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When you’re just starting your business or trying to scale up your marketing, it’s tempting to keep it simple. And there’s a lot to be said for that…minimal viable product (MVP) and all. You already have to deal with website hosting, CRM systems, and accounting software. Can’t you just use Gmail to run your business email?
You could, but you’d be missing out on the massive benefits of email marketing done well. Plus, you could be opening yourself up to compliance issues or just end up caught in the spam filters.
An email service provider (or ESP for short), aka an email marketing provider, is the perfect way to optimize your campaigns and engage your subscribers.
In this post, we will cover:
- A Glossary of Helpful Terms
- What Can You Do With an Email Service Provider (ESP)?
- Why Use an Email Service Provider (ESP) Instead of Regular Email?
- The Best Email Service Providers (with Comparison Chart)
- How to Choose an Email Service Provider
- Wrapping Up
- Additional Reading
A Glossary of Helpful Terms
We’re going to be digging into the reasons why you should choose an email service provider instead of a standard email company (e.g. Gmail, Yahoo). Before we do that, let’s define some terms so we’re on the same page.
Email Service Provider (aka email marketing provider): A platform in which you can manage your audience, create automated campaigns, and track metrics.
IP Reputation: Your IP is the internet “address” from which you send all digital communications via a certain server. This is provided to you by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). IPs often contain multiple users, so a good IP reputation means that your communications are less likely to seem suspicious to privacy shields.
Domain Reputation: As email is frequently sent from various IP addresses depending on where your device is and how you connect to the internet—a domain reputation tells mail providers whether or not your web domain is sending legitimate messages.
Hard Bounce: This happens when a receiving email server rejects an incoming message—typically when an address or its domain no longer exists.
Soft Bounce: This happens when a recipient can’t receive your email, whether due to a full inbox or other factors. If you exceed your mailing limit, soft bounces are more likely.
What Can You Do With an Email Service Provider (ESP)?
An ESP allows you to build audiences, create and automate campaigns, and track your results. Most platforms include options to capture leads from a landing page or signup form. Or, you can import contacts you obtained elsewhere (with explicit permission). From there, you can organize and tag your subscribers, which is crucial to personalizing your campaigns (more on that in a minute).
Then, you craft campaigns to send to your list. Most ESPs allow you to schedule and automate these campaigns, which can be single emails or multi-email sequences to nurture your leads. Each campaign comes with tracking so you can see how many people opened your emails, whether or not they clicked, and so on.
If you plan on sending a lot of emails to prospects and customers, most ESPs allow you to create templates and auto-response sequences. This way, you can send welcome emails to new subscribers, easily create a weekly newsletter, and otherwise engage your audience.
Why Use an Email Service Provider (ESP) Instead of Regular Email?
Regular email is great for one-on-one exchanges or small groups, such as emails to your work team. But once you get into marketing, you need a better tool. Using Gmail or the like to bulk send emails is not only inefficient but can also damage your sender’s reputation. Plus, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Here’s why you need to use a proper ESP:
1. Send More Emails
An ESP is designed to send bulk emails in a way that won’t overload mail servers or trigger spam filters.
Yes, you could BCC all your subscribers in a Gmail message, but Gmail simply isn’t designed to handle the volume. Your daily cap is 150 messages/day (through an email client) or 500/day (through SMTP). Beyond that, the servers will reach their limit and some or most of your emails will be left undelivered. This means a lot of soft bounces. You want to be sure that you can send to your entire audience without losing messages or getting banned from Gmail.
2. Better Target Your Audience
It’s ever more important to segment your list and personalize your campaigns accordingly.
The “spray and pray” approach just isn’t as efficient. Too many recipients, it’s about as appealing as a chain email. Today’s consumers respond to highly targeted, customized emails—and those are only possible with email service providers.
3. Meet Spam and Data Privacy Requirements
Did you know that many countries have laws and regulations pertaining to email marketing?
And depending on where your subscribers are located, you could be subject to many of them. For example, the United States CAN-SPAM law requires you to provide people with a way to opt out from your mailing list. That’s just not possible with a Gmail message. Also, recipients might mark your emails as spam, hurting your sender’s reputation. But with an ESP, subscribers can easily unsubscribe or edit their profile if they desire.
4. Integrate Your CRM
Not all ESPs provide CRM integration, but those that do are powerful tools for boosting your conversions and recovering lost customers.
You can configure automated campaigns to reach out to people who haven’t purchased in a while, send abandoned cart reminder emails, and create customized emails with personalized product recommendations. That may seem like a lot for your business at first, but in time, you’ll want an easy way to reconnect with customers—and standard email isn’t it.
The Best Email Service Providers
While all ESPs provide the same basic features, various platforms suit different business needs.
We find that MailerLite is perfect for small businesses doing regular email marketing and the one we most frequently recommend because it is:
- Free up to 1,000 subscribers
- Highly intuitive to use
Active Campaign and FG Funnels are powerhouses, but more complex to set up and have fees associated with them, which of course might be appropriate for some businesses.
Here’s a convenient comparison of all major providers:
|Drag-and-Drop Editor||Yes (but with limited personalization)||Yes||Yes||No (but it’s coming!)|
|Time Zone Delivery||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|eCommerce Integration||Yes (but only WooCommerce, Square, and Big Commerce)||Yes (all major platforms)||Yes (all major platforms)||No (but maybe coming)|
|Multiple Audiences||Yes (paid plan only)||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Audience Billing||All past and current subscribers||Only current subscribers||Only current subscribers||Only current subscribers|
How to Choose an Email Service Provider
If you’re just starting out your business or at least, your email marketing efforts, we highly recommend MailerLite [affiliate]. It comes with an easy drag-and-drop builder that lets you quickly design your campaigns. We also like that it integrates with WordPress to provide landing pages and pop-up lead captures. It’s very simple and affordable. However, MailerLite does not permit affiliate marketing, so if that’s a big part of your strategy, look elsewhere.
If you’re scaling up your business and need something a bit more powerful, check out ActiveCampaign. It offers lead scoring, which allows your sales team to figure out which prospects have the most potential. The automations are much more powerful and customizable, so you can really get into the nitty-gritty as you build workflows. We’re talking about specific offers or coupons depending on a user’s page-by-page activity on your site. So, if you’re a growing business — especially eCommerce — we recommend Active Campaign.
And if you need an all-in-one marketing solution with email as a key channel, look into FG Funnels [affiliate]. This is a new, white-label marketing automation platform that blends the best elements of ClickFunnels, Kartra, and Kajabi. It is run by two value-based, cause-focused women, Julie Stoian and Cathy Olsen. It is a much more comprehensive marketing system than MailerLite and Active Campaign, which are only ESPs and CRMs. So, if you need to cover gated content, personalized campaigns, automated workflows, and general promotion, as well as social media and website integration, FG Funnels is your best bet.
Please note that we no longer recommend MailChimp since it has changed its pricing structure in a way that penalizes marketers. Plus, other platforms are just easier to use.
Don’t let your email outreach suffer! With a 42:1 ROI, email marketing can be one of your most lucrative channels. Make the most of it with a platform designed to offer you the maximum flexibility and efficiency in your campaigns. An email service provider gives you more security, more potential, and better results.
Not sure how to implement an ESP in your business and how to run campaigns? Book a complimentary 15-minute call with us via our online scheduler at virtuallynat.com/chat and we can get you started.