6 Questions to Ask Your Prospective Email Service Provider


The success of an email marketing program depends on a number of factors—your content, your artwork, your targeting—but one very important factor you may not have considered is your email service provider’s (ESP) reputation. The ESP you choose to work with can make all the difference in whether your email ever gets to your customers and prospects.

Here are the six questions you should ask prospective ESPs to determine which one would be the best partner for you:

1. What Is Your Deliverability Rate?
If your email does not reach an inbox, it clearly will never be read. That’s why one of the most important metrics is deliverability rate, which tells you how often the email you send is actually delivered to the inbox of the intended recipient.

According to Return Path, the average global email deliverability rate is 76.5 percent, meaning almost a quarter of all email goes undelivered, and the deliverability rates are dropping. Return Path’s latest Email Intelligence Report shows consumers are reading less of their email across most sender categories. Senders in the shopping category, for example, saw read rates drop to 15 percent in Q4 of 2012 compared with Q4 of 2011.

2. Do You Automatically De-dupe Subscriber Lists?
Sending the same email to the same person multiple times is one of the biggest missteps in email marketing and, unfortunately, there are a number of ways to end up with the same email address in your contact list twice. For example, you can capture the same lead from multiple sources.

Sending duplicate emails raises the ire of not just your customers and prospects, but also the companies like Yahoo!, Comcast and Google that host email inboxes. Duplicate emails waste server resources, make for unhappy customers and, therefore, are a fast-track to getting blacklisted.

It is critical for ESPs to de-dupe lists regularly to keep clients safe from costly oversights and time-consuming data cleansing.

3. How Do You Handle ‘Bounces’?
It’s nearly impossible to have a pristine email list; sending emails to outdated addresses creates a “bad” email address in your list without you knowing. However, how you handle this situation has a huge impact on your ability to deliver to good addresses.

ESPs are expected to handle all “bounces”—non-delivery reports about email addresses that have changed, mailboxes that are full, etc.—in specific ways. If you continue to send emails to a “bad” email address, ignoring the messages the recipient’s email server is sending you, it will get you blacklisted. Handling delivery attempts for bad email addresses is a waste of time and resources for any email provider. So if you gain a reputation as someone who doesn’t practice good email hygiene, email providers will stop accepting your emails altogether.

ESPs should automatically remove closed email accounts and try to resend to full inboxes on a staggered schedule. Periodically auditing bounce messages and tuning how quickly bounced addresses are disabled can ensure that ESPs are adapting to changes as ISPs make them.

4. How Steady Is Your Email Volume?
Believe it or not, the regularity of your email is also an important factor in your ESP’s reputation. To enjoy high reputation and deliverability indefinitely (and not be mistaken as a spammer), ESPs should send emails with a regular cadence, vs. sending millions of emails at a time.

It is easy to identify businesses that care about retention and sustainability, as they send regular email to opted-in customers, have high open and clickthrough rates, leverage established business relationships, and tend to have steady and consistent growth.