Top 10 Blogs: Our Year in Review

We’re finishing out the year with a roundup of our top 10 blogs from 2016. The Mandrill announcement in April impacted our community, and as a result our blog, in a big way. We’re recapping that along with other top posts on deliverability tips and email marketing best practices down below. As always, our ears are open, so if there’s a certain topic you’d like to see on the blog, leave us a comment, tweet us, or ping us in slack.

Without further ado, we give you the top 10 blogs of 2016:

#1 Mandrill Alternatives

It’s no surprise that our Mandrill alternative blogs dominated our top 10 list (5 out of our top 10). We responded in real-time to the Mandrill crisis and told you why we could offer 100K emails/month for free. Our CEO even weighed in and made you a promise he intends to stick by for the long haul. The Mandrill incident also inspired us to create SendGrid and Mailgun migration guides, check them out when you have a chance.

Mandrill Template Migration top 10 blogs

#2 PHP

But beyond Mandrill, we also had some other top posts. Coming in second was using SparkPost in PHP. Believe it or not, many of you use PHP through our WordPress plugin.

PHP in SparkPost

#3 Advanced Email Templates

For developers who want to get the most out of SparkPost templating capabilities, this post was meant for you! In this straight-forward post, Chris Wilson makes sending email easy and gives you some pro tips along the way.

 

advanced email templates

 

#4 What Recruiters Look for in a Dev Candidate

Everyone wants to know how to interview well. In this post we told you about what four tech recruiters look for when hiring developer and engineering candidates.

Recruiter for Dev Candidate

#5 Webhooks!

One of the most useful elements of SparkPost are our webhooks and in this post, Ewan Dennis walks you through the basics and beyond. Knowing what to expect functionally beyond the raw API spec is half the battle when consuming new data sources like SparkPost webhooks.

webhooks: beyond the basics

#6 Outlook and Hotmail Email Deliverability

The Outlook inbox is one of the major destinations for most email senders, especially those with large numbers of consumer subscribers. It also has a reputation for being somewhat tricky to get into. In this post, one of our deliverability experts, Tonya Gordon, shares what senders need to know in order to get the best Hotmail/Outlook deliverability and ensure their messages reach the inbox.

#7 Announcing Subaccounts!

Thanks to your feedback, the Mandrill event helped us expedite our release of subaccounts ahead of schedule. Our VP of Product told you about how we process your feedback and what’s available with subaccounts.

SparkPost #WeLoveDevelopers

#8 Are You an Email Rookie?

Sometimes you need to go beyond a top 10 list and in this case we did — 17 tips on how not to be labeled an email rookie. In this post we put together a list of common mistakes, with a heavy dose of snark, on how to avoid being labeled an email marketing rookie.

Email Marketing Rookie Kid Missing Steering Wheel

#9 Retail Marketing Stats You Need to Know

Do you know what the lowest e-commerce order generators are? In this post, we give you five tips and stats for mastering retail marketing. From social media, to mobile and beacon triggered emails.

Retail Marketing statistics mobile 2016

#10 Setting Up SparkPost as your SMTP Relay

You know you need to send email, but you don’t want to spend a lot of time or effort on it — you just want something that works out of the box. It’s not too much to ask! Many frameworks, languages, and tools come with SMTP support, but the last step is the most important – an SMTP server. In this post, we walk you through how to set up SparkPost as your SMTP Relay.

And that rounds out our Top 10 Blogs for 2016! Any industry trends or topics you think were under-represented? Leave us a comment below, or tweet us!

-Tracy

TellForm and SparkPost open source projectI’m David Baldwynn, an open source advocate and Node.js developer. I’m also the creator of Tellform, a free, open source form builder similar to Google Forms or TypeForm. TellForm spawned out of a contracting project for a medical client that required on-site hosting of a kiosk form app. After a few weeks of building a simple kiosk form app, I decided I wanted to make my app reusable. So last summer I created a dynamic, self-hostable form builder that was to become TellForm.

After working on TellForm for a couple of months, I decided to open source it in September 2015. Despite the slow initial launch with only a few users per day, I used my existing users to iterate and improve TellForm. This led to the adding of multiple new features, including the Google Analytics integration and the built-in form analytics page. As one of the few UX/UI focused open source form builders out there, I also sought advice from designers and continued to iterate on the form design. Thus, I added animated scrolling and user-friendly input validation to my form.

HackerNews ended up posting about TellForm, which then led to Product Hunt hunting it. These events further legitimized TellForm and increased the project’s awareness. This brought more views and with it a designer, Arun Pattnaik, to join my team permanently.

SparkPost + TellForm

As a web developer, I wasn’t initially aware of SparkPost. However, I had to look for an alternative email API to power my email signup verification process during Mandrill’s cessation of their free tier. After looking for over a month I settled on SparkPost. Its generous free tier, paired with its great documentation convinced me to make the jump.

TellForm currently uses SparkPost’s SMTP relay to power its user verification process through the node-email-verification library (which I also maintain). This works by creating a temporary user account when the user signs up along with a verification token. When the user clicks the verification link (that contains the verification token) in their email, node-email-verification copies the data in the user’s temporary account to a permanent one and saves it. If the account is not verified within a specified time (that is set in node-email-verification’s configuration), it is deleted and the verification link becomes invalid.

With SparkPost, TellForm has been able to grow from tens of views a day to hundreds. Furthermore, it has also allowed us to grow as an open source project.

Liked this post? You may also like our Developer’s Email Survival Guide.

SMTP Port Graphic Laptops Ports Clouc

A common question for anyone configuring an app or mail system to send (or relay) email is “what SMTP port should I use?” Let’s run through the different ports commonly used for sending email today.

(TL;DR: If you’re configuring your systems to use SparkPost as an SMTP relay, you should use port 587, with 2525 as an alternate in certain circumstances when port 587 is not available.)

Any SMTP Port in a Storm

Email, like every other system that connects over a network like the Internet, uses the concept of addresses to determine where a system can be found. All of us today are familiar with the textual version of these addresses, like www.sparkpost.com. And most of us know that an easy-to-remember text address stands in for a numeric IP address like 107.21.246.67. But not as many of use know that these network addresses also include specific “port numbers” that are a little bit like an apartment number in a real-world street address.

For example, the web and HTTP use port number 80. For email and SMTP that port number is… well, it depends. You might see information that tells you to use ports 25, 465, 587, or 2525 for SMTP. Which SMTP port should you use? Here are the details about the most common SMTP ports.

Port 25

If you’re a systems administrator of a certain age, you know the answer used to be straightforward: SMTP was designated port 25 in IETF Request For Comments (RFC) 821. Today, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the group responsible for maintaining the Internet addressing scheme, still recognizes Port 25 as the default SMTP port. But in practicality, it’s not as simple as it seems.

Although port 25 continues to be used for server-to-server SMTP relaying, most modern SMTP clients should not be configured to use this port, because Port 25 usually is blocked by residential ISPs and business cloud hosting providers alike. Why? Thank the spammers. Port 25 is blocked on many networks to curb the amount of spam that is relayed from compromised computers or servers. Unless you’re specifically managing a mail server, you should have no traffic traversing this port on your computer or server.

Port 465

IANA initially assigned port 465 for an encrypted version of SMTP called SMTPS. However, IANA since has reassigned this port for a different use, so it should no longer be used for SMTP.

However, because of this brief historical use, there are some legacy systems that still use port 465 for SMTP, and some help pages on the Internet still suggest port 465 as the recommended setup. Our advice? Don’t do it unless your application absolutely requires it—port 465 is no longer an accepted standard for SMTP. (By the way, that’s why SparkPost does not accept connections on port 465.)

Port 587

Modern email servers use port 587 for the secure submission of email for delivery. For example, if you use an email client software like Outlook or Apple Mail, it most likely is configured to use this port to send your messages. It’s not just personal email client software, however. Systems that transmit messages to an email delivery service like SparkPost also should be configured to use this port.

All SparkPost customers should use port 587 as default, unless you’re explicitly blocked by your upstream network or hosting provider. Using port 587, coupled with TLS encryption, is the best way to ensure that email is submitted securely and reliably to SparkPost (or nearly any other provider).

Port 2525

Port 2525 is not an official SMTP port, and it is not sanctioned by the IETF nor IANA. However, SparkPost and many other email service providers support the use of port 2525 as an alternative to port 587 for SMTP, in the event the above ports are blocked. (One notable example where this is required is for services hosted on Google Compute Engine.) If you’ve tried port 587 but experience connectivity issues, try port 2525. Just like port 587, most implementations that listen on port 2525 also support TLS encryption.

Learn More

In summary, SMTP port 587 is the best choice for nearly every use case for connecting to SparkPost and other email delivery services.

I hope this information helped you learn a little more about which SMTP port to use! Want to learn more about using SMTP? Here are instructions for configuring SparkPost for SMTP relay and email delivery, the differences between SMTP and API message transmission, and troubleshooting your SMTP connection to SparkPost.

—Brent
@brentsleeper

SMTP Relay Graphic Cloud Monitor

 

Note: If you’re using SMTP to route all of your personal mail through SparkPost, awesome! However, be sure to use an email address with a different sending domain (not one associated with your SparkPost account) for your account login. That way, if you ever run into any issues, you’re still able to contact us for help.

You know you need to send email, but you don’t want to spend a lot of time or effort on it — you just want something that works out of the box. It’s not too much to ask! Many frameworks, languages, and tools come with SMTP support, but the last step is the most important – an SMTP server. SparkPost fills that need with SMTP support and a simple setup process.

Today, I’ll be demonstrating how to set up an SMTP relay, so you can use your own email client to send emails from your personal domain. I’ll be using Gmail as my email client, and shopwithkindness.org as my sending domain.

Let’s get started!

How to Setup SparkPost as your SMTP Relay

There are a few things you’ll need before setting up an SMTP relay.

  1. A verified sending domain.
  2. An API key with the “Send via SMTP” permission enabled.
  3. An e-mail client or service which allows you to enable SparkPost as your SMTP relay.

For this walkthrough, I’ll be using Gmail. To begin, navigate to the settings.

navigate to the settings button smtp relay

From there, click on the “Accounts” tab.

click on the accounts tab smtp relay how to

Next, click on “Add another email address you own”.

add another email address you own smtp relay how to

In the pop-up menu, enter the (verified) email address and press next. I’d like to be able to send with “vincent@shopwithkindness.org”, so that’s what I type in.

enter the email address you'd like to use smtp relay how to

Then, enter “smtp.sparkpostmail.com” as the SMTP Server,“SMTP_Injection” as the username, and 587 as the port. Your password should be your API key with “Send via SMTP” enabled. This information can be found under Account -> SMTP Relay in your SparkPost dashboard.

enter your username and port smtp relay how to

 

Let’s get started!

Lastly, you’ll need to login to your inbox to confirm. After that, we’re done! Time to send some Shop With Kindness emails.

Other Resources

If it turns out that SMTP isn’t the right email solution for you, consider taking advantage of the SparkPost API. The API has many pros (and cons). Take a look at Dave’s blog for more information regarding the differences between SMTP and API.

Lastly, if you’re having problems setting up an SMTP relay, join our Community Slack channel, tweet us at @SparkPost, or shoot us an email!

-Vincent

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