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IP.Board 3.4 Dev Update: Bulk Mail with Mandrill

IP.Board has for a long time allowed administrators to send bulk mails to members, including the ability to filter recipients and use variables to customise the message sent to each member.

This is an important tool for communicating with the members of your community and in 3.4 we've made it even better.



The problem with bulk mail

Sending vast amounts of email through your own server is troublesome.
Firstly, it takes a long time (you can't just send out thousands of emails in one go) and due to the way PHP works, you need to have activity on your community to initiate the sending of each batch of emails (you could set up a cron, but you'd probably only want it running when you actually have a bulk mail sending, and they're fiddly to set up).
Secondly, if you're on shared hosting, other sites on the same server may have given your server a bad reputation and caused it to be placed on blacklists, this causes the emails you send to be more likely to be marked as junk.
Thirdly, sending vast amounts of email through your own server is an expensive task - most communities we see use the same server for sending emails as hosting the community itself, meaning resources are being used for the sending of those emails and not serving your users.

Fortunately, these problems are well-known throughout the internet and a number of companies offer services to send mail for you, through their servers to alleviate these problems.
In addition, these services provide web applications where you can view statistics, and track how many of your emails have been opened, rejected, etc.

We're really pleased to announce that in IP.Board 3.4 we've built in integration with Mandrill, a service of well-known and respected MailChimp.



How it works

Setting up integration with Mandrill is really easy. In the new "Community Enhancements" section of the Admin CP (which we've mentioned in earlier blog entries), there will be an option for Mandrill:


After creating an account on their site, all you do is enter your account details:


IP.Board will from then on send all bulk mails through the Mandrill service.
And it's not just bulk mails. You can even configure IP.Board's normal email settings to send all outgoing emails via Mandrill's SMTP server.


Sending bulk mails

As part of our improvements, we've also:

  • Tidied up the interface for sending bulk mails
  • Improved the unsubscribe link sent in emails to be a one-click link (rather than requiring users sign in and uncheck the box)
  • Built extension capabilities the filter options available when composing a bulk mail, meaning 3rd party applications can add their own filter options (we'll use this for example, in a future version of IP.Nexus to allow you to send bulk mails to anyone who's purchased a particular item).
  • Added a tab on the confirmation screen to allow you to view the list of recipients before actually sending the bulk mail.

All these improvements are present even if you choose not to use the new Mandrill integration.






Statistics and Tracking

You can view statistics via the Mandrill web application. Emails sent from IP.Board's bulk mail system automatically enable tracking for opens and clicks.



They even have iPhone and Android apps available.




Pricing

Full pricing details are available from Mandrill - for up to 12,000 emails per month though, the service is completely free.
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Well this is good. My host actually limits the amount of emails you can send per day. I can not remember what the number is but if I remember correctly it is 500 maybe less. So as a result I do not send bulk emails at all. 
This will greatly help with that issue. 
 
Thank you. 

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  • Management

[quote time="1349912168" name="ZakRhyno"]
So what happen for the people whom don't wish to use this and send out emails the old way? Is the option still in the IPB app? Or is it taken out?
Check the blog entry. It says "All these improvements are present even if you choose not to use the new Mandrill integration."

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Hello Mark ,
 
This is indeed amazing news as it removes one of the needed developed feature for us. Though i will like to receive further information about Mailchimp integration.

Currently we have a Mailchimp plugin developed by our self. It allows members to sign up newsletters via registration - user control panel settings update or admin user update .

Does IPB integration offer similar features ?

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Will this type of email functionality eventually lead to email integration or "posting by email" as discussed in this thread?
http://community.invisionpower.com/topic/355789-email-integration/
 
It would be wonderful to allow members to interact with the board via email in addition to the standard web or mobile interfaces because it increases participation by those who rarely visit the forum. It brings messages right to their inbox and lets them reply on the fly.

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Up to 12,000 per month for free? That does sound like a great deal.
 
It's almost enticing. And being someone who has dealt with being on Hotmail's blacklist twice, I can account to how much of a pain it can be. I can only imagine the hassles larger boards with hundreds of thousands of members have had to go through.
 
But, how is this really integrated? I'm curious. For third party mailing services, I would have just assumed you'd sign up and switch your server to use a remote SMTP server. Is this just a commercial partnership?

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If you use the 'free' option do they somehow place adverts within the email (cannot find any mention of it on their website, did find though that they are allowed to copy emails etc) ?
 
Only asking as seems odd offering a free option ... must be a catch somewhere

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[quote time="1349915481" name="Sjv"]
Hello Mark ,
 
This is indeed amazing news as it removes one of the needed developed feature for us. Though i will like to receive further information about Mailchimp integration.

Currently we have a Mailchimp plugin developed by our self. It allows members to sign up newsletters via registration - user control panel settings update or admin user update .

Does IPB integration offer similar features ?
 
The Mandrill service is a bit different to MailChimp's main service. Rather than maintaining lists on their end, we send the list of email addresses to send a message to at the same time the message details are sent - this allows us to have the filter options I mentioned without you having to set these up as lists first.
 
 
 [quote time="1349917634" name="omarf"]
Will this type of email functionality eventually lead to email integration or "posting by email" as discussed in this thread?
http://community.invisionpower.com/topic/355789-email-integration/
 
It would be wonderful to allow members to interact with the board via email in addition to the standard web or mobile interfaces because it increases participation by those who rarely visit the forum. It brings messages right to their inbox and lets them reply on the fly.


 
This is something we're very interested in, though this is not planned for 3.4.
 
 
 [quote time="1349925129" name="PTD"]
Does it do anything with bounced emails?  That would be huge, really, because stale emails is a real problem for older/larger forums.  


 
 
You can view information on bounced emails through the Mandrill service. In a future version, we'd really like to add some kind of automatic handling (for example, it might disable the user's account or unsubscribe them or something according to an ACP setting) of bounced emails. This will not make it into 3.4 though.
 
 
 
 [quote time="1349933077" name="Kirito"]
Up to 12,000 per month for free? That does sound like a great deal.
 
It's almost enticing. And being someone who has dealt with being on Hotmail's blacklist twice, I can account to how much of a pain it can be. I can only imagine the hassles larger boards with hundreds of thousands of members have had to go through.
 
But, how is this really integrated? I'm curious. For third party mailing services, I would have just assumed you'd sign up and switch your server to use a remote SMTP server. Is this just a commercial partnership?
 
 
For bulk mails - a special API call is made to Mandrill which sends details of the email and who it has to be sent to - they then take over from there.
 
If you just change your SMTP server, you're still relying on your server to send the emails to the SMTP server (which is time consuming as it has to do it in batches based on activity on your community) and sending a batch to the SMTP server every so often is still using resources from your web server - all this is offloaded to Mandrill, and you can view the statistics and reports for a given bulk mail, etc.
 
 
If you enable the option to use Mandrill for non-bulk mails too, then that just adjusts the SMTP settings in IP.Board - but that's not a problem as sending one email at a time doesn't have the issues that bulk mail does.
 
It's not a partnership (any more than Facebook integration is) - these guys genuinely have the best service out of everyone out there.

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[quote time="1349945918" name="steve00"]
If you use the 'free' option do they somehow place adverts within the email (cannot find any mention of it on their website, did find though that they are allowed to copy emails etc) ?
 
Only asking as seems odd offering a free option ... must be a catch somewhere
 
Nope. I guess they're banking on you sending more than 12k ;)

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[quote time="1349937688" name="3DKiwi"]
This is great. I've had issues with my server being blacklisted for sending out too many emails.


Excellent option :) Thank you.
 
I see that they are still using shared IP's, so I would have thought that the IP's will soon get blacklisted, especially with it being free for many sites.
 
They do however offer a dedicated IP for $30 a month.

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"You can view information on bounced emails through the Mandrill service. In a future version, we'd really like to add some kind of automatic handling (for example, it might disable the user's account or unsubscribe them or something according to an ACP setting) of bounced emails. This will not make it into 3.4 though."
 
I would consider this essential.  Even if it just kicks them into 'unconfirmed' status, but a really nice plus would be if they were sent an automated private message explaining to them that their email has bounced and how to change it.  

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It's something of an enticing offer.
 
Though I'm just approaching over 12k validated members on my board, for bulk mail it would still alleviate some of the risk of me setting off Hotmail's red flags for the third time.
 
I considered doing research on a few providers for such a service in the past, but never bothered to get around to it. Maybe I'll look into this a bit.

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I would like to be able to have pre-made emails set up that go out to a user at set intervals after they create their account, and when changing to a certain user group. I would have it set up so one week after ordering our product (and getting moved into the user group for paid customers) they receive an email reminding them of cool product benefits, etc., to minimize post-purchase dissonance. Another one would go out after six weeks to make sure we keep them as a customer.

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