If you are an email marketer, the spam folder is pretty much what hell looks like. Imagine the agony, when those painstakingly created emails are directed to that cursed land where the thugs of the email world stagnate — unseen, unopened! For any business, this should send a chill down the spine. But, how does one avoid this terrible fate?
Two words — DNS Management!
Now, DNS, which is a very important aspect of website management and email infrastructure, is not always a breeze. In fact, it can be downright overwhelming and confusing for webmasters. And when it comes to emails, you might end up making some serious mistakes! Let’s take a look at them, shall we?
1. Cardinal sins in the world of WordPress emails
Sending emails using the WordPress server can often result in them landing in the Spam folder of the recipient’s email. This is an especially common occurrence when you are on a shared web hosting — you are tied to the IP addresses shared by hundreds of other sites having the same IP. So, even if one of those sites has indulged in the act of spamming or rather had the misfortune of getting marked as spam for whatever reasons… your site too would be a casualty.
Additionally, even if you run your site on VPS or a dedicated server, domain authentication or validation is critical. This is to ensure that your domain and the emails originating from it do not look like those used for phishing or spoofing scams.
Why, you ask? Simply put, ESPs (Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, etc.) check a domain’s DNS records (MX, SPF, DKIM records) to understand if the sender’s IP (aka, mail server) is allowed (authenticated) to send the email. If that’s not the case, it’s one of the signals for them to bucket an email as SPAM.
This is something you’d most likely have to deal with…
In fact, in our experience Outlook Web (formerly, Hotmail) does not even let the email hit the recipient’s SPAM folder — they just truncate the email right when it hits their servers if the email looks like your typical phishing email.
2. What is has to do with WordPress?
Now one thing to understand here is that this has nothing to do with WordPress or the way it has been set up. It means you cannot fix this by tweaking some setting from inside the WordPress dashboard.
This means that even the default/automated outgoing WordPress emails sent via your server can end up in the spam folder. For instance — an automated email for someone filling the contact form on your WordPress site, or a password reset email, etc.
Of course, there could be other reasons that land your emails in spam doom. You could have low open rates, your subscribers don’t remember you and flag your emails as spam, and your subject lines are misleading, your emails are filled with spam trigger words (amazing, dear friend, this isn’t spam, etc.) or you haven’t provided an ‘unsubscribe’ link in your emails.
A study by
Convince and Convert shows that 43% of email recipients will click spam button for an email solely on the info they see in the ‘from’ field – name and email address.
In fact, it could be worse if you are a WooCommerce site and your emails are being directed to spam. This would probably sound the death knell for your business! Imagine your customers not receiving emails for account activation and user management. And that’s a possibility you don’t want to entertain, even in your nightmares!
3. What to do to escape this fate?
The best way to ensure that your emails reach the recipient’s inbox is to choose a reliable ESP (Email Service Provider). In order to do so, you need to first have a clear idea about the kind of emails you would be sending. Let us explore the two different kinds.
i. Identify the type of emails you’d most likely send
You’d most likely use two kinds of emails when communicating with your audience — transactional emails, and marketing emails.
Now, transactional emails don’t have any commercial intent — they are simply emails which are triggered when a user takes a certain action on your website. And it can contain critical information that is unique to each recipient — emails for order confirmation, successful account creation, password resets, shipping confirmations, invoices, critical account updates, etc would come under this.
Marketing/promotional emails would typically be the newsletters you send to your subscribers periodically! The choice of ESP would vary depending on the kind of emails you are sending. A lot of ESPs explicitly mention that their infrastructure should not be used for promotional emails.
ii. Choosing the right ESP for transactional emails
Some important parameters that you might want to keep in mind while choosing an ESP are inbox delivery, pricing, and the features provided. However, there are certain ways in which you should evaluate them:
Choose a provider based on the value they are adding, not just the price. While pricing is a critical factor in choosing an ESP, don’t opt for the cheaper one just to save a few bucks.
b. Inbox delivery
ESPs often wax eloquent about their ability to send numerous emails! Make sure you check how many of them are transactional, and what their inbox delivery is. Also, check if they are being sent from a separate infrastructure.
c. Key features
Choose an ESP that provides you with all the key features – dedicated IP, webhook, clean API, real-time analytics reports and reliable bounce handling – or at least has a provision for the same.
Most importantly, ensure the IP they assign to your email (dedicated or shared) is white-listed. Use tools like https://mxtoolbox.com/blacklists.aspx to ensure your IP is not flagged in any of the blacklists.
An optional but recommended step is to test an email with a service like https://mail-tester.com
Choose ESPs that have an exclusive infrastructure for sending transactional emails and notifications.
e. Timely delivery
Probably the most important of them all is to choose one with timely delivery. Another factor to consider is customer service that is focused on solving problems rather than simply closing tickets!
If your business requires you to send bulk email, we would advise you not to go with Gmail/GSuite since they are very clear about the bulk email limits. Some ESPs you can look at are MailGun, Mandrill, Sendgrid, MailChimp, among others.
The bottom line — never send emails through your default WordPress setup or the likes of Gmail. Rather, opt for those ESPs which offer services for bulk emailing.
But, this is not all… there’s something else that needs to be taken care of…
4. Introducing SMTP for WordPress
If your WordPress emails aren’t reaching the recipients’ inboxes, this is the section that means business!
SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) is a service used to send out emails from the server to the final recipients or to intermediary server in between?
A number of WordPress SMTP plugins allow you to configure and send all outgoing emails via an SMTP service provider. This will prevent your emails from going into the Spam/Junk folder of the recipients. But before we head on to the details, there are two important terms you need to know. This is especially true if you are a business that sends transactional and promotional emails, and your life depends on business-critical emails reaching the customers’ inboxes on time!
i. Sender Policy Framework (SPF)
SPF is a form of email authentication that defines a process to validate an email message that has been sent from an authorized mail server in order to detect forgery and to prevent spam. The owner of a domain can identify exactly which mail servers they are able to send from with SPF protocols.
ii. DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM)
DKIM is a form of email authentication that allows an organization to claim responsibility for a message in a way that can be validated by the recipient. DKIM uses “public key cryptography” to verify that an email message was sent from an authorized mail server, in order to detect forgery and to prevent delivery of harmful email like… spam.
5. Process of WordPress SMTP configuration
Well, there are plenty of good WordPress SMTP plugins out there. But, if we have to recommend any one of them… We’d say Post SMTP Mailer/Email Log.
One word of caution before installing the plugin, though… It would suit you to make these changes in a staging environment, rather than making them directly on production. You don’t want to end up with a crashed site, and its not-so-pleasant repercussions!
They don’t say prevention is better than cure, for nothing! Once you’ve done this, you can proceed to install the plugin…
i. Install and activate the plugin
And start the wizard…
ii. Enter the email address
Enter the email address you wish to use for your outgoing emails and the sender’s name – which recipients will see when they receive the emails.
iii. Set the outgoing servers
If you are using Mailgun – it is smtp.mailgun.org
iv. Test the connections
Pick the Socket applicable to you. In this case, we picked the Mailgun API and select API key.
v. Authenticate using your ESP’s API keys
You can get your API keys by logging into your ESP’s account. Simply enter them here and Domain name. You’re set!
That’s it! Your SMTP for WordPress is now set!
That’s about it! The SMTP configuration should be enough to ensure that your emails reach their intended destination – the reader’s inbox! Quite a relief not to be known as ‘Sir Spams-A-Lot’ ain’t it?
And most importantly… make sure you take a backup of your entire site before installing and activating the plugin!