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Send email reliably from WordPress

I am getting close to 20 years of putting together websites for myself and other people, and I have seen a shift happen with email, both in what is possible and what the expectations are. 

In the “old days,” you would get a hosting account for your site, and the email would magically work every time you would need to send one. 

This setup worked because the email protocol itself is very open and interoperable, so it is straightforward to send an email to someone, as long as you have their address.

This openness also invited spammers, who abused the system, making it harder for everyone to send and receive genuine and relevant communication. 

Today, most people expect that email will work “like it used to,” but what is more likely to happen is that all the emails you send out of our WordPress site will not reach their destination. You will not notice this problem unless you specifically test for it. Instead, you will see a lack of engagement or customers complaining they did not get their download links. 

There are a couple of solutions to this problem that are free, but I will present the most effective one: buy a paid email delivery service. 

When you pay for your email delivery service, there are some significant advantages over a free solution:

  • you immediately set yourself apart from the spamming crowd that is using the free solution
  • you have dedicated tools and reports to monitor that your email is delivered and reaches its destination
  • you get support with configuring the email sending process correctly, which is not trivial
  • you get analytics – which is essential for a business owner
  • someone (the service provider) is directly responsible for delivering your email and making sure the process works as expected

Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of people shy away from paying for email. Put your business hat on and think of it this way: how much money and (more importantly) how much time are you wasting with lost emails, with dealing with un-happy customers, with the uncertainty that your outbound messages reach their targets? I bet that the numbers you come up with more than make up for the cost of a paid email service. 

What email service should you use? 

In the past, I have worked with SendInBlue, SendGrid, and Mandrill. Today, my favorite one is MailGun. I am not an affiliate; I recommend them because (as I write this) they offer the best value for money. 

To connect WordPress to Mailgun, the plugin to use is WPMailSMTP.

Shopify – The cost of free

I am a long time user of WordPress and WooCommerce as an eCommerce platform. 

The reasons I got into using those two are likely the same as for everyone: both WooComerce and WordPress are free, so this leaves me with more money for marketing. And a secondary reason: both WooCommerce and WordPress are open-source, which means you can customize them to do pretty much anything you want. 

So what is my conclusion after over five years of using this combo? 

It is not really “free!”

There is the obvious cost of having to pay for hosting. And if you want to do anything useful with WooCommerce, you need to add up extensions and plugins that are not free. The same goes for professional-grade plugins that you will install into the main WordPress site. The total costs with software add to about $50/mo, and to that, you need to add your hosting, which for serious stores it will not be a “starter plan.”

But there is a hidden cost that I don’t see many people talk about. And that is the time and focus you need to put into setting up WordPress and WooCommerce and then maintaining it to make sure it remains secure and up to date. And when (not if) something breaks down, it’s up to you to fix it. 

As a software developer, I am OK with fiddling with tech, fixing bugs, diving deep into the code. But as I transition into being and thinking like an entrepreneur, I notice that instead of working on my business, on my marketing, on coming up with new ways to find and support my target audience, I spend a lot of time tinkering with code. And while it is fun, it does not scale. 

The web is changing at an ever-increasing rate. Sometimes just trying to keep up eats a lot of my time. And the thing with “time” is that it is a non-renewable resource. You cannot ever get a refund on a time you’ve spent doing something. 

So what do you want to do? Spend time learning how to put together the free tools and fix them when they get broken? Or would you instead spend time creating content, products or doing marketing, or simply taking some time off to spend with the family? 

For all these reasons, I am now looking into and recommending the Shopify solution. 

Shopify is right for you if:

  • you are serious about your store, so you will generate sales
  • you don’t have any tech skills, and you don’t want to spend time learning tech
  • you don’t want to worry about security, backups, performance, or maintenance 
  • you value time more than money

If you know of another eStore platform that saves you time, let me know in the comments below. I’d also like to know your experience with WooCommerce as it relates to this article.