Category Archives: Web Development

Migrating from Mandrill to SendGrid

Recently The Rocket Science Group, the company behind both Mandrill and MailChimp, decided to change things up. They decided to roll Mandrill, their transactional E-Mail service, into MailChimp as a paid addon available to paid MailChimp accounts only. A lot of people freaked out or got really upset, most of them focusing on the fact that many people who were using Mandrill for free or close to it, were going to have to start paying at least $40 per month. That’s $20 per month for a MailChimp account, which they might not even have a use for, and $20 per month for the lowest tier of the Mandrill transactional email addon.

I was upset too. Not because of the additional cost, but because of the way Mandrill users were treated. An email went out to all Mandrill users on February 24th, mandating that all existing users needed to have a paid MailChimp account set up and connected to Mandrill by April 27th. That gave nine weeks.

Nine weeks isn’t a lot of time, and Rocket Science knew this. Is it enough time to set up a MailChimp account, link it to your Mandrill account, and pay them the extra money every month? Yes. Was it enough time to research an alternative, set up an account elsewhere, rewrite all your transactional email code to use a new API, train users to use a new interface at this new solution, test all the new code, and deploy? Not really. At least not in many cases.

However, that’s exactly what I did. Not because I was upset at the extra monthly cost, but because I didn’t like being treated like that.

I started with some simple research to find alternatives. As it turned out, plenty of other people were doing the same research and posting their findings, which greatly simplified the process. What I found is that since my usage was pretty straight forward, almost any of the available alternatives would work for me. I ended up choosing SendGrid.

The actual development wasn’t particularly interesting.  The APIs are different, as you would expect, so all the code needed to be changed but was ultimately similar enough to be pretty simple.

One of our hangups came with tags. In Mandrill we used tags to label various kinds of E-Mails, what server the E-Mail was triggered from, etc. We use those to help us track where deliverability issues occur, as well as to help us track down bugs when they happen. The problem was that SendGrid didn’t have these. Luckily, SendGrid DOES have what they call “Unique Arguments“. Basically, they let us do the same thing, adding in our own unique key/value pairs, with the only downside being that their web app doesn’t give you much in the way of working with those (like viewing all bounces with a specific value for one of the arguments).

And that seems to be the only real downside so far. The web app for SendGrid doesn’t seem to be quite as powerful or fully functional as the one Mandrill has. Having said that, delivery, responsiveness, speed, etc all seem completely on par. I’ll happily give up the zoomy UI though, if they’ll treat their customers with a little more respect.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in Simple Terms

First let me say that search engine optimization is a very complex subject. There are people who really know what they are doing and plenty of people that don’t. This writeup will not get you to the point where you really understand it all, and I highly recommend that you budget for a professional, but this will be a good start for people that are just starting and need to know what they can do.

Search Engine Optimization, in simple terms, breaks down into two sections; onsite and offsite. Onsite is well within your control and is the first thing you should focus on. Offsite is harder to control and is something you will focus more on later.


First, make a list of key phrases that you want to rank well for in search engines. Usually these should be two to five words long. It is not realistic for you to think that your site will rank for a term like “jewelery” (you’d be competing against Jared, Tiffany, Kay, etc), but you may rank very well for something like “vintage typewriter jewelry”. Make sure to be reasonable about what you can and cannot compete for.

I recommend using a something like Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool to research your terms. Obviously more traffic is good, but remember to check who you are competing against and always ask yourself “will my perfect client really search for this term?”. Also try to keep an open mind. Take a look at other terms that Google things are related to the one you put in. Remember that you are likely far more knowledgeable about your products/services than your clients, which means they will likely be using different terminology when searching.

You need to also try to understand what I call key phrase clusters. For example, when I checked out “Vintage Typewriter Jewelry” I found that it is searched for 140 times per month. That’s not a lot. However, I also saw that “Typewriter Key Jewelry” is searched 880 times per month (seven times as often). I also saw that “Vintage Typewriter Key Jewelry” is searched 91 times per month and immediately I saw a key phrase cluster. Basically, there are three phrases that are all basically the same, and if we are careful we can target them all at once. How? Well, we use the all inclusive “Vintage Typewriter Key Jewelry” phrase. Take a look:

  • Vintage Typewriter Key Jewelry” = “Vintage Typewriter Key Jewelry” which is searched 91 times per month
  • “Vintage Typewriter Key Jewelry” = “Typewriter Key Jewelry” which is searched 880 times per month
  • Vintage Typewriter Key Jewelry” = “Vintage Typewriter Jewelry” which is searched 140 times per month

By using the one phrase regularly on a site you can actually target all three. Search engines can easily understand that someone searching for “Vintage Typewriter Jewelry” may be interested in “Vintage Typewriter Key Jewelry”.

This takes time. Quite a bit of time. It takes time to build a list of key phrases (or key phrase clusters). There’s really no way around that. The thing is…it will pay off.

So, once you have your list, when/where do you use these? The answer in short is…everywhere. You don’t want to “keyword stuff” which basically means to put them where they don’t make sense, but you do want to use them regularly. When you write articles, when you write product descriptions, even when you write something on other sites and link back to yours. These are supposedly phrases that describe something you are an authority on, so be authoritative!


Offsite is something you have less control over. The basics are that you want other sites to link to you. These are called “inbound links” and are a metric that search engines use directly to rate your authority on any given phrase. Often getting a link can be as easy as asking. Sometimes a site would link to you if they just knew about you. Asking is simple and effective, but remember that buying inbound links will get you penalized in search engines (I cannot be more clear than this: Do not buy links to your site).

The simplest way I can explain it is this: An inbound link is worth more to you if the site it’s coming from has content related to yours. It’s worth even more if the page it’s on contains one or more of your target key phrases, and more still if the link itself contains one of your key phrases. For example, this is ok: “I saw some great vintage typewriter key jewelry today, click here to see it.” This is WAY better: “I saw some great vintage typewriter key jewelry today!”

You can help to curate incoming links by doing a few things:

  • First and foremost you get incoming links by creating good content. If someone sees a good article on your site, they will link to it. I cannot stress enough that this is the absolute best thing you can do. If you take nothing else from this entire article, please just remember that quality content is the key.
  • Approach sites whose users would be interested in your content and ask for a link. Make sure to be specific when you ask. It’s ok to say that you’d like the link text to be _____. The worst they can do is say no.
  • Become active on other sites and link back to your own site. I don’t mean spam, I mean really be active.
  • Other sites are looking for content too, so consider doing a guest post for another site that links to yours.

This is by no means a definitive or exhaustive guide, but hopefully it’s enough to not only get you started, but carry you through for a while.