Let’s talk email hosting. Personal, email hosting.
That means no newsletters. For newsletters use Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, Sendy etc.
It also means no transactional email. Transactional email is email that is sent by code, to one person, at a specific time. Like your WordPress site telling you an update is available, or an email from Amazon saying your package has just been shipped. For transactional email, use Mailgun, SendGrid, Campaign Monitor, Amazon SES etc.
Back to email hosting. Why even blog about email hosting.
The problem with email hosting is that it is very easy to get crappy email hosting for cheap or free, and if you look into good email hosting you may get sticker shocked back into passively accepting what you already have. For the past 10 years I myself have used the worst type of email hosting. I was lucky and never had any problems, but I also wasn’t relying on it for anything serious as a student and later developer at an agency. I’m done taking that gamble, for myself, my projects, and my clients. In this blog post I want to tell you why shared hosting email is bad, and what you should use instead.
Email hosting is difficult
For a hosting company email is simple to set up. That’s why you get “free” email with your shared hosting. It comes with their cPanel/Plesk install. Do they also offer email accounts without webhosting? In 9/10 cases that will just get you shared hosting without a webserver.
I’m telling you running a good email server is actually a hard job. Why is that?
Your email server is often not your email server. It is your digital neighborhoods email server. Your ISP email account is one of thousands. Your shared hosting email server is used by dozens if not hundreds of other customers on the same machine. Each customer has a number of domains, and each domain has a number of email accounts. The server that you consider “your” email server is sending and receiving millions of messages! On it’s own, this is fine. But there’s a problem.
Email’s curse is spam. Everyone knows spam has become an incredibly huge problem. To combat spam, every email server has to collaborate with spam detection services. Without these services your email would be too frustrating to use. With these spam detection services however, they are effectively in control of what lands in your inbox, and what lands in your users’ inbox. We just explained that millions of messages pass your email server, and so millions of messages get tested for spam. What are the odds that your email server gets busted for sending spam one day? Intentional, or unintentional. It is going to happen.
A good email host knows all there is to know about email. They have built and maintain servers with a good reputation. They’re doing things to prevent abuse, and they know exactly how to react when the day comes that their email server reputation is being attacked by a spam detection service.
Being a good email host is not an easy job, it takes skill and time. Your shared hosting company cannot be a good email host, because you’re not paying them enough. Let’s make it even worse. Every hosting company that primarily sells shared hosting, VPS hosting, dedicated servers, or anything else, probably doesn’t care much about their email service. They don’t see the risk, it’s your risk, and you don’t want that on your plate.
Let’s talk numbers
Alright so you realize shared email hosting sucks. Let’s buy ourselves a solution. What is this going to cost?
The Ferrari and Lamborghini of email hosting are Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace (G Suite). These two are so incredibly massive in the email space that even the before mentioned spam detection services will turn a blind eye to their fuck-ups. They can do no wrong. Your email deliverability will be as close to perfect as can be, and the only downside is the price. They charge $5-6 per account per month.
Think about a project you need email for. How many accounts do you need? Take that number, multiply it by 5 and by 12, that’s your yearly cost. Does your project warrant this cost just for its email?
(Yes) That’s great. Go with Google or Microsoft, and get on with your day. No really, you are golden!
(No / Not really) This is why this blog post exists. Keep reading.
Good email on a budget
We’re looking for an email provider that is substantially cheaper than $5, it should be a stable company, the bigger the better, operating internationally, and focus on email.
Well, sadly, there’s not many. Here’s my recommendations.
Zoho is the only email provider that checks all the boxes. It’s an email company, it’s been around, and it’s very affordable.
Namecheap took second place because it’s cheap, and it’s a big company. While they are a domain company, which should exclude them, they are very loud and proud about the quality of their email service. If you don’t like Zoho, it’s worth giving Namecheap a shot.
Rackspace is my number three. You save half on the price compared to Google and Microsoft. Nobody would say Rackspace is an email company, but Rackspace is so big in the B2B enterprise market, that they must have the required staff on board. As long as they offer us the ability to buy a single email account from them, that makes them a competitor.
More email for less
In my search for email hosting providers I came across some interesting alternatives. If you manage multiple projects, and you need many email accounts, and you’re pretty techie yourself, these may be of interest to you. I must stress up front though, that these providers are much much smaller companies than those mentioned in the previous category. They may have shitty support, and they may close up shop tomorrow, but I do believe these guys have the skills to run a good email service. In no particular order, here we go.
MXroute is a small business by email expert Jarland Donnell. Their product starts at $40 per year ($3.33 per month), for unlimited accounts. You are only limited by disk space, and 300 outgoing emails per hour max. At the time of writing MXroute has a great deal available: For a one-time payment of $99 you get a Small package for the lifetime of the company.
Mailcheap is often compared to MXroute. They have a much wider offering of services. Their services are also limited by disk space, starting at 10GB for $2 per month ($24 per year). On the design side Mailcheap certainly looks a bit nicer than MXroute, and they may be around for longer if their expensive packages actually sell regularly. (They go up to $350 per month!) The word on internet streets is that among us cheap customers MXroute is the favorite however.
Migadu is a very particular company, but they do offer unlimited email accounts. Their Micro plan costs $19 per year ($1.58 per month), for 5GB of disk space, “almost unlimited” domains, but only 200 emails in, and 20 emails out, per day. The next step up is a significant one. The Mini plan costs $90 per year ($7.50 per month), for 30GB if disk space, and an email limit of 1000 in, 100 out, per day. Personally I would not feel comfortable with the 200/20 limit, and even the 1000/100 limit is easy to reach if you have a team of people sending email. Like I said, Migadu is a very particular company.
Forward Email is an intriguing open source project that does give you unlimited email addresses, but they’re not accounts. You will still need an actual email account like your free Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo address to receive the mail. From there you can “Send mail as” your newly made email addresses. If your Gmail account reads particularly unprofessional I would not recommend this service. The entry plan is free though, so you may find a purpose for it.