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Email Marketing Companies Buyer's Guide

Submitted by admin on Fri, 09/24/2010 - 08:50

Tips for comparing email marketing companies

Choosing an email marketing company can be a time-consuming, research-intensive task if you're not sure what to look for. Here are some tips relating to issues we've encountered as we tested different email marketing companies.

email marketing companies and email creation needs

Tip #1: Assess your email creation needs. Most people who are looking for an email marketing service want to create and send email campaigns quickly and easily. This is why people tend to gravitate towards email marketing companies that offer a large number of email templates. If you plan on sticking with pre-made templates and making few (if any) changes to their look and feel, then you might choose an email marketing service that offers a large selection of templates. But, don't let a small number of templates turn you off. Some email marketing companies who offer fewer templates might also offer more professionally designed templates, more industry-specific templates or more flexibility in editing existing templates.

Read our email marketing reviews to see what email creation tools the providers offer.

email marketing companies and monthly sending volume

Tip #2: Evaluate your monthly sending volume. Usually, email marketing companies offer two main pricing options: a monthly fee and a pay-as-you-go plan. Monthly fees typically depend on the number of contacts you upload to your contact list. Conversely, pay-as-you-go plans depend on the number of emails you send per month. In some cases, you will be charged a monthly fee dependent on the number of emails you send per month, but this is rather uncommon. In addition to any upfront costs, you may be able to receive discounts on buying bulk emails or by prepaying for 6 months or a year of service. (Non profits may also receive additional discounts.) The pricing plan you choose ought to reflect your general email marketing needs. If, for instance, you want to email many contacts only once a month, you probably ought to choose a pay-as-you-go plan. If, however, you have a smaller contact list but want the ability to email that list multiple times a month, you should probably choose a contact-based monthly pricing plan.

View our email marketing pricing by number of contacts or by number of emails

email marketing companies and image hosting

Tip #3: Host your own images. Most email marketing software companies give you some amount of hosted space for your email campaign images. However, a few companies offer a relatively low amount of hosting space, which may make them less desirable. You can get around this issue, though, by hosting images on a free image hosting sites like Photobucket or Flickr. Importing your images from another site may not be as convenient as storing your images on your email marketing interface, but it is definitely a viable solution to limited hosting space.

email marketing companies and accepted file types

Tip #4: Convert your files. Most email marketing tools will allow you to import your contact list from CSV and TXT files. Some will allow you to import/export XLS (old version) or XLSX (Excel 2007) files. However, importing and exporting from CSV should work in most cases. If your email marketing software does not accept Excel files, then you simply have to remember to convert your Excel files to CSV when uploading your contact list.

email marketing companies and unsubscribe buttons

Tip #5: Look for unsubscribe buttons and permission reminders. You'll be able to know easily if an email marketing company is complying with email marketing best practices by the fact they will automatically insert unsubscribe buttons and permission reminders into your emails for you. You can test this by signing up for a free trial and creating an email. (Constant Contact is one company in our list who automatically inserts clearly visible unsubscribe and permission links into your emails.) All email marketing companies should automatically insert an unsubscribe link into your emails, but few of them will insert permission reminders. Permission reminders simply remind recipients why they are on your mailing list and are receiving emails. We strongly suggest including these reminders manually for initial emails if they aren't automatically included.

email marketing companies and spam checkers

Tip #6: Look for a spam checker. Although a few email marketing companies offer a spam checker that will scan and rate your email based on spam triggers, most providers do not offer this feature. What they do offer, however, are tutorials or articles about keeping your subject lines and email content free of elements that could get your email marked as spam. Make sure to follow those tips, and your emails should be deliverable. (MailChimp offers Inbox Inspector, an add-on that allows the MailChimp team to manually review your email campaigns before you send them. It costs $29 per three campaign inspections.)

Check our email marketing software comparison grid to see which providers offer a spam checker.

email marketing companies and terminology

Tip #7: Define the jargon. Email marketing companies tout many features of their respective products, a few of which are jargon terms that seem attractive but that require further explanation. Here are our Cliff's Notes on a few key terms:

  • CAN-SPAM compliance— "Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003". Email marketing companies like to tout the fact that they are compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act. However, since it is primarily the responsibility of the email sender to comply with the act, this is essentially an empty statement. Also, CAN-SPAM has come under fire from anti-spam activists for its lack of a requirement for e-mailers to seek permission before they send emails.
  • Double opt-in— Technically this refers to the process of sending emails to a contact list, then requiring contacts to select "subscribe" in order for them to stay on your mailing list. This function was actually found to be ineffective and essentially useless. Mailing lists were in no way altered by recipients' selection of the "subscribe" link. Recipients remained on the mailing list regardless of whether or not they actually selected the "subscribe" link. Furthermore, we were unable to gather any statistical reporting data on what percentage of recipients selected to "subscribe" through the email.
  • A/B Testing— Tests two different subject lines within one campaign to see which one works better. There are two different types of A/B testing: manual or automatic. Manual A/B testing sends you back a report which allows you to compare the success rate of two different subject lines within the same email marketing campaign. Automatic A/B testing sends out the user's two different subject lines to a sample group, then the one which had a better success rate is sent to the rest of the designated contact list. A/B testing is an uncommon feature. Email marketing companies that list this feature are actually touting the ability to perform automatic A/B testing. However, most email marketing companies will allow you to perform manual A/B tests, even if they don't tout this.

email marketing companies and customer support hours

Tip #8: Pay attention to customer support hours. Email marketing customer support hours are important. Some email marketing programs offer phone, email and live chat support; some only offer email support. Others offer extensive tutorials and online knowledgebase. Availability of customer support may, in some instances, dictate when your email newsletters will be sent. If you are rushing to send out an email campaign for an upcoming event, for example, the last thing you'd want to do is to wait for customer support to respond to your issues. It also helps to plan out what time you want your campaigns to be sent and give yourself enough time to troubleshoot any issues that may come up.


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