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Using a 3rd party service for email marketing

When conducting email marketing there are generally two options: you can use a third party service or rely on a self-hosted solution. In nearly all cases we recommend the former, with MailChimp currently being our favourite.

A self-hosted solution can range from a simple contact list in Microsoft Outlook to more specialised software such as Interspire Email Marketer.

The advantages of a third party service are:

  • Reliability. This is the key reason to use a third party. Generally they will work hard to maintain the integrity of their mailservers and establish trust across the Internet, which means an increase in the number of your emails that are successfully delivered. With a self-hosted solution you’ll be relying on your own mailserver (or the mailserver of your web host) which could, if you’re unfortunate, get blacklisted for spamming or in many cases have its outgoing emails delayed or rejected. These problems can occur with a third party provider but they usually have a team of people constantly at hand to spend time resolving such issues.

  • Statistics. The best third party providers including MailChimp, Aweber and Constant Contact offer a suite of reporting services which help to track your campaigns and enable you to gauge their success. Blasting emails out through Microsoft Outlook won’t allow you to monitor, track or carry out reporting on your campaign’s effectiveness.

  • Management. You need to be able to manage your mailing lists efficiently. This can involve segmenting your lists, setting up auto-responders and reviewing which subscribers are the most active. People should be able to subscribe and unsubscribe from your list automatically without manual intervention on your part.

  • API (Application Programming Interface). Most third party solutions have a robust API which allows a reliable and stream-line integration of your mailing list with your website, blog and Facebook page.

  • Usability. Whether composing a newsletter or managing your lists, email marketing can be a time-consuming task. The easier the system is to work with the quicker your job will be. With hundreds of thousands of users the good third party providers have worked hard to make their systems easy to understand and a pleasure to use. Additional features such as junk score indicators and in-box testing enable you to dry-run your campaigns through a variety of different email clients and get an indication of how likely they are to be classified as spam. You’ll also find that a good provider updates their system regularly by adding new features, whereas a self-hosted solution may incur upgrade fees and require re-installation at a later date.

That’s all very well, but what about the cost?

One of the disadvantage of a third party service is the on-going cost. This will vary depending on the size of your mailing lists and the number of emails you intend to send each month. That said, the benefits discussed above normally outweigh the cost.

At the time of writing this article, MailChimp charges a monthly fee of approximately £50 for between 5,000 to 10,000 subscribers and for this price you can send an unlimited number of emails to your lists. To put this into perspective, if you had a conventional mailing list of 5,000 people and you sent them a single mailing each month this would work out as follows:

5,000 x 2nd class stamps £2,500
5,000 x envelopes £100
5,000 printed leaflets (excluding design costs) £350
Total minimum cost £2,950

These prices don’t include design costs or envelope stuffing, but still help to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of email marketing.