In my not-so-humble opinion, Sendgrid is the single greatest email delivery cloud service. What makes it better than any other SMTP relay? I like it for 3 reasons: simplicity, deliverability, and reporting. I love it for a fourth reason: insanely good customer service.
What’s the point of an SMTP relay, anyway? It’s just a server (or group of servers… come on, we’re cloud folk here) that allows you to send mail. Sure, you could run your own with Microsoft Exchange or Postfix, but you run into a lot of issues quickly: scale, security, and the black art of ensuring your mail always gets delivered without being marked as spam. None of that is easy, and none of that is particularly cloud computing friendly.
Fortunately, Sendgrid’s awesome SMTP relay service addresses all of those concerns for me. I was able to integrate with their SMTPAPI library for Python in about 5 minutes. Not only was I sending mail immediately after that, but I was getting detailed statistics on open rate, click rate, and bounce rates! Note that they also support plain ol’ SMTP and a web API. Did I mention I currently send 40,000 emails a month for only $9.95?
Before Sendgrid, I tried a variety of different email deliverability services, from running my own server to a hacked up solution using different Gmail addresses (sorry Google!) to a host of other SMTP relay services. Ultimately, email deliverability is all about reputation (see Sender Policy Framework, Author Domain Signing Practices, and lots of other scary stuff). Not only did I not know enough to do it right, but I began to see these third party SMTP relay services doing it wrong too!
Fortunately, Sendgrid does a great job of managing this. Do you know how I know that? It’s because every time I log in, I see my email reputation score. It factors in a lot of variables like bounce rates, spam reports, and unsubscribe requests. Sendgrid always lets me know if I’m doing it right, and as a result, my emails always get delivered.
I will admit that I am a bit of a nut when it comes to Sendgrid’s reporting. In fact, I’ve figured out some top secret Sendgrid reporting tricks that I’ll share here (hint: it has to do with the SMTPAPI library I referenced earlier). But first, let’s talk about the basic stats and how useful they are. Here’s the default report you can see on all of your mail.
Each line of that corresponds to a key metric, like requests, delivered, unique clicks, unique opens, bounces, spam reports, and unsubscribes. With that kind of information, it becomes so much easier to optimize your email campaigns and truly engage your users through this medium.
Here’s my top secret Sendgrid trick. With SMTPAPI library, you can assign email to a category; if you send out a signup email, you can give it a category of Signup. You can then view all of the stats I listed above for each category. So, I can create a category for “Signup-Funny Subject Line” and “Signup-Serious Subject Line”, vary up the subject lines accordingly, and do some very simple split testing in my email. It’s incredible simple and it’s all built into Sendgrid’s API and platform already.
Insanely Good Customer Service
I have to close with a story here. Right after I signed up with Sendgrid, I went out to send my weekly batch of updates to my customers. This is usually several thousand emails. Just a few emails into it, Amazon blocked all outbound traffic from my EC2 instances coming on port 25. I noticed this really early, like 6:45 AM on a Saturday (yay, parenthood!). I need a solution immediately.
I hopped onto the Sendgrid website and found their live chat. Amazingly, someone really smart was there at that time! He or she gave me a quick workaround that I put in place within a couple of minutes. I was back in business again! Experiences like that are why I’m such a big Sendgrid fan.
In closing, what else can I say about Sendgrid? It’s the single best SMTP service; it’s a fabulous service if your architecture is already in the cloud; it’s cheap; the people are great. Sign up already!