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Transactional Email Nightmares

Transactional Email Nightmares

Have you ever needed to send a simple one to two line email from your application? e.g. “Thanks for registering for our site”. At first it appears simple, just throw together some HTML, use the email client provided by your framework of choice and just send. Then you are greeted with this beautiful email in your inbox! This is a joke, I can’t stomach sending an email this primitive to a potential end user. Now you start thinking about how you can spruce things up a little, maybe take advantage of a template engine and incorporate a nice theme.

After 3 hours of work setting up the foundation for templates, finding an acceptable theme and customizing it with your branding/color scheme, you finally have an email that is respectable. I’ve been doing this for each project for at least 10 years and I’m tired of it. These emails are typically transactional emails, e.g. new user, password reset, etc. and are often over looked in the initial stages of development. I’ve never quoted a project that included scope for “Transactional Email Template Design” and this is absolutely my fault. The client gets one of these horrendous single line welcome emails while testing the software and is confused about it’s appearance.

My biggest complaint about this approach is the fact that the simple act of changing the appearance (header, footer, logo, etc.) in your emails now requires a code change and subsequent publish. Additionally this requires the attention of a developer, someone who should be working on meaningful code and not toying with email templates. No one wins here, the client spends more money than necessary and the developer is upset that they have to tinker with email templates.

Transactional Email Service Providers

Mandril and SendGrid to the rescue! Or at least I thought. I’m not sure how I learned about Mandril, but I recall reading an article about this new email provider SendGrid on some blog. I was intrigued since maintaining our own email server require too much of our attention and we wanted to be done with it. SendGrid offered a free tier, an API, SMTP access and tracking. That’s all they offered and I was in love with them… Until I read another blog post and learned about MailGun … { insert loop here } … You get the drift, there are plenty of email service providers available for you to use and the list appears to keep growing. Now lets get back to Mandril, a subsidiary (???), spin off (???), IDK of Mailchimp. They offer the same basic functionality that the others provide with the exception of Transactional Email Templates!!! { insert story here about how I fall in love with a technology, use it for a little while, fall out of love with it and then start to hate it }. Mandril was the first to provide something that actually worked (but was still painful). The act of setting up a template was awful, forgive me for wanting a reasonable template editor, maybe even an integrated marketplace for themes/templates (that don’t suck).

All I want for christmas!

I know it sounds like I’m just being difficult and that I’m high maintenance (true), but what I really want is a platform that allows me to quickly put together a respectable email template, preferably with access to a marketplace to purchase premium designs and then quickly setup the appropriate template fields for each transactional email that I need to send from my application. In a perfect world I would delegate the responsibility of managing the templates directly to the client, “You want a picture of santa claus in the email header for the month of December? That’s nice, login and put him there!”.

Beau Button is the founder of Unfriend Studios and has over 20 years of software development experience. He has spent the last 3 years helping startups design, develop and deploy their minimally viable products (MVP).

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