Old school website admins are used to hosting their website and email accounts in the same hosting environment. This was made popular by shared hosting companies using cPanel, Plesk, and SiteWorx. Initially, this made things easier for webmasters and IT experts. However, this practice has some serious drawbacks for any mission-critical organization, especially for an eCommerce business.
Corporate Email vs. Transactional Email vs Marketing Email
First things first, your eCommerce business is probably sending more than one kind of email.
- Corporate messages: These are your individual email boxes. These allow you to send emails from individuals like jon@or jane@, and to receive emails at such addresses. This can also include more advanced mail forwarding and distribution, such as sharing inbound info@ or sales@ emails with more than one employee within your organization.
- Transactional emails: These are the messages sent automatically by your website to your shoppers. This can include anything from a welcome email when they registered as new users, to order confirmations and shipping notifications after they’ve placed an order. In many cases, eCommerce websites send dozens of different transactional emails, to provide an invoice or to remind a shopper of “abandoned” items in their shopping cart.
- Marketing campaigns: These are also described as eBlasts, drip campaigns, email campaigns, or batch emails. They’re typically promotional in nature with generalized information sent to groups of customers or potential shoppers.
Sending and receiving emails takes a toll on your hosting environment. Impacts will fluctuate based on factors like the volume of messages being sent and received, the number of mailboxes in use, the software you’re running, and the number of messages in your mailbox. Even add-on software, such as for blocking spam messages, will affect resource usage.
Whether it’s hard disk space, read/write operations per second, CPU, RAM, or other resources being tied up, it’s important to recognize that you’re sharing resources between website and email operations. You’re also adding potential points of failure to your publicly facing web server.
The perceived benefit is that you’re managing (and paying for) one server. However, while resource sharing can be good, in the case of a mission-critical site like an eCommerce website, sharing resources generally adds more risk than reward.
When you utilize your server as a mail server, you need to run applicable software to support SMTP and other services. Often, you’ll run additional server software, such as POP3 or IMAP to be able to check messages from a standalone email client like Microsoft Outlook or Mac Mail. Others may prefer webmail clients to check messages directly from a web interface. All this software needs to be maintained, updated, and secured. Naturally, this adds more potential vectors of intrusion to a server. In this case, a server that also hosts your highly sensitive eCommerce transactions.
This also forces you to open ports and allow access to staff members who need to be able to send and receive email from the webserver.
There really isn’t a good security argument to be made for co-mingling your email hosting on a server that’s hosting sensitive customer information.
Undoubtedly, checking corporate messages using a webmail client like Roundcube, Horde, or Squirrelmail, is not going to compare to more modern and robust solutions, like Gmail. Nor is it going to give you the interconnected use of a large suite including calendars, instant messaging and video chatting, and other common resources. Even spam blocking can be hit or miss.
The same logic applies to transactional emails. It’s not technically difficult to send messages over SMTP, but if your server IP address is blacklisted, that can lead to customers missing important notifications. Similarly, your customer service team will have limited access to information about which emails are actually received by your shoppers.
Marketing emails face a similar fate. While your eCommerce software may support sending out batches of emails, it’s not going to compare to the features of a modern email marketing platform when it comes to designing and testing emails, tracking opens and clicks, managing unsubscribes, allowing shoppers to set their preferences for what messages they want to be opted in to, etc. Blasting them out from your main hosting environment is much more likely to get the server blacklisted as a spam source than it is to bring you any feature advantages.
Should I host any of these types of email?
It’s highly recommended to set aside room in your budget to use a dedicated email solution for sending and receiving individual emails, batches of marketing emails, and transactional messages.
The most common email service to keep co-mingled with your site is SMTP in order to send transactional emails. However, sticking with a standalone email service to keep delivery rates high has its advantages. Additionally, many of these services offer valuable features to help to cross-sell to your shoppers right from your transactional emails.
Experience teaches us is that it’s best to treat your eCommerce web hosting environment like a well-oiled machine built for one thing and one thing alone – delivering your website to shoppers. That may not sound like a big task, but keeping your site loading quickly, securely, and reliably should be a priority that needs to be independent of other business needs and resources.
Popular Email Services
So if you shouldn’t host your emails on your web server, where should you host them?
Perhaps you have the technical prowess to run your own mail server(s). For those that don’t, or that simply want to leverage more robust solutions, here are a few solutions that stand out:
Corporate Emails Solutions
In recent years, a few vendors have really taken the lead in email hosting. These include GSuite, formerly known as Google Apps for Business, which includes Gmail, Google Calendars, Google Drive, and a variety of other solutions that you can provide to your staff and administrate. Microsoft Office 365 is a competing solution that uses Microsoft Outlook as the main interface for sending and receiving messages. However, if you’re not fans of these Silicon Valley behemoths, there are other options, like Zoho Mail from the makers of Zoho CRM, and ProtonMail, which is heralded for its data privacy stance.
Email Marketing Solutions
There are many feature-rich email solutions that will leverage your eCommerce data to send the right campaigns to the right shoppers at the right times. These can be used to reclaim abandoned shopping carts and abandoned browse sessions or to remind shoppers when it’s time to replenish an order of a consumable good. They can segment shoppers based on previous purchases and demographics, and can even send out drip campaigns to keep shoppers engaged with your brand. With advanced drag-and-drop design features, they also make it easier for marketers to create custom designs.
However, not all of these solutions are equal. They have different interfaces, features, and nuances. Some provide more hands-on service and support, while others integrate with systems and allow for multi-channel marketing across SMS, push notifications, and remarketing ads. Some are better priced for the SMB market, while others are targeted towards Enterprises. With all of that in mind, here is our general list of recommended services listed alphabetically. (*You can always reach out to us for more specific advice and recommendations):
Transactional Email Solutions
If you’re in the market for a solution to manage, enhance, and track your transactional messages, there are lots of options. Many email marketing suites include this capability. For instance, Mailchimp has a transactional email service called Mandrill. While not every marketing platform has given their transactional email product a cheeky name, most eCommerce email marketing suites support it.
There are also standalone services that are commonly deployed for sending transactional messages, like Twilio SendGrid. This service allows connections via SMTP to send emails from their highly-advanced platform. They do have competition in the market, like Sendinblue. If you’re hosting your site on AWS, such as with a fully-managed hosting provider like JetRails, you can leverage Amazon Simple Email Service (SES) to achieve similar results. Amazon even provides the first 62,000 emails per month at no cost for applicable customers with EC2 servers, although the native analytics and functionality aren’t as advanced as those of a service like SendGrid.
If your eCommerce platform doesn’t natively support using a 3rd party SMTP service, don’t sweat it. There are typically add-ons to easily solve this. In the case of Magento, an SMTP integration solution made it to the top of our list of Most Recommended Magento Extensions.
As a managed web hosting provider, we strongly believe that an eCommerce business should use managed email services whenever possible. Using best-of-breed solutions that are laser-focused on addressing specific needs leads to better long-term outcomes.
Need help putting together a plan of action for hosting your website and emails? The JetRails team knows that no two eCommerce businesses are the same. We’re here to assist you in identifying the right solutions for your organization!