A reader has a question about what email service to use:
I help a small nonprofit and have decided to start a quarterly email newsletter, so we can keep in touch with our supporters. My question is this: What email service you would recommend? I have issues with Google, I don’t think Yahoo or Hotmail or AOL sound very professional. We have a website with [a local provider], but I don’t like their email service.
I’d like a few features, like being able to forward incoming mail or maybe import contacts from Excel. Also, I’d like something free if possible — or at least inexpensive — and it would be really great if we could use our own domain name. Do you have any suggestions for us?
Thanks for this e-newsletter — and thanks in advance for your help!
Dorrie isn’t asking about what sort of Email Service Provider to use (such as AWeber or Mailchimp), but rather what email address to use as a “From” address in the emails sent by her non-profit’s ESP. To be clear, when you send a message through an ESP, the “From” address on the emails is yours, not theirs: you set where the message comes “From” when you set up your list. Even if you generally use Gmail or another free mail service, you should not use a free service email address as your From address, such Yahoo, Hotmail, or AOL (or any other free email service). In fact, the better ESPs warn against using such addresses, or even prohibit it entirely, and here’s why.
More and more email providers are using an authentication method called DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance) which is designed to detect and prevent email “spoofing” (sending from an address that’s not yours — a common spammer tactic). Spoofing has benevolent uses too: it’s exactly what ESPs do when sending out mail on your behalf. DMARC provides a protocol to allow a email account providers a way to check that incoming mail from a domain is authorized by that domain’s administrators.
The DMARC standard was set in early 2012, and within a year was protecting about 60 percent of all email inboxes. By 2014, Yahoo (for one) changed its DMARC policy to reject mail that doesn’t comply — in other words, if a mailing list uses Yahoo as a From address, the mail won’t get through to anyone on Yahoo. Many other email services have followed their lead. So even if your ESP allows it, you don’t want to use such an address since a large portion of your messages simply won’t get to the recipients’ inboxes.
So how do you get (say) Yahoo to “authorize” you to use your Yahoo address on messages sent through an ESP? You don’t. End of story! So the simple solution is, use your own domain-based address for all outgoing list-based messages.
Is that bad news for Dorrie, who doesn’t like her local provider’s email service? Not at all. She can still use the free email provider of her choice, such as Gmail, and get responses there. In turn, she can set up Gmail to also show that her individual emails are “From” her domain-based account when she replies.
Wait… I’m Lost
Let’s unwind this with specifics. Let’s say Dorrie’s non-profit’s web site is at Example.org, and the account she actually uses to read and send individual messages is Example@gmail.com. She can set up her list at her ESP to send “From” ContactUs@example.org, and set up a mailbox on her web host for that address. She’d then set Gmail to check for mail there (and, incidentally, spam-filter it for her!), and also set up Gmail to send mail “From” ContactUs@example.com even though she’s using the Gmail web interface, or her phone, to read and send mail. (Setup details from Gmail help. Other mail services such as Yahoo and AOL should have similar abilities.) This is, in fact, exactly what I do with my mail, because Gmail’s spam filtering is so good.
Sending mail “from” your own domain, rather than a free mail service, looks more professional, too, just as Dorrie suggested. I mean really: how much would you respect Amazon if their customer service address was @Hotmail.com? A business or non-profit site that uses a free email service screams “amateur” and “clueless”. Don’t do it!
Extra Nerdy Tip!
You also want to set up an SPF (Sender Policy Framework) record in your DNS to designate your ESP as an authorized sender for your domain. For instance, Emailified has this SPF record:
v=spf1 a mx include:aweber.com ~all
Translation: SPF authorizes emailifed.com’s mail to be sent from aweber.com (our ESP) as well as my thisistrue.com server that’s specified in the “A” record (Emailified is a project of ThisIsTrue.inc).
I do understand that a lot of you are now suffering from glazed-over eyes. If that’s you, ask your tech for help. I’ll cover this in much more detail in the upcoming Emailified online course.