19 July 2022 | 7 min read | Mindaugas Kubilius
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Email Service Provider: What You Should Know About ESPs in 2022

Discover the differences between email service providers and webmail clients. Learn the importance of ESPs for successful email marketing campaigns.

A laptop with an envelope on the screen representing email.

Sending emails is pretty much second nature to most internet users. We use emails to communicate with clients, colleagues, family and friends. Also, we receive reminders, bills, invoices or junk that usually doesn’t pass spam filters. On top of that, we get newsletters, sales announcements and other promotional content. In many cases, an email service provider (ESP) is behind this.

Email service providers enable managing and delivering email marketing communications, and they are mainly used by companies running email marketing campaigns at scale. That means they send a lot of emails to many recipients at once. Needless to say, the efficiency of ESPs can make or break marketing campaigns, which is why choosing the right one is crucial.

In this article, we go into detail about what an email service provider is and what kinds of functions it serves. We also compare a few popular ESPs, discuss webmail providers and talk about which ones offer which services. If you are curious to learn more, continue reading. 

What is an email service provider? 

In simple terms, an ESP is software that provides you with tools to build email marketing campaigns. Sometimes, email clients – such as Gmail, Outlook or Yahoo Mail – are referred to as ESPs as well, but that is misleading.

An email service provider is a suite of tools that facilitate running email campaigns. On the other hand, email clients ensure basic communication via email. That said, they’re not completely separate. ESPs must establish relationships with webmail providers like Gmail to ensure that the IP addresses of the servers that the messages are sent from are recognized as reputable.

How companies employ ESPs

Companies can employ email service providers in a variety of ways, including:

  • To maintain a list of subscribers
  • Build emails using drag-and-drop builders
  • Customize ready-to-use email templates
  • Create mobile-friendly emails
  • Automate email marketing
  • Manage and segment email contact lists
  • Personalize emails by device, country, timezone
  • Monitor click-through-rates and open-rates
  • Analyze email campaigns’ performance
  • Perform A/B testing

Overall, email is an incredible tool in the hands of an experienced marketer. Emails help reach out to clients, build relationships with prospects and leads as well as recapture the attention of customers who may have abandoned a specific service. 

Emails are convenient, as they can be read anywhere, at any time, whether you’re on a Mac computer or a mobile Android device. In comparison to direct sales phone calls, for example, emails are less intrusive and are likely to capture the right audiences much quicker. They’re also cheap to create and send out.

Email service provider helps build an email marketing campaign.
An email service provider can help build an email marketing campaign

It is no wonder that 64% of small businesses rely on email marketing. Also, 4 out of 5 marketers would rather give up social media than email marketing. Yes, other forms of marketing can be effective, but email marketing allows companies to personalize messages and reach clients fast. Moreover, people are sometimes more responsive to personalized emails that they can open whenever they choose rather than, for example, impersonal ads that show up randomly.

Best email service providers

AWeber, Constant Contact, ConvertKit, Emarsys, Emercury, HubSpot, MailChimp, Mailgun, Ometria, Phonexa and SendGrid are some of the top-rated email service providers out there. The email services they offer can help businesses build effective email marketing campaigns.

As we mentioned already, email service providers should not be mistaken for webmail providers, such as Gmail or Outlook. While ESPs are software, webmail services are basically email readers that help download messages to and from an email server. Let’s quickly talk about both.

Email marketing providers

If you are looking for the best email service provider for your email marketing campaigns, you have to analyze all the different types of ESPs out there. You also need to evaluate your budget to see how much you can invest in an ESP. 

Let’s look at HubSpot and MailChimp as examples of what ESPs can offer. 

HubSpot

HubSpot’s CRM Suite includes a variety of tools and comes with three subscription options. The Starter plan starts at $45/month and comes with a 5x contact tier email send limit per month. The Professional plan leaps to $1,600/month and up and offers a 10x contact tier limit. Finally, the Enterprise plan starts at $5,000/month and ensures a 20x contact tier limit. 

The tiers denote the volume of emails that can be sent during a calendar month. Each subscription plan also comes with an increasing number of other beneficial services. These include email tracking and reply tracking, email health reporting and health insights, subject line personalization, etc.

An email sent via a computer addressed to someone named Alex.
Personalized email message

MailChimp

MailChimp’s subscription plans are customizable depending on how extensive the contact list is. Clients with contact lists of 75,000 can opt for the Essentials plan priced between $11-$299. The Standard plan starts at $17, but the price climbs with the number of contacts. For example, clients with 100,000 contacts pay $605. Finally, the Premium plan starts at $299 for 500 contacts, but the price starts at $1,300 for 200,000 contacts and up. 

The monthly email sending limits are 10x, 12x and 15x plan’s contact limit, respectively. 

It’s worth mentioning that both HubSpot and MailChimp, along with many other ESPs – every one of which may be the best email service provider depending on one’s needs – can offer a free plan too. Purely free email service providers are not the most optimal as they offer limited services, but they can ensure a great start for smaller companies.

Web-based email services

Some of the top webmail providers include AOL Mail, Gmail, GMX Mail, iCloud Mail (Apple iCloud Mail), MSN Hotmail, Outlook, ProtonMail, Yahoo Mail, Windows Live Mail or Zoho Mail. Gmail has been in the lead since 2012, and it is the most popular email service in the world. 

Webmail providers offer free email services, and anyone with access to the internet can create a free email account. In contrast to an email service provider, a webmail provider generally offers a free email service, which allows users to send messages and share files in a limited capacity.

The limit of how many email messages can be sent to multiple email addresses from one email account at once depends on the webmail provider. Of course, most webmail providers offer services that reach beyond basic email sending. 

Let’s see what Gmail and ProtonMail have in store.

Gmail

Gmail is an email provider that is part of the Google Workspace suite. It also includes Google Calendar, Google Drive (with some free storage space), Google Photos and many other integrations. Gmail has over 1.8 billion users, which is the best testament to the quality of the services offered. 

Once you create your Gmail account, you can enjoy a free email service and participate in a global mail exchange without spending a dime. Gmail also comes with a strong spam filter to protect you from phishing emails and junk. In short, as far as email providers go, Gmail is the gold standard. 

Small businesses and self-starter business owners often employ Gmail as their first point of contact with clients. Of course, as operations grow, investing in a trusted ESP becomes important for the benefits that it can bring. In the meantime, however, a free email provider can do the trick. 

Small building among tall buildings representing a small business.
Small businesses often choose Google as their first point of contact with clients

ProtonMail

As an email client, ProtonMail offers the most essential features. By creating just one account, you can access email, send emails, perform email forwarding and enjoy many other features. 

When it comes to email storage space, Gmail offers 15 GBs and ProtonMail only 500 MBs. Although neither can offer unlimited storage space, you can pay to get more. So, if email storage is something that’s important to you, think about how much storage you want when choosing a webmail provider.

How about sending large files? Both ProtonMail and Gmail limit the file attachment size to 25 MBs per email. However, if you want to send large attachments, workarounds are available. 

Perhaps most importantly, unlike some encrypted email services, ProtonMail ensures end-to-end encryption. Google utilizes TLS (Transport Layer Security) to help send encrypted emails as well, but ProtonMail claims to ensure a higher level of privacy.

Choosing an email service provider

If you are running a business, it is likely that you have already considered employing an email service provider – ESP – to help you level up and build more effective email marketing campaigns.  

If you plan to send email messages in bulk to existing and prospective clients, you are likely to benefit greatly from a service that can offer customizable features, collaboration tools, smart filters, priority customer support and other great perks. 

However, if you are not yet planning scalable email marketing campaigns, perhaps you might do with a free plan provided by a reputable ESP. In time, as you grow, you will already be familiar with the available features, and making a jump from a free version to a paid subscription plan will not be as intimidating.

A person sitting in front of a computer with email envelopes all around it.
Choosing an email service provider should depend on one’s needs

If you are running a small business that does not yet rely on heavy email marketing, a familiar webmail provider might offer you exactly what you need for communication. For example, if you need end-to-end encryption and your IP address stripped from emails, choose a client like ProtonMail. If you need an integrated word processor or spreadsheet, go for Zoho Mail. Whichever one you choose, you can build your email account and start communicating instantly.

Conclusion

An email service provider (ESP) is software that enables small to enterprise businesses to perform email marketing campaigns at scale. Suites like HubSpot or MailChimp allow clients to import contacts and send customized messages in bulk. This speeds up the process, during which multiple recipients successfully receive messages relating to the business.

ESPs enable companies to market products and services to very specific audiences, which can boost the success rates of personalized marketing campaigns. In contrast, webmail providers, such as Gmail or Yahoo Mail, have a limited email sending capacity, and they are not the most helpful for businesses that send commercial emails every single day.

Both ESPs and webmail providers serve their purposes, and if you are running a business, you might be interested in running email marketing campaigns too. If you are and your budget allows it, investing in an email service provider – ESP – can be beneficial. When choosing an ESP, consider reputation, email deliverability, functionality and other attributes important to you. 


About the author

Mindaugas Kubilius

Network Administrator

Mindaugas is a Network Administrator at IPXO with more than 15 years of experience in the IT field. He specializes in building and maintaining various network infrastructures, as well as presenting top-notch engineering solutions to the public. After work, Mindaugas spends his time in nature.