Which email software do they use? Sniff out any ESP

If you love how a business or celebrity handles their digital and email marketing, you may just fall head over heels for the email marketing service they use too.

So if you want to know which email marketing software and services they are using, figure it out in no time with this quick how-to guide which shows exactly what to look for.

How to know which email marketing software a sender uses?

Before we get to that, first a pop quiz. Quick, what’s the first postal service that comes to your mind?

Don’t tell me! 🙂 Let me guess:

“Royal Mail” if you hail from the UK. “US Postal Service” on the other side of the pond. “La Poste” for you French chaps. Maybe you went with DHL, TNT, UPS and perhaps FedEx – or simply your own country’s main postal provider.

Was I too far off the mark? Probably not. It just happens there aren’t that many postal services around. Welcome to a life of easy choices for all your snail-mailing needs.

Now try to do the same for email marketing providers.

Welcome to a dizzying maelstrom of hundreds of players in email marketing.

Which ESP are you going to pick from the lot? Which one fits your particular bill? If you’re just starting out or switching from your current vendor, the prospect is daunting (emailvendorselection.com lists a whopping 400 ESPs!). Google will tell you which vendors are the most popular and have the best SEO, word of mouth will tell you all about someone else’s particular groove, but hardly anyone will tell you the exact ESP that works best for you – and have the data to prove it.

What would you role model send with?

So what are you going to do? Ask yourself this: what would your role model do?

Great news – your role model has done it already! Look at your hero company, the one that truly inspires you. Or your go-to marketing guru. Which email vendor is fan-favourite Apple using? Or Richard Branson? Better yet, how about Cristiano Ronaldo? Ronaldo can do now wrong, right? He must have this ESP business pretty well figured out! Right? Right?

I’ll leave it for you to find out 😉 Still, you don’t really need to delve into top dogs. It’s all well and good that you get to know how Amazon, Sony or the American Marketing Association deliver their emails, but you’re better off looking at companies which are similar in size to your own or marketers who think and act like you do. If you love how they work, there is a pretty good chance you’ll also love the ESP they’ve chosen.

And lucky you, I’m here to help you track it down!

How should you go about it then?

If you haven’t subscribed to your dream company’s newsletter (come on, what kind of fan are you anyway?), make sure to do so now. When you receive their first email, scroll down and…

Look at the footer

This seems obvious, but it’s easily overlooked if you’re just starting out. Quite a few entry-level ESPs add their own badge or a “powered by” banner to the footer of all emails sent. It works as both branding and an anti-spam attention-getter, letting subscribers know this isn’t just a regular old email we’re talking about – it’s a sleek, carefully delivered message which abides by email marketing standards. Think of it as really nicely packaged, insured, first-class mail.

The cool side effect of all that plastering stuff? By simply clicking the banner you’ll be taken to the ESP’s site, which usually includes a trial version for you to put through its paces.

But what if there’s no banner? Then simply…

Look at the links in the email

Virtually all ESPs convert email links into trackable versions so they can pinpoint who clicked through and provide their users with an array of useful metrics. Those trackable links are hosted by the ESP themselves, which means all you need to do is copy any link in the email, paste it into your browser and delete everything but the top-level domain. Press enter and bam!, you’ll be right at the ESP’s site.

“Uh-oh, the email links are not trackable versions”, you say? Fear not…

Look at the unsubscribe link

The opt-out link is almost always hosted by the ESP, as they need it to process unsubscribes. You should notice that the domain of the unsubscribe link is different than the one used for other, standard links in the email. So just copy the link, keep the top-level domain, paste it into your browser and hey presto!

Check who registered the sending domain

Does the domain show a blank page? Or something which doesn’t tell you who the ESP is? Not to worry, head over to a Whois checker (Domaintools is a popular choice) and look the domain up. The registrant information should clue you in on the ESP’s identity or even give you the answer straight away.

Check who owns the email’s sending IPs

If all else fails, you can resort to a sure-fire way to dig up who handled sending duties. Open the email’s source code and have a gander at its headers. You’ll probably see a couple IP addresses. The one you want is usually under “Received-SPF” (if the email has no SPF, you should find it under one of the other “Received” entries).

Then simply copy the IP address and plug it into a Whois checker (most allow IP lookup in addition to domain lookup). You’ll be given the full lowdown on the company which got the email out the door.

Sometimes that company won’t be an ESP at all, but rather a hosting service, ad agency or even just a single entrepreneur. This means there is a pretty good chance the email was dispatched directly from in-house servers using an on-premise solution. You could probe further and worm it out, but it probably wouldn’t be worth it – if you’re a beginner, a web-based ESP may jive much better with your expectations.

Are these snooping tips useful for anything else?

You tell me, you’re the one who landed here by googling up “sniff ESP” 🙂

Truth be told, even after you learn that someone is using, say, Emailer McSender to engage with their subscribers, don’t just assume it’ll work out just as dandy for you – there’s still a whole lot of testing and trialling to be done, especially concerning deliverability and your own list acquisition practices.

But at least now you’ll have a solid starting point for your vendor selection process. Feel free to use this very site to sort through and know more about your findings. Remember, the best referral comes not from what people say they like but rather what they actually use.

Oh, as a bonus you can now also figure out how Cristiano Ronaldo is sending out his emails, you know, for kicks.

Ruben Alvim

About Ruben Alvim

Rúben Alvim is Content and Development Manager at E-goi. He’s also part of the Deliverability Team, breaking down thousands campaign samples a day to gauge email delivery trends and pinpoint what actually takes to make it through the inbox.

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