Moving websites on shared hosting is easy, moving email on shared hosting is hard so…

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Photo by Flickr user Jo@net

This post is about choosing a 3rd party to host your company’s email instead of using the free email service that comes with almost all shared hosting plans.

I got a call on Friday from a former client, a small, highly-technical business with a handful of very large, old-school Fortune 100 customers. Their site and email has been on BlueHost for more than 15 years!  Unfortunately, the network address on his server was recently blacklisted.  His site and email were fine of course.  However as a shared-hosting customer his site in on a large server that’s shared with hundreds or even thousands of other accounts.  One of the other accounts was hacked or otherwise got blacklisted for spamming and so he and everyone else on his server ended up blacklisted too!  As a result, his biggest client’s IT department started bouncing all his email!  Yikes!

This is another very good reason why it’s important for businesses to host their websites, email, and domain registration with different companies.

As a web developer my biggest considerations for choosing email hosting are

  • spam filtering, which is good,
  • blacklisting, which is bad, and
  • spam-filtering email from the contact form, which is also bad.

That last one’s kind of tricky so here’s a quick explanation: an email provider should be able to understand when your web server sends email from the same domain name your mail server is managing.  If it doesn’t understand this then it’ll assume your web server is trying to spoof or spam using your email address.  Depending on your mail provider it can be easier or harder to “reassure” them that your web server is authorized to send you email.

Moving websites is easy. Moving email’s a serious nuisance. No matter who you go with, if you have multiple email addresses and especially if you use 3rd-party mail clients like Outlook, iMail, Thunderbird, etc., at the very least you’ll have to change their IMAP and POP settings when you move your email.

Google’s GSuite for Business and Microsoft Office 365 have excellent spam filtering and zero problems with blacklisting, and for roughly $5.00 per mailbox they also offer excellent interfaces and a ton of goodies like calendars, office-productivity tools, and storage.  They’re my top two choices… but there’s a reason I almost always recommend Google’s GSuite.

Google’s server settings are super easy to set up, so bouncing website contact email is rarely a problem. Many cPanel hosting plans let you change the settings for Google with one click!

It’s another story with Microsoft Office 365.  Unless you’re willing to give me administrative access to the client’s backend Microsoft 365, on the other hand, is a giant pain to deal with when it comes to getting all the settings right on a web server. If you don’t get everything just right they bounce your contact form notifications and other email from your website. I mean, it’s awesome that they take security that seriously, but it’s still super annoying.  (To be technical about it they’re so strict they recommend you use their nameservers and add A and CNAME records to whoever’s doing your actual web hosting.

So strictly from my selfish, egocentric WordPress web-hosting point of view, while Google and Microsoft are the #1 and #2 choices for never-move-it-again email hosting, Google’s GSuite is my first choice and Microsoft 365 is a distant second.

Note: if you’re not ready to make a change this post can help you make the most of your shared-hosting email.

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David Innes,

I've been building and maintaining websites since 1997 and building and supporting similar hypertext-driven software since 1987. I've done maintenance, support, and maintenance for physical and digital systems since 1981. And no, I still haven't seen it all but by now I usually know where to look. More about David Innes...