A Note on the Recent Changes to Mandrill

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?