Mandrill to Discontinue Free Tier for Transactional Emails, Developers Seek Alternatives

photo credit: Paper Plane - (license)
photo credit: Paper Plane(license)

This week Mandrill announced that it will be discontinuing its free tier for transactional emails. As of March 16th, new Mandrill users will create their accounts through MailChimp and existing users will be required to merge their accounts with a MailChimp account where they will be charged $20+/mo for transactional emails. The deadline for merging accounts is April 27th.

MailChimp is choosing to focus on delivering “personalized transactional” emails that require more design. For those who want to continue delivering utility type emails, the company recommends Amazon SES:

Transactional emails, like password reminders and the myriad email notifications you get after making changes to online accounts, are dead simple. Utilitarian providers like Amazon SES excel at this. Their innovation is mostly focused on increasing efficiency and reducing costs.

Many WordPress developers depend on Mandrill for sending wp_mail() emails in order to ensure delivery and take this load off the server. After MailChimp’s announcement, many are scrambling to find an alternative.

Amazon SES allows users to send 62,000 messages per month to any recipient, as long as you call it from an Amazon EC2 instance. If you already have one set up, this is one of the best options.

Human Made created an open source plugin that makes it easy to change to Amazon SES. Setting it up is as simple as adding a few constants to your wp-config.php file and then verifying your sending domain for SES.

Of course, Amazon SES isn’t the only option. Remkus de Vries wrote a post on transactional email alternatives to Mandrill, which includes MailGun (10,000 emails free every month), SendGrid (up to 12,000 emails free per month), SendIn Blue (up to 9,000 emails/month, 300 emails/day free), and several others. Many of these email services also have corresponding plugins available in the WordPress Plugin Directory.

29 Comments


  1. Signed up for SparkPost the night the Mandrill email went out, spent maybe half an hour switching over my sites, and emails are delivering just like before. I don’t mind at all to pay for a service, but I don’t want my transactional emails to be tied to MailChimp – the two are (and should be) separate IMO.

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    1. Why “should” they be separate? There are lots of great Mailchimp automation workflows that can be triggered from Mandrill transactional emails. It might not be something you use but for some of us, it REALLY makes sense for these 2 to be integrated.

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  2. Amazon SES is fine, easy to set up, and reliable. I use it from my servers. Using one of their EC2 instances is only a requirement to be eligible for the free tier. I think I’m paying 0.10c per 1000 emails, which along with my S3 backups and Route 53 DNS traffic only costs me around $5/mth.

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  3. Pepipost – Free SMTP alternative to Mandrill

    Website: Pepipost

    – Free plan and send up to 25,000 emails each month. Free forever.
    – No credit card required.
    – DKIM is not required (Domain Verification: (a.) Meta Tag Validation, (b.) File Creation – System can verify the domain based on the presence of a file in the root directory of the domain.).
    – Pay only for emails that are not opened by your customers.

    * 3 Months Free Unlimited Transactional Emails + 25k emails per month free forever.
    * Use the below code while signup with Pepipost.

    Code:
    ALT-TO-3M

    Great! This is probably the best FREE alternative for Mandrill.

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  4. The WordPress config for AmazonSES is easy, it’s the hurdles one must jump through on the AWS side that are cumbersome and time consuming (setup AWS account, setup ec2 instance, setup access control rules, etc).

    Mandrill was awesome because from account setup to the first email took less than five minutes.

    Worth mentioning for low volumes simple SMTP email via Google or any other relay is still a good option. On that front the plugin PostMan is really awesome and has dethroned all the other SMTP plugins IMHO.

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    1. Agreed—particularly on PostMan and leveraging Google Apps for SMTP.

      Word of warning, though, if you do use Google: they’ll block your account once you hit the limit. It think it was a ~48 hour block.

      We had that happenen over Black Friday weekend and we had to scramble to find a new solution (we temporarily switched to a different Google email address/account and then got on Mandril).

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  5. Today, I have moved all my WP sites from Mandrill to SendGrid and works great. SendGrid is an excellent option to replace Mandrill. Amazon SES is very complicated to setup.

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  6. Since 2016, I’ve opted-out of collecting email’s for marketing purposes. Newsletters (especially modal landing/timed pop-ups) have become the bane of trends as of late. Barf City! If my customers like my products and want to follow us, do so on social media—that’s what it’s for. E-mail marketing is an awful experience all around. Waste of space I tell ya. *SMH VIGOROUSLY*

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    1. And yet email is consistently recognized as the most effective platform for lead gen. Go figure…

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      1. I figure, if the goal is to gen leads by going all-in every hand, then throw yer chips in …they’ll drop like flies, eventually. I want my Biz to grow pots and scoop mountains of loyal customers—not waste time on one-offs. I’m gonna stick with social stems and WOMM for now. I must be foolish :D

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      2. Not foolish at all. If that’s working for you, why would you change?
        Personally email is more effective than social for me, at least as far as quality and ongoing leads.

        But, everyone is different. It’d be boring otherwise. :)

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  7. I’ve been very happy using https://postmarkapp.com for several years now. It’s not free, but it doesn’t cost a lot at all. Mandrill was set up after I was already using Postmark, I was tempted to give it a go as I was already a MailChimp person, but didn’t feel the need to switch in the end. I’m more confident that Postmark isn’t going to close up shop anytime soon as they don’t offer a free tier, just a trial.

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  8. It looks like a forward movement of Mandrill.
    The interesting thing, I heard just recommendation for Mandrill for a long period, many people used it. Now how Mandrill ask for few $ for the service, somehow everything changed, and it’s not so good service for many users.
    It just shows, that offer and support free service is not the best way to do business.
    It would be interesting to know some stats later, how many free users moved from Mandrill bc. of this.

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    1. “It just shows that offering and supporting a free service is not the best way to do business”

      A lot of people are getting hung up on the ‘free’ service and making assumptions. First of all, Mandrill isn’t a free service, it has a free tier.

      And it’s free tier was great business for them. They roped in developers and webmasters, who in turn rope in small and large business users. The latter, are the customers they have been really after, with the former, webmasters and developers being quite expendable.

      For many years developers familiar with Mailchimp and its good reputation, will have had a natural affinity for Mandrill. And that affection means recommending people to both the services.

      Mandrill was very developer oriented so it drew a lot of developers. But their core userbase remains the small and large business users, so they are aligning back to that.

      They report that they didn’t cut the free tier for cost reasons. So the ‘oh it was free’ so it was unsustainable implication is false.

      Mailchimp, the core business, has gotten huge with their free tier and it’s still there. They’ve posted interesting things about their strategy on that in previous years. It works.

      And in order to differentiate Mailchimp further they’ve been tieing in more transactional features, because those are more engaging. That is where email marketing is heading.

      Since a lot of users are using Mandrill for simple systems emails, they had the ‘aha’ moment to just boot these people out because they identify it as ‘not their core business’.

      The mistake, I feel, is that they alienate webmasters and developers who helped their platform grow, through recommendations and otherwise. They lose out on a lot of goodwill in the manner in which they carry this out. The short notice means a lot of people will have to spend a lot of time plumbing in an alternative service in a short time frame. It’s a slap in the face.

      And so it starts to look a lot like this repeating pattern that has nothing to do with ‘oh the poor sods couldn’t sustain a free model‘ and a lot to do with ‘we love using this free(mium) strategy as a growth hack, leveraging developers, webmasters and regular users and their networks. Once we have a large userbase and plenty of momentum and we’ve got a handle on the service our users helped test for us, we simply shift gears to maximize our operations, dumping the now unnecessary excess weight.

      And this playbook has been done by countless companies, over and over and over again. They welcome people in en masse, to grow, then make the expendable users when they have outlasted their usefulness leave or pay ridiculous prices.

      I just didn’t expect this from a company that I had such high regard for.

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      1. Exactly.
        I received this week another 2 emails from two companies doing the same move.
        I hate when they use me like this. If you are not going to grandfather the free users that help you to be where you are, do not give them a free account at all.

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    2. Problem is that Mandrill’s new tier is not affordable. The new lowest tier is $20/month for 25,000 emails. If they switched to something like $1/month with 1,000 emails, I probably would stay on and pay the $1 because it’s not worth my time to migrate to a different service.

      I run a small plugin business and sent 600 emails last year. For the entire year! I’m not going to pay 40¢ per email for the privilege to send from Mandrill. They obviously don’t think I’m part of their target audience so I’m going to go somewhere else. There are a lot of other people out there in the same boat I am and now we’re all going away.

      It’s not that Mandrill is a bad service, but rather it can’t be highly recommended now because it doesn’t provide the same amount of value to a certain audience. Just because that audience doesn’t see value in the switch doesn’t mean that products/services with a free tier are 100% a bad idea overall. Mailchimp/Mandrill made a decision as a company and now they are seeing the effects. Nothing wrong with that on either side.

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      1. Yes, it is not the right solution just for simple transactional emails, as there are better alternatives for this, it’s mentioned in their post too.
        For your needs, just something reliable and simple is much better. There are plenty of full-featured alternatives which are overkill for you too.

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      2. The price is worse than $20/month when you need to add a MailChimp paid account that you have no need for, it’s more like $40/month, just a bit short of Adobe Creative Cloud, which at least provides a lot of useful tools.

        Up until this fiasco I recommended MailChimp to clients, but will be looking for another service for client email campaigns as well.

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  9. I’ve used Mandrill a few years for my business/office emails, but I abandoned it a few months ago because many of my emails via Mandrill got trapped in Google’s junk filter.

    Now I’m using SocketLabs since a few months and I’m quite happy with it – and I have much less problems with junk filters.

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  10. SendGrid did the same thing same thing a few months back.

    They stopped the free 12,000 posts a month tier and replaced it with a 45 day trial.

    After the time ran out they dropped my quota to zero for those accounts and I actually got reminder from two of the accounts today saying they were out of quota (a month later).

    I’ve just checked again and they are now not mentioning a time limit on the free tier again.

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    1. Are you sure? Because their website still shows the free plan (a little bit hidden, but there). And in my free account still has 12k emails remaining.

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  11. We switched to MailGun after this Mandrill change and it’s a pretty nice setup. The one thing that is a little different about it (at least in comparison with Mandrill) is that you have to set up a bunch of DNS changes and then wait for those to take effect — so it’s not something that you set up in an afternoon. That said, they track the DNS changes and follow up a couple days later when everything is ready to go, which still makes it a pretty smooth setup.

    It’s just not something you can rely on if you need your transactional emails set up *today*.

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    1. It is a standard to set up DNS – SPF and DKIM records for using a transactional email service. How fast it’s propagated after change depends on your DNS setting, it can be done within a minute too.

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  12. I’ve just switched to the SendGrid free plan, I see no mention of a time limit. They also have a paid “lite” plan that charges per email at a rate of $1/10000 emails. It’s only for transactional email, no campaigns.

    SendGrid smtp was very easy to set up, much like the Mandrill one and appears to work well.

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    1. I filed a ticket to clarify this an hour ago and still have seen no response. Not great service if a question about their plans takes more than an hour to resolve.

      I did find this on their forum: https://community.sendgrid.com/sendgrid/topics/will-free-account-expire

      So it look like I’ll switch to something else, either their lite plan or Mailgun. Mailgun looks good, but the DNS changes make setting it up much more work. I do however like the parsed incoming mail support as well as SMTP.

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    2. I just got a reply from SendGrid saying:

      “While we did do a one month test of limiting our new Free users to a 45-day trial, this has completed and all of our Free accounts are Free for life. Please rest assured that if you sign up for our Free plan, you will not be booted out.”

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  13. Mailgun sucks with Office365 mails. Tried and tested, and looking for an alternative.

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