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Hosted email service pros and cons

Hosted email service pros and cons

A vast majority of (shared and reseller) hosting providers offer “free” (ie. included in the price) use of their SMTP servers for sending and receiving emails. In this post, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of using a separate, hosted (and paid for) email service, compared to using hosting provider’s “free” one.

Contents:

  1. Cons of using a hosted email service
  2. Pros of using a hosted email service
    2.1. Easier website and email backups
    2.2. Easier website migrations
    2.3. Better security
    2.4. No blacklists and IP reputation concerns
    2.5. Higher quality of mail service
  3. SMTP service
  4. My recommendation


1. Cons of using a hosted email service

Main downside of using a hosted email service is the fact it is not free. The exact price depends on the chosen provider, number of accounts, inbox size etc. – this too depends on each provider’s pricing policy. Prices roughly range from 4$ per month, upwards. Sometimes need to be paid for year in advance – again, all depends on the email provider’s pricing policy.

Another thing that should be noted is the setup. When using hosting provider’s email service, needed DNS records are usually configured by the hosting provider – though most often not properly, at least in my experience! So I’m not sure this is a downside, since with most hosting providers you’ll have to set it up by yourself if you want it to be proper, but it is surely worth mentioning. Either way, I wrote quite in-depth, step by step tutorials for the following:


2. Pros of using a hosted email service

Hosted email is hosted separately from the website. Which offers more than one advantage, as I will list.


2.1. Easier website and email backups

Website hosting server backup does not include backup of all the emails. Which makes those backups faster and smaller in size. If you are keeping the last 10 backups for example, each additional GB adds up – multiply.

Likewise – email backups are easily made separately.


2.2. Easier website migrations

You are a lot more likely to change hosting server and/or provider, than you are to change mail provider. When you use the hosting server/provider for emails as well, then website migrations always include migrating all the emails as well.

This complicates migrations and requires more time. For example, some hosting servers store mail using maildir format, while others use mdbox. Yes, there are tools and ways to export emails from one format and import using the other, but that’s not my idea of fun.

Also, if being able to receive emails and respond quickly is important – as well as if you want the website downtime during the migration to be close to zero, things can get even more “exciting” (unless you are using a hosted email service). Business websites and e-shops are the first that come to mind when talking about this.

If you use a hosted email and a separate DNS service, then website migration doesn’t require any email configuration – it will just keep working. In other words: in that case, emails work independently from the website.

Yes, many hosting providers offer free website migrations when you are switching to their service, but there often are many “catches”, such as: free migrations only from cPanel and/or DirectAdmin etc, longer downtime than necessary, downtime in email service functioning, even longer email service downtime, or no (free) email migration at all, if non-compatible email storage was used with the previous hosting…

…All the while YouTube autoplay leads to the dark places of the Internet


2.3. Better security

If you are using Cloudflare service, hosting emails on the hosting server reveals the server’s IP address, since email DNS records can’t be proxied through Cloudflare’s firewall service.

In case you don’t use this sort of protection, this point is not relevant, but I think it was worth mentioning for those who do.


2.4. No blacklists and IP reputation concerns

Especially with shared hosting servers, it happens that one of the users sends spam, so the server’s IP address ends up on a blacklist. Which means that various spam filters will block emails sent from that IP address (simply and roughly speaking). Removing an IP address off a blacklist takes time and effort. Hosting providers can’t be vigilant enough in preventing users from sending spam, nor as fast in removing IP addresses off blacklists.

Another thing is called “IP address reputation”. If you get a dedicated IP address (just for your use, no one can send spam from it), that is not listed in any blacklist, it still takes time to build a good reputation for it. Building reputation requires sending moderate amount of emails, without any being reported as spam – over a longer period of time, often months.

With a hosted email service, all this is the worry of the service provider (you just need to worry about not sending any spam yourself).


2.5. Higher quality of mail service

Hosting providers offer email service for “free” (included in the hosting price). It is practically impossible to do otherwise since “everybody offers it for free”. At the same time, usually, their primary concern and field of expertise is hosting, not emails. Below, I’ll link my experiences with email problems and hosting providers. Note – most of these are reputable, good quality hosting providers who generally know very well what they are doing and offer top class technical support. In all three cases it wasn’t hosting provider’s fault, but a set of (unfortunate) circumstances – yet such problems are much less likely to happen with a hosted email service.

Hosted email providers offer email service, so you can expect a greater level of expertise, experience and quicker email problem solving.


3. SMTP service

There are companies that offer SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) service. This should not be confused with hosted email service. SMTP service doesn’t offer email storage, it just handles the sending of emails.

Popular SMTP service providers are: SendGrid (explained in detail), MailGun, MailChimp, Amazon SES (Simple Email Service) and others.

SMTP service is primarily intended for sending bulk email – such as newsletters (explained), or announcements for customers. Most of SMTP service providers offer free packages, for those who don’t send more than a set number of daily/monthly emails. The problem with most free packages is they use a shared IP address that is often on at least one blacklist – since many spamers (ab)use these services as well. Paid packages from a certain price point come with a dedicated IP address, but then you need to spend the time and effort to build that IP address reputation (as explained in chapter 2.4.). Some charge a dedicated IP address separately, so it can be bought even with a lower priced package.

SMTP services don’t replace email hosting, since emails still need to be received and stored somewhere. I mentioned them here because they are somewhat related and often mixed when there’s a discussion about email hosting and delivery.


4. My recommendation

I use and recommend MXroute. Based on my needs and priorities it is the optimal choice.

If you need tech. support help even with the basic stuff, then you’ll have to pay significantly more for Gsuite, or MS Exchange.

Finally, I must say that hosting providers’ email service is far from unusable. One just needs to weigh the price of hosted email service, with its advantages, then decide for themselves whether that’s an optimal choice for them.

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