Whether you've already got an understanding of the technical aspects of email marketing or whether you're just starting to learn the ins-and-outs of email marketing, having a checklist of what you should expect your email marketing platform to do, and what some bonus features of a good email marketing platform would be, is a necessary starting point for selecting or developing your email sending platform. Every email marketing and newsletter platform that you consider should offer features in four areas: sending capability, email design and creation, list management, and reporting and tracking. In this section, we'll explain each area and the features that should be supported in detail.

Sending Capability Features of an Email Marketing Platform

At base, your email platform needs to be able to send email! However, when you're talking about sending email to a large group of people, the solution may not be as simple as hitting a send button (even if it appears that way from your user-interface end). Here is a list of the basic functionalities that any email marketing or newsletter platform should offer you.

1. Ability to Deliver Reliably to Users' Inboxes

This is perhaps the most important part of selecting your email marketing platform provider. Your email program will only be as effective as your ability to get your emails into your subscribers' inboxes. You want to thoroughly research your potential email marketing platform candidates to make sure that they maintain a high sender reputation with the various internet service providers (ISPs). If you are considering building an in-house email marketing platform, you should be sure that you understand how to maintain a high sender reputation yourself.

2. Ability to Pre-schedule an Email Send or Instantly Send

You will want the flexibility to either pre-schedule an email send based on a date and time that you feel is the best time to send or to send instantly for time-sensitive situations. Either way, the best email marketing platform for you will allow you to choose from pre-scheduled sends or instant sends.

3. Ability to Define Which Email List to Send an Email or Newsletter To

You won't always want to send your email or newsletter to your entire email marketing list. The best email marketing platform will allow you to determine which portion of your database or pre-defined list you are sending to.

4. Ability to Test Send an Email Prior To Mass Sending

Finally, you'll absolutely want the ability to send the email you are about to send to your larger list to a smaller, internal seed list before you send it to the entire email list. This allows you to check inbox deliverability, display, and even do a final proof before you send your masterpiece to the entire world!

Sending email is the most basic part of email marketing. The four features above are critically important to your success, so ensure that your email marketing platform supports them!

Email Design and Creation Capability Features of an Email Marketing Platform

Designing and creating your email to not only look good and be functional but also to have great inbox deliverability and be CAN-SPAM compliant can be a challenge. However, a good email marketing platform will offer you features that make email template and individual email creation not only easy but also effective and in-line with privacy and ISP regulations. Here's what you should be looking for in an email sending platform.

1. Ability to Modify "From" and "Sender" Information

There are some very basic things that any email marketing platform should be able to do, and among them are providing you with the ability to modify both the "From" field (the field that shows your subscribers who the email is from) as well as the email address that you are sending from.

2. Ability to Modify Subject Line

Another extremely basic but absolutely required feature is the ability to modify the subject line of your email. You, obviously, want to have control over that!

3. Ability to Instantly Add Unsubscribe Link

Not only is it required by the CAN SPAM Law that you provide an easy way for users to unsubscribe from your email, but having an easy-to-use and easy-to-spot unsubscribe link in your emails reduces your overall spam complaints. Not only, as a function of list management does your email marketing platform provider need to be able to effectively remove people from the list, but it should also be able to instantly and regularly insert an unsubscribe link into your email.

4. Ability to Regularly Provide Your Physical Mailing Address in the Email

Your email sending solution should instantly and persistently place your physical mailing address in the footer of the email. You don't want to be responsible for having to remember to manually do it over and over again and potentially forget once. After all, your physical mailing address is a CAN-SPAM requirement.

5. Ability to Serve HTML Webpage Version of Your Email

Not all subscribers will be able to see your email in their inbox no matter how well the email is put together. Sometimes, an email marketing platform provider or software just garbles and there's nothing you can do about it. When that happens, you'll want to be sure that your email sending program both provides and serves an html webpage version of your email and offers users the ability to click through to that webpage if they can't see the actual email.

6. Ability to Send Both Text and HTML Version of Your Email

Not all email clients support html email template, and this is particularly true as more and more people read their email on their mobile devices. In a best case scenario, your email marketing platform will send both an html and text version that is automatically created and will identify which email addresses should receive which. At a minimum, however, you want the ability to be able to send a text-based or html-based email.

7. Ability to Edit an Email in Either HTML or Wiziwig Format

This may vary depending on your in-house staff and skill set. However, ideally you'll have the flexibility to either edit your emails in pure html code for ultimate control or via a Wiziwig. A Wiziwig is essentially an "editor" in which you can do common editing tasks such as inserting images, bolding text, adding links, and defining styles without having to know html code. A solid, robust email marketing platform should give you both options as, occasionally, you may want to make a change to an email template that can only be done via html.

8. Ability to Choose Between Premade Templates, Upload Your Own Template, or Modify Premade Templates

Again, this will vary based on your in-house staff and skill set. However, you may want an email marketing platform that provides you with premade templates that you can simply change the images and text on so that you do not need to find html coders and designers to create templates. Alternatively, you may want to be able to simply upload your own, entirely branded template. Finally, you may want to take a pre-existing template and modify the code on it. Either way, a solid and robust email marketing platform solution will offer you the ability to do any of the above.

9. Ability to Load Images and Assign Alt Text behind Images

While you may not want to use too many images in your email, your email marketing platform must not only allow you the ability to upload and use images either in a supported file format or as an image url, but it's essential that you be able to apply "Alt" and "Title" text behind the images for times when your subscribers' email service providers don't' load images.

10. Ability to Format Text and Links

While it may seem like an obvious statement, don't overlook the fact that you'll want to ensure that your email marketing platform supports the ability for you to format text and links, in font, size, color, and style.

There are some other email creation features that you may want to check for and which may be important to you. However, in order to send effective emails, you'll absolutely want to have the above listed components first.

List Management Capability Features of an Email Marketing Platform

The health of your email and contact database is at the foreground of the success of your email program. A bad, un-pruned database can lead to a decline in email metrics as well as potential deliverability issues and even legal issues if you do not honor CAN-SPAM and privacy laws. Your email sending solution should, without fail, offer the following capabilities.

1. Ability to Log and Remove Unsubscribed Members from Individual Lists or All Emails

Absolutely the most important thing that your email marketing platform must be able to do from an email list management perspective is effectively and accurately remove unsubscribed members from either the individual list that they unsubscribed from or from all future mailings. Whether you allow users to choose a list to unsubscribe from or unsubscribe them from all future emails of any kind should be based on your individual business needs.

2. Ability to Prune Email Addresses from List After a Number of Undeliverable Sends

When you repeatedly send email to an email address that is ultimately undeliverable, it can impact your sender reputation. Therefore, an effective email marketing platform will automatically prune email addresses from your active list after a number of undeliverable sends. Typically, that number is set between three and five undeliverable sends to account for situations where a user may be away from his or her email for a period of time and experience a full inbox that creates undeliverable sends.

3. Ability to Allow You to Select Either a Single or Double Opt In for New Subscribers

When we discuss building your email list, we'll discuss the pros and cons of a single-opt in subscription or a double-opt in subscription. A single-opt in means that once a user signs up for your email, he or she immediately begins receiving email. A double-opt in means that once a user signs up for your email he or she will need to hit a confirmation link in an email sent to his or her email box before receiving any future email. While the right solution for subscription is based on your own business needs, a strong and robust email marketing platform provider will offer you both options.

4. Ability to Allow You to Create a Subscription Form with Confirmation Email

Obviously, you want to be able to create a simple email sign-up box on your website, and an email marketing platform provider should not only be able to provide that feature but should make it easy. Similarly, a standard part of the program should be the generation of an automatic welcome email after signing up.

5. Ability to Collect Data Other Than Email Address

Ideally, you'd like to be able to collect some data with your email subscriptions beyond email address, particularly a first name or a user name on your site so that you can personalize email sends. What data you collect should be based on your own business needs. However, you'll want to ensure that your email sending partner supports the ability to collect additional fields of data and relate them to the email address.

6. Ability to Allow You to Upload Existing Email Contacts

Chances are that you have an existing email database that you will want to continue to work with, so it's important that you find an email marketing platform that allows you to upload those clients to your contact list. However, almost any email sending solution will have limitations on contact uploads to prevent against the upload of spam addresses. Be sure to do your research about what your provider will or will not allow.

7. Ability to Segment Email Sending Lists and Create Different Lists

As you grow your email marketing program, you'll have fewer and fewer instances where you want to send an email to your entire list and far more instances where you want to send to a smaller sub-list or segment of your list. Make sure that your email marketing platform provider supports having, creating and keeping track of multiple email lists.

8. Ability to Allow You to Search and Query Your Contact Database

Finally, you want to be able to search your user database and not only take actions but also see data. You'll want to be able to find a user by email, other data, sign-up date, or more and be able to unsubscribe or remove them manually or see data about their email engagement activity. Be sure that your email marketing platform provides you with full visibility, access and ability to search of your contacts list.

Your email list is an asset to your company, as is the ability to effectively send to it. Don't overlook important list management features to focus on email design features. Maintaining the health of your list is one of the most critical parts of email marketing.

Reporting and Tracking Capability Features of an Email Marketing Platform

You can't improve your email marketing and newsletter program if you don't know what's working and what's not! Tracking and reporting is a key element of all marketing and particularly of email marketing. Here are the essential reporting and tracking components you should expect from an email marketing platform.

1. Open Rate

You obviously want to know how many people have opened your emails – that's one of the most defining success metrics of email marketing. While open rate data is not one hundred percent accurate even in the best case scenario due to the pixel required to track it, trend analysis of open rates is hugely important and should be able to be reported on by an individual email send. Ideally, that open rate can then be broken down by ISP or email client.

2. Click-Through Rate

Additionally, you want to know how many people then clicked through your email to your landing page or website. There are two different ways to track click-through rates. One way counts only if an individual clicked a link or not, and the other way combines all clicks, even if some of them were from the same user. Be aware of which way your email tracking works and whether that method suits your needs.

3. Links Clicked

In addition to knowing how many people clicked through your email, you ultimately want to know which links they clicked. Did one type of promo create a better response than a similar one? Did they click graphics more than text links, or vice versa? Find an email marketing platform that tracks which links were clicked specifically and reports back on it.

4. Inbox Deliverability

How many of your emails actually made it into your subscribers' inboxes versus went into the spam or junk folder, or just didn't get delivered at all? You want to know how many of your emails were delivered, and you certainly would prefer to know, when possible, if they went to junk or to the inbox. Check the robustness of deliverability reporting when evaluating an email marketing platform.

5. Spam Complaints and Unsubscribe Requests

Both by an individual email send as well as by trend analysis, you want to know how many spam complaints an individual email or your program as a whole are generating. Similarly, you want to know the same data for unsubscribe requests. This data can help you identify email marketing content and tactics that your users don't respond to and can therefore help you improve your overall email marketing program.

6. List Growth and Attrition over Time

As a trend, you want to see your email list's health over time. This includes whether the size of your list grew or shrunk and how engaged it was with your email products.

Reporting and tracking is what can take your email marketing or newsletter from good to great. Be sure that your email marketing platform provider supports basic and required tracking features.

Additional Desirable Capability Features of an Email Marketing Platform

While not absolutely essential in all programs, the following features are becoming increasingly common and desired and should be considered when determining the right email marketing and newsletter sending solution.

1. Mobile Capability

Both the ability to manage your email sending from a mobile device as well as email templates that have been optimized for viewing on mobile devices are features that you should consider the importance of when selecting an email marketing platform.

2. Social Media Integration

The ability to post or share an email on Twitter or Facebook as well as easy options for promoting subscription to your email marketing list on social media channels is not only increasingly popular, it's increasingly important.

3. Advanced List Segmentation

The more data you collect from your subscribers, the more you will want to ultra-segment your email list. Being able to do this within your email marketing platform rather than doing it manually and uploading it may, depending on your business needs, be a priority feature.

4. User Choice of HTML or Text Email

The ability to allow a user at the time that he or she signs up to determine if he or she wants to receive email in text or html form can ultimately increase user engagement with your email product.

5. Ability to Audit Email Content for Potential Spam Issues

Many email marketing platforms can automatically audit your email for potential words or design issues that may cause you to end up in the spam or junk folder and provide suggestions to improve your deliverability chances. If you are concerned about your ability to write white list, inbox-style email, you may want to search for this feature.

6. Auto Responder Capability

As autoresponder grow in popularity, the ability to support this style of email marketing is obviously increasing as well. Not all email marketing platforms have implemented autoresponder functionality yet, however. If autoresponders are part of your email plan, be sure that your provider supports them.

7. Ability to Personalize Emails

Email marketing and newsletters perform best when you can insert a user name or first name into the subject line or email body. Check to see if your email marketing platform supports this type of dynamic content generation in your emails.

8. Forwarded Email Statistics

It's often useful to see how many of your emails were forwarded in order to determine your most popular content. Be sure to check and see if this is an included statistic in your reporting and tracking features if this data is important to you.

There may be other email features that you're looking for as well. Your company's business needs and the goals of your email marketing platform will ultimately determine which features are most important to you and which you can live without. However, the features covered above are all highly important, and you may regret it later if you don't focus on a provider that can handle the majority of them.

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