Picking the best email hosting provider is an important step in getting your small business off the ground. But how do you know which one is right with so many options and plans to choose from? Do you get one that just has webmail, or do you need desktop mail too? What about email service providers that have bells and whistles like marketing analytics and unique templates? To decide on the best email hosting service for your business, you need to start with an email strategy.
Establish How Email Fits into Your Overall Business Strategy
In most businesses, email is the primary way to communicate with both customers and employees. When it comes to marketing, it’s far more effective than using social media to attract new prospects and nurture customers. That’s why when you’re picking the best email hosting service, you need to think of the big picture that goes past communication.
What kind of role will email play in your business? The answer to this question is key when analyzing which email service provider to go with. Will you use email for communicating internally, or will it also be used as an external marketing tool? What kind of metrics do you want to track with your emails? Do you want your email recipients to be able to view their emails on mobile? What about A/B testing subject lines and messaging templates? And most importantly, how many people in your organization will need an email address?
Consider these questions when you’re developing your email strategy. There are no right or wrong answers – only what’s right for your unique business. Once you’ve figured out the role email plays in your organization, you can determine what kind of features you’ll need in your email service provider.
Prioritize the Features You’ll Need
With your email strategy in place, you can start looking at what you want your email service provider to do for you. When reviewing features, keep your top-level goals in mind. For example, if you’re going to be using email to nurture leads, you’ll want to pay attention to features like segmentation and personalization.
Consider the following features when researching email service providers for your small business:
More than anything, you’ll need an email service provider that has a smooth user experience. Learning to use your email needs to be quick, easy, and seamless. After all, if you’re having to spend hours figuring out how to segment your lists, for example, you’re taking time away from your other important business tasks. Focus on the usability and user experience of your email hosting provider. Another way to go is to check customer reviews to see what other small business owners have to say about it.
Webmail vs. Desktop Mail
Webmail enables you to read, send, and manage mail through a web browser – think Gmail, for example. With webmail, you can access your emails from anywhere that has Internet. This service is perfect for those who don’t want to download apps onto their devices and prefer to access email over the web. If you frequently use public computers, this may be the best option for you.
Desktop mail comes through an email client, like Microsoft Outlook. In this case, you have to download email software onto your device, and you receive and send emails through that application. One of the key benefits of using desktop mail is that you can access your emails while you’re offline, like on a flight or long train ride. Desktop mail is ideal for those who want to manage multiple email accounts from the same application, and want to download their emails onto their device.
Templates and Email Builders
This feature is key if you’re going to be sending out marketing emails. Look for an email service provider that gives you the ability to easily create eye-catching and sophisticated emails for your audience without spending too much time figuring out design or code. This way, you can build engaging emails with text blocks, videos, images, social media icons, and more. Opt for one that has a variety of email templates with flexible layouts. Make sure that the layouts are mobile-friendly.
Building an email list is a critical aspect of email marketing. The best email hosting providers offer various subscription forms that you can use on your website, such as those embedded on a webpage, included in a popup, or as a floater. Check that you can customize the form with your brand colours and form fields, and try to add it to your website to ensure they work together.
Not all of your customers have the same needs. Using an email service provider that offers segmentation is a huge plus, especially if it’s important to send highly targeted messages to your audience. This way, you can group lists by specific criteria like demographics or customer history.
At the very least, email recipients want to see that you’ve included their name in the email. Look for an email service provider that enables you to add personalized data to your email content, such as names and purchase preferences.
Schedulers, Auto Send, and Triggered Emails
In business, timing is everything. You want to make sure you’re sending the right emails to the right people at the right time – but you can’t be glued to your computer all day to do it. Scheduling enables you to set up your email and have it sent at a particular day and time. Auto Send and Triggering let you send emails based on specific actions (or inaction). For example, if a customer makes a purchase, you can automatically send them a thank you email. If a prospect doesn’t open an email, you can send them another one with a different subject line.
Analytics is a particularly useful feature when you’re sending email campaigns. Work with an email service provider that lets you track the important metrics, such as open-rates, click-throughs, bounces, and unsubscribes, and those that show you heat maps.
Here’s the thing – just because you sent an email, it doesn’t mean it’s going to land in someone’s inbox. Email delivery rates aren’t 100%. That’s why it’s important to check with your email service provider about how reliable their delivery is and what delivery rates they can guarantee. Many will also provide you with the best practices you can implement to improve your delivery rates.
Review the Security Measures
Aside from features, security is vital. After all, you don’t want a security breach where your confidential data – and your customers’ confidential data – is leaked. Check if your email service provider follows security standards like SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance). You’ll also want to learn what encryption keys are used and how secure they are.
Understand Integration Opportunities
Like most businesses, email won’t be the only technology you use in your organization. Depending on the apps and programs you use, you might want to check if your email service provider can integrate with these (it could be calendars, point-of-sale, project management, sales automation, or customer relationship management tools).
Don’t Forget Catchall and Spam Filters
When it comes to email, make sure you get the right email in the right places. A catchall feature lets you forward incoming mail to a primary ID. For example, if an employee leaves the company, you can forward all their incoming mail to your inbox. Spam filters do the opposite job – they make sure you don’t get emails that will waste your time and energy. Look for an email hosting provider with a strong spam filter that kicks out junk but lets in important messages.
Research the Customer Support
From time to time, you may run into a question you can’t answer on your own, or may experience a problem with your email that you need help with. Having professional customer support can be a huge blessing to busy business owners. Review what the provider’s customer service and support program are like, and whether they offer an online resource center.
Know Your Budget
Your budget will vary depending on your business’s goals and what role email plays in your strategy. Most email service providers offer tiered packages, where there is a free plan and multiple paid plans. Where possible, try out the free plan to see that it provides the usability level you need and then pay for the important features. Note that some email service providers charge a fee based on the number of email addresses you have, whereas others charge by how many emails you send.
Always Look at the Big Picture
When it comes to email, it’s important not to see it as just another tool for your business. Email is an integral part of your business that goes far beyond communication. It can help you convert prospects, make sales, and increase revenue. Be sure to align your email service provider with your overall business goals, and you will see the results.