One of the questions I am asked most frequently is 'which email service provider or delivery platform is the best?'

The answer is 'how long is a piece of string?'

My company, Alchemy Worx use or have used many of the leading email delivery platforms on behalf of our client base, including Bluestreak, Cheetahmail, Digital Impact, Dreammail, Emailvision, Exacttarget, Ezmail, Lyris, Responsys, Silverpop and Twelve Horses.  

But the right solution for a company can only be determined by evaluating a whole list of variables, including...

  • Business focus - B2B, B2C or both?
  • List size.
  • Intended volumes.
  • Intended frequency.
  • Programme complexity.
  • Reputation.
  • The depth of integration with other channels.

Having said that, we have developed some general principles that should help you find the right ESP for your organisation. These guidelines also apply if you are looking for an in-house solution such as StrongMail, Message Systems or Lyris.

First of all, go for the larger companies. Their servers are going to be more robust, they’re likely to have more staff, including a big ISP relations or reputation management team and have the ear of companies such as AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo!.

In particular, ask how many people they have working on ISP relations and reputation management. Ask whether their reporting can give you a breakdown by domain so you can see which ISPs are causing you problems.

For those that prefer it, there are some very good European ESPs to choose from, but don’t be afraid to work with an American company as they dominate the email delivery space. This truly is a global business and experienced companies of scale are often US-based.

Establish how familiar they are with your needs. It makes sense to try to find out what percentage of their clients are of a similar industry, size and have similar needs to you. You can then select the provider with the most clients matching your scale and requirements.

Don’t be seduced by functionality. Technology companies have a tendency to try and dazzle you with capability. The reality is that you are unlikely to get round to using most of that whizzy functionality in the short term and it will be many months, if not years, before you get round to sending highly-personalised messages built up from hundreds of dynamic content segments.

Focus on the functionality you need now or in the very near future. So what you’re really looking for is ease of use and interface speed. The delivery service you choose should have a user-friendly, intuitive interface that makes setting up and automating repetitive tasks straightforward.

Support is also very important, particularly if you’re going for a self-service solution. So ask how quickly they turn around queries, whether they offer telephone support or just email.

Email marketing is all about understanding how your customers are interacting with your communications. So the reporting interface is absolutely critical and there are significant differences between products.

For example, not all technologies allow you to group your mailings by campaign. In some ways, it’s more important to look at the reporting interface than at deployment functionality. Good email marketing is a constant learning and feedback loop, which requires detailed reports.

Remember you know best when it comes to marketing your company’s products and services and the ESPs can only provide you with technology that helps you achieve your objectives. Their tools alone will not turn a poor email marketing strategy or campaign into a good one.

Dela Quist is the CEO of Alchemy Worx .
©  Alchemy Worx 2008 

Related research: Email Marketing Buyer's Guide 

Dela Quist

Published 22 January, 2008 by Dela Quist

Dela Quist is Email Marketing Evangelist & CEO at Alchemy Worx Ltd and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (7)

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Chris Byrne

Chris Byrne, CEO at


Saying "Chose a larger company because their servers are more robust"
is a bit like saying "Chose a larger bank as it is less likely to fail".

Server robustness is not at all linked to size -of course it is important. But equally important is delivery reputation and local support -ie can you call someone in the UK.


over 10 years ago



I was very happy reading this article, since it is years that we work on those points.

We built our system in a marketing perspective. These tools are for marketers and therefore has to work like marketers.

Lets face it, what is really important for a marketer.
A user-friendly interface (if possible in their own native language), clear and understandable reporting (with domainname reporting),
campaign management without the technical fuss and certainly full support (sometimes difficult if you work with a US based company and you work in Europe).

And you don't always have to be a big US company for that, as an example we are presenting our client case at MarketingSherpa Email Summit in Miami.
AND we are the only European speaker ;-)

over 10 years ago

Dela Quist

Dela Quist, Email Marketing Evangelist & CEO at Alchemy Worx Ltd - 100% Email Marketing

Hi Chris

Thanks for your response, it is always good to get feedback - most of our clients are major brands such as The carphone warehouse Sainsbury's Bank and Intercontinental Hotels Group so that part of my advice is aimed at that kind of company.

I also qualified this point by making it clear you should find out what percentage of their clients are of a similar industry, size and have similar needs to you. You can then select the provider with the most clients matching your scale and requirements.

I totally agree that support is important and make that clear, however as per your comment on banks, being able to talk to someone in the UK does not guarantee good support or swift turnaround.


PS The only 2 banks I know that failed in the last 25 years are BCCI and Northern Rock both small ;-)

over 10 years ago

Dela Quist

Dela Quist, Email Marketing Evangelist & CEO at Alchemy Worx Ltd - 100% Email Marketing

Hi Kenny
I agree Alchemy Worx is not a big US company either and I look forward to seeing you at the Insider Summit, I spoke there last year.


over 10 years ago


John Alessi

I think the first decision is whether it makes most sense to purchase a delivery system of your own or outsource the mail to an ESP. Larger organizations with existing custom designed data systems and applications may prefer the integration opportunities provided by a purchased - in house - solution. There is already a new wave of delivery platforms opening up that focus on deep integration with existing systems. For example, Hurricane Server, which is designed for Windows shops who would benefit from an MTA that integrates with their existing SQL databases and other applications. In Hurricane Server's case, developers plug their own .Net code into the process and handle delivery events in real time. For example, updating an address list at the time the message delivery fails. And Hurricane Server's web service API enables developers to automate configuration and administration from their own applications and interfaces.

If you do not have large existing systems however, it might make more sense for you to leverage what ESP's have to offer.

over 10 years ago



Exchanging information between external systems and internal databases are very crucial indeed. Therefore flexible webservices in a good platform are a must.

You benefit from both, the knowledge and deliverability monitoring of your ESP and the data-intelligence in your own infrastructure.

Actually you can do better! Connect and share an ESP platform with and external managed database with customer information.

You use your ESP system to collect and enrich online info, your external managed database to collect offline info. Synchronise both and use that intelligence to optimize both communication channels.

over 10 years ago


Kate Mayfield

Couldn't agree more. The lines are blurring btween email marketing and marketing automation too. So consider the bigger picture before going just for email marketing, when marketing automation may get you further, faster.

over 8 years ago

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