How to Choose an Email Marketing Vendor

Choosing a new email vendor can be daunting. There are so many things to consider. Let's simplify your choice by breaking it down to the features that matter most to your business.

Diane S. Thieke
4-minute read

Inevitably, the day comes when we must choose a new email marketing vendor. Either we’re launching a new business, or our current provider is no longer meeting our needs. And nowadays, there are plenty of services that can streamline your email marketing efforts, from list management to making sure you’re compliant with CAN-SPAM laws.

But with so many services, how do you choose? 

Have no fear. I’m here to help.

Picking a new email marketing service doesn’t have to be a daunting task. There are many Web-based email vendors with feature-rich products that take the sting out of putting an email campaign together. The trick is to understand what matters most to you, and how well each service can deliver.

While every business and marketing department is different – one feature might mean more to you than to another purchaser – there is a list of common attributes that can be compared.

What to Expect in an Email Vendor

There are several standard features that all vendors offer, and of course, some are better than others:

  • Templates. Many vendors offer dozens or even hundreds of ready-to-use email templates that are pre-formatted with a standard layout, color scheme, and imagery. Some marketers will be happy to just choose a template, type their text, and go. Templates are a good way to jumpstart email communications.
  • Ease of design. Personally, though, I’ve rarely been happy with the look of a template, and I’m sure I’m not alone. If you’re the type that likes to start with a template and then tinker, the ability to easily customize a template to your liking is a must.
  • Customization. Some brands, especially larger ones, won’t use templates at all. They’ve invested huge sums of money in designing unique brand creative, which they’ll want to use in their email campaigns. Full customization will be important to these organizations. Look for the ability to upload your own HTML and CSS.

Connection Options Build Your List

  • Social icons. It’d be unusual to find an email vendor that doesn’t integrate social media buttons to make sharing email content easy. Still, this is a must-have nowadays, so don’t choose a vendor who doesn’t consider this basic functionality.
  • Web forms. Most vendors offer sign up forms for your blog or website. But the ability to customize these pages is key. You should be able to add fields and text and change the color palette.
  • Facebook integration. Most businesses – especially consumer businesses – have a Facebook presence. Not surprisingly, if you’ve built a large fanbase, this is an ideal place to market your newsletter and build your email contact list. Not all vendors have this capability. Choose ones that do.

Look for Features That Automate Tasks

  • List management. The ability to easily add and manage contacts and keep your lists current is the foundation of any email marketing program. The really good vendors will automate parts of this process, from managing unsubscribes to eliminating duplicates.
  • Contact Upload or Sync. If you have contact lists in other places – on another email service or in your email client – you’ll need to be able to easily upload these lists into the new email marketing service. Excel spreadsheet and CSV are usually standard.
  • Trigger-based autoresponse. If you have several campaigns running, you’ll want some level of automation. The ability to send emails whenever a customer takes an action or reaches a milestone increases your ability to connect personally with your customers. While all vendors will send confirmation emails when someone subscribes to your list, not all offer the ability to automatically send a customer a coupon on their birthday.
  • A/B Testing. Small changes can make a big difference in open rates, whether it’s the time of day or a different subject line. Some services automate the steps, making split testing very easy, while others will provide instructions on how to manually run the test.
  • Images. A visually appealing email is likely to generate more interest and more clickthroughs. Most businesses will want to include a few standard images, such as their logo, into their email. Email vendors will usually host images at no charge, but only a few have built-in stock image libraries.
  • Analytics. Most vendors provide free reporting tools, including data about how many people opened your email and clicked on links. Look for vendors who integrate Google Analytics, so that you can get the full picture.
  • Education. If you’re new to email marketing, learning more about effective strategies can be invaluable. Many services offer training on everything from the basics to more advanced techniques. The level and quality of training can vary from simple step-by-step instructions to free webinars.
  • Pricing. Most web-based email marketing services offer monthly pricing that scales based on the number of subscribers and the types of features you need. You can get started on some services for free, but as your list grows, you’ll start to pay rates from $15 a month and up. Prepay discounts are often available.

Final tip: Create a spreadsheet using the features above, and then compare the vendors side-by-side. When you can see the big picture, it makes the final decision much easier.

Check out more tips from the Digital Marketer.

Email images courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Diane S. Thieke

Diane S. Thieke is the president and founder of Simply Talk Media, a digital media marketing consultancy. With more than 25 years in digital media and technology, she helps clients build stronger relationships with their customers and communities, using both social and traditional channels.