Email deliverability (part 1)

Email Deliverability (part 1)

In this article, we look at how you set up and configure your email to help minimise the chance of your emails accidentally going into spam folders (or worse still – getting blocked completely!). If you find yourself saying “having you checked your spam?“, then read on!

Email, whether we like it or not, is an essential service to the modern business. Whether we use it for replying to customer support queries or for sending proposals to help win new business, checking our email is a core part of our everyday life.

And that makes it all the more surprising that businesses do not spend more time on ensuring that their email is configured correctly.

Email Provider

As mentioned in a previous article explaining the basics of domain names, email, DNS etc, I would choose carefully who you want to service your business email: not all services are of the same quality.

We would generally only recommend one of the following:

When we are asked to fix email issues, we invariably find that there is a poor quality provider in place, and we’ll recommend moving to one of the above as part of the remedy.

Mailboxes / Aliases

Google and Microsoft will charge you for the number of individual email boxes you need. However, before you work that this will get very expensive, bear in mind you can have (pretty much) unlimited ‘aliases‘; but what are these? Let me explain….

We use Google G Suite here as Glass Mountains, and my full email address is [email protected].

However, I also have shortcuts such as [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] etc. All of these emails come through to my single email inbox. These shortcuts are called ‘aliases‘ and you do not pay extra for them – you only pay for the mailboxes.

You’ll typically need a mailbox for each member of your team; the rest of your email addresses could be aliases.

Configuration (basic)

A crucial aspect of the configuration of your email is the MX DNS records:

Example of MX DNS records

Fig 1 – Example of MX DNS records

Think of DNS as a junction box which helps makes your domain name related online services work.

We are talking about email in this article and in Fig 1 above, you’ll see that I have circled the MX records (which relate to email).

The MX records indicate which service will receive inbound emails when somebody wishes to email us.

If you look closely in Fig 1, you’ll see that we are using Google’s services here (as we use their G Suite product).

Note: you may wonder why there are multiple MX records; this is for redundancy & failover. If you only see one MX record in your DNS, then you do not have any redundancy and this needs to be rectified – contact your provider.

Configuration (advanced)

So MX records control how inbound email to your address gets to your inbox. But if all you do is the above basic configuration, then you may well run into email deliverability issues with your outbound email.

To add extra deliverability protection, we always recommend you set up two additional DNS records which are generally called SPF and DKIM.

SPF & DKIM

Adding these to your DNs will help improve email deliverability by proving to the Internet at large that you do have authority to send emails on behalf of your domain name.

SPF is older and more widely used; but DKIM provides a higher level of authentication (messages are digitally signed) – so you should ideally set up both.

Your email hosting company will be able to provide you with the SPF and DKIM records you need to use (as they will be specific to you/your provider). These need to be added to your DNS.

To check if you have SPF & DKIM already in place, you need to look at your DNS records:

Fig 2- DNS SPF/DKIM records

Fig 2- DNS SPF/DKIM records

You are looking for TXT records, and you’ll clearly see DKIM and SPF in the value fields. If you don’t see any such records, you do not have SPF or DKIM in place and this ought to be addressed.

Even if you do see SPF/DKIM records, it’s worth checking with your email provider they are correct. Indeed, in the writing of this article we found an out of date aspect to the our email records – so this article was timely indeed! Period checking of your email DNS records is crucial.

Final Thoughts

The reason many small businesses do not take the extra steps of SPF and DKIM is twofold:

  • When they have done basic configuratio, they think that is enough.
  • More advanced configuration of DKIM & SPF is quite technical and does involve DNS (which can be off-putting).

If you are not sure if you need DKIM/SPF configured/checked on your domain, please get in touch.

In part 2 of this article, I’ll look at what you need to do to improve the email deliverability of emails that your website sends (e.g. your website contact form).

Thanks

Joel

p.s. if you;’d like to talk about any of the issues raised here, feel free to head over to Facebook where we run a free WordPress/website discussion group called #TheWPshow (‘This WordPress Show‘).

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