I have been setting up a lot of small websites for clients over the last few years, and even though many of them just use the default email that comes with their hosting plans, I can occasionally convince some of them to use an external service, like Google, for their email.
Why would I want to do this? First, in my experience, small businesses choose not-so-great hosting companies because they are really cheap. Then, as their business needs grow, their hosting company can’t keep up or doesn’t offer the features they need. So, they need to change hosting companies.
Changing hosting companies isn’t such a big deal except for migrating the email. When you migrate your website to a new hosting company, you install your website on the new server, get everything up-to-date with the current site, and after testing, you just change the domain name over to the new hosting company. For a period of a few hours (and possibly as long as 24 – 48 hours), you are running your website on the old hosting company and new hosting company simultaneously. Once you are sure all of the traffic is hitting the new hosting company, you close your account at the old one.
During that overlap period, you run your site on both hosting companies because some people may still get the old hosting company. This is not a big deal because they will still get a complete copy of your website and eventually, all traffic will be hitting the new site.
With email, however, it is a big deal if they hit the old hosting company because once you start hitting the new hosting company, you are not receiving email from anyone still hitting the old hosting company. Small businesses, as with any business, cannot be losing communications from customers.
If your old hosting company offers a webmail login, this can make things easier because you can still log in to the old webmail system to retrieve any missed emails, but it’s not a very elegant solution. You end up having to forward these emails to yourself and then respond to them from your new email. Not impossible, but leaves things very open to miss emails or just have messy responses from the new system to these forwarded emails.
Not only that, but if you are like most people, you are using IMAP, and you have gigs and gigs of saved emails that will need to be migrated to the new server. It can take days to sync all the messages to your new server, and just downloading them to your hard drive isn’t an option because that means those messages would no longer be available on your tablet, phone, work computer, or anywhere else you may want to access them from.
If your email is hosted by a third-party, like Google, then you do not need to worry about any of this. As long as you set up the proper DNS at the new hosting company, your email will always be going through your third-party email regardless of whether they are hitting the old hosting company or the new one. So, there is no email downtime, there are no lost messages stuck at the old hosting company, and there is no need to sync thousands of messages onto a new server.
Additionally, you do not need to change any email settings, which can be quite a chore now that people are checking email on their desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, etc. That’s a lot of places that would need to be updated to the new email settings.
Many people are nervous about having to make the DNS changes in order to use a third-party email system. Most smaller hosting companies have a GUI admin panel, like CPanel, which makes DNS changes very easy, and Google has a handy chart that makes it clear which DNS changes you need to make:
So, next time you are setting up a website with email, think about what you’ll need to go through if you change hosting companies at some point down the road. It may be a little more upfront, but third-party email may save you a lot in migration costs down the road.