Make Usability Part of Your Email Service Providers Comparison

Why isn’t usability ranked higher among the factors to consider when searching for a new email service provider? In fact, why is there so little mention of it?

An ESP is really only as good as the people who use it…and if it’s unusable, it’s no good at all. Usability matters, here is how to properly evaluate usability when doing an email service providers comparison.

Evaluating an ESP’s usability

Do a search on “evaluating an ESP’s usability” in Google and you’ll only get a few results… and most of them will either be or point to a blog I wrote about the subject before. This raises the question, “Why aren’t marketers concerned about usability?” and reiterates to me the importance of going over usability once again.

When we originally published that usability post, Laura Atkins a well-known deliverability expert linked to it saying people often think about email deliverability when looking for the best email service provider. She tells them most reputable ESPs are pretty even in deliverability, and that price, features, and usability are what matter. It’s a really good point, and many marketers forget to consider usability when doing an email service providers comparison.

Why ESP usability matters

If your new ESP doesn’t have an intuitive interface your team finds easy to use, will your team even use all those cool features you sought out during the long and drawn out RFP process? If segmenting is a science and analysis causes paralysis, all the whistles and bells you’ve signed on for will remain silent. The fancy features won’t be used and you’ll start to wonder why you invested all that time and energy to switch ESPs in the first place. And if that doesn’t convince you, consider this: A lack of usability can even mean more mistakes!

How to determine what to look for when evaluating usability

I can’t give you a checklist of features to look at when evaluating usability. That’s because it’s subjective. There isn’t onebest email service provider. You need to start with your team and the others in your organization who might be using the ESP platform. They are the ones who will ultimately determine what makes a platform usable or not.

Who will use it?

First determine which people and departments will use the email service provider’s platform, and even who might potentially use it in the future. Think outside the email team. Will accounting use the platform? What about public relations? Will it be used for internal communications, say for example, a company newsletter? Once you know who will use it, then honestly evaluate their capabilities as users.

How often will they use it?

Next consider how often each team will use it. Keep in mind the occasional user won’t become intimately familiar with the interface in the same way the daily user will.

What do you want to be able to do?

Next consider what it is that you want to be able to do. Are you switching ESPs so you can do more segmentation? Triggered email? Email integration? Dynamic content? Better mobile marketing? Make a list of the reasons why you’re looking for a new email service provider, and a separate list of what you want to be able to do. If you already made it, you can use (part of) your ESP requirements list for inspiration.

How to evaluate an email service provider’s usability

Now that you are armed with and knowledgeable about your users and their capabilities, as well as familiar with your goals and desired features, you are ready to evaluate usability.

Create a list based on the information you gathered above. Include everything you and everyone else involved needs to be able to do, from email creation to list management to reporting to whatever else there might be. Chances are you won’t get everything you want, so my suggestion is to rank these items in some way to indicate which need to be really easy and which can be more challenging.

For example, if accounting will use the platform once a month to create an email to vendors, maybe email creation should be really easy. On the other hand, if dynamic content will be handled by a top-notch and sophisticated email team, maybe it can be more complicated and can be ranked as lower in importance.

Consider the interface and how intuitive it is—or isn’t. Objectively rate the platform for ease of navigation. See how easy it is or isn’t to generate actionable reports on email statistics. What tasks can be automated and how hard is it to do? Remember to evaluate the whole platform and every tool, whether you plan to use it or not. I don’t mean to make sure every single tool is really easy to use and intuitive to figure out. But test drive every tool, whether you think it will be used or not.

The best way to test an ESP’s usability

The best—and really only—way to test usability when doing an email service providers comparison is to use the interface in a live environment. Sure the demo will show you a little of what you need to know. But you need the controls in your own hands and you yourself need to set a goal and see if you can accomplish it without too much difficulty. Also consider having your team members or staff take the interface for a test drive, or even someone not in your department but who will probably use the ESP after it’s up and running.

Usability matters…a lot. Make sure to include it in any ESP evaluation you do.

About Marco Marini

With 25 years in business, Marco is a walking encyclopedia of all things email: best practices, technologies, trends, and more. Marco is currently the COO of iPost, an email platform built for marketers by marketers. iPost an easy, flexible, dynamic marketing automation solution for email and mobile marketing. He has also held key marketing positions with CyberSource, ClickMail, eHealthInsurance, DoveBid and IBM Canada.

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