Everything you need to know about email

Everything you need to know about emails[ 9 min read ]

Emails are the subject we get the most issues with and yet we do still think having a business email rather than a gmail/hotmail address is worth it for credibility. And so, we thought we’d give you an ‘all about email’ guide. 

How does email work? – the really simple version! 

First up, we’ll look at how email works. As you can see from the diagram, email is not as simple as we’d like to think. We often don’t give a second thought about what happens between our outbox and our recipient’s inbox.

In reality, there is a tonne of steps where things can go a bit belly up!

The first hurdle in any email’s life is to get out of your mail client, company server, or hosting server. When you hit the button, the mail client connects to the server and essentially checks if the email is internal or external. Once it’s worked that out, the external email should go into the sending queue.

The internal email should hopefully be just delivered – fingers crossed!

diagram showing how email works

If the email makes it to the outbox queue, it sits there until it’s worked out where it needs to go. A bit like the Post Office does with your letters.
At this point, it’s worth mentioning that email servers don’t understand domain names or urls. They go and check with the DNS (Domain Name Server) of the domain the email is going too – to see where it needs to send it. It then uses an IP address to send the email on. But, there can be firewalls and spam filters which can prevent the DNS lookup even happening!

If the email fails at this point, the sender is unlikely to know about it.

If it makes it out to the big wide world of the internet, there are several jumps between servers to get your email to where it needs to go. These, in themselves, are points where the email chain can fail. That’s before we’ve even considered email servers being down for maintenance etc.

Once you get to the receiving side, there is again a tonne of firewalls, spam filters and other such things which can prevent your email being received. These can be particularly hard to get passed for things like universities, councils or other big institutions.

If your email gets this far, it’s pretty much on the home straight and is most likely to be delivered. 

All this happens, usually in seconds, so it’s pretty amazing. You can also hopefully see that just because you think your email has been sent, there is no guarantee that it will actually be received!

What are spam emails? 

Spam emails are unwanted emails, either trying to sell you something you don’t want or need, trying to trick you into something, or they could be absolute nonsense.

There has been a massive rise in emails being blocked recently. This is usually down to spam filters being a bit too clever for their own good.

This article which explains some of the words that now are routinely trapped by spam filters. These are the types of words which tend to go in the really spammy emails that we’ve all had. Sadly this also can trap other, more innocent, emails. This list seems to grow ever bigger each year.

How do spam filters work?

They’re all usually based on AI (Artificial Intelligence) which essentially learns what is spam and what isn’t. No one can really say how these are going to react, we often see emails that were OK one week, blocked the next!

The easiest way to ensure that your email gets through to your clients is to make sure that they mark your email address as safe and add you to their contacts.

How to get your emails passed spam filters?

Email addresses which are in a contact list are more likely to get through. Other ways to ensure they get through are;

  • Use an email marketing program like Mailchimp, Fresh Mail etc. – these are more likely to get through.
  • Proofread your emails – the more mistakes and nonsensical sentences in there, the more likely you’re going to be classed as spam.
  • Make sure you keep your email list up to date – sending repeated emails to inactive email addresses can trigger spam filters.
  • Have a clear sending email address – nothing with numbers and random words in are likely to be trapped as spam too.

The other thing to remember is that even AI gets things wrong sometimes. If something does get into your spam folder, by marking it as safe, it should be OK – but that is not always 100% reliable.

What are phishing emails?

These are a form of spam where people try to trick the recipient into sharing their data by pretending to be something they are not, like a bank.
This again is something which is on the rise and has become much more sophisticated. The terms phishing does actually come from fishing! It’s the idea that you offer something to nibble on in order to catch a fish! 

The emails which are coming around now can sometimes be harder to spot. Back in the day, you could tell from a mile what was a phishing mail due to bad grammar or spelling. Now you really have to look hard! 

These are some of the common traits of a phishing email 

  • Are they asking for sensitive information? No legitimate company should be asking you for bank details etc over an email.
  • Do they use your real name or a generic greeting? Fake emails tend to use a generic greeting.
  • Is the sending email address legitimate for that business? Anything that is sending from a different email to the domain registered is going to raise our eyebrows!
  • Check the spelling! Spelling mistakes are a big hint.
  • Is there an attachment you’re not expecting? Email attachments are notorious for spreading virus’ so don’t click on anything that you’re not expecting.
  • Check the links are going where you think they should? Hover over the URL to see where it goes. If in doubt, don’t click!

Sadly during the pandemic, there were a number of fake emails flying around in relation to the grants from HMRC which targeted already struggling small businesses. 

If you are ever in any doubt, then don’t click. 

Should you have your email on your web hosting?

Lastly, we take a quick look at what options you have for email.

First of all, we’d always suggest that, as a business you get a proper email address. This would be an email which is linked to your domain, so @thesmartbear.co.uk for example. This looks more professional and is less likely to be stopped by spam.

There are a couple of options as to how you go about this. The first is having the email on your web hosting server – where the files for your website are held. This is what a number of our clients go with as there’s no additional cost and relatively easy to setup.

The email can be used with any email client you want, so that could be Outlook, Thunderbird, MS Office etc. This setup can sometimes be fiddly as even though the settings which are needed are always the same, they are sometimes in different places or called different things on each device.

The downside to these is, if you switch hosting, you need to back up your emails and import them into a new hosting server. They don’t move with your website.

Another option is webmail, this is a web-based email account. They are usually free email accounts and are operated from a website. Examples of these include Hotmail, GMail and Yahoo Mail. It doesn’t look as professional but sometimes customers take a hit to make life easier for themselves. 

Webmail allows the users to access their emails as long as they have access to an Internet connection and a web browser. This does also means that you cannot read an old email or draft a new email if you are offline.

A further option is to have your email on something like Google Workspace or Office 365. Whilst your email is the same as your domain name, your emails are not attached to the hosting server. Which means you can move your hosting without affecting your email. That means just one setup and no fiddling with backups! Some people prefer this option as it’s usually a system they’re familiar with.

The big downside, for some businesses, is the cost. As you need to pay a monthly fee per email on these sorts of services. This is not so bad if you have one email, but once you’re looking at a few more – the costs can build up.

That was a very quick tour around email and some of the common issues which we see. Emails are an integral part of all businesses these days, we hope this blog has given you some useful tips.

If you want us to cover any other topics, please get in touch! We’re always looking to make our blogs and social media useful to you all.

If you need some more help with email, then get in touch using the form below.

So that was a very quick tour around email and some of the common issues which we see. Emails are an integral part of all businesses these days, so we hope this blog has given you some useful tips. 

If you want us to cover any other topics, then please get in touch! We’re always looking to make our blogs and social media useful to you all.

If you need some more help with email, then get in touch using the form below.




Suzi Smart Bear

I'm Suzi - the owner of The Smart Bear.

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