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