact data can I transfer and store?

All contact data you’ll be storing can be roughly divided into two groups – personal and behavioral.

The only personal data you’ll probably have from the start is a user’s contact (email, phone number, push token). Together with a permission to receive from you, it’s enough to start sending promo campaigns.

However, with time, the contact profile will be growing and may include the following: name, sex, language, date of birth, location, browser, preferences. Learn what fields are default and what you need to add on your own. Also find out this data is added to the system, and whether you have to do any manual adjustments.

If you send multilingual campaigns, pay special attention to language settings: how the language field is filled; is it possible to add a language manually; what settings have priority.

Behavioral data, in its turn, is the data on the subscriber/customer behavior (campaign response, website behavior, orders, payment history) that will be constantly sent to the system. Therefore, it is better to find out from the start whether a marketing automation system allows data from external sources, how it’s transferred and stored, are there any limits and can you add it in additional fields.

As a rule, the email service provider stores a limited amount of data as it’s not its basic purpose. If you (hopefully) run personalized marketing that requires data processing over a long period of time, you need to store a voluminous customer history and constantly access it. The best way to do it is to integrate with an external data source, for example, BigQuery or PostgreeSQL. And your ESP obviously should support such an integration.

10. Can I collect all data in a single profile?

Perhaps, this is one of the most important issues for a modern marketer. The answer “No” means that further work with contacts gets limited, making it impossible to implement an omnichannel approach.

Clarify whether the ESP can recognize and combine contact data into a single profile (i.e. understand that the web push was clicked by the same person who opened the email, and record it in the contact card) and how this process is carried on.

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11. Is there error correction and a blacklist?

Contact import allows you to upload contacts to the system when you switch between platforms or add contacts collected offline (for example, loyalty program participants). Error correction during the import ensures these contacts are added correctly and enables you to fix the errors if needed.

If the platform doesn’t offer such functionality, be ready to use third-party validation services.

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A blacklist is another useful tool to watch the hygiene of your contact base. It includes all contacts that have been labeled as nonexistent at least in one account across the system. If the contact is blacklisted after the import, you can’t send campaigns to it.

Such options not only defend deliverability of your campaigns, but also ensure you don’t spend money on inactive addresses.

Email Editor

12. How can I create an email?

Most email marketing companies have built-in drag-and-drop email editors. They’re easy to use and don’t require special tech skills. Nonetheless, when testing the editor, answer the following question:

  • Is there a built-in image editor?
  • Can I add custom elements (fonts, colors)?
  • Is there a code editor? Can I insert codes from external sources?
  • Can I preview templates on desktop and mobile?
  • How can I add dynamic content?
  • Can I send test messages? To how many addresses?

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13. Can I use ready templates?

If you don’t have a designer in the team, ready email templates will give you a hand at the start.

  • Some marketing automation services offer a free custom template to new users. Find out if yours does.
  • A template library should have a convenient search to find the necessary template by industry, event or email type.
  • Ready modules (menu, footer, product cards) and blocks (smart blocks, AMP) will simplify your work, so it’s nice when the ESP provides such.

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Campaigns

14. What triggered campaigns can I send?

A triggered message is an automated message sent in response to the user’s action. Each marketing automation platform has its own algorithms of building and launching triggered campaigns.

For example, to send an automated birthday greeting, the ESP stores the date of the contact's birth and uses it to launch the campaign at the right time.

To follow up the webinar, special timers are used to notify of the event at the specified time. And to send an order confirmation, you will need other blocks that confirm the act of the purchase.

Decide what triggered emails are must for your business and learn how to build them in your ESP.

15. How do I personalize my campaigns?

Personalization is a big marketing trend so no wonder brands from locals to enterprises look for solutions to deliver personalized content to the right people. Roughly speaking, you can personalize your messages in three ways:

  • Adapt send time to a particular recipient;
  • Personalize copywriting (address by the name, mention in the subject line and copy order number, bought products, last interaction, previously discussed topics, etc.);
  • Personalize product recommendations.

But tools used to apply these approaches may differ depending on the platform. For example, they may include

  • Adding variables with personal data (name, city, order) using velocity;
  • Using AI algorithms;
  • Using dynamic blocks (SRT) for product recommendations, etc.

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Personalization is considered an advanced functionality, so keep in mind that it won’t probably be included in the trial period or free plan. If you plan to use it, ask about the pricing in advance and find out if it's possible to test at least basic features.

16. Can I schedule and manage campaigns?

Promo campaigns are typically created in advance, and scheduling allows to plan ahead your marketing calendar. What’s more it also helps determine the optimal send volume, as one of the most common unsubscribe reasons is too extensive messages. For example, at eSputnik you can set up the annoyance level and manage it using strategies so that your subscribers receive a limited amount of messages per day or week.

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17. Can I A/B test?

An A/B test allows to assess the effectiveness of an element that affects conversion. For emails, it can be a subject line, text, picture, CTA color, placement, etc. You can test anything, but you need tools to create the conditions for a reliable experiment and measure the result.

For example,

  • Split the recipients into the required number of equal groups (subject line testing);
  • Split the segment;
  • Add a split condition to the workflow, etc.

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Find out which options are available at your marketing automation platform, how the test is carried on, and how to access the results.

What’s more, ESPs with a rich functionality offer advanced features like A/B testing of website product recommendations, so it might be worth exploring this question deeper.

18. How do I measure the result?

Analytics is an integral part of marketing, and your ESP should provide extensive information in the reports. Learn what data is included and it is enough for analysis?

The basic results include:

  • sent and delivered emails;
  • what contacts were unavailable and why;
  • opens and clicks;
  • errors;
  • spam report;
  • unsubscribe rate;
  • statistics by domains, segments, languages, browsers, devices, etc.

The easiness of assessment is however as important as the data itself. The report should be easy to digest: charts, highlighting, dynamics are what make it so.


I’ve tried to cover 90% of possible questions you may have when choosing the best email marketing service. You may not need to answer all, or will have 18 more, depending on your previous experience with email service providers. Your main task is to clarify all possible issues before making a final decision.

Even with the most user-friendly service, you invest much time and resources when getting started. So don’t miss out on important points because migration to another service (in case you make a poor decision) will be even more time-consuming.

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Iuliia Nesterenko

Technical Writer

A technical (but still very creative) writer at eSputnik with a strong focus on design, current digital marketing trends, and new solutions for email automation.

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