Email Service Providers Tutorial

1.2 Introduction

This is Matt Bailey. In this chapter, we're going to look at the advantages and benefits of working with an email service provider. When should you make that jump from managing your own emails and email lists and sending those emails to working with an email service provider. What are the factors that you can look for? And what can you do?

1.3 Evolution of Email

Well, email evolution started as a way of just spreading information to multiple people. If you had a large list of people, you could just add them into your email through the blind carbon copy. There were actually a lot of people that didn't even realize the value of a blind carbon copy, and would just carbon copy. And sometimes you would just receive an email with 100 or 200 email addresses listed in the carbon copy. The value of a blind carbon copy was the ability to send an email message out to a few hundred people, but you wouldn't be able to see who else was listed on the email. And so people just started using a blind carbon copy or a carbon copy, and kept adding more email and names into the list here, and then sending that out. Now the problem with that is that it does create a lot of concern for your Internet service provider. It requires bandwidth to do so, and if you're doing it on a regular basis, they may frown on that. In fact, some may limit the amount of emails that are sent, as well as limit the time that those emails are sent. Well, that practice evolved into bulk email programs that could live natively on your computer. They would look at your database of names in your contact lists. You could do a mail merge from your database into an email, and create your own bulk email system. It would easily merge everything in. And then you could easily mail out to hundreds or thousands of people, right from your own computer. Now of course, if you're getting bounce backs, if you are sending to invalid email addresses, you may not realize that unless you go through and look at your spam emails, or returns, or anything like that. But Internet service providers really frown on these types of programs. The main reason is that it will affect their reputation. If you, as a user on their system, are sending out massive amounts of email, it could potentially damage their reputation. They could become blacklisted, your domain could become blacklisted, and everyone looks bad.

1.4 Why Use an ESP?

And so that helped the evolving, then, of an email service provider. Someone, a third party, that could manage your emails. That could provide more tools for management, deliverability, as well as learning more about your customers and providing tools that are critical to business growth. Ultimately, if you make a move to a third party email service provider, your ISP will be much happier. Because if you are sending a lot of email through your own mail system through your hosted account, chances are you may be getting blacklisted. And you won't have the tools available to you that an ESP would provide. The biggest issue is reputation. It's your own reputation of your own domain, of your own website, of your own IP address, but then also the reputation of your service provider. Whoever you're sending through, whoever is hosting your email account, they will be affected if you are doing things incorrectly and reflecting poorly upon them.

1.5 Bad Reputation

A bad reputation is developed through multiple things. If people are clicking a button to mark your message as spam, that initiates a spam complaint. If you are sending to a lot of invalid addresses and getting a lot of bounce backs, if your click-through rate and your open rate is very low, that is indicative of possible spam. Also, if you're not allowing people to unsubscribe, or you're not giving them a tool to unsubscribe, you're developing a bad reputation. Bad reputations tend to spread, and if you have an Internet service provider that allows this type of behavior, not just for you but other people, then you're going to be living in what's called a bad neighborhood, a bad IP block. All of these things roll together to affect the reputation of both you and your Internet service provider. And so, when you're not taking steps to protect yourself, you're not authenticating your emails, you're not following protocols then chances are you could get your IP address blocked for spam. You could have your emails stopped at the source by your internet service provider. And if you don't have the tools in place to know these things, then your bad reputation will be well known, but you won't know that. And so if you want to send emails to hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands of people on your list, then you need to take steps. To make sure that you're going about this in a legal way, in a professional way, in a way that can grow your business, rather than affect your reputation. Because, if you have a bad reputation, your internet service provider will limit the amount of email that can be sent. They will set spam filters. They will throttle the delivery. Only certain amounts of email will be allowed to be sent over a certain amount of time. So for example maybe every 12 hours 10% of your emails are allowed out. That way it stops them from having a bad reputation of allowing all these emails to go out at one time. That is called throttling. Internet service providers will also look at the header information of emails that are sent, they're also going to look for fake or return addresses that aren't valid. So again we have a lot of ways that internet service providers, as well as email spam programs, are making sure that they are not receiving spam.

1.6 ESP Provides

When you move to an email service provider what they will provide are open and click reports. They'll provide additional analytics to let you know the success of a mailing, the quality of your list, tracking so that you can merge your email marketing into lead tracking and lead development. You can get deliverability reports so that you know if your emails are getting through to certain networks or to certain email programs. ESPs also a lot of list management. They allow you to grow your list and grow more information about your list so that you could send more targeted, segmented emails. You can get deliverability by other internet service providers. They provide testing features, geo-delivery features, as well as information to you to make you a better email marketer. Because if you're a better email marketer, then you make them a better service provider. So an ESP brings a lot of helpful tools to the table that you wouldn't ordinarily have if you're trying to manage this all by yourself.

1.7 Choosing an ESP

Now, there are hundreds of email service providers out there, some are a little bit better than others, some might make more sense based on what you're doing. Your best bet is to check into them, and see what kind of services they offer, specifically, for your kind of business. Especially, if you see growth in certain areas. For an e-commerce provider, some ESPs may have an ability to merge browsing data into the email server provider information, so that you can automate emails to your customers based on their browsing. Some may not offer that. So, if you're e-commerce, it might make sense to look at that type of features. If you're business to business, then you may want to look for features that have tracking for lead nurturing, that have automated or welcome series emails that you can set up and develop for new customers. It's all a matter of what kind of business you are, and how you want to grow. A couple of things to look for, is subscriber profiles. Does the ESP offer an ability to look by user and see what they have done? How active are they? What have they opened? So, that you can examine as well as segment specific kinds of users. Based on who's opening what, the behavior they exhibit, where they're from, what you know about them. One thing Bronto has, is a strong marketing automation system that allows you to create a work flow, so if someone views this or does this, then they receive this. And so, looking for those features that your business can use or grow into in the future. Now, the minimum things that an ESP should offer. Number one is automation, allowing you to setup emails that are automated based on a specific factor. Whether it's a certain behavior, whether it's a certain factor about your list or about our target market. But, being able to develop some automated emails, you may also want an ESP that integrates with your customer relationship management system. That way you can manage your customers and you can also see how they're engaging with you via email and a lot ESPs offer integration from these two systems. Personalization is an absolute requirement, and almost all email service providers will offer that. Of course, analytics is a must have. Goal tracking, e-commerce tracking, authentication, segmentation features, behavioral features, these are all things that you should have in your arsenal, and that most email service providers will provide at a minimum.

1.8 Typical ESP Features

Now, in terms of automation, automation is a great feature and many of them will offer this in different levels. An example of how automation will work, in the travel space, if a customer books a vacation, they should receive a receipt as well as a confirmation email. So there are two emails that will happen immediately. Now, based on the automation and based on the booking date, two weeks prior, this company can decide that we're going to automate an email reminder or a welcome two weeks prior to their vacation. The customer completes the vacation. The end date also then signals an automated email to go out one day after they have checked out, or left. And that's a thank you email. And maybe four days later they receive another email that invites them to take a survey about how much they enjoyed their vacation at this destination. All of these things can be automated, created one time, and then repeated endless times, which saves your company hours of having to do this manually or remembered to do it. All of this automation can happen through most ESP's. Now for lead nurturing, a lot of ESP's will offer the ability to track customers before you even know who they are. So if a customer comes from a source, let's say they come from Twitter. And have followed a link about some research or a white paper or an article that they may have found on your site. Well, they can be tracked by which pages they viewed, when they viewed them. And then lets say about two weeks later, they come back again. Maybe they come directly, maybe they come from another link in another type of social media. They view more pages. Maybe next time they come, maybe three weeks later, and it's a direct visit. Now it's the same visitor, but the system is tracking them as that same visitor, how they found the site, what they looked at, when they came. And eventually this visitor becomes a lead by registering to download something. Well now all of a sudden, your ESP can interact with your CRM. And now, we know who this person is, and we can associate all the past activity they have done on a site, to then create a referral source and a lead profile. We can know who they are, what company they're from. Then we can associate their past activity to see, what information did they browse? How long did they stay on certain pages? And that can be added then to their customer profile, and we can understand what they're interested in. Now immediately, they can receive an automated thank you. But then, based on who they are and the behavior that they have exhibited in what type of information is important to them. They can then receive an email with similar offerings pitching, cross-selling, up-selling, other information or features that would be interesting to them. And so you can learn more about a person prior to them becoming a lead. All of their information that they do on the site can be merged together, and we can learn more about them. Your ESP's will also offer segmentation capabilities. That you can segment based on recent purchases, your top 10%, your re-engagement e-mails, or new customers that you can provide a drip campaign or a welcome campaign. And so that allows you to set up different lists based on different factors. And all of your ESPs should be able to do that at a minimum.

1.9 Improving Deliverability

What an ESP offers is factors of deliverability. You see, ISP's, internet service providers, they block throttle emails. They are always trying to make sure that they block spam content before it gets to the inbox. And so an ESP gives you the tools and the abilities to be more effective at getting your messages into the inbox. There are all kinds of things that are set up to prevent marketing messages from getting into the inbox. Firewalls, Feedback loops, ISP throttling, these are all things that are your enemies, and trying to block your email. A good email service provider gives you the tools that you need to overcome these things, improve your marketing, and improve your deliverability into the inbox.

1.10 Email Headers

Now one of the things that an ISP will look at are your email headers to determine where did this email come from. And really the header information within an email is a map of where the email originated from, who it originated from. They check to see if it's a valid email address. They check to see the validity of the server through which that email originated. Does that server have a good reputation? Is it on a blacklist? They also look to see where the email was routed through. And then which server received it and how it was distributed from there. Also any information as far as a local spam filter on your computer or on your service provider will also take that email through a spam checklist to be sure that everything is good. So, we can see here that the return path through this email that it went through Vertical Mail on the top, then it went through MX Thunder and was delivered through there. And so, we can see that the list manager Is vertical mail, so this was sent out through an email service provider of Vertical Mail. And it was received by a server, And then, you can see where the authentication went through to be sure. That this was not spam and who it was for and the scan results were okay. And so that email was delivered. The email headers really give you a map as to where that email came from. Where the server was originated, the destination server, and how it was relayed from one to the other. Now here's another email header, of an email that was marked as spam. It originated from And then came to the server, mxthunder. Now we can see in the middle here that it was scanned as spam. And so the score was 4.8 and it was above a 2, which is the requirement for spam. And so it did not get into the email inbox. ISPs and spam filters rely on email headers as the way to know if this is a trustworthy email, and this is where an ESP really can assist your reputation in these types of things. Because if you're using an ESP they have a good reputation. They have to, what they bring is that reputation and trustworthiness.

1.11 Server Relay

Now I've mentioned the term server relay a couple times. When you send an email, you're sending it from your server to the server of the person that you are sending to, their company server. Really a great way to think of this is like sending snail mail. When you send a physical letter through the mail, it goes to your post office, and then it's relayed to the post office nearest the recipient, and then distributed to the recipient from there. When you send an e-mail as an individual, it goes through your company mail server and then it relays to the destination server of the recipient, and then is distributed from that server to the individual. Now, a server relay is a third party relay that is sometimes used, and what spammers are looking for are compromised relay servers, where they can use a fake address or they can hack into it. And so ISPs and spam filters are always on the lookout to find compromised relay servers. Because if a spammer can get a hold of a relay server, then they can unleash hundreds of thousands or millions of email messages through the relay server, pretending to be someone else. And so that's why the header information is so critical, because it will notify the Internet service provider, and the spam filtering system, if there has been a relay server involved. And then they can check and see if that is a compromised relay server.

1.12 Inbox Preview

Now the next step of getting into a user's inbox is knowing how they are going to see your message. Once you've gotten to the inbox, you need to get the open. However, some inboxes are going to be different than others. As you can see here, we have the preview pane for a mail program, but it's also compared and different depending upon if you're using web based email such as Yahoo or GMail. As you can see, it looks a little different, it's formatted a little differently. And so you need to be aware of how your message will be previewed in each type of mail program. Now one thing that you do need to be aware of is that GMail uses a tabbed approach in their previews. Users have a primary email box, they have a social email box, and a promotions email box all as default. And what that means is their private or personal email from friends and associates and anyone else that they regularly communicate with, all goes into the primary email tab. Anything that's social, from LinkedIn, from Twitter, from Facebook, or anything like that goes into their social tab,. Subscription based emails will all go into the promotions tab. When GMail went to this format, immediately advertisers started to see that opened rates went down dramatically. As you can see any of the advertisers that were daily deals, and e-coupons. Their open rates went down over 1.5%. E-commerce based retailers saw their open rates decrease by a full percent. Retail advertisers, almost 2% drop in open rates. Take into account that users on GMail will be receiving your promotional emails through the promotional tab which is not the default open tab. Their normal inbox is the default tab. Now, one way that some have gotten around that, you can see here on the Outnet, one of the things that they have done is specifically talk to GMail users so that they don't miss out. And what you can do is instruct your GMail user to drag the email into their primary inbox. And what you will be doing if you are using GMail is telling GMail that from this advertiser I want to receive their emails in my primary inbox and not the promotional box. And so that's one way that you can try to educate your GMail users so that you can get better deliverability into the primary default inbox rather than being moved in the promotions tab. Now some ESP's will offer a preview function so that you can see what your email will look like whether it's Yahoo!, or GMail, or AOL, or a mail program such as Outlook, you can look and see how it will render. Some ESP's will offer that, not all. Some ESP's will also allow you to run a test across multiple clients. But you may also just want to do that by yourself. Send an email to yourself and see what it looks like in different formats. And also, what a lot of the SPs will offer is a performance report based on domain based emails. So that anyone who offers web based email you can check your deliverability reports and make sure that you’re not dropping in one area or another because of a lack of rendering within that email client.

1.13 Thank You

Working with an email service provider is more than just smart management. It's more than just the tools and the things that they allow you to do. That will make you a better email marketer. What ESPs offer in terms of integration. With your customer management, with your list management, with segmentation, and with measurement, what ESPs offer is a bottom line, a better way of building your business through email marketing. And that's why it is recommended that you would work with them as you see you're email lists increase and as you want to develop you're business better and with a better reputation. This has been email marketing, selecting and working with email service providers. I'm Matt Bailey.

  • Disclaimer
  • PMP, PMI, PMBOK, CAPM, PgMP, PfMP, ACP, PBA, RMP, SP, and OPM3 are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

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