Growing an email list is not as simple as it may sound. There is more to collecting email addresses, like understanding the legal issues behind them. That can be a challenge for many bloggers (me included) but the answer to those problems is an email service provider. They are an email marketing tool that will simplify the process of building an email list and help you rest easy at night.
Have you thought about joining one but are not sure if you need it, not sure if one is in your budget, or don’t know which one is best for you?
Don’t worry. I’ve got the answers to those questions and will help you get on the right path.
What is an Email Service Provider?
Before learning why an email service provider (ESP) is needed, it’s important to understand what it is. An ESP is a tool that allows businesses to collect and manage email addresses. It is also an email marketing tool.
Most ESPs come with a variety of tools and features that can be used to grow your blog business. Not all ESPs are the same and each does something a little different.
For those at the beginning of their blog journey, it’s best to choose an ESP that has a free plan. This is smart because there is no need for a paid plan when you don’t even have a list. And the truth is that building a list can be a slow process.
Everyone starts at zero, so why pay for a service when your business does not make an income. I made the mistake of firmly believing the only way to grow my email list was with a paid ESP.
Where I Went Wrong
I read tons of reviews from bloggers about how ConvertKit is the best choice if you want to treat your blog like a business. Mind you this was before ConvertKit had a free plan, so the only option was to pay the $29 per month fee.
But it didn’t help. There are multiple details that need to be considered to grow an email list and a paid ESP is not one of them. Instead, I spent over $150 and it turned out to be a waste. That money could have gone to a course or tool for my blog.
Don’t make the same mistake as me. Instead, start with a free plan until you need a paid one.
The top choices for bloggers that have free plans are:
I recommend and use MailerLite. From my experience, they have the best free plan available and are easy to use (which is essential for those who have never used an ESP before). Not sure if it is the right one for you, then check out this blog post here where I go into detail about the 10 reasons MailerLite is the best choice for new bloggers.
Blogger Tip: Not everyone likes the same ESP and to help you choose the best one for your blog business, I recommend creating an account with the ones that interest you. ONLY create accounts with ESPs that have a free plan otherwise you put yourself at risk of spending money when you don’t need to.
Why Do Bloggers Need an Email Service Provider?
Reason #1: Building Your Email List Legally
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. If you need more clarification about the laws surrounding an email list then please reach out to one. The information from this post is what I have learned over the years.
If there is only one reason to get an ESP then this is it. Whether you are using your blog as a business or a hobby, it is your responsibility to be aware of how to collect email addresses legally. There is an awesome thing called due diligence. In general, due diligence is the steps that a person must take in order to comply with the law.
Even though you may not be making millions (but hopefully one day you do), since you are collecting a person’s information you are responsible for knowing the laws surrounding them. And not only do you need to be concerned with the laws for the country you live in but also those of other countries.
And as someone who isn’t a lawyer and has very little ability to understand all the legal jargon of the written law, I prefer to have a service that will take care of that for me. Thankfully, that is where an email service provider comes in.
Here are a few details you need to be aware of when building an email list:
1. Keep Record of Subscribers Permission
You need proof that you were given permission to use the email addresses and ESPs do this automatically. Using a personal email (like Gmail) requires a lot more work and organization on your part. From having a written statement to keeping it filed in an easy to find folder.
2. Sending Out Mass Emails.
Personal emails were not made to send to hundreds of people and when sending out to large numbers (i.e. over 100) it can mark your email as spam. And spam is the death of an email list. If no one sees your emails then no one knows about them.
Plus you could accidentally email everyone in the “To” section and that would violate their privacy. How? Because when you send the email with your subscriber’s email address in the To section, then everyone on the email can see them and potentially use them. Your subscribers did not give you the right to share their email address with others.
3. Being GDPR Compliant.
What is this? GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation and it is a set of guidelines dictating the collection and use of emails for European Union (EU) users.
MailerLite has a great article about GDPR compliance. In their post, they go over the big key points to the subscriber’s rights. The image below is a quick summary from MailerLite of the most important user rights that apply to email marketing. Click that link for more details on GDPR.
4. Ability to Unsubscribe.
This goes hand in hand with GDPR compliance but it is an important point. A person can unsubscribe from an email list whenever they want and it is your responsibility to make it possible. With an ESP, they include an unsubscribe link in every email sent.
This is a big hassle if using a personal email. That means you need to see the unsubscribe request (hopefully it doesn’t get lost in the spam folder) and make sure the email is removed. While this might not be an issue if you have only 20 subscribers, the goal is to get it to grow to a much bigger number and then it will be an issue.
Reason #2: Tracking Analytical Data
Bloggers use Google Analytics to track the data for the blog and with an ESP, you can do the same thing except it is for the information in your emails. ESPs will track data from what links have been clicked to who opened what email.
With this information, you can figure how your subscribers are interacting with your emails. One example is seeing which emails are opened more which will tell you the types of headings people like. Another example is finding out what topics people are more interested in.
This will allow you to create a stronger relationship with your email list and that can eventually lead to making some money through it.
Reason #3: Organize Your List
As your blog grows, so will the variety of your opt-ins. This might not be your top priority in the beginning but it will become a more important factor later on. Eventually, your email list will expand to the point where you can divide it into various groups. This is perfect if one group is more interested in Topic A and another in Topic B.
This can prove to be a strategy to cater to those individual interests based on your subscribers. For example, let’s say you have an opt-in for kid recipes and another for kid activities. Well you can separate the subscribers into two separate groups and send them emails that fit their needs better. So only send email related to kid recipes to those who joined your kid recipe opt-in and the same for the kid activities opt-in.
Which Email Service Provider is the Best Choice?
Truthfully, there is no one single answer and that’s because each person/blog has different needs. There are many bloggers out there who give recommendations (me included) but keep in mind that the final decision is based on your experience with the service.
Even though I say there isn’t a single answer, there are ways to help figure out which ones to try. To do this, first, answer these three questions below:
Question 1: How much can I afford to spend on an email service provider?
Question 2: What functions or tools do I need to grow my email list?
Question 3: What do I want my weekly emails to look like?
Each of these questions plays a part in whittling down the choices (because there are quite a few to choose from). Like I said before, the three most popular ESPs that bloggers use are MailerLite, ConvertKit, and Mailchimp. That is a great place to start but don’t feel like they are the only ones to try.
If you are not making any money from your blog yet, the best choice is starting off with an ESP that has a free plan. It sometimes can take a while to grow an email list and there are excellent free plans available that are the perfect option.
What is Needed to Create an Account with an Email Service Provider?
Sweet! You made your choice. Now it’s time to set up an account. There are only two bits of information needed when creating an ESP account and they are:
1. A Professional Email
2. Mail Address
In order to create an account with an email service provider, a professional email is required. But what exactly is a professional email? A professional email is simply an email address that is associated with your domain name. This is not an email that ends in @gmail.com or @outlook.com.
Let’s use my blog business as an example. My domain name is www.theprintablesblog.com and so my professional email address that is connected to it is firstname.lastname@example.org.
A professional email is a simple way to look credible and will help prevent your emails from being marked as spam (which we never want). Like I said before…spam is the death of a healthy email list. If your subscribers never see it then they never know about you. And that means you can build a relationship and grow your blog business.
Speaking as someone who works in a corporate business, I always take a professional email more seriously than one from a personal email (like Gmail). It is a small way to set the stage that your blog is a legit business and you are to be taken seriously.
There are free (web hosting) and paid (email hosting) options to choose from to creating a professional email.
Free Option – Web Hosting
Most hosting sites provide you the ability to create a free email address, which is a great option for starting out. How you set it up will depend on your web host. Typically, you need to find the section for email. Once there, look for section that has a fill-in text box followed by @yourdomainname.com.
Here are links to common web hosts and how to create a professional email:
While the free option is a great choice when you are starting out and trying to save some money, it is not the best long term option. One big reason is that if something goes wrong with the host, then something will go wrong with your email since they are interconnected.
Here’s my experience with the free option:
While it is possible to set up your free domain email to be used through another email account or through an app (like Microsoft’s mail app), it is not always reliable. I set up my domain email to Microsoft’s mail app and for a while, it worked great.
Until I realized it wasn’t sending my emails. All those emails I thought I had sent were actually sitting in my outbox. For those that don’t know the difference (because I certainly didn’t), the outbox is mail in the process of being sent and the sent box is mail that has officially been sent.
Let’s just say that I was extremely frustrated by this turn of events because those emails were time-sensitive and part of my process to grow backlinks. Since they didn’t get sent, I lost the opportunity. From that I learned that I would either need to log into the mail account through my hosting site OR figure out a different solution.
I chose a different solution and went with GSuite. It is the Gmail option for businesses. Here you can use your domain email while also getting access to a ton of sweet features.
Paid Option – Email Hosting
What is email hosting? It is a service to host and manage your professional email. But it can come with many tools that you can use (and not all of them are related to email. These are typically paid services BUT the good news is that it’s an affordable option.
The email host that I use and recommend is Google Workplace (formerly known as GSuite). The cost of the basic plan is $6 per month which comes out to $72 a year and that is a deal for everything you get out of it! The basic plan is perfect for those on a budget and/or beginning their blogging journey.
With Google Workplace, you get access to a lot of features and materials. Here’s a quick list of everything that comes with the basic plan: Gmail, Drive, Meet, Calendar, Chat, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Keep, Sites, Forms, and Currents. Plus you get 30 GB of cloud storage. I use many of the Google applications for blogging. The main one are Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drive.
If this sounds like what you need then check out Google Workspace right here.
Not a Google fan?
No worries. If you prefer Microsoft over Google, then I’ve got you covered. Microsoft 365 is pretty much the exact same service as Google Workspace and it can be checked out here.
Is there a big difference between the two? The answer is no (at least in my opinion).Out of the two, Outlook’s basic plan costs less but only by $1. So don’t let money be a big deciding factor for you.
If you want to try Google’s or Microsoft’s features and tools before purchasing a plan, then sign up for a free personal email. Don’t use this email to build an email list BUT play around with what is offered. While not everything will be the same, you will have access to a majority of it.
What are the Benefits of Email Hosting?
An email host provides more security compared to an email with a web host. It protects the data that comes into the account and what is sent out. This includes any attachments.
2. More reliable.
If you didn’t read about my experience with using the free option, then take a quick moment and check it out. I lost out on some potential opportunities with the free option.
3. More Features and Tools with Email Hosting.
Google Workplace and Outlook 365 both offer a number of tools that you can use to grow your business, like the storage options available. But you also get access to their office suite apps like Google Doc or Microsoft Word.
4. Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket.
This goes for many things in life but it is certainly true with email hosting. If something goes wrong with your web host that means it could potentially go wrong with the email domain set up there. Another reason is if you even decide to switch web hosts, this can add a layer of complication. By using an email host, it is one less detail to worry about.
5. Easier Access.
This is especially true when using either Google or Microsoft’s email hosting. While I am not a believer in being attached to your work 24/7, having the ability to use your email account where ever you are can be essential sometimes. And with the way we use our cell phones today, it makes sense to have our blog business email right there at our fingertips. The web host email option is more difficult and not as successful. I tried to access the email once through my phone and found it wasn’t worth the hassle.
6. Your web host is really meant for websites, not email.
This is why it is important to invest in the correct tools for the job. A web host is not meant to handle an email account in the same capacity that Google Workplace was. They were each created with different purposes and their features work towards their strengths.
7. More Storage Available.
In SiteGround (which is the web host I use), I would only get 512 MB of storage for my email compared to the 30 MB on Google Workplace’s lowest plan or 1 TB on Microsoft’s Outlook 365.
Conclusion: A web host is a good short term option (6 months and under) and the email host is the better long term option to growing a thriving business.
Part of the requirements for sending emails to your subscribers is that you need a real physical address. Every ESP that I have created an account with requires you to input a physical address. You can’t get out of it.
One option is your home address but that isn’t always the ideal option. Other options that don’t involve using your home address are:
- USPS P.O. Box
- UPS Box
There are virtual P.O. boxes out there but I don’t recommend them. For one, you need to be 100% sure that it is a real address, and most of the time you can’t. The second reason is that it costs about the same as a small P.O. Box.
For those that use ConvertKit, you are allowed to use their physical address and it is a great perk. ConvertKit is my second favorite email service provider and this one special bonus sets them apart from others.
Best Email Service Provider Set-Up Tip
My best advice is to use a double opt-in or confirmation email when building your email list. It is associated with an opt-form or a landing page. A double opt-in is a feature that requires the subscriber to confirm that they want to be added to the email list. It is optional but I can’t state enough that it is highly recommended.
Why Should You Use a Double Opt-In?
The simple answer is that it protects you and your email list. A double opt-in makes sure that those who truly want to be on your list, get on your list. I like to think of it as the first step to having a healthy list.
Another reason it is recommended is that there are these lovely things called scam bots (mind you I say lovely sarcastically) that go around and automatically subscribe to your email list. These aren’t real people who will be a part of your blog’s growth.
My first experience with scam bots was not fun. I had logged onto my account and saw that someone subscribed. I was thrilled because it had been a struggle lately. When I looked at the name, I thought that it was weird.
The name that was entered was a combination of random numbers. Almost like a toddler had been typing it. I didn’t think much of it at first.
It wasn’t until the next day and the one after, that more of these types of people were subscribing. It took about nine scam bot subscriptions before I realized what they were and I was devastated.
Here I was thinking I was doing a great job and that I had finally figured out an essential step, when in fact, it wasn’t. Even though this was a hard blow to my confidence, it taught me an important lesson about using the double-opt-in.
I still get spam bots but with the double-opt-in, I don’t have to worry about having an email list that is bogus. Instead, I now know that each person has made the conscious decision to join my list and wants to hear from me.
That’s an incredible feeling.
How to Activate a Double Opt-In
Either create a brand new opt-in form or go to one that is already made and needs the double opt-in. Click the Forms button for Opt-In forms or the Sites button for landing pages.
Typically when you create a form the double opt-in will already be active. If you deactivated it, go to your forms main page and click the toggle switch associated with Double Opt-In to make it active. Once it is active, the Double Opt-In Email and Thank You page will be present.
Head there to customize your response.
It should automatically be set up for a double opt-in but let me show you where it is so you can find it to customize.
Go to an already created form in the Landing Pages & Forms tab in the top menu. Either create a new one or open one that is already made. In your opt-in form or landing page, click the Settings button near the top right corner.
It will open the Form Settings menu. From their go to the Incentive tab. Make sure the Auto-confirm new subscribers checkbox is unchecked.
From there you can either hit the Save button OR click the Edit Email Contents button to personalize the confirmation email. Once you finished making your edits, click Save.
MailChimp is a little different than the other two. To enable the double opt-in feature, click the Audience icon on the left-side menu. Go to the Manage Audience drop-down menu on the right-side, open it, and select Settings.
From there click Audience name and defaults. In the Form Settings section you will see a checkbox for Enable double opt-in. Check it and then scroll to the bottom to click the Save Audience And Campaign Defaults.
And that concludes how to set up the double opt-in feature with those three email service providers.
Blogger Tip: Make sure to customize the double opt-in email and thank you page instead of leaving it with the standard set up. Change the wording to reflect your voice and/or add a picture of yourself. This will help build those first initial connections of a loyal subscriber.
Best to Tip Choosing an Email Service Provider
Like I said earlier, there is no single ESP that fits everybody’s needs. You can always ask fellow bloggers what they recommend but that still doesn’t tell you which one will work best for you. It does give you an idea of where to start.
The best tip I can give is to try all the email service providers out yourself. That means creating accounts with the ones that interest you and yes you can have accounts with multiple ESPs. I do. That’s how I am able to walk you through a set up process for each.
Important Note: For those who are new or on a budget, make sure the ESPs you create an account with have a free plan. Don’t put yourself in the position of forgetting to cancel as a trial and then end up paying for multiple accounts.
If you can afford a paid plan and that is what you are looking for, then set up all the trials at the same time. BUT make sure you set a reminder to cancel the account before you have to pay for multiple ESPs.
Now Here is the Step to Figure Out Which One is the Best Choice for You.
Once you have created an account or multiple accounts, go through and make a form. It doesn’t matter what kind of form (embedded, pop-up, or landing page) but make one that would be for your website. Is it simple to use and figure out? Do you like the look of the form or landing page?
Another feature to test is the tool to send emails to your subscribers. Is it simple to write an email to them? Can you personalize them (changing fonts or adding GIFs)?
As you try each one out, consider which ESP you feel most comfortable with. Then compare which features would fit your needs best.
For example, I love both MailerLite and ConvertKit. Both have free plans and are super easy to use. But the one big difference that made me choose MailerLite over ConvertKit is the automation tools. ConvertKit’s free plan does not have that available and I wanted to be able to create a welcome series.
And that’s how I picked MailerLite. There are other reasons why it is a great choice and you can read about them here.
Remember: You can always change ESPs if you want. There is nothing out there that says you have to stick with the first one you choose. It is relatively easy to switch. Download the CSV excel file (which I recommend doing once a month or quarter for backup reasons) and then upload it to the new ESP.
Final Thoughts on Why Bloggers Need an Email Service Provider
They are essential to protecting you from making a legal mistake since it is your responsibility to make sure you are following the law. It doesn’t matter if you blog as a hobby or a business. But an email service provider also gives you the ability to understand how your subscribers interact with your emails and to grow a healthy list.
If you have already made the mistake of growing an email list with a personal email, simply stop now and find an ESP that you like. All you can do is move forward.
Quick Recap on ESPs:
- MailerLite, ConvertKit, and MailChimp are the most popular ESPs for bloggers and each has a free plan.
- The three important reasons you need an ESP are: legal list building, tracking analytical data, and organizing subscribers into lists.
- To create an account with an ESP you need a professional email and a real physical address.
- Double Opt-Ins are essential for having a healthy email list. They keep nasty spam bots from being a part of your list. Plus help you stay in compliance with GDPR regulations.
- My best tip for choosing the ESP that fits your needs is to create an account with the ones you are considering and try them out. We learn what works for us by playing around with it versus hearing what others have to say and going with it. If you don’t have a list or it’s little, MAKE SURE YOU ONLY DO THIS WITH FREE ACCOUNTS!
- If new to blogging, just starting an email list, or on a budget, the business smart decision is to choose an ESP with a free plan. Save that money for when you actually need it.
Growing your email list is important to take your blog business to the next level and that means selecting the right tools. Take the time (but not too long) to learn all the ins and outs.
The most important step of all is to add the opt-in form OR link to the landing page to your blog. Add them everywhere you can. The only way your list will grow is to give your readers the ability to sign up.
Wait a Second! I’ve Got to Ask…
Did this post help you figure out why you need an email service provider? Which ESP are you using or which one do you think will fit your blog best? Did you learn something about ESPs that you didn’t know before?
Tell me about it in the comments below or contact me!
Happy Days –
Hi, I’m CaitieJ. I’m a quirky lady married to the love of her life and raising two wonderful little boys. I’m also the nerd who loves everything about creating printables and opt-in freebies. This blog is all about helping fellow bloggers learn how to create unique freebies that will grow an incredible email list. Check out more about me and my blog right here!