Outsourcing Your Transactional Email

Written by Mike on February 10, 2014

With a post title like that, how can you not be interested? Transactional email – now that’s sexy. Sure, it’s no social media, content strategy, responsive, mobile first exciting topic, but trust me when I say it’s mission critical.

Here’s an example. When we rolled out our new WordPress CMS two years ago, we were running into a problem. We were sending out user accounts and password resets using WordPress’ built-in functions, which funnel through PHP’s mail() function. While it’s easy and requires no set up on the user’s end, many ISP’s see mail coming from a generic IP address or shared hosting environment as spam. Our password changes and other types of transactional email (new blog setup, password change, and so on) were getting lost in the Matrix somewhere.

This made creating user accounts very labor intensive. Instead of just emailing login details, password reset requests and more directly to the user, we found ourselves creating an account for a person and immediately resetting their password, and then giving them the login details. Same went for password changes, they were never getting the transactional email to reset their passwords, so they were calling us. Not efficient.

SendGrid Transactional Email ServiceWe turned to SendGrid. Once we started routing our transactional emails through them and not through our Rackspace server, they started immediately reaching inboxes. Our support calls dropped dramatically, and I didn’t have to spend the time setting up postfix on server and having to learn all it takes to get emails to look like they’re legitimately coming from my server. SendGrid had already figured all that out so it was a no-brainer to leave the heavy-lifting to them.

SendGrid offers a WordPress plugin to make the setup even easier, if you’re using WordPress, but they have libraries and modules for just about every platform you can think of (Rails, PHP, Node.js, and much more) and great documentation.

We’re using SendGrid not just for WordPress email but in also sending transactional email related to our fundraising, for both internal and external audiences. Talk about mission-critical – fundraising is very important for universities so it’s absolutely critical those emails reach their destinations, and they have.

I’d highly recommend trying out SendGrid. They have a free plan where you can send up to 200 emails a day (look at the bottom of this page) as well as a lite plan where you pay $0.10 USD per 1,000 emails sent. Use this link to sign-up and get 25% off.

Mandrill Transactional Email ServiceAnother company we use a bit for marketing email is MailChimp. Their marketing email service is simple to use, and we send a large amount of mail with it.

Last year, they launched a transactional email service called Mandrill. Like SendGrid, it’s a full-service transactional email service. They have libraries for PHP, Python, Ruby and much more, and, of interest to me, a WordPress plugin.

I was interested in Mandrill, so we started using it to process our transactional email for our Class of 2018 online community. Our online community, powered by Buddypress, generates a large amount of transactional email, such as password changes, friend requests, private messages, group posts and much more. I merely installed the plugin, put in my credentials and was ready to go, no looking back.

What I think is really interesting about Mandrill is that you can hook it up to your MailChimp account. This means we can use templates we designed in MailChimp for our email marketing for our transactional emails, so for the user, it’s a much nicer-looking, cohesive experience.

Mandrill has raised the stakes in the transactional email game, offering 12,000 free emails a month. If you send 100,000 emails a month and don’t need a dedicated IP address, Mandrill will cost you $17.60. If you are a current paying MailChimp customer, you get many more free emails. In fact, with the MailChimp plan we’re on, we get 112,000 emails per month free – about what we’re paying $79 a month at SendGrid for.

Here’s a pricing breakdown:

SendGrid Mandrill
Free Sends per day 200 4001
WordPress Plugin Yes Yes
Costs to send 100k emails per month2
Per month $79.95 USD $47.55 USD
Costs to send 300k emails per month
Per month $199.95 USD $87.55 USD
Additional Features
Email Marketing Built-In Yes No (MailChimp service separate)
Open,Click, Unsubscribe tracking Yes Yes
SMTP and Web API Yes Yes

1 – You get 12,000 per month free, so I divided it by 30 days in the average month
2 – Including dedicated IP address

For more pricing and feature information, please visit SendGrid’s pricing page and Mandrill’s pricing page.

If you’re running a large CMS, web app or other service, I’d highly recommend letting a service like SendGrid or Mandrill handle the heavy lifting when it comes to transactional email. You can rest easy knowing your emails are getting to inboxes and you can focus on more important tasks.