Finding the Right ESP (Email Service Provider)
Without a specific program or add-on, you can’t use your Gmail account to mass mail people. That’s because Gmail doesn’t want to find itself banned from sending emails.
Sidebar: A note about all those restrictions you’re going to see
As you get started, you’re going to see sites like MailChimp, ConstantContact, and other major ESPs have lots of restrictions on spam.
There are a couple of reasons for this:
- The CAN-SPAM Act is a US federal law that laws out some restrictions on what you can do. https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/can-spam-act-compliance-guide-business
In Europe, there are even more restrictions and rules. The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has put some of the strictest rules on how email and data can be used in the world. In fact, even small companies must assign someone to oversee how data is maintained and what can be kept and what can’t.
These rules must be followed and your ESP will likely make you follow them. There are a few things that you don’t need to do in the US that you have to do in Europe, like include a mailing address. It’s a good idea anyway. If the recipient is actually based in Europe, you’re breaking the law. More than that, it shows that you are making a good faith effort to be the most responsible you can be.
- The ESP can end up being banned from sending emails. It would be a drastic step, but at one point, there were so many spam messages from Yahoo addresses that other email providers were blocking messages from Yahoo. Gmail, for example, restricts emails that you send to yourself, if they look like spam, because this mirroring technique is favorite with spam artists.
The easiest way to stay out of trouble is to simply follow the basic rules of getting opt-in emails and permission to contact people and to use one of the major ESPs. It will save you a lot of hassle and pain to have an organization around to monitor what you do and save you some pain.
Don’t be a spammer.
Firstly, you need an email service provider (ESP). They have the software and design capabilities to make it easier for you to send great emails. More than that, you don’t want to use your personal or business email address to send out emails from. It will get messy in a hurry.
The basics of what an ESP does
In essence, an ESP gives you a simple and efficient platform for sending emails out.
Here’s what they do, in brief:
- Lists – They will help you manage a list by removing bounced emails and allowing you track activity.
- Designers – Most email design programs today have templates that you can use and that allow you to design anything you want in your emails.
- Automation – One of the greatest strengths is that you can easily send out automatic emails, autoresponders, and more. This is how marketing becomes efficient.
- Delivery – Once you’ve built your emails and set a schedule, they have the capability of sending your emails out for you quickly and easily and, most importantly, automatically.
- Reports – Everything that your recipients do will be recorded. Opens, clicks, opt-outs, spam reports, and more are laid out in a simple report that lets you see what’s working and what isn’t.
Spam tests are important. Almost all of the major ESPs have a built-in function that gauges the spam factor in your emails. If it seems like it will be received as spam, the ESP will let you know so that you change it before it ends up in a pile of junk mail.
Another really huge factor is personalization. You’re able to use the data from your list to make each email personal. For example, you can put in a person’s name, company, and much more just by adding it to your list and having the right code in the template.
HTML, text, drag-and-drop and other terms you need
HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) is the basic language that the whole internet operates on. There’s a lot more to know, but for our purposes, HTML is the language that your pretty emails, with images and logos, shows up in.
Text emails are just that. They are text only. They allow you to send simple messages that have no frills. Often, this is a setting that someone has chosen for their emails or their phone. It makes the messages much smaller and easier to receive. Text requires a lot less bandwidth. Most ESPs will automatically convert to text if the recipient’s inbox requires it.
Drag & drop is what it sounds like. You can simply pull in the elements of the email that you want. Add a photo here, a text box there, and it’s done. There isn’t a whole lot of reason to make an email in HTML code when these systems exist. (Honestly, if that’s something you need and you’re reading this book, hire a pro to simply do the work. There’s a lot to learn and it’s crazy to try to do it on your own.)
The Different Types of ESPs
There are three basic types of ESPs. Two are useful to beginners. The third is lot more advanced and not worth trying to learn right now.
- Email Infrastructure Providers (EIPs)
- General Email Service Providers (GESPs)
- Marketing Automation Providers (MAPs)
Email Infrastructure Providers (EIPs) are essentially a delivery system. They provide you with a way to get a lot of emails out to your list. They don’t give you a lot of reports, list management, etc. If you’re a rookie, this is more work than you need. Make it easy on yourself and keep reading.
General Email Service Providers (GESPs) and Marketing Automation Providers (MAPs) have begun to merge.
GESPs were once just a place that you could design a nice email or use template and send it out. There wasn’t a lot of list management or automation available. These are MailChimp, Constant Contact, and more.
MAPs used to be the only place for list management and automation. They tended to be Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, like Salesforce, Infusionsoft, and Zoho.
It was, until recently, that GESPs were great for nice, easy-to-create emails and MAPs were good for automation. Now the GESPs have automation and the MAPs have put in drag & drop designs and templates.
How to Decide What Service to Use
What you need
For the most part, if you are looking to nurture really long-term relationships, for example, as a law office or a car dealership, a MAP’s ability to build a complex customer profile is an advantage.
If you’re simply promoting a few items, but don’t need a complex customer profile or your customer’s purchase will be tracked by your checkout software, you can use a GESP. You’ll have a lot of info about their email activity, but there’s not a huge multilayered relationship system built-in.
- Get Response
If you need a complex relationship system that will cover everything from the phone calls you make to their birthday, you need a MAP or CRM.
This is where it can get a bit messy. For example, MailChimp will let you use their service for free for up to 2,000 contacts. You have access to everything they do.
Zoho and Hubspot each let you use parts of their CRM system for free, although bulk emailing tends to be the part they charge for.
Here’s what you should consider:
- Complexity – Do you need all the bells and whistles that they are offering? If you don’t need a complex customer profile, you can just use a simpler system.
- Free services – Many of these companies offer free trials, but be careful, you might put in a ton of work only to find that you can’t send an email.
- Number of contacts – Most of these services will let you upload a certain number of contacts for free, but charge after that. (Note: Many of these services will keep charging you for a contact, even if they can’t deliver an email to it because it’s a bounced or bad email address.)
- Functionality – The service that you used 10 years ago is probably gone or obsolete. Don’t have a ton of loyalty here. Every couple of years, new services leapfrog over old ones.
- Customer service – Here’s where it gets mousy. There are a lot of these companies whose customer service is less than responsive. Look online to see what people are saying. I would tell you, but it changes quickly.
- Terms – Most of these services keep your lists private, but look at the Terms and Conditions. Some of them are able to take possession of your email list and use it for their own marketing purposes. (As far as I know, no one on my lists does that.)
If you’re really just starting out, here are the services I recommend:
For just emailing, MailChimp and MailerLite are super simple. They offer free services for 2,000 and 1,000 contacts respectively and the whole process is very intuitive.
For a CRM/MAP service, try Zoho. It’s free to use, but they charge for emailing. It’s not terribly expensive. Even though they’re based in India, the customer service is really good and available 24 hours a day to North Americans. It’s a lot cleaner and simpler than some of the others.