When it comes to choosing an email marketing service provider, there’s no choice that’s perfect for everyone. It all depends on what you’re looking to achieve, and the specific way you run your business. However, to help make the process of choosing an email marketing service provider easier, here are 10 features to look out for:
1) Delivery Rates
Your email marketing service provider is worth nothing if it can’t reliably deliver your emails!
Deliverability rates will tell you what percentage of emails typically reach your subscriber’s inbox. Professional companies that have anti-spam measures in place will have far better deliverability rates than some self-hosted email marketing services, or those that come bundled in with a shopping cart.
Also note that sometimes emails can bounce. This isn’t the fault of your autoresponder service provider, it just means that an email someone used to sign up to your list with is no longer in use. The best email marketing providers will automatically recognize which emails bounce and remove them from your mailing lists.
2) Anti-Spam Measures
All good email providers should have measures in place to prevent spammers from using their system. This is important not only because it improves delivery rates, but also because if you are accused of spamming this could harm your business.
There are laws in place to protect individuals against receiving spam emails, and some companies break these without even knowing. A good email marketing system will prevent you from doing this by including an unsubscribe link in every email you send out, including your physical address in all emails, and allowing you to use a double opt-in system that means only the people who really want to receive your emails do.
There are cases when you aren’t even spamming that spam filters can think your message is spam and automatically send it to the junk email folder. This won’t get you into trouble legally but it will reduce your open rates! Good email marketing service providers will give you a score for every email you send and let you know how to change your subject line or email content to reduce the chance that the email will end up in junk.
Price is obviously an important consideration in any service you sign up for, but it should never be the only one. Email marketing is hugely important to any business, so you can’t base your decision on price alone.
However, it is important to know what you’re paying for. Here are a few things to check:
• Whether you can sign up to a free or low cost trial,
• Whether, once you sign up as a paying member, you are free to cancel at any time,
• How many subscribers are included at the base price,
• How much you’ll have to pay once you exceed this number of subscribers.
Remember that email marketing services will always get more expensive as your mailing list gets bigger. By then, it should be paying for itself, but it’s important to take future price rises into consideration.
4) List Size
Always check how many subscribers and how many mailing lists you’re allowed with any service provider.
Some service providers may only let you have one mailing list. Ideally, you want the ability to add unlimited lists. Even if you only have one product or website, you still need multiple lists for different types of subscribers – free subscribers, paid customers etc.
5) Opt-in Form Templates
Most people add subscribers to their mailing lists through the use of an opt-in form. These are forms that you can place on your website that ask for your visitor’s email address and name (and any other relevant data you want to ask them).
If you don’t have any coding knowledge, you’ll want to choose an email marketing service provider that makes it easy to create attractive web forms. Most providers will have drag and drop editors that let you customize their built in templates. You may also need extra features like the ability to add images, drop down lists, animations and so on. All of these features can help your opt-in form stand out and get you more subscribers.
6) Message Templates & Editor
When it comes to actually writing your emails, you want to be able to format them the way you want. Some people stick to plain emails, but others include images and other elements to tie the emails into their overall brand. There are three features you’ll want to look out for to create the best emails possible:
1) HTML and Plain Text Emails: Your service provider should let you send both HTML and Plain Text emails. If your customer’s email client is not set to display HTML, then an HTML email could look pretty weird to them. That’s where the plain text version of the email comes in – your service provider will automatically detect that they can’t view HTML emails and will send them the plain text version so it doesn’t look odd!
2) Email Templates: If you do want to send out HTML emails, then you may want to choose an email service provider with a good number of email templates included as standard. This is a quick way to create good looking emails without having to come up with the design from scratch.
3) HTML Email Editor: The chances are you’ll probably use a template but customize it to your needs. If you don’t know how to code, then a good WYSIWYG email editor will make this process easy. Make sure that your email service provider comes with one unless you want to fiddle around with coding or stick to their premade templates!
7) List Backups & Imports
All email service providers need to let you import lists from other sources – whether that’s a previous email marketing provider, or contacts who have given you their details offline.
Note that many service providers will not allow you to import your lists and start emailing them right away. They will send an email to every contact you import and ask them to opt-in again. This means that you could lose a lot of subscribers. This probably isn’t a problem unless you regularly need to import subscribers, in which case you’ll need to look closely at your chosen provider’s policies.
You’ll also want to make sure that your provider has the option to backup and export your lists. Backups are crucial to protect your data, and the export function is important should you ever want to move your email lists to a different service provider.
8) Automatic Handling of Bounced Emails, Unsubscribes and New Subscribers
There are some things that you don’t want to have to deal with manually. So check out how your chosen service provider handles the following situations:
New Subscribers: The process for adding new subscribers to your list should be totally automated, unless you’re manually importing contacts. Make sure that every time someone subscribes to your email list using a web form, they automatically get sent a confirmation email (if using double opt-in) and then receive a welcome email after you subscribe. You may also want to send follow up emails at set intervals, which most email services will allow you to set up.
Bounced Emails: These are subscriber emails that no longer work, and your provider should automatically remove these from your lists. Keeping bounced emails in your account is a waste of money if you are being charged by your list size!
Unsubscribed Emails: In order to comply with spam laws, every email you send should have an unsubscribe link to make it easy for subscribers to opt out of your mailings. The unsubscribe process should be very easy and automatic, to avoid any complaints from your subscribers. There are usually other options, for example subscribers can choose to change their settings instead of unsubscribing, or they can send you feedback about why they chose to unsubscribe.
9) List Segmentation & Testing
Segmenting your list means splitting up one email list into multiple segments according to certain details, for example where they live or which page they subscribed to your email list from. The benefit of doing this is that you can test your emails and see which segment responds better, or you can choose to send emails to only one segment of people who you think will be more interested in the content of that email.
All good email marketing services should make it easy to segment your list by giving you the option of adding custom fields to your sign up forms, and searching through your subscribed users. Although this is an advanced feature, it’s well worth looking for as it could greatly improve your email marketing results in the future.
10) Email Marketing Statistics & Tracking
When you send out emails, you want to know how well they perform. If you don’t know, then you can’t take efforts to improve things!
Always choose an email marketing service provider that offers detailed statistics. Things to look out for include:
• What percentage of people opened the email?
• How many people clicked certain links?
• How many emails bounced?
• How has your email list grown over time?
• How many people unsubscribe after each email?
These statistics can help you see how targeted your messages are for your subscribers, and how much they like offers. They are also very useful in helping you tweak your subject lines for better open rates. The more you tweak these things, the more people will open each email and the more profitable they will be.
BONUS TIP: Customer Support & Training
As with any service, you should consider the customer support. Email marketing is often a crucial part of the marketing efforts of any business. If your service provider went down, or if you got some unwarranted spam complaints, you need to know there’s a support team waiting to help you out.
It also helps when your email marketing service provider has a training library. Many service providers will include case studies on how different brands are successfully using email marketing, how to improve your open rates, how to clear your list of un-responsive subscribers and more. Make sure you use these resources – they really can improve your email marketing efforts!
All in all, if you are opting for an autoresponder, make sure to check all the listed Features to Look for in an Autoresponder Provider in this article.