A Note on the Recent Changes to Mandrill

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Late last week, every user received an email from Mandrill with details about changes to their pricing structure and service. After spending the weekend looking through their updated notes and talking about the change internally at Oso Studio and with outside colleagues, I’d like to share a brief note with you with my thoughts on the change and how this may impact you.

Since 2012, we’ve used Mandrill in a ton of projects and on almost every site we’ve built at Oso Studio that needs transactional emails. When we first started with transactional email, we researched the options and found that Mandrill is by far the best transactional email service available. It’s no coincidence that it’s one of the youngest Email as a Service providers, but also the largest.

What changes are happening?

The features that made Mandrill great haven’t gone away (thankfully), but they are changing and in some cases significantly. Mandrill has always used the email delivery algorithm from MailChimp, one of the largest email marketing platforms and the one we recommend most. With transactional emails, your email delivery algorithm and servers are the most important feature. By sending through a trusted service like MailChimp/Mandrill, your emails have a much higher delivery rate and rarely end up in a user’s junk folder. This happens because your domain is validated and certified by MailChimp’s algorithm, something that can’t happen if you’re sending email from your own web server.

If you’ve been using Mandrill for a while, the domain validation feature is possibly the largest change to the way Mandrill works today versus how it will work in a few weeks. If you are already using MailChimp, then your domain has already been validated. If you’re not using MailChimp or if you’re using a different domain for your Mandrill emails, then you’ll need to either change your Mandrill email domain to one of your MailChimp validated domains or follow the steps in this article to verify your domain

Another change that will be a major change for long-time Mandrill users is a new monthly fee. In the past, Mandrill has been billed separately from your MailChimp account and has been billed at $9.95/month with 25,000 emails included and $.10-$.20/thousand emails after that. Once your Mandrill account has been merged into MailChimp, your monthly billing will be consolidated so that only one charge from MailChimp will appear on your credit card statement. So while your accountant will be happy about one less JE to book, the pricing structure is changing significantly. Moving forward, you will only be able to purchase Mandrill emails in blocks of 25,000 for a cost of $20/month.

What do I think about this change?

I’m never a fan of paying more for something just to pay more. Is anyone? But project after project, Mandrill has proven itself as a reliable email delivery platform that justifies the higher price point. By eliminating their legacy free tier and moving all users to MailChimp, their service can only get better.

Obviously this move increases revenue for MailChimp. Given their history of innovation, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of this new revenue will be reinvested into future development. A great example of this is their new API v3 that will allow custom applications and interfaces to be built on top of the MailChimp platform. If a few extra dollars a month from my marketing budget can help support development like that, I’m all for it.

The new pricing structure is also going to eliminate a lot of the platform abuse that’s present. Remember that great deliverability rating MailChimp has? Well spammers can benefit from that too, at least until they’re kicked off the platform. But now that Mandrill requires a paid subscription, it’s costlier for spammers to setup an account. This will help all of us by insuring our emails have an even greater trust score.

So overall, I’m fine with the increased fee structure and think that it’s well justified. And while Mandrill hasn’t always been the best choice for every project we work on at Oso Studio, we’ll still be recommending it to a majority of our clients who need transactional emails for eCommerce, membership sites, content protection, and advanced one-to-one email analytics.

What are your options?

If you’re like us and love MailChimp and Mandrill and want the best deliverability for your emails, then merge your Mandrill account into your paid MailChimp account when that feature is available in a couple of weeks. If you don’t have a MailChimp account, you can signup for one at MailChimp.com to prepare to merge your Mandrill account.

If this change has made you reconsider your use of Mandrill or your monthly sending volume doesn’t justify the ongoing fees, then you might want to look at other services. The service I’d recommend is SendGrid. Their service is setup in a similar way to the new MailChimp/Mandrill, except marketing and transactional emails pull from the same “pool” of available monthly emails. SendGrid is used by Uber and Booking.com among others to send their transactional emails and power their marketing email campaigns. So while they don’t have as many major brands or the sending volume of MailChimp, they can still be counted on to deliver your emails to your clients. Checkout SendGrid.com to see if they’re a good fit for you.

Another option is to remove Mandrill from your website or app and not replace it with another service. This is a route I’d only recommend if you’re a very low volume sender, don’t want delivery and analytics reports, and are only sending emails to users that know you (i.e. not an eCommerce or membership site). By changing your website and plugins to use the native wp_mail( ); function, your emails will be sent by your site’s server. While normally this is fine, it could present problems for you if you’re in a shared environment and one of your fellow tenants sends spam emails that cause the server’s IP address to be blacklisted.

Conclusion

The changes to Mandrill’s service are both major and minor. Minor in that the existing API, analytics, and deliverability aren’t changing. Major in that the pricing, way you access your account, and domain validation are changing significantly.

While we’re sticking with MailChimp and Mandrill for our email needs, if the changes have made Mandrill no longer make sense for your organization, you do have options. The runner up for Mandrill would have to be SendGrid, a great choice if you don’t have a lot of contacts and have relatively low volume sending needs.

So even though we would have preferred a little more time to make the changes, these changes will move Mandrill’s transactional emails forward and that’s a positive for everyone who uses the service.

Those are our plans for MailChimp and Mandrill and what we’ll be recommending to our clients. How are you adapting to the change?

Choosing WordPress hosting is a lot like choosing where to live

What Is a Managed WordPress Host?

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A few weeks ago, I was on a call with a client. We were talking about their new project and the topic of where we are going to host it came up. Who I recommended isn’t important, because they have specific needs that are probably different than yours. If you want to see the hosting companies that we work with at Oso Studio, checkout this post about the best WordPress hosting companies.

What is important about that conversation is that my client wasn’t sure exactly what a managed host was. They had been using a company that claimed to offer “managed hosting” but that company doesn’t compare to a lot of the other companies out there. And the client knew that they weren’t getting a good value on their hosting.

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WordPress Hosting Server

Who’s the best WordPress hosting company?

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How much thought did you put into selecting your current WordPress hosting company? Did you take a look at the recommended hosts on WordPress.org? Or do you purchase your hosting from the same place you registered your domain? Or maybe you just Googled “WordPress hosting” and selected a hosting provider that met your budget.

If you’re like a lot of website owners, you probably didn’t look at how each company can benefit your website. Thanks to the work we do, we’ve talked with, used, and tested a lot of the players in the WordPress hosting space.

So while saying “it depends” seems like a way to duck the question of who’s the best, it really does depend on the needs of your website. So let’s look at some different ways you may be using WordPress and which WordPress host is the best fit.

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WordPress GPL

What the GPL means for development shops

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If you read the WordPress news, you know there was a lot of drama a few weeks ago and at the root of it, it’s all about the GPL. It started out with an article on WP Tavern (a site owned by WordPress and Automattic Founder Matt Mullenweg) and then there was the followup response article from Chris Pearson. There’s even a hashtag on Twitter, #wpdrama, that links to more articles and thoughts.

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6-Months In, It’s Time to Make Some Changes

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Wow, it’s hard to believe that yesterday was the first day of July. It seems like just yesterday we were dealing with ice and sitting around a fireplace. To say 2015 has been a busy year would be a major understatement, we’ve grown by double digits every single month this year.

Thanks to the growing workload, we’ve had to reevaluate the way we do things and we’re making some changes. Some of these changes are taking place immediately, some of them will be phased in during July, and there are a couple of internal projects that we’re working overtime on right now, but they’re not ready to share just yet.

Our new support system

I didn’t know how much our WordPress support clients would appreciate this change. Prior to June 1, we had an email based support system that flowed into our HelpScout support desk. Internally, this worked great: we could move tickets between agents, monitor support response times, reply to tickets, and have internal conversations if we needed a second opinion on how to implement a client’s change.

But we didn’t think about what our clients were seeing or rather what they weren’t seeing. All they could see were the emails. They couldn’t see that an agent had opened their ticket to work and they couldn’t see all of their previous tickets without looking for each email. Well that’s all changed.

Now, our clients have a complete help desk from within their support portal. They can view their plan level, billing history, create a new support ticket, and view every ticket they’ve submitted. This has been a major improvement in our support system. Internally, our system still works the same, but by making our client side support more transparent, we’re making our clients’ lives easier.

We’re launching a new billing system

This is the change I’m most excited about. Currently our billing system is managed through my computer with a cloud hosted database. With our new billing system, everything changes.

Because our new system isn’t just for billing, it’s an all-in-one project management portal for us and our clients. Once this system goes live at the end of the month, it will be used for proposals, project management, client communication, and billing. Gone are the days of one service to approve a proposal, another to monitor progress, and a third system to pay an invoice.

Now when a proposal is approved, it is automatically added to our workflow. All of the milestones and tasks from the proposal are brought into our project management dashboard where you can view our progress as we bring your project to life. And once the project is completed, you’ll pay your invoice balance through the same system and immediately have access to download all of your project files (or schedule for us to transfer files to your server).

But it’s not going to end there. The system that we selected was chosen specifically because of the API capabilities. This API will allow us to build out new features and further automate our processes as we move forward.

We’re changing how we structure payments

For years, we’ve followed the trend of a 50% deposit when the project starts and the remainder billed once the project is complete. Overall this has worked great, but as our project load has grown larger and pushed our availability of starting a new project to several weeks, we’ve started to notice a few issues with a couple of projects.

On a couple of projects recently, we’ve had to push back the start date because of their internal payment schedule. This doesn’t just create an issue for us by creating a hole in our workflow schedule, but it can cause timeline issues for our clients.

So starting August 1st, we’re making a couple of major changes to our deposit and invoicing schedule. For small projects (under $2,500) we’ll bill the complete amount up-front. Our smaller projects will be managed through our new Dedicated Developer service. You’ll schedule a particular time, one-half to two days in length, and have a developer dedicated to your project on that day.

For larger projects (above $2,500), we’re reducing our upfront deposit to 25% to place the project into workflow with the remaining 75% due within 7 days of when the project is presented for review. By collecting a deposit upfront, we’re able to eliminate scheduling holes which is allowing us to reduce our project rates by 15% – not something many agencies are able to do.

We’re dropping PayPal

There was a point in time when PayPal was the only choice in online payments. But over the years, more innovative companies have emerged while PayPal has lagged behind, a relic of the early 2000s.

We’ve been using Stripe for a couple of years, and the majority of our clients have easily adopted our online payment process. But a couple of our legacy clients have preferred making payments through PayPal. After having several conversations with them about security and our desire to move to a  system with a working two-factor authentication login, we’re confident in our decision to transition seamlessly to Stripe.

So once our new client dashboard and invoicing platform launches on August 1st, we’ll no longer accept payments through PayPal.

You can now book a dedicated developer

One thing that’s been really obvious this year is that our project timelines fall into two groups, those that only take 4-16 hours and those that take hundreds of hours. We’ve been managing our small projects the same way we manage our big projects, and that’s started taking a toll on our productivity.

So in the next week or two, we’ll be launching our dedicated developer service. If you have a project that’s 16 hours or less, the way your project is handled is about to change dramatically. Instead of scheduling a project and having it completed within a week or two, you’ll now be able to choose the exact day or two you would like to have your project completed. And instead of not knowing who is working on your project, you’ll have a single, dedicated developer that’s fully devoted to completing your project on-schedule.

The dedicated developer program will also be available as a monthly retainer, giving you access to a developer month after month on a day that works for you. This gives you the ability to continually improve and add larger features to your site, or add a WordPress developer to your team for a day.

Conclusion

The first half to 2015 has made this year our busiest year yet. But with more projects coming into the pipeline, it was time to reevaluate our processes to improve our efficiency and make our clients’ lives easier. So over the next month, you’ll see our new WordPress support ticketing system, a new client dashboard and billing portal, changes to our deposit and invoicing structure, and the launch of our dedicated developer service.

The half-way point of the year is the perfect time to evaluate what you’ve accomplished, where you’ve fallen short, and what you can do to improve and grow over the remaining 6 months. We’ve announced some of our major initiatives, but we have even more that’s still on the whiteboard.

What are the changes you can make in your business to make 2015 your best year yet?

Why you should update WordPress

Why You Need to Update WordPress

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Did your website ring in the New Year, or is it stuck in 2014?

It is important for your website to begin this year with the updated version, and thanks to WordPress, the first major update to WordPress 4 was released a couple of weeks ago.

If you’re a typical business, keeping WordPress updated probably isn’t a top priority. You have clients to meet and work with, you attend professional training, and you try to maintain a work/life balance. For these reasons, WordPress updates get pushed to the back burner for many businesses.

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Stop WordPress Spam

Stop WordPress Comment Spam

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Do you like spam? No, I’m not talking about the canned mystery meat, I’m talking about the unsolicited, irrelevant comments that you receive on your blog. Do you remember your first experience with comment spam? I bet this is how it went. You launched a brand new WordPress website and start writing a blog. Within minutes of clicking “Publish” on your first post, you have your first comment. “Awesome!” or so you think until you read it. Welcome to the world of having a website, WordPress or not, that allows comments.

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