tl;dr Just say NO to web hosting with email and skip down to my recommended email hosting providers.
I was on vacation in Cancun with some girlfriends. We’re talking the kind of vacation where I’m enjoying cocktails before noon, books on the beach, and just the right amount of conversation with friends. I didn’t bring a computer, didn’t have an international plan on my phone, and only had access to wi-fi for 30 minutes a day – plenty of time to message my husband, glance through my work email, and scroll through Facebook.
Except for an odd sunburn on one leg (which margaritas went a long way to soothing), I was enjoying myself immensely…. until the next time I got on wi-fi to check my messages.
That’s when I received a barrage of panicky, urgent(!) messages from a client who couldn’t access her website or email.
Here’s the problem with hosting your website and email with the same company
Back in my day You may remember a time when email addresses came from your internet service provider (remember FlashNet or Juno?).
Somewhere along the line, when we got comfortable with the idea of purchasing a domain name and a hosting plan, branded email accounts were something just tacked on for free. We were trained that email and website hosting were one and the same. False!
I wrote a post comparing web hosts and made an off-hand comment that folks should use separate web and email hosting providers. It opened up a number of questions, so I thought the topic deserved its own post.
So, why is it a terrible idea to lump your hosting and email in the same account? Let’s look at a few reasons why.
1. If One Goes Down, It All Goes Down
In maritime tradition, a captain always goes down with his ship. If the ship sinks, well, so long Cap’n!
Your web hosting account is the ship in this story (as it was in my client’s story above).
Now raise your hand if you’ve never had downtime on a host. I don’t even need to see you to know your hand’s not raised. Every host* – even the top-notch ones – experience occasional downtime.
Now raise your hand if your email is a critical part of your business? My hand’s up. I conduct a ton of business through email, so losing access to email is more than just an inconvenience – it’s a show stopper.
* I’m not talking about big fancy people who have multiple redundant servers, etc. I’m talking about the average man’s host.
2. Domain migration is a royal PITA
Since we’re already doing a fair amount of hand-raising in this post, go ahead and raise your hand if you enjoy dealing with DNS, zone files, and MX records. If you raised your hand, leave a comment and I’ll call you next time I need those services because I hate it. I inevitably screw something up.
Breaking out your email from your hosting makes a domain transfer an infinitely (that’s right – infinitely!) easier process. Also, bonus points for not experiencing email downtime while your updated DNS propagates through the interwebs.
3. It’s like hiring the wrong person for the job
When I need a haircut, I call up my stylist. When I need my trees trimmed, I call my tree guy. Both are great with a pair of shears, but I can tell you I don’t want my tree guy cutting my hair.
I want my host focused on being the best freaking web host they can be – I don’t want them halfheartedly providing my email services. Let everyone play to their strengths, including your web host and your email provider.
And look, I know we’re all looking for a good deal and like to get the cheapest option available, but… I really can’t say this enough: If your business depends on your email, do not use free email hosting. That’s just stupid.
Email hosting providers I recommend
I’ve already recommended my favorite web hosts, but allow me to make some suggestions for email hosts. By the way, I’m using affiliate links below, but I promise they won’t bite. Also, I’m paying customer for the services I recommend.
I use Hover for both domain hosting and branded email hosting. I’ve never been a huge fan of their user interface, but they’ve rolled out a new design that is much more intuitive. Their service is consistent and reliable (which is exactly what I’m looking for) and their customer service is excellent. You can actually get a human on the phone.
This is why I love @hover: A human picked up the phone after ONE ring. Total time investment to answer my question was under 2 minutes.
— carrie dils (@cdils) March 22, 2016
You can set up mailboxes locally or check email through a webmail interface. All addresses include IMAP, so syncing between devices is simple.
Here’s what the pricing looks like for a single email address:
- Forward – $5/yr
- Small mailbox (10G storage) – $20/yr
- Big mailbox (1TB storage) – $29/yr
There’s no price break for additional mailboxes, which is a bummer. I typically use one small mailbox per domain I own and then use forwards for extra addresses. For example, I’ve got a mailbox for my primary email @carriedils.com and then use I’ll use forwards for things like help@ or info@.
One irritation to note about Hover: You have to also host your domain with them. For me, that’s not a big deal since I’m already using them as my domain registrar.
However, if you’ve pre-paid for many years of domain registration elsewhere, that’s cash down the toilet if you transfer it to Hover (Thank you, reader Y, for showing me either a new policy or one I hadn’t noticed before).
That said, for personal email hosting, Hover is perfect (and plenty) for me. It might even the best email hosting for a small business team, but I don’t think this would scale well for larger teams. And that brings me to…
Google Apps G Suite for Work I mean Google Workspace
For robust business email hosting, take a look at Google Workspace (formerly called G Suite which was formerly called Google Apps). Google Workspace offers a lot of tight integration with other Google services (think cloud storage, documents, calendars, collaboration, etc) that are icing on the cake.
Also, when it comes to security, there’s nobody better than Google to stay on top of trends. I’ve always had really good luck with Gmail/Google Workspace spam filters. I also love that I can “unsubscribe” to a newsletter even if an email doesn’t include an unsubscribe link. As of March 2018, Google Workspace rolled out even better anti-phishing capabilities and protection against spam.
At $6/month for a single user, Google Workspace is more expensive than Hover, but also includes those extra bells and whistles. And, frankly, $72/year is money well-spent if it means you don’t have to worry about your email going down. And if you’re part of a larger organization, the user to user integrations are sweet (i.e. shared calendars, unlimited cloud storage, 100 participant video meetings).
You can take Google Workspace for a spin with a free trial. I’ve got promo codes for 10% off the first year for the Business Starter or Standard plan. Leave a comment asking if you want one.
Depending on your use case, there is one thing I want to point out: The email engine for Google Workspace is not exactly the same as what you might be used to with Gmail (presumably Google Workspace’s better). That’s well and good, but there was some integration I was hoping to get between my Google Workspace email account and my Gmail account that simply wasn’t there. (Basically, I wanted to check 2 IMAP emails from a single “Gmail” inbox – one a Google Workspace email and the other just a free Gmail account. Can’t be done at this time. Leave me a comment if you want to know more details and my half-arsed workaround. Also leave me a comment if you’ve figured out how to make this work!)
All of that said, the interface is so similar that if you’re already comfortable working with Google products, you’ll feel right at home with Google Workspace.
Of course, if you’re a conspiracy theorist, you may not want all of your data eggs in the Google basket. 😉
There are a number of other paid email service providers (i.e. Fast Mail or Yahoo Small Business) as well as some free email hosts (beware – you get what you pay for – if your business depends on email, do not use a free email host). You can do some Googling (or Binging!) if Hover or Google Workspace don’t ring your bell.
Whatever your situation, there’s an email hosting solution that’s right for you that does not involve your web host. Do yourself a favor and start the move if you haven’t already.
p.s. There are some great discussions in the comments of this post. You might like to hear other people’s thoughts on the subject beside mine.
Featured image courtesy of picjumbo.com