Understanding Cloud Email Delivery

Cloud email delivery is a way for mobile apps and web-based services to send marketing or transactional emails to recipients that doesn’t require a company to maintain its own email delivery infrastructure.

Cloud email delivery is an example of “software as a service.” That means the infrastructure underlying the service is virtualized. Users of the service do not need to maintain their own mail servers or otherwise know details of how the service is implemented. Rather, they simply tell the service what message they need sent and let the service handle the message generation, transmission, and delivery.

Like other cloud software services, cloud email delivery providers typically offer their service on a subscription or pay-as-you-go basis, rather than as a one-time purchase.

One way to understand cloud email delivery is to compare it to traditional paper mail delivery services like the U.S. Postal Service. If you want to send an old-fashioned paper letter across the country, you don’t need to worry about buying and maintaining your own post office, deciding whether to use a truck or an airplane to transport the envelope, or find the house with the right address to deliver it. Instead, you simply pay with a stamp, drop the letter in a mailbox, and let the postal service handle the details and deliver it for you.

Cloud email delivery works in a similar fashion. Specialized email delivery services like SparkPost carry the burden of forming email messages, dealing with email authentication complexity, scaling to provide capacity just when it’s needed, and working with inbox providers to ensure delivery.

How does cloud email delivery work?

There are different approaches to cloud email delivery, each with its own characteristics. Some marketing email providers focus on helping customers design and send a batch of newsletters or other mass mailings to a large number of customers once a week or month. Other cloud email delivery services like SparkPost specialize in the immediate delivery of transactional email messages such as receipts for e-commerce sales or other triggered email messages that reflect individual customer actions.

In general, the process works something like this:

  1. An event such as an e-commerce purchase or user state change occurs in a web or mobile app.
  2. The app calls an API on the email delivery service with information such as customer email address, message content, and other relevant details.
  3. The email delivery service forms a message using details provided by the calling application, message templates, etc.
  4. The email delivery service transmits the message to the appropriate destination, negotiating factors such as email authentication and other requirements with the receiving mail server.
  5. The email delivery service records data about message disposition and other activity for reporting and analytics.

Do I need a cloud email delivery service?

In the past, any system that wished to send email would have needed to incorporate basic email functionality in order to do so. Each application needed to know how to generated a fully-formed email message and then deliver it to the recipient. That was inefficient and susceptible to errors and scalability and maintenance challenges.

Today, like many other functions that used to be handled in a company’s own data center, email delivery has moved into the cloud. It makes sense for most applications today to focus on their core functional strengths and to offload non-unique needs to high-performing specialists such as email delivery services. This allows developers to operate more efficiently and to focus their efforts on creating differentiated value. It also means fewer delays or bugs that affect customers.

Any service built in the cloud naturally will benefit from cloud email delivery. Several specific use cases are especially well-suited for the strengths of a specialized email delivery service like SparkPost.

  • Developers building e-commerce systems, password resets, and other real-time transactional messages that are generated on demand and require immediate delivery.
  • Growth marketers and product managers who depend upon user state changes or other individualized triggers to drive customer engagement, such as onboarding cues, activity notifications, and more.
  • Enterprise senders who need personalized content and time-sensitive delivery that scales on-demand.

What should I look for in an email delivery service?

A robust email delivery service offers several advantages over lesser peers. Here are several characteristics a developer or enterprise sender should consider when evaluating options.

  • A well-designed API with quick integration. A great email delivery service is designed to make developers’ jobs easier. Whether it’s high-performing RESTful API or powerful SMTP injection, the best email delivery services are built for developers by developers to get email integration right.
  • High deliverability. Simply put, better inbox delivery leads to better engagement and revenue for your business. A great email delivery service leverages sophisticated technology (such as the Adaptive Email Network) and expertise to optimize email delivery for every ISP and market. You should look for deliverability rates of 95% or more. (SparkPost is proud to achieve nearly 98% inbox placement.)
  • Responsive support options and deep email expertise. An email delivery service should provide more than a bare API in the cloud. Whether you’re a developer looking to talk with other developers in Slack or an enterprise sender seeking advice on best practices and optimization, people make a real difference in the quality of an email delivery service.
  • True cloud-based reliability. Don’t be fooled by email service providers who have sunk costs into their own data center headaches. Instead, look for options that are built on true cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services. You don’t want to be distracted by the burden of maintaining your own data center. Neither should an email delivery service.

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