Web hosting and email need to be able to go their own ways.

by Tom Davis

Keep your website and email hosting separate.

Occasionally we run across small businesses who are still using the email services they setup along with their first website. This is the email that is managed in the same "control panel" as your website. It made sense a long time ago. It was part of the package and long ago there were not that many email options. But just because these two services use your domain name, they do not need to be hosted by a common source. In fact, today this arrangement becomes a liability in several ways.

First, when you are paying $10 per month for Web hosting and as many email addresses as you want, there may be some compromises. If you are serious about reliable email, you need to make sure your email provider is serious as well.

You need better email.

Every Web hosting company is happy to give you email services along with your website hosting—they think they are adding value to their Web hosting service. Just don't expect them to care about it. It also tends to be fairly "dumb" email with archiac limitations and poor spam control. User demands on email have become more complex as new devices become more important. You want to see your email on any device you use — all your email.

Look to Zoho Mail, Google Apps, Rackspace Mail, Microsoft Office 360 and others. (This is an excellent article about the choices available.) Most of these will cost you more money, (apparently not Zoho) but they are so reliable that on the rare occasion of a big failure, it gets reported in the Wall Street Journal. You will never see all the times that FruitHost failed. (FruitHost being a fictitious example.)

Using the email service that comes with your website is a bad idea. You need to think of these two services as unrelated.

We recently saw a shared hosting service have a huge disaster of some kind and our client's site was down for 5 days as the hosting company slowly restored the service. This client was lucky that their email was hosted elsewhere. Many customers at this hosting company saw their email inoperable for days.

At General Glyphics we use Google Apps which is like Gmail with your own domain. I love it. At $50 per email address per year I find it is an excellent value. It gives me 25 GB of email storage and when using the Web browser based interface I can search years of email like I search the web. I do not use Microsoft Outlook but I could if I wanted. All the features I want are in my Web browser when I log into my email account. My calendar is still just a click away (with a short summary of upcoming appointments always showing in the sidebar. Also, my Google calendar syncs with my iPad Calendar app, and my Andriod phone - which is handy. I do use the Gmail app on the iPad instead of the Apple Mail app. The Gmail app understands Google's inbox sections and "conversation view" which I love.

You need Web hosting freedom.

The next problem comes with the lack of portability of your website. From our side of the Web (as website managers) we see all sorts of problems arise from hosting services. You need to be able to pull up stakes and move quickly if something severe happens. Take the failure mentioned earlier in this post. While it took the hosting company 5 days to restore service to this website, we could have moved the site to another host in a few hours. (This is true only because we perform daily backups stored in our office on all our websites.)

If you do move your site hosting for some reason, you do not want to leave your email at the old hosting location just because it is too painful to move it. And it can be painful. Moving your email history from one account to another, and setting the access for the account is tricky and time consuming.

It is important for small businesses to not view email as some sort of afterthought or a bonus feature of their website hosting. Be prepared to pay for your email separately, be serious about it. Or do not complain when failure comes.