Your Checklist for Choosing An ESP

Generally speaking, it’s good to have options. But occasionally, having too many alternatives can be a curse, not a blessing. When searching for an Email Service Provider (ESP), there’s no shortage of choices, but selecting the right ESP from a staggering array of candidates can be a daunting task. Here is a list of criteria you may want to start with when deciding who to choose an online Email Service Provider.


  • What are the volume and frequency of campaigns?
  • Do you require creative design?
  • What is your budget?
  • What metrics do you require?
  • Do you need a dedicated Account Manager?

Vetting out The Candidates

  • Get a final list of candidates
  • Call references
  • How long have they been in business?
  • Who is their target market?
  • What is their client businesses
  • Have they received reviews?
  • Type their names into Google Groups and see how many abuse complaints they have.

Service Level

  • Do you need a full service agency that will do it all for you?
  • Do you need self–service where you have access to an online tool and you do all of the work?

Trial Offers

  • Can you try before you buy to test deliverability as well as user functionality?


  • Is there a set up fee?
  • Are there monthly recurring charges or is it a pay-per-use model?
  • Are there full service charges?
  • Do you have to pay minimums?
  • Can you pay by credit card?
  • Is there a contract needed?

Customer Service

  • What methods of communication does the ESP provide? Email, phone support, live chat?
  • Is there a dedicated Account Manager?
  • How long does it take customer service to respond to your inquiries or complaints?

Q & A

  • Is there a Q & A procedure for testing email on various browsers, computers, operating systems and email readers to guarantee your email will render properly in the greatest possible number of environments.


  • Email Creation Options
    • Are there email templates/layouts and if so what do they look like?
    • Can I have a template that reflects my brand/looks like my website?
    • Is there a text-only email feature?
    • Can you use your own HTML code?
    • Are there HTML tools so I can detect broken links?
    • Is there automatic link tracking that provides click-through reporting.
    • Is a “Spam Check” feature available? One that scans email content and generate reports on words or phrases that might prevent your message from passing through a spam filter.
  • Delivery
    • List Check: Is there a scan for improperly formatted email addresses and “spam catcher” addresses is triggered to keep your list clean and your bounces low?
    • ISP Relations: What is the company doing with regards to ISP relations?
    • Is there an ISP relations group/person on board?
    • Are they a member of the Email Service Provider Coalition (ESPC)?
    • Are they CAN-SPAM compliant?
    • Do they require your users to follow CAN-SPAM and if so how?
    • Do they support SPF or Domain Keys?
  • Reporting
    • Do they track total number sent, that is total number of emails sent, after accounting for de- duplication, unsubscribes and bounces?
    • Opens – how many people that get HTML email opened?
    • Clicks – how many recipients clicked on a link?
    • Bounces – How do they calculate bounces?
    • Unsubscribes – Do they manage the unsubscribe process and if so how?
    • What types of charts and reports are available?
    • Do they track domain performance (i.e., etc.) and opens, clicks, bounces and unsubscribes on them?
    • Do they have charts that will compare campaign performance?
    • Do they have charts that give response curve over time?
    • Can I download any of my data at any time?
    • Do they offer a non-responder download, that is recipients who failed to click or open a message.
  • List Management
    • Is there an easy way to upload my list?
    • What format does it have to be in?
    • Do they de-duplicate my email addresses so I don’t send them more than one email in a campaign?
    • Do they offer a list-building tool than can put on my site to collect email addresses?
    • Can I have custom fields and if so, how many?
    • Do they offer a confirmation email after someone signs up using the form?
    • What do they do to protect my lists? Are their servers in a secure location?
    • Will I have 24/7 access to my lists?

The search for an ESP that can maximize the effectiveness of your email campaigns without breaking the budget. In a world of options it pays – in the short term and the long run – to make the right choice. Getting answers to the previous questions will help you find the best match for your business.

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