Despite the developments in social media platforms and project management tools over the last decade, email is still the king of business communications.
It’s estimated that 90% of businesses use email as their primary channel of internal communication. And according to stats from Oberlo, more than three-quarters of small businesses claim that email is their most successful marketing acquisition channel.
However, choosing the best email service for business and deciding on the right supporting list management tools can have a significant impact on your email success.
What is an email service provider?
In the most basic terms, an email service provider (or ESP for short) is a company that takes care of delivering your emails to their intended recipients.
Sounds simple, right?
It’s made a little more complicated by the fact that ‘email service provider’ is used as a bit of a catch-all term to describe different types of email services that have different purposes.
Some ESPs specialize in the delivery of everyday email communications, like emails to people within your business or day-to-day emails you have with clients or other contacts. They are designed to make it easy to send, receive and manage email in your personal inbox.
There are also ESPs that specialize in sending emails en-masse. These are sometimes referred to as marketing ESPs, and they are designed to make it easy to reach a wide audience with your email messages. These types of email services often have the functionality to help personalize content and commonly boast more advanced reporting to help marketers understand things like open rate, click-through rate, and the parts of their emails that their audience engages with the most.
Simplelists: A great enhancement to your everyday email services
Sometimes the email services that businesses use for their everyday communications can be limited in their capabilities.
They provide the interface and functionality that makes it easy to send and receive 1-1 emails, but what if you want to send emails to a large group of people without having to invest in a marketing ESP?
Or, what if you want to have collaborative group discussions via email, with an easy-to-search archive of contributions?
In our easy-to-use interface, you can set up unlimited mailing lists with large numbers of recipients. Each mailing list has its own unique list mailing address.
By sending a single email from your everyday email services to your chosen list mailing address, you can reach a wide number of recipients quickly and easily.
It’s like having the major benefit of a marketing ESP without the hefty price tag.
Additional functionality that comes with Simplelists is the ability to set up group email discussion lists, which encourages all recipients in a list to share information and collaborate.
The great news is that no matter which email services your business uses, Simplelists can work alongside it and enhance it.
You’re possibly thinking “What is the best email service for business?” This is a tough question as it all depends on the specific needs of your business. But to help you along the way, we’ve put together a list of the 7 most popular email providers with our customers.
Top 7 email services for business
1. Gmail / Google Workspace
Gmail is one of the most commonly used personal email services in the world with more than 1.8 billion users across the globe.
But it’s also gaining a reputation as perhaps the best email service for business.
Google Workspace is a cloud-based platform with a whole suite of tools for businesses of all sizes. By signing up to Workspace, you’re able to use Gmail with your own business address.
One of the main benefits of using Google Workspace for your email services is that it integrates easily with other Google apps such as Drive, Sheets, Docs, and Forms.
There’s also a wide range of different plans to suit the needs of all types of businesses. The starter plan offers 30GB of storage per user from only $6 per user, per month. For larger organizations that need more storage and more advanced security and functionality, the Business Plus plan starts from $18 per user, per month.
Integration with other Google apps such as Google Docs, Drive, and Calendar
Ample storage limits
Solid security features and controls
List of Cons:
For larger businesses, pricier than some other solutions in our list
Google app integrations are only useful if your business fully embraces Google Workspace
2. Outlook / Microsoft 365
Outlook has historically been one of the most popular email providers for businesses, but it’s facing stiff competition from some of the other solutions in this list.
One of the major plus points that Outlook has is its familiarity for business users. If you’ve been in business for any length of time, there’s a high chance that you’ve used Outlook for managing your emails at some point.
Great features such as a focused inbox and powerful tools to help organize your emails make Outlook a great choice for busy business professionals and supports its reputation as perhaps the best email service for business.
Outlook is also part of Microsoft 365, which means that it integrates and works nicely alongside other Microsoft products such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneDrive.
Similar to Google Workspace, Microsoft 365 has a variety of plans to suit the budgets of organizations of all sizes. Their basic account starts from $6 per user, per month, and rises to $22 per user, per month for businesses that need premium services and advanced security.
The interface is familiar for a lot of business users
Effective in-built calendar
Integrates with other Microsoft365 products
Great tools to help prioritize and organize emails
Intuitive attachment features
List of Cons:
Limited customization compared with Google Workspace
An annual commitment is required
Monthly costs are higher than other solutions on this list
If security is important to your business, you might consider ProtonMail as one of the safest email providers on our list. Developed by MIT scientists and governed by Swiss privacy laws, one of the key benefits of this email service provider is that all messages are secured by end-to-end encryption.
ProtonMail has a supporting calendar and drive, and starts from as little as €6.49 per user, per month for their essentials plan, rising to €9.99 per user, per month for their premium offering.
For businesses looking for affordable and effective email services, Zoho is a solution to consider.
In addition to providing an effective and affordable email solution, Zoho Mail also has a free suite of tools designed to improve productivity which includes a calendar, contacts, tasks, notes, and bookmarks.
Zoho Mail has a lot of helpful features to secure its place in this list of the best email services for business. It assists in keeping on top of your email efforts, such as the ability to create folders, labels, and filter your emails. It’s also super easy to set up email templates and out-of-office autoresponders.
Zoho doesn’t have a monthly payment option, and you need to be billed annually - which might be off-putting to some businesses. But their prices are incredibly affordable, starting from only €0.90 per user/per month for their Mail Lite plan, and rising to €3 per user / per month for their premium workplace plan which includes a wide range of other tools to complement Zoho Mail.
Not ideal for email services unless your business is invested in the Apple ecosystem
A lesser known, lesser used but worthy addition to our list of best email providers is Icewarp.
Icewarp positions itself as the best email service for a business looking for an affordable alternative to Google and Microsoft. It packs a full suite of tools for managing documents, team chats, video recordings, file management, and email.
The email functionality in Icewarp is simple but intuitive. Pricing starts from as little as $3.50 per user per month for their cloud-based solution, and $7.00 per month for their desktop application.
Affordable compared to Google and Microsoft solutions
Intuitive user interface
List of Cons:
Limited mailing list features
Unfamiliar for many business users
Okay - you caught us! This one is a bit of an outlier.
HubSpot is actually more of a marketing ESP, which is great if you’re going to be designing, personalizing, sending, and analyzing your marketing emails (it has an amazing drag-and-drop editor for creating marketing emails). But it isn’t an ‘everyday’ ESP per se.
It integrates with your existing email services and allows you to use an email service you’re familiar with, at the same time as keeping track of all the emails that colleagues across your business have sent a particular contact within your CRM.
And the best part? If you’re an existing HubSpot user - it’s completely free to get started, with additional functionality for a small fee.
Improve productivity and collaboration across your business
List of Cons:
Not really an everyday ESP!
Choosing the right email service provider for your business
There is a wide range of different email services that can help your business with your everyday email needs.
The list of best email providers in this article is by no means exhaustive - it’s just the solutions we know our clients have found success with.
It’s really tough to determine what email service is the best - It’s important to evaluate the pros and cons of each ESP and evaluate how they align with the needs of your business.
Whichever email services you choose for your daily business needs, you can rest assured that Simplelists will be able to enhance its functionality by reaching large numbers of recipients with one email and facilitating group email discussions.
If you’d like to see for yourself how easy Simplelists is to set up with your own ESP, sign up for our free one month trial.
Simplelists offers the function to search your email archives. This can be useful for people who join your list, helping them to familiarise themselves with the list topic. It is also very useful to have a back up of all of your communications, in case you need to refer to something or check a point of reference. We have written in a previous post about how to set up your archive and personalise it.
How to find the message you are looking for
It would not be entirely unlikely for a busy email list to accumulate hundreds or thousands of emails over a period of years. When you add a new member to a list, they can be given the option to read emails that were sent prior to the date they joined, and/or read emails about a specific topic. For the latter, the keyword search function can be used. Alternatively, it is possible to browse all messages, sorted by date or by thread.
How to access the archive
Log in to your Simplelists account. From the Members home page, under 'What would you like to do?’, select 'View list archives’. At this stage, you may be required to enter a password, if one has been set up by the list manager. If you do not know the password, you can request an access code at this point by entering your email address.
When in the email archive, emails are ordered by month and year. In the search box at the top, you can enter a keyword and any relevant emails will be shown. It is also possible to view list statistics on this page, as well as read more detailed information about the list.
These search tips will help you to find what you are looking for:
Search by specific month
This option is useful if you want to browse to a specific month and then search within it.
If you type a '?’, it will be replaced with any single character. This can help when you are not sure how to spell a word. So, if you were perhaps looking for an email related to the 'Worthbury Derby’ but you couldn’t remember whether 'Worthbury’ was spelt with an 'i’ or an 'o’, you can type 'W?rthbury’ and the generated results will include both spellings.
If you type a *, it will be replaced with any number of characters. So, for the Worthbury Derby, if you weren’t sure at all how to spell Worthbury, you could type 'W*ry’ and the results would show all emails starting with a 'W’ and ending in 'ry’.
We have written on this blog before about the importance of email deliverability and what we do to ensure your emails reach their recipients. Spam filters implemented by different email clients (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.) are becoming increasingly sensitive, to make sure that non-legitimate, spam emails aren’t delivered. Ensuring emails are delivered to the inbox is pretty much guaranteed if your list members have 'whitelisted’ you. This means, simply, that you (as the sender) have been added to their list of 'approved’ or 'safe senders’. Different email clients carry out the whitelisting process in different ways and use different terminology. In this short post, we explain how to whitelist email addresses in Gmail.
Gmail is pretty efficient at identifying non-important and potentially harmful emails that you probably don’t want to open. However, it isn’t 100% correct all of the time and, to make sure important emails never end up in the Gmail spam folder, you can tell Gmail that emails from a particular sender are safe, allowing those messages to pass through the filter. If important emails keep getting sent to your spam folder in Gmail, you need to add email addresses to the safe senders list to whitelist them.
Set up a filter
In Gmail, it is possible to set up 'filters’ to whitelist a sender (or senders). You can apply a filter to a specific email address, a whole domain, or a mix of both. First of all, click on the gear icon in your inbox and select 'Settings’ from the menu. Then, select the 'Filters and blocked addresses’ tab when viewing the Settings menu. Click the link called 'Create a new filter’ (if you have a lot of filters in place already you’ll see this at the bottom of the list, like in the diagram below). Select 'Never send it to spam’. This will make sure emails that match the filter description will always reach the inbox.
Filtering a specific email address or a whole domain
In the 'From’ field, enter the email address in full that you would like the filter to apply to. If you want to filter a specific email address, write the whole address, like 'email@example.com’. If you want to whitelist all emails from a specific domain, you can just type '@emailbusiness.com’ to put all emails from this domain on the list of safe senders. There are other options but the 'From’ field must be filled out.
Filtering more than one email or domain
You do not need to repeat these steps for multiple emails and/or domains. A handy tip is to put a vertical bar (Shift and then the backslash '\’ key, with a space before and after it) between the separate emails you wish to filter. For example: firstname.lastname@example.org | email@example.com | firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also filter messages directly from an email as you receive it. So, if you find an important email in your Spam folder, which should have come to the Inbox, you can open it and then apply the filter so it ends up in the right place next time. When you have the email open, click on the vertical dots in the right hand corner and then select 'Filter messages like these’ (see below).
The email address of the sender will then be auto-filled in the next form in the 'From’ field and you can create a filter from there, as before.
It is worth knowing that when you whitelist an email or domain in Gmail, the filter does not work retrospectively. That is, it does not apply to emails that are already in the Spam/Trash folders.
Simplelists keeps a record of all of the emails that have been sent to your list. This archive can be useful for new list members who might need to quickly get to grips with topics that have already been covered in a private group discussion. It is also a great tool for keeping a back up of all of your communications. If you haven’t already, you can learn how to set up, view and personalise the archive in a recent post on our blog. Below, we explain how to search your email archive, allowing you to find old emails using a keyword search.
Finding the right message in a busy list
Busy lists that have existed for a long time can accumulate thousands of emails over many years. When new members join a list, they can be granted permission to read emails that were sent before they joined, and access old emails about a specific subject. To do this, the Simplelists email archive has a keyword search function that allows you to look for old emails by keyword. You can also browse all messages by date or by thread.
Accessing the archive
You can find the archive search function from the Members Home page once you have logged in to your Simplelists account. Under 'What would you like to do?’, click on 'View list archives’. If your list manager has set up a password for accessing the archive, you will need to enter this. Otherwise, you can request an access code by entering your email address.
Once in the mail archive, messages are grouped by month and year, with the search box at the top. Type in your keyword and the relevant emails will be displayed. On this page, you can also view list statistics and read more information about your list.
We all know how to use a search box but these tips might come in useful if you’re not entirely sure of the best keyword to search for:
Wildcard ‘?’ - Type the ? symbol and it will be replaced with any single character. This is handy when you’re not sure how a word should be spelt. For example, you might be looking for an old email titled ‘Worthington Event’ but you had forgotten if ‘Worthington’ was spelled with an ‘o’ or a ‘i’ you can type ‘W?rthington’ and the results will show emails with both spellings.
Wildcard ‘*’ - Type the * symbol and it will be replaced with any number of characters. Using the previous example, if you weren’t at all sure how to spell ‘Worthington’ you could type ‘W*ton’. The search results will show all emails that start with a ‘w’ and end with the letters ‘ton’, including ‘Worthington’.
You can also search by keyword for specific months. Browse to the month of the email that you are looking for and then search while in that month. The search will geneate results only for that month.
HTML emails are formatted like a web page and can include colours, graphics, tables and links. Most emails that you receive from a shop/business that you subscribe to are likely to use this kind of email. Plain text emails are more like what you might expect to receive from a friend or in a typical work email. Before sending an HTML email to your list, it is worth considering the pros and cons of HTML and plain text emails.
HTML or plain text?
HTML emails are colourful and eye-catching. You can include your company logo and make your email look professional. HTML emails can include images and make it possible to break the email into sections that are easy to read or scan. They can also include social media buttons. HTML emails are more likely to be blocked by some spam blockers, especially if they contain a lot of HTML.
Plain text emails are small and light, which means they use less memory and open more quickly. Plain text messages look less commercial and more similar to personal emails. It has also been found that a plain text email is more likely to be opened and clicked through, which is important if you are sending emails as part of a marketing campaign.
Creating an HTML email
First, you need to create your email as a single web page. There are a few special points to note when creating HTML for email:
Use tables to create the layout. Avoid using margins and padding and give the table’s elements fixed widths. This prevents the email looking different in different email clients.
All CSS styles should be inline styles. Any CSS in the head or on external style sheets will be ignored.
Any images should have an absolute URL - they’ll need to be on the server so they can be sourced.
Once complete, view your web page in a browser. First, check that the page looks perfect. Right click and select all and then copy. Note that you should not copy the HTML code. Copy the content of the web page.
Send the email
Open your email client and compose a new message to your list. Simply paste the email and hit send. Your HTML email will be sent to your whole list. Simple.
You can watch these instructions in a short video here.
A daily digest summary is an email containing a compilation of new emails sent by members of a list. This can be a handy function to avoid clogging up members’ inboxes, reducing the number of emails they have to scan each day. To receive an email digest, members will need to opt to receive it. In this short post, we explain how to set up daily digest summaries with Simplelists.
Pros and cons of email digests
Daily digest summaries can be useful for busy lists. Instead of receiving emails when they are posted, Simplelists list members can receive one email every 24 hours. This prevents members becoming inundated with emails when discussions are active and allows them to pick and choose which email discussions are more important for them to read, at a time that suits them.
It can sometimes be tricky to ensure optimum formatting of digest emails, when the original emails are pulled automatically into the digest. The digest needs to be appealing to read and easy to navigate. It can also be a challenge to decide which information should be included in the digest. Too much or too little information may have the same effect as being inundated with individual emails – members may simply delete it.
An easy-to-digest digest
To make sure digests are accessible and appealing to Simplelists list members, most formatting is stripped from the emails, in order to create a clean, easy to follow summary. A link is included for each message, which allows members to reply back to the list. If archives are enabled, links to attachments and the original emails are contained in the digest.
Enabling digest summaries
Enabling daily digest summaries is very easy. Log in and navigate to list members in the left hand menu. In the Address Book, you can see which members receive summaries and which don’t – a cross or a tick will appear next to their name in the ‘Digest format’ column. To enable daily digest summaries for specific members, edit their details by ticking the checkbox next to their name and selecting ‘Edit’. On the Edit Members screen, you can then check the ‘Digest’ box and then ‘Update’ to ensure that they receive it (a green tick should now show next to their name when you return to the Address Book).
When adding members to your list in bulk, you can set all members to receive digest summaries. Click on ‘Add many’ in the Address Book and then add your members’ details. Before clicking ‘Add Addresses’, make sure you have checked the ‘Set added members to receive daily digest email’ box on the left.
You can watch a demo of enabling daily digest summary emails in this short video.
Email addresses can be difficult to remember, resulting in mistakes when people send you an email. An alias can be used to make a straightforward replacement for a long or hard-to-remember address. An alias can also be used to forward messages sent to the alias on to another specified email address or group of addresses.
In simplelists, it is easy to use aliases as an effective way of grouping lists together. They can be a big time saver if you want to send a message to several lists. Here’s how to do it.
Send to more than one list
In practice, you simply send the message to the alias’ email address and it is sent to all the lists. You can also include normal email addresses within an alias - the message will be sent to them too.
Creating an alias is easy. Login and select a multiple list account. Navigate to the aliases page and select 'Click here to add a new alias’.
Choose an email address for the alias. Note that, by default, the email address ends in your simplelists domain. Enter the email address(es) of the lists you want the alias to be forwarded to. In the screenshot below, we have added three lists: customers, employees and managers. A normal email address is also included. Click 'Update’ to complete the process.
Editing an alias
You can edit the alias details by selecting the one you wish to edit on the 'aliases’ page under 'Your current aliases’.
Some things to be aware of
It is important to know that, when using an email alias, it can sometimes be the case that it is harder for email recipients to know where the email has come from, especially if they have not received an email from the alias address previously. You should therefore make sure that it is still clear who the sender is and how they can 'opt-out’ of receiving similar messages in the future, if they wish (read our earlier posts on good email etiquette and what information you can include in the email footer).
If the recipient has not received an email from the alias address before, it is also important to be aware that spam filters may be more sensitive to these emails than those sent to your familiar member list address(es). Another one of our posts on making sure your emails don’t get sent to the spam folder will help to avoid this happening.
These minor issues aside, it is also interesting to know that you can use an alias to reduce the chances of your data being compromised. By using a hard-to-guess alias as a password recovery address for your many online accounts, it can be more difficult for hackers to compromise your data.
A recent study carried out by ReturnPath estimated that only 79% of emails sent by legitimate email marketers (i.e. emails sent to people who signed up to your list) reach the inbox. Spam filters are becoming more and more sensitive, to ensure that non-legitimate, spam emails don’t get delivered. It is important to follow a simple set of rules to ensure that your list members receive the emails they have signed up for.
Build a good email list
The most important thing you can do to ensure that your emails get delivered to the inbox is to ensure that the people that you are emailing want to hear from you. It is not advised to buy or rent email lists that you can’t trust the source of, and it’s important that your list members have opted-in to receive your list. The most common way to opt-in is to subscribe to a particular mailing list, either via a website or a social media link. If people visit your website (regardless of whether they purchase something), they tend to be interested in the information you are providing. You can include an email sign-up box on all pages, allowing users to join your list. A 'soft opt-in’ is is when a customer has bought something from you and, on this basis, you assume that they might like to receive information about other products/services. They might also have opted in 'softly’ if they have been given the option to refuse to receive communications from you and they chose not to select this option.
Ask your recipients to add you to their contact list
Getting emails delivered to the inbox is pretty much guaranteed if your list members have added you to their address book/contact list. You can ask them to add you to their contacts in the first welcome email that you send them when they sign up to receive your messages. It’s also a good idea to remind them in the body of other emails that you send.
Take care with your subject line
The subject line of your email will also affect the likelihood of your email making it to the inbox. We have considered how to write a good subject line in a previous post - the key message here is that your subject line should not be significantly longer than 35 to 50 characters because the longer it is, the more likely it is that it will go to the spam folder.
Make it easy for them to unsubscribe
This might sound like a strange one but making the unsubscribe link prominent can actually help overall deliverability to your list. It is much better if your recipients choose to unsubscribe, rather than marking your email as spam. Email service providers such as Gmail, Hotmail and others keep track of spam complaints and may penalise you for it, affecting how many of your other emails get delivered. By making it easy for your list members to unsubscribe, you minimise the risk of the email service provider blocking all the emails you send.
Finally, it is important to understand that there are laws governing the sending of emails to a list - you can read more about email spam and the law in one of our earlier posts.
Email marketing campaigns are used by the majority of companies to advertise their products, share their news, or invite their subscribers to take part in activities/events. A campaign is a 'call to action’ with varying objectives and, recently, there have been several questions raised about the effectiveness of email as a method for engaging and motivating your contacts.
In this post, we look at why, despite the rise of social media, email marketing remains an important and effective marketing tool.
People tend to prefer email
More than 200 million emails are sent every minute. It is perhaps no surprise that email is still a very heavily used means of communication for consumers and organisations alike. It allows you to open your mail at your leisure, rather than receiving a phone call or text, and direct mailings can often be thrown straight in the bin if not immediately relevant. A 2015 study carried out in the US found that 72% of American adults say that they prefer companies to communicate with them by email, rather than by other means. A high percentage (91%) of respondents also said that they like to receive promotional emails from organisations that they already do business with.
It has advantages over social media
Email marketing allows you to send relevant and insightful content to a group of people who have knowingly and willingly subscribed to your list. Over-enthusiastic marketing using social media can lead to you losing followers, especially if you bombard them with too many posts/adverts. With social media, you are relying on your followers to see your posts, yet if they only access their accounts at certain times of the day, you may get missed in their already-busy feed. It is also hard to target your marketing on social media when all your followers see all your posts. An email can be opened when it suits the recipient. In addition, most users of the internet are also email account holders, whereas only 70% have a social media account.
It is an easy way to reach mobile customers
Email marketing remains an easy way for organisations to reach their list members on mobile devices, without having to invest in new technology and/or software. A 2014 study carried out by shop.org found that just under 50% of retail email messages were opened by customers on their smartphones, and about 20% on tablet devices.
You can target your list to get better results
Simply building a list of email contacts can be a waste of time. Instead, it is worth investing your efforts in segmenting and targeting your list so that you have engaged readers who want to open your email and read what you have written. For example, you do not want to send information about the latest sale in women’s clothing to your male subscribers. If you don’t target your emails well, you are likely to see high 'unsubscribe’ rates.
In Part 1 we looked at one of the most popular uses for Simplelists, the listserve. In this post we’ll consider another use that is also widely used - email marketing.
WHY USE EMAIL MARKETING?
There are many forms of marketing: SEO (search engine optimistion), social media marketing (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Google+), a good website, advertising, email marketing and more. If you are serious about your business you should be using as many of these as possible. Each has their strengths and weaknesses but it is worth remembering that it isn’t an either/or choice - ideally you’ll use almost all methods.
But we’re focusing on email marketing here - why use email marketing?
It’s direct - when you send an email it goes directly to the person’s inbox. This means that you have the opportunity to gain the full attention of the customer.
It’s targeted - you decide exactly who you will send the emails to and you can tailor those emails specifically for the people who receive them. You can send different emails to different groups of customers.
To convert visitors to customers - when people browse websites online, most don’t buy immediately from the first website they see. Most people visit multiple websites and often research the area further, gathering information from several websites and returning to buy when they are ready - maybe after several days or weeks.
But which shop will the customer return to in order to make the purchase? Often it is simply the shop that they remember. Email marketing can really help here - if people receive a timely email they’ll remember you before the competition.
To encourage repeat business - customers that have bought from you before are more likely to return. You can use email marketing to contact them directly about new offers, products or services and turn a one time customer into a regular buyer.
WHY USE SIMPLELISTS?
Simplelists makes for great email marketing, here’s why:
It’s simple - you don’t need to be a tech expert to use simplelists. Just write an email and send it to your whole list!
It’s quick - let’s face it, you have a million and one things to do when you are running a business. If it takes up a lot of time to do your marketing jobs, they’ll probably end up forgotten. With Simplelists you can send out an email to all your customers in just a couple of minutes... and that means more time for everything else.
Emails get through - there is nothing worse than your marketing emails not getting through to your customers. Simplelists have better deliverability than email clients and free providers.
Your emails are free from advertising - most free group email providers place adverts on your emails so that they can advertise to your customers. This looks cheap and can be detrimental to your business. Emails that you send via Simplelists are free from adverts.
You can send HTML emails - with Simplelists you have the option to design emails using HTML. You aren’t constrained to templates so your emails can look exactly how you like. Of course you don’t have to use HTML - you can send simple text emails too.