Why it’s a Good Idea to Keep Email and Web Hosting Separate

In many cases, when you purchase website hosting your website host may also offer you email boxes as part of your package.

Pretty exciting because you now can have the email address of your dreams! Something like [email protected] So lovely and professional looking, right?

However, in many cases, ok, in most cases, it’s not the best idea to have your email hosted by your website host. Below we’ll explore why it’s a good idea to keep your email separate from your website hosting, the best options for email, and details on how to set up email for yourself.

Why Keep Email and Website Hosting Separate?

  • Website hosting is for hosting websites, not email. This means the support provided for email is secondary to the support provided for website hosting. Most hosts throw in email because it’s cheap and also because…
  • Hosting your email on your website host will take up space. The email that you are sending, recieving, all the attachments, everything will be taking up disc space that your website could be using.
  • Website hosting email software is lacking. The interface and functionality of the email software provided by website hosts is less than stellar. If you’re used to something like gmail or even yahoo mail, you will be disappointed.
  • Website hosting is not reliable. Website hosting, although fairly reliable, is not 100% reliable. If your website hosting goes down, your email will go down with it. In my 10+ years of having and managing websites, I have had hosting downtime from a couple of hours to a couple of days. Email is the central way of communicating in my business and if it is for you too, this is something to keep in mind.
  • Using website hosting for your email locks you in. You don’t want to be locked in to that website host forever. Maybe at some point you find a better deal for hosting your website somewhere else. Migrating a website is simple but migrating email can be from tricky to awful. Wouldn’t it be better if your email wasn’t tied to your website host and you could just change website hosts anytime you so pleased?

A Sorta-Kinda, In Some Cases Exception To The Rule

Most of the reasons listed above are assuming that you’re using shared hosting. But! If you get a reliable VPS or Dedicated Server it’s actually ok to host your email yourself because

  • You manage it yourself
  • You have a dedicated IP address.

To host it yourself, you’ll need to install and maintain your email exchange software on the server and you’ll likely want to pipe the emails into a desktop app like outlook.

The caution here though is that this solution may not scale well to high-traffic. Hosting your email separately will become mandatory as soon as you need to move away from the typical cPanel-based setups.  For example, if you’ll need NGiNX/Varnish webstacks without a control panel, well, there goes your email and you’ll have to do email data migrations to another email setup anyway.

So even if you have a reliable VPS or Dedicated Server, be sure to move forward with an email solution that is able to scale with your project.

Best Options for Email

If you’re now convinced that email should be hosted away from your website’s host, you may be wondering where this should be done?

Well there are many email options but here are the four that both know of and have heard rave reviews of from my fellow web nerds:

  • Hover ($5/year for forwarding to $20-$29/year for a mailbox) – A domain management company that also excells at email! A great feature they have is their $5/year forwarding service. So if you already have an email client that you’re happy with, you can set up forwarding from any email address to your desired client. Note that you must transfer your domain to them (as your registrar) in order to use their mailboxes or forwarding services.
  • Fastmail ($40/year) – A service specifically for email! They also have calendars, an app for your phone, and some other cool features like keyboard shortcuts (if you’re nerdy enough for that). This is a popular alternative to google-based mail services.
  • G Suite* ($50/year and get 20% off of your first year using a G Suite promo code that I can email to you (just reach out for your G Suite Promo code anytime, I’ll get it to you in 24 hours or less)) – Google apps is a email but also online storage, shared calendars, video meetings, and more. Very easily share documents with other google apps and gmail users. G Suite also offers a BAA.
  • Gmail – a free mailbox from google like a light version of Google apps. Great option if you’re on a budget! You can set up your gmail to appear to be sending from your desired email address by setting up an alternate sender address. That takes care of emails going out. And for emails coming in? You can set up a forward for cheap through a service like hover if you register your domain through them.
  • Hushmail* ($72/year + $9.99 set up fee) – Hushmail is a email service that is extra secure. A choice for many healthcare providers that need to communicate with clients via email, Hushmail allows you to add a HIPAA compliant encryption that securely sends emails containing protected health information.

So What Are MX Records?

There’s a lot of silly technical jargon attached to domains, hosting, and email, and it can be a little daunting, but the most important little term for you to know if you’re going to set up your email is “MX record.” Here’s a definition:

“A mail exchanger record (MX record) is a type of resource record in the Domain Name System that specifies a mail server responsible for accepting email messages on behalf of a recipient’s domain, and a preference value used to prioritize mail delivery if multiple mail servers are available.” Wikipedia

In plain English: an MX record is the set of instructions that tell your email where to go.

So if you’re trying to set up email, you will need your MX record to point to the server of your email solution and not to the server of your website host. Where your MX record is pointing is typically managed by your website host (or wherever the DNS is for your domain) so you want to change that!

First, where is your website hosted? With what company?

Wherever your website is hosted, hop onto their website and search their documentation or knowledge base for “modifying mx record.” Most web hosting companies will have some public documentation about how to you can do this.

Alternatively, contact your website hosting company’s support and ask them where you could find documentation on the process or see if they can set it up for you.

Typically, it will involve grabbing the MX record info (ex, here’s the MX record for G Suite) from your desired email host and pasting this information into the appropriate place at your website host. You are simply telling your website host, “please direct email to my email host from now on.”

This should be done after you’ve set up your domain-based email address somewhere else like hover, fastmail, or google apps.

How To Set Up Separate Email in Three Steps

  1. Set up your email account at your chosen solution. Signing up may include verifying your domain, typically the email solution will walk you through the how-to.
  2. Modify your MX records at your host (or where the DNS is). If you’re unsure of how to modify them on the hosting side, research in the knowledge base of your website’s host. You will also need to know what to update the MX records to which you research on the email solution side.
  3. Wait and test. It can take a while for the change in servers to propegate. Wait at least 15 minutes and start testing by sending your new inbox an email. It can take up to 24hours.

An Example – SiteGround with Google Apps

As an example of how this can be done, we’ll use the example of google apps for the email service and the website hosting and domain registrar being with SiteGround*.

Step 1: Sign Up For Email With Google Apps

Go ahead and sign up with Google Apps with your desired domain based email address.

Step 2: Find documentation on how to modify MX records and modify them

In this example, the host is SiteGround. When you hop over to the SiteGround  knowledge base, they have excellent documentation about how to modify mx records. In fact, they have a specific page outlining the how-to for Google apps.

And they make things even easier:

“When using the SiteGround MX Entry tool in cPanel, all you need to do is click the Set Google MX button and the needed records will be automatically set for your domain name.”

What? So no copying and pasting is even required! Another reason I love SiteGround. Here are some screenshots:

Log into SiteGround admin and navigate to your control panel.

gotocpanel
Then scroll down, under mailboxes, click MX Entry.

mxentry
Then push the magic button “Set Google MX”.

setgooglemx

Hitting the Google MX button will set the MX for the domain to point to Google Apps.

Step 3: Wait and Test

The records will then propagate to Google in 24 hours or so (usually quicker though, test it in 15 minutes and it will probably work).

Once it’s working, all of your domain related email will be managed by google apps. Done!

Not Using SiteGround or Google Apps?

The process should be fairly similar. Find an email host that you like, find the documentation for modifying the MX record at your domain registrar, follow the instructions or contact support for some guidance, test to ensure it’s working and voila! You should be good to email.

Advanced Note

Caution On Distributed Domain Name Servers

If you are using a CDN/Distributed DNS like Cloudflare, you will want to make sure the MX records match both locally and globally.

Meaning: if your site is at cPanel, the MX records that are set there must be set identically at Cloudflare. If you do not do this, you will have mail delivery problems.

It’s Worth It To Set It Up Correctly

Keeping your email separate from your website hosting is very important for quite a few reasons. Although it takes a little bit of time and a little bit of learning to set up email elsewhere, it’s so worth it! And I hope this article helps you get there.

What do you think? Too painful? Would you rather stay with email on your website hosting just to avoid this process? Or is this something you could manage to figure out and set up? How do you manage email now? Let me know all the details by tweeting me or contacting me anytime. Would love to know what you think.

*Denotes that it is an affiliate link. Using the link buys me a cup of tea and a muffin. Thanks!

Kat Love

Hi, I'm Kat! I'm the founder and lead designer here at Empathysites. Therapists helped me heal from childhood sexual abuse so now I help therapists with creating their websites. I write on topics like website design, strategy, and turning website visitors into clients. Reach out anytime if you'd like to say hi. Pronouns: they/them/their