Email marketing is a vital aspect of any marketing plan and email marketing solutions should help address a number of key issues. The ideal ESP should help a marketer automate common messages or campaigns, service shoppers using mobile devices, deal with list maintenance, and much more. Every email service provide offers the same basic set of features and functions, including the ability to send bulk email messages; some form of layout or template system; and rudimentary list management. Beyond these basics, marketers will want to be able to automate and optimize email marketing messages and campaigns. 1. Message Automation Email message automation is one of the most powerful features an ESP can offer it is the 21st century after all and you shouldn’t be doing manual sends each and every time for every email. This automation feature typically allows marketers to send emails in response to a specific action or to send email messages in a series based on some set of rules. As an example, let us consider an automated welcome series for an ecommerce site. A shopper subscribes to a seller’s newsletter, triggering an automated welcome message, thanking the shopper for subscribing, and offering an opportunity to confirm the subscription. When the shopper confirms, a second email is triggered, thanking the shopper for the confirmation and offering 10 percent off on an upcoming order. There could be other emails in the workflow too. If a user doesn’t confirm the subscription in 48 hours, a follow up email may be sent. Another example of message automation might have to do with transactions. When a retailer’s website is tightly integrated with the retailer’s ESP, transaction messages, like order confirmations and shipping confirmation, can be included in the automation workflow. Actions might be taken if the recipient doesn’t open messages or, perhaps, a message could be sent a week after the order arrived to ensure that the product is working out. 2. HTML, Responsive Layout Nearly every ESP will allow marketers to send email messages in plain text format or as HTML. But the best ESPs are now allowing HTML and CSS for the purpose of creating responsive email templates that adapt to the recipient’s device. Effectively, this is mobile optimization for email. In many cases, employing responsive design with email templates will require at least a basic understanding of HTML and CSS, but the key is that the ESP gives users enough design and template latitude to make responsive design work. This also means that marketers are going to want to avoid ESPs that use HTML table-based layouts. 3. Advanced List Maintenance Adding and removing email subscribers is a fundamental feature that every ESP offers. Don’t settle for this. Expect your ESP to automatically remove hard bounces — i.e., invalid email addresses — and soft bounces after some number of failures. Opt-outs, subscription changes, and similar should all be automated too. And look for the ability to set up list management rules that help keep everything clean and up to date. 4. CAN-SPAM Compliance Built-in The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003 defines the U.S. standard for sending commercial emails and grants the U.S. Federal Trade Commission the right to enforce those standards. The act includes requirements for how subscriptions are managed and includes content and sending behavior requirements and guidelines. Look for an ESP that takes the lead in help to ensure that the messages sent in the U.S. meet the act’s requirements. Many nations have similar laws. And some ESP can help with these too. 5. Easy Integration Email marketing may work best when it is closely integrated with other systems or services. ESPs should offer easy-to-use APIs or platform extensions that allow email capabilities to be added at the very least to an ecommerce platform. But there may be opportunities to integrate email capabilities and workflows with mobile apps, social apps, or loyalty programs to name a few possibilities. A few examples of beneficial ESP integrations might include a connector for Google Analytics to track email clicks and conversions; an integration with Strikeiron’s cloud-based email verification; or a connection to 4-Tell’s product recommendation tool to send personalized messages. 6. Dedicated IP Address In email marketing parlance, a dedicated Internet Protocol address is one that only your business uses to send messages. Having your own IP address can improve deliverability. This feature is really intended for organizations sending a significant number of messages. When considering ESPs, look for this capability, even if your business isn’t ready for it at first. As the business grows, a dedicated IP address can improve deliverability. 7. Deliverability Help Email marketing won’t work if the messages aren’t getting through, and while email marketers may not have a lot of experience with deliverability, ESPs should. Look for an ESP that is willing to share that information in the form of content that shows some of the basic email deliverability best practices, tools that look for deliverability issues in a particular message or campaign, and data that provides feedback about deliverability. Ultimately, the marketer should be looking for an email partner.