More Expensive Doesn’t Mean Better When it Comes to Email Service Providers

Trying to pin down the right choice of email service provider can be tough. There are so many and it is hard to see which will be best for you. ESPs makes promises and offer their feature sets at varying price points. But does more expensive also means better for you? Turns out, not all the time.

More expensive ESPs don’t always offer much more than their moderately-priced competitors.

As Marketing Manager of a fast growing ESP, we keep a very close eye at prices of email marketing solutions. Pricing is important, some companies build their whole strategies around pricing alone, and we take it seriously.

Just the other day a customer asked me a question that comes up all of the time: How come the prices differ between companies so much? They all basically help you get those emails sent, right? Then why some Email Service Providers are so expensive?

Well, they don’t do everything the same, it is a bit more nuanced. But indeed, sometimes there is literally nothing that justifies the higher price of one ESP comparing to another with the same features. Just because a service asks more money doesn’t mean that they are actually delivering a better product.

more expensive ESP

That’s like having a gold-plated toothbrush (with built in cappuccino maker). It is still a regular toothbrush, just a very expensive one. And you are always out of fresh beans. The cappuccino maker seemed like a good idea when looking at it at the shop, but you never ended up using it.

Sometimes a higher price tag means more sophisticated features. That is OK if you use them. Problem is that a lot of companies turn out not to use those extra sophisticated features. An ESP might offer features that you are paying for, but end up not using.

Research by Kath Pay and Holistic email showed that on 3 in 10 marketers use more than 60% of the features offered by their ESP. You could say they are not making the most of the platform they are using, you could also say that they are overpaying for the features they aren’t using.

ESP functionalities used
Source: Holistic Email vendor satisfaction report

If you don’t have experience in email marketing, evaluating the different options available can be almost impossible. Pairing down your options by features offered is a good start, but you can’t evaluate a solution until you dive in. Take advantage of any demos or free trial offers that the company makes available.

For most companies, once they begin working with an email marketing solution, it is often too big of a hassle for them to look elsewhere. That makes the choice that you make on your first evaluation incredibly important.

Email Software Pricing and What Effects It

The price that you pay for your email marketing service will depend on a number of factors including the volume of mail that you would like to send, the automation features that you require, and the level of support that you will need. Still, the price of similar services will range quite a bit. There is plenty of cheap email marketing software, but are they any good?

And then there are cases where Email Service Providers overpromise and underdeliver. That said, there are perfectly good reasons why a solution may require premium pricing, or be cheaper than the competition.

Do you need a small market, mid-sized, or enterprise solution? While in some cases it might make sense to choose a solution that you can grow into. Stepping up into a solution that offers features that you don’t need will cost more and cut into your budget.
Pay for the ESP you need

There are solid email providers at cheaper price points. In fact, for many businesses a cheaper email service provider is the right choice. They don’t have to send the volume or require the features that would necessitate an enterprise ESP.

Opting for the cheapest option can be tempting. Especially when low-dollar options can often look similar to high-dollar solutions. However, there are certain situations where choosing a cheaper email provider is the wrong idea.

Some of the reasons to choosing a bit more expensive ESP service will be good for your business include:

  • When you miss out on required features in exchange for savings.
  • When cheaper email service providers skimp on customer support.
  • When the cheaper alternatives’ interface is clunky or difficult to use.
  • When you sacrifice deliverability rate for a lower price point.

It all comes down to what you need. Cheaper providers can be the perfect choice in your circumstance. Let’s outline what you should look for in an email service provider.

What to look for in an email service provider

Picking the right email service provider isn’t easy. There are so many different features. Every company should start by determining what they actually need from an email service provider. There are a few traits that every company should look for:

  • Easy-to-use interface. Every marketer needs a solution that is easy to use and understand. Complicated systems will take more time and training to get started. And increase the chance your team will make mistakes. As you begin to evaluate different solutions, have the team members that will be using them try them out and provide feedback. Many solutions will provide a demo or free trial before you are required to make a commitment.
  • Advanced reporting. You have to be able to measure the effectiveness of your email campaigns. Make sure the solution offers advanced reporting, or integrations with an analytics suite that you currently use. Being able to measure click through rates, conversion rates, email bounce rates, and forwarding rates are integral for knowing how your subscribers are interacting with your emails while helping you to optimize for specific metrics over time. While companies that only send out basic broadcast newsletters may only require basic reporting, more advanced features are something that they can grow into as their email marketing strategies become more advanced.
  • Positive reviews. There are many place to find online ESP reviews from experts or customers. My tip is to skip looking at the overall score. Read the text of the reviews and to get an idea of the pros and cons of each individual platform.
  • High-quality customer service. Over your time with an email service provider, you will undoubtedly run into issues. Make sure that provider that you choose provides the type of support that you prefer, whether that is phone, email, ticket system, or even chat.

These are some good baseline qualities to start with as you evaluate email service providers. Narrow down your initial lists by removing solutions that don’t meet these basics.

How to spot a bad apple ESP

Spotting a bad apple email service provider can be tough. Many companies don’t find out that they’ve chosen a provider that won’t fit their needs until they are already using them.

With that said, there are a few key traits that you can look for to spot a bad apple:

  1. A poor website. A company’s website can say a lot about them. If an email service provider has a low-quality or unprofessional website, that shouldn’t give you a lot of confidence in the backend of their system. Steer clear of providers that don’t appear to have a modern website, or haven’t been updated in a long time. It says a lot about their attention to detail.
  2. Is a reseller or uses a third-party engine. Some email providers actually resell other solutions or use a third-party SMTP engine. Generally you should try to avoid these companies as they often have to middleman support requests and don’t have the in-house expertise. Charge higher prices than the original third-party company that created the software or service.
  3. Doesn’t respond to negative public reviews. If a company doesn’t respond to negative public reviews (or responds poorly), you can take that as a definite sign of a bad apple. Either they don’t care enough to respond, or they have too many bad reviews to keep up. You should choose to work with companies that attempt to make good on poor experiences.
  4. Tiny team. To properly run an ESP, you need a team at least of enough to have the customer support and further development of the platform. Some of the ESPs only have a handful of people working there. A sign to be extra vigilant.
  5. Lacking detailed support documentation. This falls under the “customer support” branch. You won’t always want to go through the process of asking for help when you run into an issue or are trying to figure out how to do something within your platform. A lack of support documentation and usage guides shows that the company isn’t doing their due diligence to ensure that they provide an exceptional service.
  6. Poor deliverability rates. If your emails aren’t getting to your customers, that is a problem. Different email providers have different deliverability rates and there is no single provider that can guarantee that every email will be delivered. Still, it’s important that you are able to find studies about the deliverability rate of the platform that you are considering.

Email deliverability comparison

The deliverability of your emails has to be one of the most important considerations when you are shopping for an email service provider at any cost. If you can’t rely on your customers receiving your marketing emails, it will have a negative effect on every campaign that you send.

You might be surprised to find huge names of famous ESPs are toward the bottom of the list. The importance of email deliverability has never been more apparent than seeing the 20% deliverability difference.

ESPs are able to improve delivery rates by only taking on legitimate customers that won’t injure their reputation, and using proper technical settings and authentication. Talk to your new ESP about their deliverability. Great ESPs put a lot of effort into managing and improving the deliverability of their customers’ emails.


More expensive doesn’t always mean better, especially when it comes to email service providers. While premium pricing is generally a sign of quality, that is not always the case. Understanding what you need from your provider and knowing how to weed out the bad apples at any price point will help you make the right choice.

About Marcin Puś

Marketing Manager at Elastic Email. Specializing in online marketing for over 10 years. Working with large brands but also local companies, helping them climb up the ladder. Speaker, blogger, content creator, enthusiast of new technologies. Interested in the ways in which technology is changing people’s interaction with each other, and the impact it has on marketing.

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