Choosing the right email provider can feel a tad daunting. The closest thing I can compare it to is renting a house. You really want to find somewhere that fits all your stuff, has all the rooms you need, doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to rent, and you wont end up wanting to move a few months after signing the contract. Sure, you can deal with having no double glazing… but why should you? It’s the same with email providers. You want one that stores all your stuff (data) in the way you want it to, has all the rooms (functionality) you need, doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to use, and ideally you don’t want the hassle of having to switch providers down the line because it doesn’t live up to expectations.

Don’t panic though, because I’m going help make choosing a new email provider very straightforward and, unlike house viewings, you won’t have to leave the comfort of your chair!

 

Six Easy Steps to Follow When Choosing an Email Provider:

 

1. Strategise

You’re clearly looking for an email service provide (ESP) for a reason. My guess is you’ve worked out that email is a super effective marketing channel, where the costs can be relatively low and the results can be outstanding. But before you choose your provider, you need to think about how you want email marketing to work within your overall marketing strategy.

It really is important to have clear objectives and goals around what you want to achieve from your email marketing. These decisions will help influence your choice of provider, dependent on if they offer the functionality to help you achieve these goals.

For example, are you going to be sending newsletters, upselling or using email as a lead gen tool? What metrics do you want to track?  Do you want your emails to be created within a simple drag’n’drop system or do you want to add externally created HTML designs? Are you interested in dynamic content or A/B testing? Your answers to all these questions will help dictate the features you want from an ESP. It will also give you a clear idea of what your priorities are when selecting an ESP, and who is most suited to facilitate those priorities.

2. Think About Features

There are four key features that you should be checking when selecting a provider – and they are a must. You’ll need to ensure that the tool you’re looking at not only has those features, but also makes them easy to use. You’ll also need to have a clear idea about which features are a priority to you and your business.

Templates:

A key part of any email campaign is creating the emails you plan on sending. Any decent email provider should be offering you an easy-to-use solution for creating the email templates yourself within their system. For example, in Enabler, we have a drag and drop system which allows you to create emails using simple building blocks, that are mobile responsive by default (another key thing to look out for). When looking for your new system, you should also want to ensure it allows you to upload HTML and images created externally to the tool. Free image hosting is a great bonus too!

Tracking:
Automation:

Sending the most relevant messages to the right people at the right time is super important, and that’s what automation helps you do. Ensure your email service provider offers solid workflows to help you schedule and send automated messages.These should be laid out in a clear way – a step-by-step structure usually works really well. If you feel like you need more information about automation before making a decision about what works for you, take a look at our blog: What is Marketing Automation?

Extras:

Is there something else that you think you might need for make your email strategy to work? Maybe you want to be able to create and send forms and surveys, or create bespoke landing pages from within the tool? Really good ESP’s will provide these things, some even provide them as standard – like Enabler -, but not all will so make a list of what you need and make sure to ask each ESP if they fulfil these requirements.  It’s also worth asking if these features come with the system or if they are optional extras that you will be charged extra for.

3. Define Your Budget

Email in general doesn’t need a huge budget to be effective, but in marketing, effective isn’t always enough. If you want truly epic campaigns and associated analytics, you need to ensure you’re putting the budget in place to achieve this.

Email systems vary in terms of price range. There are very basic free tools out there and then there are tools that cost tens of thousands of pounds and have a ton of advanced functionality.

Now, enterprise level providers may seem attractive on the surface, but if you don’t actually use all those fancy add on features which cost those extra pennies (which by the way can take a lot of time to learn how to use in the first place and you may end up spending many precious hours trying to navigate) you’ll end up just throwing good money away.

Basically, you have your choice of low, medium and enterprise level providers. Choosing the right one for your needs can keep costs low and deliver functionality while simultaneously keeping return on your efforts high.

4. Look at Delivery Rates

There’s no point putting together beautiful campaigns if they don’t get through to anyone. To have a chance of engaging customers and prospects, your messages have got to land in their inboxes. Now, that might sound obvious, but not all ESPs are equal when it comes to delivery rates. Make sure you are asking potential ESPs about its delivery rate and how they work with their customers to keep that rate high. Ideally you want to be searching for a provider that can offer rates of over 95%.

To bare in mind that delivery rates are a combination of both how the email service provider ensures delivery to inboxes on the backend and how you use the service. For example, if you buy a data list and start sending to it, you may find that you have a high bounce rate which can impact your sending reputation. Ensure you are asking for any resources they offer on best practices for content and list management, and also find out if you can have your own sending IP to ensure you’re not influenced by what other clients of the ESP are doing with their data.

5. Check Out Customer Service

ESPs will all offer different levels of customer support for their product. There are a few key things to look for in this area when selecting a provider:

Support response:

Give their support desk a call and see how long it takes for you to be speaking to a real human. Is there a key place on the product that tells you how to get in touch with the support desk? Have a look at what their response rates are – they should be able to share these stats with you (example of one of these stats guides from Enabler’s customer service desk to the right). Think about what kind of support you will need, do you need Monday to Friday, or weekend support, or particular international timezones? Have they ever won any email awards for their product or support?

Help systems / guides:

Does the ESP have an online help system where you can search through frequently asked questions, or find out how a certain piece of functionality works? If so, this a great sign. Properly good support systems will also have step-by-step how to guides available for key areas of the system.

What other clients say:

With any product, you want to know that you’ll get the best support out there. Testimonials from existing clients of the ESP are a good indicator of how good both the product and the support network is. You can also have a look at the sorts of clients using the product – do you think their objectives are similar to yours? If so, they may have done some of your homework for you!

6. Make an Informed Decision

Once you’ve considered all the factors we’ve discussed, you’ll be in a position to select a provider. Now, before you go any further, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t tell you to consider throwing Enabler into the mix (check out the product here). Right, sales pitch over. Time for me to wish you good luck in choosing your ESP… that’s if you haven’t chosen Enabler already! Okay now I’m really done, promise.

If you’re interested in finding out more about anything in this blog, drop me an email – I’m always up for a chat about email! #EmailGeek

An API (Application Programming Interface), believe it or not, is an interface between two software programs. It essentially allows the two programs to make use of each other’s services and resources, and interact with each other. You can think of them like tunnels between programs that allow them to work together… and all without exposing their inner programming!

You might not realise it, but you will probably use APIs nearly every day of your life. For example, an API would let you open a chat window inside an app, or let you run a map program on your website. Being totally honest with you, it’s really hard to get really excited about APIs themselves, (my development team are shaking their heads in dismay as I write this), but what is worth getting excited about are the benefits APIs have for marketing purposes.

Most email systems today will have some sort of built in API functionality where, with a little effort, you can link your company data systems to your email service provider. This is something we do with Enabler’s email marketing software, allowing is to provide the option of adding bespoke APIs completely tailored to your data needs.

From an email marketing perspective, APIs allow you to do some really cool things that allow you to deliver much more targeted messages to your consumers, helping with both acquisition and retention.

APIs and Automation

API integrations allow your data that’s being stored elsewhere (i.e. CRM system) to be drawn down into your email system.  Giving your email marketing software direct access to your customer data has big benefits for enhancing and deploy your emails, especially when it come to marketing automation.

Let’s take a look at an API example in action.

eBay:

eBay utilised an API integration to send out a daily product email to their customers. Each deals displayed within the email is being automatically drawn from the eBay product pages. The deals changed daily on the website, and because an API was set up between the website and the email campaign, it meant the email deals changed also to reflect the website. This meant that the marketing team could send the same daily emails without so much as a single edit to the actual email content, and know that everything in the emails would be automatically updated to reflect the current deals.

The smartest thing about this API integrated email is yet to come however…  If a recipient opened this email the day after it was sent, they would see the content for the day they opened, not the day it was deployed, meaning they always saw the latest deals.

The reason API integrations are so powerful is because the data being pulled through the API already exists, and as a marketer all you are doing is bringing that information into your campaigns.

Other uses for API content within email:

  • Customers of airlines and ticketing venues can select or upgrade the latest seats from within an email.
  • Restaurant guests can receive special deals and reserve seats in real-time within a few taps.
  • Doctors appointments could be made from within an email simply by displaying an up-to-date list of appointment times.
  • Hotels could send loyalty emails to their customer base and guests could reserve a room directly from the email.
  • Sending a welcome email to a customer when they sign up on your website.

APIs and CRM management

API’s also serve another function in the world of email. Let’s say you have a fantastic CRM system, but sadly it doesn’t send email…now in the old days this would have meant exporting data from that system, uploading it into your email tool, sending an email, exporting the unsubscribes from that email, and re-uploading into your CRM. I don’t know about you but I get exhausted just thinking about that process. Luckily, those days are over! You can now use APIs to help manage your data across multiple systems.

When transferring data between systems, an ‘API call’ is made. An API call is an individual interaction between the two applications through the API, for example when a request for data is made from one system to the other using the API. This allows the two systems to keep your data up-to-date across both systems simultaneously without any manual intervention.

APIs and Security

Each time a data transfer happens, lots of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is being handled, so security is vital (especially with the GDPR updates coming in May!). Best practice for security when it comes to APIs is to assume that everyone is always out to get your data. Now, it’s also good to remember that not all APIs are equal, and not all vulnerabilities will be preventable. An API gathering weather data does not need to take the same precautions as an API that is sending patient’s private medical data.

The best way to ensure this data is kept private during transfer is by using encryption. With sophisticated key management strategies, or encryption key management strategies, the data can become accessible on a need-to-know basis.

The process works something like this:

1. Authenticating with the web server before any information is transferred

Authentication is used to reliably determine the identity of an end user, while Authorisation is used to determine what resources the identified user has access to.  Authentication and Authorisation are commonly used together.

On the web, Authentication is most often implemented via a dialog box that asks for a username and password. For added security, software certificates, hardware keys and external devices may be used.

2. System decides which resources or data to allow access to

Once the user is authenticated, the system then decides which resources or data to allow access to. For APIs, access tokens are commonly used, either obtained through an external process (for example when signing up for the API) or through a separate mechanism. The token is passed with each request to an API and is validated by the API before processing the request.

The best solution is to only show your authentication key to the user once. It’s their responsibility to hold that key near and dear. Think about it this way – would you trust someone who kept losing the spare keys you gave them…?

This all sounds great, why doesn’t everyone do it?

API setup can be complex, especially if you are navigating your way around big data and different systems and teams. More and more however, companies are realising that API integrations are the way forward for making your marketing campaigns truly personalised, more interactive and the most enjoyable experience for your customers, and are investing time and resource into getting APIs set up. Additionally, from an internal perspective, they will save your team and company time in the long run.

If you want to chat to us about how Enabler’s APIs could take your email marketing to the next level, please get in touch.