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Is Your Email Service Provider the Best?

We recently received this question from a law firm marketer. I’ve edited it slightly for brevity and anonymity:

“Our email service is earning a big #fail at this point. We’ve used (Name Brand provider) with great success for small jobs and I’m talking with them about an enterprise solution. Do you have a provider you love (or a crappy one I should be warned away from)? What are the pros and cons of the systems you’ve used?”

The question, submitted to a listserv, engendered responses of affiliation with one ESP or another because they liked them, had no problems, or other good indications of service. But email delivery is more complex than you might first imagine and one size does not fit all. It is not (yet) a commodity. Personal recommendations of quality service or indications of being satisfied are a good start of an evaluation but an insufficient qualifier for engaging an email service provider. Like the acquisition of almost any service (legal or technical) it is important to understand requirements.

This is not intended to be comprehensive but merely to illustrate my point. Get this part and you might get there is more to the story. So let’s take a look at these simple factors:

  • What does your email subscriber base look like? gmail.com? or bigcompanyname.com?
  • How big a mailing would you execute at one time?
  • What is your mailing frequency?

If you send a lot of email frequently to corporate email addresses, the email reputation is critical to getting into the inbox of your subscriber. The better email service providers (ESPs) do 2 things. First, they manage the reputation of the email addresses from which they send the email (their IP addresses). The best ESPs offer you the opportunity to set up your own email address on their system. This will look something like email.lawfirm.com and email will come from something like sonny@email.lawfirm.com So while it still looks like your business, it is isolated from your domain (lawfirm.com) and from the email sending behavior or misbehavior of other clients of this ESP. Are you with me?

What happens if you send an email to a lot of people at the same domain such as xxxx@client.com where xxxx is lots of different people? When all these emails show up @client.com at one time, they look like spam. It may even look like an attack on the email server. The corporate email server receives these emails so you probably see these emails as being delivered. But they never make it into the inbox of the individual email recipients.

The better ESPs offer the capability to throttle the sending of emails so that they don’t look like a spam attack on an email server. It more closely resembles natural email commerce. Good commercial ESPs can afford to throttle the send of their emails. Spammers cannot because they’ve got way too much email to send. Are we getting esoteric yet?

ESPs are commercial companies and not a part of any website development company’s core competency. We have our favorites but we are not linked at the hip. Email services built into CRM systems such as Interaction, Salesforce, etc. are bulk mailers and do not have these deliverability features and a deliverability desk (personnel) focused on managing IP reputation. This doesn’t make them bad by any stretch. But it does affect deliverability performance.

Finally, the best ESPs are becoming messaging companies capable of delivering text messages and voice messages. If your communication strategy is to be first to market with targeted information, you may find that a text message alert system is a client service you haven’t yet considered. It is unlikely that your “economy” bulk email guy who is “friendly to deal with”  offers these extended and diversified contact capabilities. And maybe you don’t need it and never will.

Being able to track email performance is a common feature but it is not the test of a quality system. And these tools may not even provide accurate or complete information regarding the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns. Even the best (i.e. more costly) ESPs come only close to precise. Third party firms like Return Path and Pivotal Veracity might provide this higher level of email evaluation and deliverability improvement.

Price is not always a guarantee that you will get better delivery services like what I’ve identified above. But a low price pretty much guarantees that you will not. For my part, I think reaching targeted contacts for a few pennies is a pretty good deal. If you are driven to cut that penny in half, you should at least know what you are getting and what you aren’t.

Whew! Hope this is helpful. Oh yeah, who do we use? ExactTarget. But remember. One size does not fit all. Think about your requirements.

Email open rate is only one indicator of email success

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About this Author

Network Systems Engineer

Scott supervises Duo’s network facilities, monitoring hardware and software, analyzing problems and ensuring that the network is fully operational. He works closely with clients to identify, interpret and evaluate their system requirements. He also provides the front-line defense of the Duo network by planning, coordinating and implementing network security measures. An avid Mac user, Scott is nonetheless happy to keep Duo’s servers running on Windows Server 2003 and Ubuntu Linux.

Scott has been working in network administration with Internet companies for over ten years. He has...

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