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Choosing the Right Email Marketing Service for Your Business

image for juststock / Getty Images
juststock / Getty Images
  • Email marketing software is designed to help your company reach consumers efficiently and in a way that aligns with your business's style.
  • Email marketing software gives business owners more control over the way they reach their customers and is usually inexpensive.
  • Look for an email marketing service that assigns you a designated representative who is interested in learning about your business and fulfilling your vision.
  • This article is for business owners who want to improve customer engagement with email marketing campaigns and streamline marketing efforts through automation or outsourcing.

Email marketing services are designed to help businesses grow their customer bases and market their services and products. The best email marketing services make it easy to create professional-looking emails, seamless workflows and up-to-date contact or mailing lists. If you're looking for an email marketing service, this guide has everything you need to know, including what email marketing services offer, how to choose one and how they differ from email marketing firms.


Editor's note: Looking for an email marketing service? Fill out the questionnaire below to be connected with vendors that can help.

Email marketing is an online version of direct mail. Instead of mailing fliers and coupons to a customer's home, an email marketing program sends marketing messages digitally to a customer's inbox. Whereas the impact of direct mail can be difficult to track, email marketing lets businesses see exactly who is opening their mail and which messages are leading to sales. Businesses can use email marketing in a variety of ways, such as to build brand loyalty, find new customers and encourage repeat business. You have a choice of an online DIY service or a full-service agency that does all of the work for you. You can read more about the differences between the two below.

If you already know what you're looking for, visit our best picks page to see which email marketing services we recommend and a complete list of vendors.

Here are some of the pros and cons of email marketing:

  • High ROI: Email marketing is less expensive than other types of marketing strategies. Unlike direct mail, email marketing doesn't have printing or postage fees. Those small savings have big financial benefits: According to a Campaign Monitor report, email marketing has a return on investment of 4,400%.
  • Actionable insights: With email marketing, business owners can see which emails were received, which went to disabled email addresses, which were opened, which were deleted right away and which enticed clients to click through to the website. You can then use this information to adjust your campaigns and strategies.
  • High visibility and e-commerce benefits: Email marketing has an advantage over social media because it's more likely to be seen. Emails go directly to someone's inbox, whereas users have to scroll through timelines to see social posts, so there's no guarantee they'll see any given post. Email marketing is also a great way to reach customers whether you have a brick-and-mortar establishment or an online-only business. E-commerce websites greatly benefit from email campaigns, which can encourage users to return to their shopping carts, recommend products and offer discounts. By 2023, 347 billion emails will be sent and received around the globe. Email marketing also leads in return on investment compared to display ads, video and mobile applications.
  • Potential to turn off customers: The main drawback of email marketing is that some people consider the emails to be spam and may form a negative opinion of your brand. If customers feel they are being bombarded with unwanted emails from a business, they will be less likely to become new or repeat customers.
  • Risk of being overlooked: People receive so many emails that they may not even notice your messages.
  • Technological hurdles: It can take a lot of time to learn the ins and outs of email marketing technology.

Key takeaway: Email marketing is a way of reaching consumers through their inboxes, and it has both pros and cons.

Many factors affect how much you pay for email marketing software. Typically, providers charge a monthly fee that is determined by the number of contacts you have and how many emails you intend on sending. 

Prices vary widely, from an average of $10 a month for 500 contacts to $4,000 a month for 1 million contacts. Free versions are a bit more limited in features but offer up to 10,000 messages per month. You can also try a pay-as-you-go method, which allows you to pay per email and for the number of contacts you use instead of committing to a monthly subscription.

Key takeaway: The price of email marketing depends on how many contacts you have and the number of emails you send.

There are many ways brands and businesses can use email marketing services. Here are some types of messages you can send consumers.

  • Newsletters: An email newsletter is sent out regularly, like every week or month, and is an easy way to keep customers informed about your business.
  • Promotional emails: These emails let customers know about upcoming sales. They can be sent in the days leading up to or during the sale.
  • Invitation emails: This type of message keeps clients up to date on special events. You can send invitation emails weeks or days before an event to encourage customers to attend.
  • Catalog emails: You can send these messages to highlight your products or services.
  • Lead-nurturing emails: Designed to spark consumers' interest, these emails are sent regularly to your target audience until a potential customer is converted into a paying customer.
  • Survey emails: You can send questionnaires to learn more about customers' needs, wants, suggestions and level of satisfaction.
  • Transactional emails: You would send these emails after a customer makes a purchase to confirm the transaction, say thank you and encourage the customer to shop with you again.

Now that you have a better idea of what email marketing entails and how it might benefit your business, the next question you need to answer is whether you want to handle the process on your own or hire a dedicated agency to do the work for you.

Key takeaway: The types of emails you can send to connect, advertise and communicate with your customers include newsletters, promotional emails, invitation emails and survey emails.

Email marketing software and email marketing services help you achieve the same goal, but they do so in different ways.

"The difference is that email services are accessed via the internet, using browsers and apps," said marketer and blogger Shane Dutka. "Email marketing software is often hosted on your own device, giving you more control and privacy (at the cost of some features)."

Using email marketing software, users can create and send emails from their device or network. Email marketing services allow you to do the same but through another agency's processing power and network, George Pitchkhadze, chief marketing officer at Thrive Cuisine, told Business News Daily.

Email marketing software tends to be less expensive and faster than email marketing services, but it often is more limited. Email marketing services, by contrast, perform a bit better and are more comprehensive, but they operate more slowly.

"Email marketing services, which use powerful computers and internet connections, are technically better but slower, because it's running on a remote machine," Pitchkhadze said.

Key takeaway: Email marketing services are online, cloud-based platforms supported by third-party companies, while email marketing software is a tool you pay for as a one-time charge and host on your own device.

Here are some of the key features to look for in email marketing software:

  • Email list segmentation: Kimberly Smith, marketing manager at Clarify Capital, suggested finding email marketing software that includes email list segmentation. "Contacts will have varying levels of interest in a product or service or be at different deal stages. It's crucial to meet prospects and existing customers where they're at and to personalize communication accordingly. By leveraging segmentation and targeting, marketers can craft content for a narrower audience, in order to maximize growth and conversions."
  • A/B testing: Seek software that offers or is compatible with A/B testing so you can identify which emails resonate most with your audience. "To maximize ROI, we need to have an understanding of what works best, and A/B testing provides us objective answers, founded in data, regarding effectiveness and optimization," Smith said.
  • Marketing automation tools: This feature is also key because it allows you to send targeted emails to your customers when they sign up for your email list or interact with your website, thus saving you time and helping you reach the right customers.
  • Contact management: Managing your subscribers is a big part of ensuring that you're reaching the right crowd. Contact management allows you to organize your customers by their level of interest and preferences, and helps you eliminate duplicate and unsubscribed contacts.

Key takeaway: The best email marketing software includes list segmentation, A/B testing, marketing automation tools and contact management features.

Finding a quality program is the first step in an effective email marketing plan. Here are some popular email marketing services that are ideal for small businesses:

  • Constant Contact has all of the tools small businesses need to create personalized and professional emails. It also has a very user-friendly interface and a range of pricing tiers that fit a small business's budget. The free trial allows you to try all of the software's features.
  • Benchmark Email is a great low-cost email marketing service. Even the free plan offers 250 emails per month and unlimited contacts. Despite its low price, Benchmark offers tools such as a drag-and-drop editor and its own email template for you to create quality messages.
  • Mailchimp is also a good choice if you are looking for a free email marketing program. Its Forever Free option allows you to send more than 10,000 monthly emails and record 2,000 contacts.

For a more in-depth look at these email marketing services, visit our best picks page.

Email marketing is available as software as a service from a variety of vendors. These services provide businesses with all of the tools to create and execute email marketing campaigns, including templates, email design tools and contact management solutions. Once you create a message and decide which contacts you want to reach, the service sends the emails for you from its servers.

Email marketing software services also provide a variety of analytics to help you improve your campaigns.

  • Low cost: The biggest advantage of using email marketing software is that you can do it all on your own for a relatively low cost. The tools make it easy for people without any HTML or design experience to create and execute a variety of email marketing campaigns. These services also give you an assortment of data to determine if the campaign was a success.
  • Increased traffic: Email marketing software can help drive traffic to your website, thus increasing the possibility of sales.
  • Customization: Using this tool allows you to customize your email marketing campaign. Using email marketing software, you can sort and target your customers by their interests and other traits.
  • Best for: Small businesses that don't want to spend a lot of money on marketing but have the personnel to complete the work when needed.
  • Limited support: The downside is that, for the most part, you are on your own. While most vendors provide technical support options and blogs, it's your job to design and send the email campaign in a timely manner.

Key takeaway: Email marketing software allows business owners to create and execute their own email marketing campaigns. You can pay for this tool monthly or based on what you use. This email marketing tool gives business owners complete control over their email campaign, but that can also be a major downside if you're looking for more guidance and support.

Another option is to use a fully staffed marketing agency that works with you to create a marketing strategy that best suits your business's needs. The agency's staff then creates marketing efforts and email campaigns that align with your overall strategy. The firm also takes care of the design work and deployment.

In addition, the email marketing agency's staff can help with tasks such as A/B testing. The agency also handles all contact management tasks, including building and segmenting your contact list.

The cost of using an agency typically depends on how in-depth your strategy is and how many campaigns you want to run each month. The monthly cost ranges from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

Like the other options, email marketing agencies have both pros and cons. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages.

  • Experience: The biggest benefit of using an email marketing agency is its experience and expertise. Whereas email marketing software typically requires a trial-by-fire approach to determine what works and what doesn't, email marketing agencies already have that knowledge, so they can craft messages with proven records of success.
  • Fixed costs: You can use agencies that offer a fixed fee, which helps you pay within a range you can afford. "Knowing your budget will be fixed helps ease the strains of business a great deal," said Shobha Ponnappa, founder and CEO of Solohacks Academy.
  • Time and resources: Agencies ensure your brand has a clear vision. They are very good at helping businesses map out their goals and plans for their products. "You can keep apace with new trends in email marketing better with an agency that is dedicating quality time and resources to follow research, trends and technology - and translate these into practice for you," Ponnappa said.
  • Best for: Midsize or large businesses that have the money to pay for these firms but don't have the time to manage everything on their own.
  • Cost: The biggest downside is the cost. These agencies can be at least 10 times more expensive than DIY email marketing services. Ponnappa said you may need to pay about $300 to $500 per month to work with a quality agency.
  • Slow results: Email marketing reaps rewards, but slowly. Hiring an agency can reduce some of your workload, but it is still a risk because the company may not be right for your business. It can take a while for you to determine whether an agency is beneficial for your business, which means if you eventually have to switch, it can be a frustrating process.

Key takeaway: The downsides of email marketing agencies are that they are pricey and it may take time to see results.

The right email marketing agency can have a huge impact on your consumer reach and the trajectory of your business. Here some things to consider when choosing an email marketing agency:

  • Find the right fit. Make sure the agency you choose meshes well with your business's goals. Amanda Murray, digital marketing manager at Seoplus+, said you want a company that is willing to understand the complexities of your business and align with your vision.
  • Ensure that it works with your CRM. Make sure your email marketing platform is compatible and integrates smoothly with your customer relationship management software (CRM). "This will help you manage content, customer data and an overview of the performance of your campaigns," Murray said.
  • Ask for a plan. Find an agency that has a short- or long-term plan for your business so you can gauge whether the agency is in step with your goals.
  • Find out their standards. Ask what the agency's day-to-day operations are like and how they go about seeking and pursuing new marketing opportunities for their clients.
  • Ask if you'll have the same rep. It's important to build a steady relationship with your agency, and frequent client management turnover does not help, Ponnappa said. Find out how consistent your representative will be.

Key takeaway: When choosing an email marketing agency, ask about its goals, technology, plan, standards and client representatives.

If you're still unsure whether email marketing is right for you or which type of email marketing to choose, these answers to some frequently asked questions can help you decide:

The best email marketing services have extensive reporting and analytics. To determine if your email marketing campaigns are successful, check these features once an email is sent. The reports should indicate how many people received your email, the click-through rate, bounces and other metrics.

Like all marketing strategies, no two email marketing strategies are the same. An email marketing strategy is designed to help you reach your marketing goals, such as improving your brand recognition, increasing sales or keeping your customers up to date. Once you identify your email marketing goals, you can create a series of emails and workflows with tools such as email automation, templates and list segmentation.

Email marketing is one of the most cost-effective ways to market your products and reach your customers. If done correctly, email marketing campaigns can help you build trust with your customers, encourage users to visit your website and, ultimately, result in more sales and satisfied customers.

Some email marketing services offer a pay-as-you-go option, which means you pay for what you use. Most providers offer monthly plans based on the number of contacts you have. Monthly costs vary greatly. Costs may range from $10 to $15 for 500 contacts to $4,000 for more than 1 million contacts. Some companies offer a free version or free trial.

While you might not hit a home run with your first campaign, email marketing services provide everything you need to eventually become successful. The software offers a wide selection of design tools (including templates and samples) to help you create emails, contact management solutions to help you manage and grow your distribution list, and the analytics to determine if what you're doing is working.

Email marketing solutions offer a variety of tools to help you obtain and manage email addresses from your customers. Most software options integrate with your current email address book to start your list. In addition, many services allow you to embed sign-up forms into your website and social media accounts to grow your contacts. Most software solutions have automatic tools that keep your list up to date by removing inactive addresses and customers who unsubscribe from your emails.

One of the biggest reasons email marketing is so popular with businesses is that you can track its success. Services typically provide details such as how many people opened your email, immediately deleted it, forwarded the email to others, and/or bought your product or service.

You can drill down into the data even more by looking at the days and times emails are being opened, as well as the types of customers (e.g., male, female, old, young) who engage with your emails the most. All of this information helps you increase the success of future campaigns.

Yes, most email marketing services let you take advantage of the social media following you've built. Many providers let you connect your campaigns with your social networks, so your emails automatically post to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social platforms. In addition, the services let you collect email addresses for your contact list with prebuilt social media sign-up pages.

You can also get data on whether your email campaigns are resonating on social media by checking which messages are being liked and shared on Facebook or retweeted on Twitter.

Email marketing software provides many valuable tools and features, including the following:

  • Segmentation tools: These tools allow you to target emails to different types of customers. For example, a retailer might want to highlight its new men's and women's clothing lines, but instead of sending the same message to everyone, the retailer could send separate emails to men and women.
  • A/B testing: This tool allows you to test different versions of your email to see which one resonates better with customers. For example, the emails could contain different subject lines, photos or messages. This feature helps you create campaigns with the best chance of success.
  • Inbox preview: Many services let you see exactly how an email looks within various email clients, such as Outlook or Gmail, as well as on different mobile devices. This feature allows you to make sure your designs look the same regardless of which email client customers are using.
  • Spam filters: This feature helps your emails make it into customers' inboxes instead of getting stuck in spam folders. It examines each email's subject line, links, images and other components, and if a certain aspect of an email is causing it to go to the spam folder, you will know ahead of time and be able to change it before launching your campaign.
  • Mobility: Most providers offer mobile apps that allow you to create and monitor campaigns from your smartphone. Some apps let you see your distribution list.

Yes, most email marketing services integrate with at least some popular business applications. The most common integrations are with Salesforce, WordPress, Shopify and Magento. These integrations save you time and resources by automatically transferring content between your programs and email marketing platform.

In addition, some providers let you tap into their application programming interface (API) to build your own custom integrations.

Most service providers offer customer support through live chat or a toll-free number if you have problems with tasks such as designing an email, managing your contact list and deciphering analytics. Rather than sending an email and waiting hours or days for an answer, you can reach the service and get quick help for the problems you're experiencing. Additionally, most providers have an extensive knowledge base of user guides, videos and whitepapers that explain the ins and outs of the service and how to use each feature.

Ensuring that the software actually delivers your email is one of the most critical aspects of any service. You want a service that delivers your emails to your customers' inboxes, not to their spam folders. Segmentation and automation are also essential features small businesses should look for.

Traditional email marketing is used to communicate with many people at one time. These emails can share information about your business, such as news, promotions and special events. You can send these to your entire subscriber list or only segments of your list.

Transactional emails are sent to individual customers after they take certain actions. For example, when a customer makes an online purchase from a business, the confirmation email they receive is considered a transactional email.

Automation tools allow businesses to set up recurring emails, which automatically go out to certain subscribers based on specific actions they take. For example, if you set up a welcome series, a contact will receive a welcome email once they subscribe to your list.

Now that you know more about email marketing services, which provider is right for you? To narrow down your choices, check out our best picks page, which includes the services we chose as the best for different business needs and the reasons we selected them. If those suggestions don't fit your needs, you can browse our complete vendor list on the same page.

Saige Driver and Chad Brooks contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.


Editor's note: Looking for an email marketing service? Fill out the questionnaire below to be connected with vendors that can help.

Simone Johnson

Simone R. Johnson was born and raised in New York City. She graduated from the University of Rochester in 2017 with a dual degree in English language media and communications and film media production. She has been a reporter for several New York publications prior to joining Business News Daily and business.com as a full-time staff writer. When she isn't writing, she enjoys community enrichment projects that serve disadvantaged groups and rereading her favorite novels.