Selecting an ESP (Email Service Provider)

I created my first e-newsletter in 2006 when e-newsletters were still a relatively new thing. Knowing little about e-newsletters, I used Microsoft Outlook to send the email – and I learned quickly that this is the big “no-no” of e-newsletters. When you use your own email to send en masse to a lot of addresses, this makes your account (and the entire office’s email accounts) susceptible to receiving lots and lots of junk mail. It also makes you susceptible to being marked as a junk email sender and finding yourself blocked from being able to send email.

With that in mind, the number one reason to select an ESP is to protect yours, your colleagues, and your office’s email accounts. In addition to that really important reason, with the fast popularity of e-newsletters, ESPs are a serious business now and the various providers offer some great features. One of the best features with any ESP is the statistics you’ll be privy to such as: how many people opened your email; who marked you as junk; how many people subscribed to your emails in a given period of time; what link on your email received the most clicks.

The most popular ESP on the market is likely Constant Contact. This, however, is not the one I use. My preferred ESP is MailChimp, and these are the main reasons I love it:

  • Email list management. Automates your subscribes and unsubscribes.
  • Great statistical reports complete with charts showing various data such as open and click rates.
  • Though it’s just one of the various charts MailChimp provides, the “click map” is one of the features that really draws me to MailChimp. This graphic allows me to quickly see which links received the most clicks.

Here is a link to one of my most recent emails for the Barrington Area Library and the associated click map:,Aug4.jpg (click on jpg & it will enlarge and be more readable)

The first library event listed in this e-newsletter, the Big Balloon Show, was an exception in this case, but otherwise, the highest click rates in my emails are consistently the text-only links at the close of the email in the “Picks Around Town” section – and this tells me something significant – I don’t need a graphic to get people’s interest.

Another feature that makes me a big fan of MailChimp is:

  • You can copy and paste a URL for your e-newsletter. I design my own emails without a template, so it’s really quick for me paste in the URL for my email, select my list of emails, and hit send.
  • In addition to this feature, MailChimp has a good variety of templates to choose from, and while I haven’t used theirs, I study their templates when setting up my own, and there are some great ones to choose from. See some of their templates via this link:

The cost of the various ESPs is about the same, usually about $75/month for a mailing list of 5,001 – 10,000 names. You can use MailChimp’s service for free for up to 500 names to test the product, or use it as your ESP on an ongoing basis if your list never exceeds 500 names. And there is a lot to be said about the quality of a list over quantity. There’s no pressing need to try and build a large list – it’s the people who regularly open your email and click on your links that you want — and you do pay based on the size of your list.

For me, MailChimp excels over the other ESPs for two reasons: 1) its usability – very user friendly and intuitive to use and 2) the reports – I love the click map, but there’s a variety of pie charts and bar graphs that make it quick and easy to grasp the data that you want to know about your list and individual email performance. MailChimp also provides statistical information on how your email performed versus emails in your industry.

I recommend MailChimp, but if you’re shopping for an ESP and want to do comparison on your own, here’s a list of some of the top ones. If you have one that you like that I’ve left out, I’d love it if you would share it.

Constant Contact,



Vertical Response,

In addition to listing ESPs, I also wanted to share three of my favorite e-newsletters. These are the ones that that I most look forward to receiving in my own personal email box, and I think these are great ones to use as models when creating e-newsletters.

Chicago History Museum

Milwaukee Art Museum

Crain’s Chicago, 10 Things to Do in Chicago This Weekend


Barrington Area Library is located in Barrington, Illinois. The Barrington Area Library covers a 72 square mile area, making it the largest geographic library district in Illinois. The library serves approximately 46,500 patrons. In regards to e-newsletters, the library has been sending e-newsletters for one year. E-newsletters are sent as needed, but generally every other week to a list of almost 9,000 email addresses.


About sharonadoty

Public Information Manager, Barrington Area Library
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