ESP Migration: What Digital Publishers Need to Know

esp migration for digital publishers

With all the other headaches facing the digital publishing industry in 2018, the last thing a major publisher probably wants to tackle is switching email service providers.

As anyone who’s migrated ESPs or considered migrating or even just heard horror stories about migrating knows, it’s no small task. A successful migration can take months, and an unsuccessful migration can take years off an emailer’s life.

The Numbers: Why do emailers stick with their ESPs?

MediaPost recently highlighted a survey assessing why emailers stick with their ESPs, finding that “organizations are turned off by the challenge of changing, and skeptical that things will improve if they do.”

It’s especially challenging for larger companies to migrate, and the numbers show it: 40% of firms that send more than 100 million emails per month have been with their current primary ESP for over five years, while only 10% who send 10-50 million emails a month say the same thing. In a world of rapidly-changing technology, staying with a solution for 5 years can be an eternity, which hints at just how cumbersome ESP migration can be.

In fact, it can be so cumbersome that many companies would rather stick with an unsatisfactory provider than switch to a new one. Larger emailers are more likely to stay with their ESP, but they’re also less likely to be satisfied with that ESP: 29% of companies who send less than 50 million emails per month are “very satisfied” with their ESP, while just 14% of companies who send more than that report high satisfaction.

When email is a significant revenue driver, an interruption in sending email can affect the bottom line. But staying with the wrong ESP can affect revenue just as much. If you have the feeling your current email solution is holding you back, here are some things to consider as you ponder the big switch.

ESP migration sounds scary. Why should I switch?

Maybe your current ESP never delivered on its promises. Decision-makers might be persuaded to choose an ESP by slick technologies that sound good or demo well but prove impractical for daily use. For example, personalization is a hot topic in publishing, but chasing personalization as an end in itself might cause publishers to end up with an expensive tool that doesn’t deliver the returns to justify it.

A publisher’s email program can also change over time. The goals that led you to your current solution might not align with your current goals, which means your current ESP might not align with your new goals either. As the need for publishers to diversify their traffic sources becomes more critical, publishers must make sure their email service provider is up to the task.

ESPs can change their focus over time too. After all, they’re trying to stay afloat too. An ESP that once met your digital publishing needs may have shifted their solutions to make them more friendly to meet the needs of ecommerce companies or other brands. For publishers, email isn’t just a marketing channel; often, it’s a means of delivering the product or even the product itself. When publishers go ESP shopping, it’s a good idea to keep the unique nature of publishing email in mind.

What should publishers look for in a new Email Service Provider?

Among other things, digital publishing & media companies should partner up with an ESP that has:

  • A solid understanding of the publishing industry. Publishers need to grow their audience, nurture the audience, and deliver content to that audience. What works in other verticals doesn’t necessarily work for publishing, which means you need an ESP backed by experts in the industry with proven experience in delivering publisher results and revenue.
  • Tools that support the unique goals and challenges digital publishers face. The largest publishers send dozens of newsletters based on verticals, topics, and even around special events. It’s not easy to maintain such a large email program, but having an ESP with powerful automation, analytics, and audience development solutions can help.
  • Monetization solutions to supplement publisher revenue. Diversification of publisher revenue is key for survival in the industry. Email offers ample revenue options for publishers looking to drive more revenue, and ESPs with these monetization solutions built-in makes it easier to profit from this profitable channel.
  • Seamless integration with existing solutions. Publishers are investing in more technology than ever to drive revenue, and email is at the heart of it. Fortunately, juggling a complicated tech stack becomes a little easier if your ESP plays well with others. Make sure your potential ESP integrates with your CRM, CMS, CDP, or whatever 3-letter abbreviation you use to get the job done. The PostUp platform integrates with Return Path, WordPress, Tableau, Parse.ly and other industry leaders.

How can I make sure ESP migration doesn’t hurt deliverability?

The riskiest part of ESP migration is its potential for harming a publisher’s deliverability. Publishers can take small steps to avoid deliverability issues (such as asking subscribers to whitelist their new from address), but ultimately, the success of your future email delivery comes down to the success of your migration.

Migrating without significant hits to your inbox placement is doable, but it must be done with care. Unless you’re a seasoned ESP nomad, you’ll need a deliverability team in your corner to develop an onboarding plan to make your ESP switch as smooth as possible.

Changes in an IP’s sending behavior can affect deliverability, so moving your email database must be done slowly. Typically, this involves moving the most engaged segments of the email list first, then bringing over less engaged users. Unengaged email addresses might be put into a re-engagement email campaign or even left behind entirely. A deliverability expert can help you determine the best course of action for every part of your email list.

What about the learning curve of a new ESP?

On paper, switching email service providers can sometimes prove costly, but there can also be hidden costs. Costs that don’t even pop up in the fine print: the cost of learning a new ESP.

Today’s ESPs offer powerful personalization, segmentation, automation, and analytics capabilities, but these capabilities can also prove challenging for some email marketers. Fortunately, ESPs like PostUp give new users the tools they need to navigate a new platform.

As Mollie Kuramoto put it in MarketingProfs, “When you buy a product, you buy the company behind the product, too.” An ESP with initial training, ongoing customer education, knowledgeable client services, and strong support solutions can make all the difference when it comes to smoothing out that learning curve.

What if I’m ready to switch now?

While ESP migration can be difficult, matching up with an ESP that better suits your program can ensure the process is worth it. Considering migrating to PostUp? Click here to schedule a demo with an email platform that’s overseen more than a few successful migrations, including that of Apartment Therapy.

Editor, PostUp PlayBook