The Future of Email Hosting

The Future of Email Hosting
"I used to be able to send to customer X but now I can't.
I didn't change anything... why isn't it working?"

If this is you, chances are you didn't do anything to cause your email to be rejected. In fact, most of the time nothing has changed at all with your account.

What's Happening?

Too much to read? Skip to the short version
Over the past few years email providers like Microsoft (Office 365, outlook.com, hotmail.com, msn.com, live.com & more) and Google (Gmail, Google Workspace) have significantly increased email security and spam blocking measures to keep their email users safe from viruses and phishing attempts. This means even if you're sending the same type of emails the rules have changed so your email may now be treated as junk mail. Sending a quote? You've probably noticed how many fake quotes and invoices your company has received in the past few years with suspicious links -- this is one example of why your email might get blocked today when it wasn't yesterday.

We're also seeing an increase in long-term or excessive blacklisting. Blacklisting is a term used to describe the process of blocking the IP address of someone sending suspected spam. Email providers use these lists to help determine whether or not they will accept email from a particular email host. Typically an IP address is only blocked for a few days when an email account using that address has been suspected of sending spam.

However, at least one blacklist recently started blocking entire cloud hosting providers instead of individual offenders, meaning hundreds of companies using the same hosting provider could be completely blocked from sending mail to any Microsoft or Google user based on behavior of an entirely different company. In the past blacklists have only blocked specific IP addresses in order to stop email from a specific company or sender, not an entire group of unrelated companies.

The combination of new spam blocking rules and excessive blacklisting have created a lot of difficultly for smaller email providers trying to stay in compliance with the rules of email providers that control the majority of email accounts in use today.

Isn't more security a good thing? 

To a point, yes, but Microsoft has shifted their policy from temporarily blocking email accounts to automatically rejecting emails for weeks or even months. Changes in spam filtering rules are normal in January since providers tend to roll out more security features at the beginning of the year. However, this new auto-blocking method leaves the sender AND the recipient without any controls to fix the issue. 

Instead of allowing customers to check their spam folder and add flagged users as approved senders Microsoft simply rejects the email without an option for the recipient to allow emails from the sender. You can see how this creates an immediate and costly interruption to your workflow, especially when the intended recipient is expecting a quote, invoice or other important documents to conduct business.

What are we doing about it?

As your email provider, we are continually working to ensure mail delivery through a combination of strict rule enforcement, spam filtering and system monitoring. Current email security measures include:

  • Encrypted access to email to prevent account hijacking
  • Strict guidelines for sending mail to prevent our system from being flagged as junk mail
  • Automated spam blocking to filter known junk mail
  • Custom spam filtering to block specific phishing emails
  • Monitoring for suspicious email logins to prevent hijacked accounts from affecting our server reputation
  • Submitting requests to be removed from blacklists when a problem occurs

In addition to these steps we are currently testing multiple new providers to find a more reliable and future-proof way to handle email delivery going forward. More information about delivery improvements will be available as soon as testing is completed.

What can you do?

For some email users the occasional rejected email isn't a big deal, so there's really nothing to worry about. For larger companies and anyone who relies on email as an essential service to conduct business there are only a few options going forward. You can:

  • Do nothing and hope it all works out eventually
  • Find better alternatives than email to communicate with customers and vendors
  • Report Microsoft and Google to the FCC for unfair email practices that constitute a monopoly, but this likely wouldn’t help resolve the issue for several years
  • Wait for us to roll out a new and improved email delivery system

If these options won't suffice we're left with the old adage "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." At the end of the day we just need our communication systems to work so we are currently exploring options to offer managed email through one of the large providers who make the rules in order to improve chances your emails will be received.

Is email hosting dead? Not yet, but without a clear list of requirements for staying in compliance with big data spam policies a time may come when everyone is forced to choose between no email or a single provider like Microsoft. 


 

TL;DR » The short version:

Microsoft and Google are regularly blocking emails from smaller email providers, sometimes for weeks or months at a time. Emails are not marked as spam, they are simply blocked so there may not even be an option for the sender or the recipient to fix the issue, meaning they can no longer conduct business using email as a reliable means for communication. We are working on a permanent solution and we expect to announce alternate email services in the near future.


Update (4/8/22): On March 15th we rolled out a new opt-in email system to improve mail delivery to Microsoft and Google customers. So far we’ve seen a 99.9% delivery rate for all email sent out using the new system. We’re still monitoring this change to make sure emails continue to get through but the results are encouraging. If you haven’t made the switch and you want to improve outgoing email delivery contact us for details about this change.

 

Posted March 11, 2022

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