Picking the best email marketing server isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Hell, there are about a hundred of them! Some email marketing servers are better than others and some services won’t even let you do marketing with their servers, or even worse…they kick you off! ouch

What makes one email server better for marketing than another?

Namely the IP reputation. When sending emails your email marketing server has several reputations. Domain, IP and email address. You generally start out with a neutral reputation, I say generally because you’ll sometimes get a server that’s been used. If you are new to this concept, refer to my post on warming an email server.

IP Reputation

When looking for an email marketing server, IP reputation is the most important part. IP Reputation gets you emails delivered to the provider. While this might not seem super important, it is, because even with a great domain reputation your mail will never get delivered (best case, you hit the spam folder).

Finding an email marketing server with good IP reputation

Now we’re getting to the meat! The important thing that you are looking for are “shared-pool IPs”. With shared IPs, you are leveraging all of the customers using the IPs. It’s like having immediate IP warming done for you. While this can be great, you also want to consider that you might get on a bad range. Typically what happens is there are three ranges; The good, the medium and the bad. In order to keep taking your money, the email marketing service providers will happily take your money, but you will be moved to an appropriate IP range given your complaints. So, if you generate high complaints, then you are going to be moved to the bad IP range. If you have low complaints, you are going to be moved to the good IP range. This process almost always happens programatically, so you’ll want to do your best.

The bad part about being on a shared range is the concept of “noisy neighbors”. While you might be doing great with your complaints and doing everything right, you have absolutely no control over what the other person is doing. For instance, he could be spamming like crazy, or have just imported 500k new subscribers and now completely blows up the server. This will drastically impact your deliverability. It’s definitely something to be concerned about because it frequently happens.

Finding a good shared pool email marketing server

Amazon SES Years ago, Amazon SES was great so everybody used it. Sadly, (in my opinion) it’s been so used and abused that it no longer is a good viable option from an email marketing server. They are cheap at $0.10 per 1k emails sent, which is 8 times cheaper than Mailgun, but their approval process is painful.

Sendgrid Sendgrid was also a good solution and still could be, depending on how spammy your content is. They look at your content on your first couple of blasts. So, if you are pushing payday loans or XXX, you might want to think about your first couple of blasts before sending your REAL content.

Mailgun Mailgun is great, but expensive as hell. Their shared pool range is $0.80 per thousand emails send. I mean, they have some plans that will get you like 60k out for $100, but overall their pricing is rough. Also, they will kick you off their platform if your complaints are over 0.05%

I would suggest first trying Mailgun or Sendgrid then migrating over to SES if you are completely stuck.

Dedicated IP(s) for email marketing server(s)

Every company will want to sell you this. The reason being is that it keeps them safe and gives them really good insights into your behavior. However, if you are sending cold emails or are trying to market to new data, this is a terrible option. You’ll never build positive IP/Domain reputation and you’ll either wind up in the spam folder or end up getting 5xx errors, meaning that your emails are being blocked.

Pre-warmed email marketing server(s)

If you are sending cold emails, you might want to consider purchasing a pre-warmed email marketing server. IP Oven is a great option, their servers are warmed with REAL people, not bots. While saying this, please make sure to read about warming a server. There is a LOT of false information going around and some really terrible services out there, some of which have even been funded by Y-Combinator =[. They are scams, plain and simple.

A pre-warmed email marketing server is going to get you past the hurdles of a dedicated IP or potentially being downgraded to a sub-par IP from Mailgun, Sendgrid or Amazon. It will super-charge your outreach, so that you are actually getting into the inbox.

Maintaining your email marketing server

You might think that if you buy a pre-warmed server, you are good to go…but you still have to have good data hygiene practices. If you are scraping Linkedin emails (or scrapping as I hear folks selling their services…lol), you are going to want to still clean your data. The reason being is that you may wind up with spam traps. These spam traps will ruin your IP/Domain reputation by just mailing them once. I don’t really understand how they are supposed to stop spam, because they didn’t slow things down, but they exist and we have to deal with them. So clean your data with something like BriteVerify or Neverbounce.

Build your own email marketing server

I would suggest following the mail-in-a-box tutorial and setting up your own server. It’s a cheap and easy solution, however, you are still going to need to build your reputation. I would suggest checking out Inbox Ignite to build your IP/Domain reputation. However, you are still left with maintaining your server and keeping up with the reputation. It’s a good option if you are somewhat technical.

Best hosting providers for building your own email marketing server

Regarding a VPS…I’m a big fan of Linode, they have fantastic support and you can actually call somebody. I absolutely HATE the support from digitalocean, it’s hands down the worst. Vultr isn’t bad, but they want your driver’s license on file to get started. Rackspace is expensive, but have good customer service and mediocre deliverability.

If you are looking for a dedicated email marketing server, Liquid Web is the best. Their IPs are almost magical, I’m joking but they inbox really well. They do NOT put up with spam, so you’ll want to be on good behavior. OVH is a great solution if you have high complaints. They’ve attracted almost every spammer in the world, so be ready fro sub-par deliverability BUT being able to survive.

The long and short of hosting your own email marketing server is…for a VPS, go with Linode and for a dedicated email marketing server, go with Liquid Web.

Monitoring your email marketing server

So, there are a handful of items that you are going to want to monitor on your email marketing server.

1) Is it inboxing? Are there problems with a certain TLD?

The best option for monitoring your email server is Inbox Track. It will tell you if you are inboxing or not. It’s a simple service and there’s a super long free trial.

For a more detailed breakdown (and a more painful setup) you could also check out GlockApps. People seem to really love them and I hear they have great support. They are more expensive though.

2) Is it on any known spamtraps?

You’ll want to monitor IP and domain for being on any spam traps. The BEST service here is HetrixTools. I’m not even going to suggest another one, HextrixTools is cheap, fast, comprehensive….I LOVE them. You will too.

3) What is my IP/Domain reputation?

With gmail, you have Postmaster Tools. This tells you about everything that Google wants you to know about your sending practices.

With microsoft, you have SNDS, which tells you a fair amount about your sending. M$ is extremely frustrating to consistently inbox with. Most people struggle with them, ever since they got massively “hacked” a few years back they have really upped their anti-spam game (guilty until proven innocent).

With yahoo/aol/verizon you have their postmaster tools, which really doesn’t tell you much, it’s just their feedback loop. So, you’ll want some seeds to see what’s going on with their network.

4) Are emails actually going out?

This is called your mail queue. You’ll want to keep an eye on this. If you send too fast, you get rate-limited/throttled (4xx errors) or potentially blocked (5xx errors). Finding information on how to set your TLD throttles isn’t the easiest thing to come across on the internet. I could make a GIANT post about how to do this and what each one should be set to and then wind up starting a war in the comments. Let’s just leave it at trial and error. Gmail will take as much as you can send it and generally yahoo/aol/hotmail are substantially more throttled. If you read my post on warming an email server, it tells you exactly how you should be throttling.

Front-end for sending emails on an email marketing server

So, now that we’ve discussed an email marketing server, now we need to discuss what you’ll be using to send emails with. This is your email sending platform. Some are hosted on locally on your server, others run on your desktop, while others are hosted for you.

Email marketing platforms

MailWizz - I know I rag on MailWizz, but for the price, it’s not horrible. I mean, there could be a LOT worse out there. The community is pretty great and chances are if you are struggling with something, the answer is on their forums. I mean, I have a few licenses…so yeah, not bad.

Acelle - It’s pretty, but it’s single-threaded. So, keep that in mind. I used it in the past and it’s nice, with less fine-tuning than MailWizz. It’s fairly simple to use. I don’t love it, but I do love the UI. Sexy!

Sendy - It works great with Amazon SES, that’s what they made it for. It works less great with your own servers. And if you aren’t using SSL or TLS, you have to edit the database by hand to add your email marketing server (SMTP). Note, almost every setup of that cracked version of PMTA that dudes on Fiverr setup for you will NOT have SSL or TLS. So, you gotta do some DB hacking to make it work. It’s pretty nice to be honest, once you get past that annoyance.

Mailcoach - I’m throwing this into the mix because of the good things that I heard. The UI looks great, however, they cap you on volume….so that’s a bit of a concern. It’s on my list of platforms to try.

DirectMail for Mac - I love this one. It is just great. It’s not all that cheap and it is a desktop sending app. And it only works on a mac. But it is really really great! My favorite and a go to.

Send Blaster - They are a decent option for PC. I’ve used them in the past. I don’t have a lot to say about them because I only used them for a project, but they are comparable to DirectMail.

Octeth - You can start your own ESP with these guys. It’s not the cheapest option, but it’s a very very powerful platform.

Deliverability Agent - I’ve never used them, I hear great things though.

VoloMP - This is probably the best option on the list. If you have the cash, these guys will get you on a really good setup. It’s amazing.

Robomail - This is a great company, as it’s company owned. They have an amazing product and a low pressure sales team.

Mautic - I used them in the past when the platform was still in beta. It really is a great platform. The open-source side is free and the

Interspire - This was the first one. The UI is still the same, but don’t let that fool you…This one is POWERFUL. It literally does everything you want it to do and there have been a lot of addons developed for it. It’s a great option too.

Mumara - This one does it all for you. It can install email servers, configure them, mail your campaigns and give your dog a bath. I’ve used it and it’s a bit too much configuration, with a high learning curve for me. But don’t let my bias scare you away, it’s still a good option.

Honorable mentions:

  • Throughput\
  • Gain250\
  • PathdropPro\
  • Doctor Mailer

Hopefully at this point, you have enough information to start building your own email marketing server. If you feel like ripping your hair out, I would suggest going over to Send Hive, where all the hard work has already been done for you and you can worry about sending emails and leave all of the technical details to a team of experts. Obvious plug is obvious…I know :)