How to Choose the Right Email Marketing Software for Your Business

Picking the right email marketing software for your business seems simple enough. There are many different options out there.

But once you start looking, you’ll quickly realize that this variety makes the process more overwhelming than easy if you don’t know what to look for.

It’s easy to wind up with a solution that doesn’t justify its price. Or worse, isn’t the right fit for your business and marketing goals.

This guide will walk you through how to choose an email marketing platform that: (a) your team will love, and (b) will help you crush your marketing goals.

Follow these steps to learn what to look for and find that sweet spot between cost, relevance, and value:

  1. Define what you need it for
  2. Define what features your business needs
  3. Create a shortlist of email marketing software
  4. Test shortlisted apps before commitment
  5. Choose an app

1. Define what you need it for

Deciding what you want to use your email marketing app for sets the stage for everything else. Not all platforms can perform the same tasks equally: some are better fits for specific tasks or email types than others.

What type of emails do you want to send?

Your business may use two or all three of the following email types, but you probably rely on some more than others. Decide which email types are most critical to your enterprise and focus on finding apps built to handle them well.

Newsletters: Newsletters often contain product updates, business news, blog roundups, educational content, or other stories relevant to your audience. Many businesses use newsletters to engage and build trust with their audience.

Here’s what one newsletter from Phrasee looks like:

newsletter example from Phrasee

Drip campaigns: Drip campaigns are email sequences sent at automatic intervals based on a subscriber’s actions and whether or not they meet some predefined criteria. You may know them as behavioral or lifecycle emails.

Promotional and welcome or onboarding email series are examples of drip campaigns. So are recommendations based on your audience’s activity on your website and lead nurturing or retargeting campaigns.

Here’s a welcome drip sequence from Basic Piece:

drip email sequence example from Basic Piece

Transactional emails: Transactional emails are triggered in response to specific actions your recipients take on a website. These are common when making purchases and other financial transactions on a website. However, password resets and subscription confirmations also fall under this category.

Here’s an example of a transactional email I recently got from Bamboo:

transactional email example from Bamboo

How complex are the tasks you want it to perform?

Decide how complex the tasks you want your email marketing software to handle are. For example, do you want to create simple automation workflows or intricate workflows only advanced marketing automation tools can handle?

Also, consider dependencies and how email marketing integrates with other parts of your business. This can help you decide if you want an email-specific marketing automation tool like GetResponse or an all-in-one marketing solution like Marketo.

2. Define what features your business needs

After defining what you need the app for, list all the features essential to helping you meet those needs and crush your marketing goals.

Don’t mix up essential features with those you simply find desirable. 

For example, advanced automation might be essential if you need to activate drip sequences or adjust audience segments based on hyper-specific triggers. But you may not need it if you mostly send newsletters or drip campaigns to fairly broad audiences.

While desirable features can be beneficial in helping you reach your marketing goals, they often distract you from what matters. Put them in a separate list and only consider them as your budget and other needs allow.

The features you prioritize will depend on your business type and the complexity of your marketing activities. But here are some basic things to look out for while evaluating your options:

Mobile-responsive templates and customization: Mobile devices now account for 43% of email views, so you want an email marketing platform with customizable mobile-responsive templates and the option to import or build yours from scratch.

Automation: Automation is a marketing essential today, but how you use it will depend on your business. Email marketing apps have different automation capabilities, so only focus on those that can meet your needs.

A/B testing: A/B testing lets you send out multiple versions of the same email with one tweaked variable and compare their performance.

Audience segmentation: Segmentation allows you to separate your audience into multiple target groups using the data you have about them. How much segmentation you need depends on your goals and the complexity of the data you have.

Analytics and reporting: Analytics gives you insight into audience engagement and the effectiveness of your campaigns. At a minimum, you should be able to view open rates, click-through rates, bounce rates, and unsubscribes.

Depending on your business, other features you might find important include:

Lead scoring: This feature assigns points to leads based on their actions. It’s useful for qualifying leads and separating ready-to-buy prospects from those still far from converting.

Dynamic content: This feature helps you personalize your emails by altering what parts recipients see based on their actions, preferences, or assigned segment.

3. Create a shortlist of email marketing software

Once you’ve determined what you want out of your software, it’s time to create a shortlist. Ask colleagues and team members for recommendations. Feel free to consult online lists from sources or industry experts you trust.

You’ll likely find several options that check your boxes, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Focus on learning the key differences between each platform. List each software’s best features, drawbacks, and added benefits on a spreadsheet for your team to review.

Define what further criteria email automation tools on your shortlist must meet and read reviews from real people who have used the apps to whittle down your list. Keep your list as short as possible but as long as necessary.

Things to consider

Feature fit: You might find multiple services with some of the features you need but none with all the features you need. Or you might find many with all the features you need but none with all these features developed to the standard you need them.

In such cases, consider how aligned each app’s strongest features are with your needs and prioritize accordingly.

Pricing and budget: Look past the upfront costs. Will the solution still be affordable down the line as your list grows and you employ more features? Also, consider the costs of third-party tools the service might need to function well.

Scalability: You probably don’t plan to operate at the same level forever. Ensure the app you choose can scale up to accommodate your business growth and evolving marketing needs.

Ease of migration: You’re allowed to change your mind about your email marketing app. Choose clients that make moving your data over easy.

Deliverability: Your emails should reach your audience’s inboxes, not their spam or other obscure folders. Select marketing tools with excellent deliverability rates with all major email service providers. Aim for 95% or better.

Reliability: The best email marketing platforms provide a way to back up your data or do it themselves. They also have a robust security architecture and comply with data and privacy laws.

4. Test shortlisted apps before commitment

Most email marketing platforms offer free trials or let you request demos. Assemble a team to test those on your shortlist before committing to one.

Your test team should include reps from all departments that’ll use or maintain the software.

Create accounts with each app and import the emails of your test team members. Send multiple emails to your team and experiment with each platform’s features. Make sure to document this process so you can articulate the differences between each platform when deciding which software to go with.

Prioritize the features most relevant to your marketing goals, but feel free to play around with features you don’t understand much. You might discover additional benefits you didn’t know about.

While testing each app, pay attention to:

Ease of use: How intuitive is the app’s navigation? Is the user interface clutter-free? Consider how much training your team needs to get started relative to each app’s features and benefits.

Evaluating ease of use can be subjective, but you can make it more objective by documenting things like:

  • The number of clicks you need to get something done.
  • The placement of vital features.
  • The distance between co-dependent features.
  • The clarity of in-app cues and explanations.

You don’t just want a solution that works. You want an email marketing software your team will enjoy using with minimal difficulty.

Email rendering: Do your emails appear how you designed them on different devices and screen types?

Integration: How well does the app integrate with existing software like your CRM, CMS, and other third-party tools? Choose an email marketing platform that can easily communicate with your third-party integrations without sacrificing data or functionality.

Analytics: What metrics does the software track? How easy it is to make sense of reports and convert them into actionable insights? How does the quality of analytics compare to what your business needs?

Support: Test how fast and how well the support team responds to queries. See if there’s a knowledge base you can consult. If there is, note how useful the resources it provides are.

5. Choose an app

After testing, compare notes and comments about each app from everyone on your test team to eliminate weak contenders and settle on a solution. How you do this is up to you.

You can eliminate apps by letting everyone assign points on a scale to each service based on how well they meet your qualification criteria. These points are more helpful if they are relative.

So let’s say you’re assigning points based on ease-of-use, you could rate each service on a scale of 1-10 based on how easy it was to use compared to others apps you tested.

What if you can’t decide between two or more strong contenders?

Not every step in choosing an email marketing service for your business will be 100% objective. But if you’ve done your homework well, your top contenders will all be excellent choices for your business. Go with the option most members of your team like.

If you change your mind down the road, you can always switch to other options.

Final thoughts

Once you’ve decided on an email marketing software for your business, start small, then scale up as your business grows. This could mean starting with a free plan or the smallest paid option that meets your needs.

The right email marketing app for you isn’t always the best option for everyone—it just needs to meet your needs best. So don’t be afraid to go with a service that’s perfect for your needs and budget just because it’s not #1 on every online list.

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