Amazon SES vs Mandrill vs Sparkpost

25 maart 2016  |  Joris Neven

At the end of February Transactional Email Service Provider Mandrill caused somewhat of a shock in the developers community by announcing its consolidation into its ‘big brother’ MailChimp. Clarifying this shift as strategic step in order to “close the gap between the two products and focus on the MailChimp marketing platform” it included a change in pricing and all accounts are requested to migrate within two months. For these latter reasons Mandrill's decision was met by disbelief and sheer displeasure, to be read on Twitter and various blogs. As a result an exodus of low and mid volume senders is anticipated on, not the least by Mandrill themselves by mentioning SparkPost as an alternative to their own service. For Mandrill's broader range of competing colleagues it thus is perceived as an opportunity to enlarge their customer base and various responses have been published by for instance SendGrid, Amazon SES, SparkPost, PepiPost, Mailjet and Mailgun, including step-by-step migration guides.

This rigid change in product character and price plan also caused us to re-evaluate Mandrill as our one-to-one emailpartner, since we use this service for a lot of ou Umbraco based websites.  Considering ourselves as moderate scale sender (<25.000 emails per month) using straight forward functionality this blog aims at comparing two other transactional email service providers to Mandrill on non-API functionality. Aiming at rather straight forward integration of an external e-mail provider, Amazon SES, with their outstanding deliverability reputation is our first candidate. Since Mandrill has mentioned SparkPost as an alternative to their own services we included this party in this comparison and review as well.

 

Amazon SES

Amazon Simple Email Services is what the name says it is, and its is in particular known as performing very well on email deliverability and system uptime. Amazon provides a straight forward e-mailservice that can be extended with Amazon Simple Notification Service in order to process message events. You have to set up relaying for one of the three endpoints, depending on your region. Selecting the appropriate region merely reduces latency between your application and SES. After signing up the regular steps of adding a domain, verifying it by an e-mail, adding the provided SPF and DKIM signing to your DNS records, quit the sandbox and you're good to go. This being rather similar to the upcoming Mandrill policies, what is contrasting in the first place is Amazon’s poor graphical interface, accompanying the limited (graphical) reporting (the absence of opens and unsubscribes, for example) and logging and no possibilities for re-viewing or re-sending earlier sent e-mail. Integration with other Amazon products can be overly complex unfortunately, and Amazon’s documentation isn’t known for its easiness either.  With Amazon SES, what you’re getting is a decent email service, but if you want more than the basics you are bound to delve into its API features. Not offering dedicated sending IP’s is another difference in comparison with Mandrill, but Amazon’s deliverability reputation brings that into line however.

Other features include:

  • From-domains to use our own domain as return-path.
  • Global suppression list. In the case you want to remove an email address from the global suppression list you have to file a request.
  • High email sending speed.
  • Advanced possibilities for high-end users provided by the API.

Amazon's pricing scheme: the first 62,000 mails and 15 GB data transfer in a month are free of charge for EC2 users (free subscription). After that limit $0.10 per 1.000 deliveries and $0.09 per GB up to 10 TB. And $0.12 per GB of attachments sent. More info on pricing here and here.

 

SparkPost

A second service to review is that of SparkPost, a relatively new player in the field since 2014. It is therefore not surprising that SparkPost is eager to bring in the massive departure from Mandrill in by offering them a better arrangement in comparison to its competitors in terms of pricing. After the sign-up, what is striking is the similarities to Mandrill’s interface: a main menu on the left of the screen and a nice and smooth interface. Like Mandrill, a self-generated API provides relay access for which a range of IP and Webhooks policies can be applied. SPF and DKIM setup is simple as well. And however unadvisable, domain validation can be done by via e-mail omitting this SPF and DKIM setup. The graphical analytics are superb and include lots of filters ranging from deliveries and clicks to a range of bounce events. Surprisingly enough, unsubscribes were nowhere to find unfortunately. The user-friendly interface, account suppression list and by the optional use of a dedicated IP is what SparkPost distinguishes from Amazon SES. With accounts such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Paypal they have proved to perform well on deliverability and uptime.

Other features include:

  • Inbound domains to use our own domain as return-path.
  • Subscription management.
  • A global and account suppression list. The latter can be maintained not by the front-end console but with the help of the API. The global list cannot be maintained, not directly nor by filing a request.
  • A well documented API that is also accessible via a web interface.

SparkPost pricing scheme is based on a sliding scale: the first 100,000 mails in a month are free of charge. After that you will have upgrade to a paid account with a max of 900,000 emails for a fixed price of $24.99. More info on pricing here.

A noteworthy aspect on the pricing plan is the depreciation of e-mail when exceeding the capped first 100,000 mails. Upgrading your account is the only way to avoid that. Second to that, with this pricing plan and SparkPost's newcomer status it may be anticipated that SparkPost changes its pricing in the future.

 

To conclude

It must be said, Mandrill's comparison to Amazon SES and SparkPost reveals its prevalence. It can be found in many details we are missing at both others: unsubscribe reporting and automated unsubscribe link generation, multiple API key's and sub-accounts, automated plain text mail generation, white listing, a manual testing mode and the (free) option to receive a copy of every sent email. Whether it is desirable or not, both competitors also do not support unencrypted SMTP. Besides these differences we can conclude that both Amazon SES and SparkPost uit our scenario: straightforward transactional email delivery without using advanced management tools like an API and logging. However SparkPost's accessibility Mandrill-like interface is a main advantage, accompanied by a smooth process of setting up a domain (which occurs regularly at our company) is ultimately is decisive for our choice.

      

 

Mandrill *

Amazon SES

SparkPost

Technique: sending

     

SMTP non-encrypted support

Yes

No

No

SMTP SSL/TLS support

Yes

Yes

Yes

API

Yes

Yes

Yes

Dedicated sending IP

Optional

Not featured

Optional

Technique: receiving

     

Handling inbound mail

Yes

Yes

Yes

Anti-spoofing

     

Sender Policy Framework

Mandatory

Non-mandatory

Non-mandatory

Domain Keys

Mandatory

Non-mandatory

Non-mandatory

Validation

     

Domain ownership verification

Mandatory, by e-mail

Mandatory, by DNS record

Mandatory, by e-mail or DNS record

Sending/receiving e-mail address ownership verification

No

Only if domain is not verified

No

Reporting / console

     

Statistics graph

Comprehensive

Limited

Comprehensive

Sends

Yes

No

Yes

Opens (tracking)

Per particular e-mail

No

Aggregated

Clicks (tracking)

Per particular e-mail

No

Aggregated

Bounces (hard/soft)

Yes

Limited

Yes

Spam complaints

Yes

Limited

Yes

Rejected

Yes

Limited

Yes

Unsubscribes

Yes

No

No

Additional analytics

Demographics, e-mail client, OS

No

No

Error handling

     

Webhooks

Yes

Yes

Yes

Bounce notifications by e-mail

Yes, at account level

Yes, at domain level

No

Other

     

Review each sent e-mail

Yes (limited timespan)

No

No

Resend each sent e-mail

Yes (limited timespan)

No

No

Custom tracking domain & return path

Yes

No

Yes

Rejection blacklist / suppression list

Yes, at account level

(1 year)

Yes, global

(14 days)

Yes, global & account (duration unknown)

(management by API only)

E-mail address whitelist

Yes

No

No

Sending limits / warm-up period

Yes, automatic increase

Yes, automatic increase

No

 

* New scenario after April 27, 2016

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