An Honest Review of Amazon SES

July 6, 2015 at 1:15 pm By

$75/month doesn’t seem like much considering your average cell phone plan usually costs more than that.  But when you’re sending out email blasts to your subscribers, that price tag is a cause for concern.  It also happens to be what MailChimp charges for only 10,000 subscribers.

I own a few websites, and I have one site with a healthy list of 180,000 subscribers.  Without a ton of experience buying email plans, I checkout out the heavy hitters first: MailChimp and Constant Contact.  I should note that my emails are really nothing more than content links from the website, and the only monetizing I do is by dipping my toes into some of the email networks out there. They pay on a CPM basis (around $1), so with my open rate of 10%.. it only generates 18,000 actual views.

First, MailChimp.  They have a stellar reputation and a genuinely solid interface.  My 180,000 subscribes translates to $825.00 per month.  If I send out 4 blasts per month, with an average open rate of 10%, I lose about $750/month.  Ouch and no thanks.

Next, Constant Contact, the corporate leader in email blasts. On their site, if you have more than 10,000 subscribers, you have to call.  And the price for 5000-10000 subscribers is $85/mo.  No thanks.

I started looking around and landed on Amazon SES.  Since our servers are on the Amazon Cloud anyways, it’s logical to use them as our email service (and you do need to be using Amazon servers for this).  This is what I can report back so far:

It is Completely Server-side
Amazon SES is not like MailChimp, it is a service that ties itself to your server directly.  So you would purchase a third-party software (in our case we used Sendy) and install it on your server, similar to installing WordPress or Drupal.  The resources it will use to send the emails comes from your server and you are responsible if it crashes or pauses.  There is very little customer support for this, so you should be ready to support it yourself.
It is VERY inexpensive
The pricing is a bit confusing with Amazon Web services.  But to put it in practical terms, I have been using it for a month and have sent out 4 blasts to 180,000 subscribers each time.  It cost me $50.   Yes, $50.

How is this possible?  Well as I mentioned, there is really no customer support, and it took some time to get things installed/configured correctly.  But just like their cloud servers, Amazon keeps pricing on everything at the very bottom.
It can pause/fail and take a long time
Because it resides on your own server, it does have a strong possibility of failing to send out completely.  In which case, you’ll need to login and resume the campaign.  In addition, we send out our newsletters 100,000 at a time, and it usually takes more than 24 hours to send. This may have something to do with our server size, but it is a complaint I’ve read elsewhere/

Annoying limitations
When you first join the service, they restrict your account to a certain amount based on how big your list is.  In my case, they restricted to 25,000 per 24 hours… which made sending a newsletter almost impossible.  They kept this restriction on for about 2 weeks and very quickly after it was increased to 50,000, then 100,000.

They don’t inform you how to upgrade or why you are restricted. But they pretty much just want to be sure that you are not a spammer or have a bad list.

If you have some technical chops, I highly recommend using SES.  You will get frustrated either way, either by installation, restrictions or server load balancing.  But, it will be worth it in the end.  Once you are up and running, you are consistently set-up long term.  It makes the business of sending emails affordable and for a small web company like mine, it is invaluable.