How to Evaluate an ESP’s UsabilityWhen looking for a new ESP, be sure to include usability on your list of criteria. What good will a new email service provider do you if your staff can’t navigate the interface?

An ESP platform’s power is only as good as your organization’s ability and willingness to use it. If your staff finds it difficult to use, they will not use it effectively, they may avoid using its full set of features, and they could even make serious errors. On the other hand, if they find it easy to use, they will take advantage of all its powerful functionality to produce the best campaigns imaginable. When evaluating usability, consider ease of navigation, reporting, account configurations, approval process, task automation, and profile settings.

The key to find the email service provider with the usability that works for your organization is to first know what works for your organization.

  • Who needs to use it? You might be in the marketing department planning to use the platform for email marketing specifically, but it could be another department will also be using the platform. For example, accounting might use it for billing notices, HR might use it for employee communications, or the public relations team might use it for media announcements. First figure out who will use the new email service provider. Don’t assume it’s whoever was using the existing ESP.
  • How often will they use it? Next up is getting a handle on the frequency with which people throughout the organization will be using the email service provider’s platform. Some people (like your email marketing team) might be using the platform every day (and therefore stay familiar with it) while other people will only use it on occasion and might not get as familiar with—or stay as familiar with—your team. Take ad hoc usage into account when evaluating usability.
  • Do different departments within your organization have different requirements? For example, does marketing want customized templates but accounting has special reporting requirements? Make sure you know everyone’s expectations of the new email service provider.
  • How savvy are they? Also take into account the range of skill sets of the various teams who might be using the email service provider’s platform. If your entire organization is pretty tech savvy and navigating new interfaces won’t be an issue, usability will be less of one too. However, if you have a range of abilities throughout your organization, you might want an ESP that can offer different levels of access.
  • What do you want to be able to do? And now we get to the fun part. You’re switching email service providers for a reason. It might be poor customer service (a common reason) or it could be you’ve outgrown your current ESP’s functionality. Whatever the reason, now is when you get to make your wish list of capabilities and functionalities. Do you want segmentation tools? How about dynamic content? Do you want email integration with your web analytics or CRM? Make your list, then make sure you understand the usability of each of these tools.

Once you’ve determined everyone’s needs and capabilities, you’re ready to consider—and evaluate—the usability of an email service provider’s platform. Create a list of questions to ask yourself as you consider each possible ESP. Below are some questions drawn from our 2013 guide to choosing a new ESP to get you started:

  • How well does the interface work on an individual level?
  • Is there a drag-and-drop visual GUI?
  • Is list segmentation easily configurable via drag-and-drop GUIs?
  • How about automated messaging? Is that easily set up?
  • Are there preloaded templates? Is there a WYSIWYG editor?
  • Does the platform enable automation of complex tasks, such as generating mobile versions from an HTML template?
  • Does it allow for a workflow that fits with your organization?
  • Does the platform allow for role-based or department-based access?

Add to this as needed until you have a list of questions that will help you adequately evaluate each ESP’s usability, and remember to evaluate all of the various tools within the platform that you might be using.

Don’t skimp on usability. You’ll only create more headaches for yourself later on as your team scrambles to make the platform work and other departments end up needed troubleshooting and handholding. Worse yet, you could end up with a platform no one wants to use! And find yourself shopping for a new ESP all over again far too soon.

Published On: April 22nd, 2013Categories: Email service providers

About the Author: Sharon

Sharon Ernst from is on a mission to improve the business and marketing writing skills of today’s workforce with her blog, newsletter and online classes. Her newest class on intermediate email copywriting covers 19 tips and techniques non-copywriters can put to use right away for better results. The class has real-life examples and before/after comparisons to make the lessons stick. Find her class at When she’s not busy helping employees, managers and marketers master their writing skills, she and her husband are busy raising pigs, cows, chickens and vegetables on their 20-acre farm.

Recent Posts