A Simple Introduction to Amazon AWS Part Three - Simple Email Service (SES)

Sorry for the long time between posts. We've been really busy here - which is good. But as you know, when things get busy, all the "wanna-do's" (our blog) get pushed aside by the "have-to do's".

This is the third and final part of our series on Amazon AWS services. This post is on Amazon's "Simple Email Service" or SES.

Personally, I've been involved with large scale email marketing for 10 years now. I've set up and managed email servers for clients, and I've set up and run bulk email programs for email newsletters and marketing efforts. It's actually pretty difficult to do properly.

Let's use setting up and sending an email newsletter as our example that will lead in to why we recommend the Amazon SES service.

Let's say you're the owner or president or key manager of a business and you want to use email newsletters as a way of staying in front of your customers. Great idea, but where do you start?

If you're mailing list is under 300 people, you could just "bcc" (blind copy) your whole list and send right from within your email program (assuming you just want a very basic. plain layout). For very small lists, it's not a bad method. Most programs allow up to 300 bcc's, and you don't need any special programs, servers or help. With such a small list, you can quickly remove any bounced or removal requests you get.

But what if you have a mailing list of say between 300 and 2000 or more? Then I suggest using one of the pay services like Mail Chimp who provide free accounts for small users. Mail Chimp allows up to 2000 email addresses and 12,000 emails a month. These services are outstanding and give you great flexibility in design and list management - meaning, they automatically manage the bounces, the unsubscribes, and the spam reports. As long as you can stay under their free account allocation, you're golden. Be aware though that these "free" paid services "police" your email list to make sure your bounce rate and spam rate is low. They may suspend your account if you exceed bounce or spam allowances.

If you have more email address than the premium service provider's free tier allows, or want to send more emails per month than their free tier allows, you could just belly-up to the bar and pay their rate. For lists between 5000-10000 addresses, it's going to cost around $75-$85 a month. If you don't want to pay that, and want an incredible alternative, look to Amazon AWS coupled with a third party program for list management and design.

Let's first explain what Amazon AWS isn't. AWS isn't a complete email solution. Whereas program's like Mail Chimp are complete solutions, Amazon SES is ONLY the back-end for email sending. This is commonly referred to as an SMTP server, which is the mechanism that actually sends the email. It gets the "rap" for sending bad emails, spam emails and can be blacklisted. If a mail server has a bad sending reputation (for spam), it's more likely your emails won't get through.

What Amazon SES has done is provide a VERY inexpensive "sending-only" service with high reputation servers. Inexpensive as in just pennies per thousand of email sends. For example, if you needed to send 6000 emails through Constant Contact (another full service provider), it will cost you $85 per month! To send 6000 emails through Amazon SES it's just $0.60 - thats right, I said 60 cents.

The "problem" with SES is that it's not a complete, turnkey system. It needs a program connected to it to give you the design, list management, user-interface and reporting features the paid services provide. Two such programs are Sendy and Dada Mail. These programs provide all the "front-end" services that Mail Chimp or Constant Contact provide, but are purchased once (very inexpensively) and installed on your own server (we use Amazon EC2 servers for this).

The bottom line is you don't have to pay high monthly fees using one of the premium email service providers to send high volume email. The answer is tying Amazon SES to a program like Sendy or Dada Mail, for a robust bulk email marketing system. For a small initial investment and an incredibly low ongoing fee, you can have all the function of the premium services at a fractions of the cost.  For example, we handle the sending of 250,000 emails a year for one of our clients. All it costs them for sending is $25 per year. That's pretty remarkable.