It's unlikely that many of us will go a single day without interacting with our email at some point. Whether it's a notification on our phone, or checking it at work, our professional and personal lives revolve around the email service we use. There are plenty of options around, which you can either get for free or pay for. With all of the free providers out there, is it worth switching to a paid solution?
When we were discussing how to manage your online presence, we looked at the importance of legitimising your business. A free provider will generally only allow you to use their domain as part of your email address, such as email@example.com. If you're corresponding as a business, the presence of a free email address can, at best, look unprofessional, and at worst, look 'fake'. This can lead to email recipients or potential customers lacking trust in your business.
A paid provider will allow you to use your own domain in your email address, for example firstname.lastname@example.org, which displays a more professional image. It can also make for a more memorable address for your customers. With all of the domain extensions available, email recipients can see what your business is about at a glance.
Spam-free email address
Another aspect of using a free email provider is that, as there's no cost, you'd be sharing the service with malicious users, bots, and spam networks. This lowers the reputation of the IP addresses you'd be sending emails from, which can cause other providers to blacklist them. Therefore, your emails could be sent straight to the spam folder of your recipients and customers.
Paid solutions provide an obstacle to malicious users, so email providers will recognise emails coming from your business as legitimate – getting them into the recipients' inboxes. As well as this, free emails receive a disproportionate amount of spam themselves. As the second half of the email is obvious, bots which 'guess' email addresses have a much easier time working out a whole address. So despite spam filters constantly improving, if you use a free email you run the risk of missing important communications in a sea of spam.
For your eyes only
With the largest providers of free email services being search engine giants like Google and Yahoo, there are ongoing concerns about whether these providers are in fact helping themselves to the contents of your emails. With almost everything we do online being scrutinised by bots and turned into targeted advertising, this is a valid concern. In 2017, Google announced it would stop looking at the contents of emails for advertising purposes.
However, just using its email services shows that to an extent, the Google Assistant is still 'reading' its contents. If you receive a confirmation of a flight booking, for example, Google will helpfully remind you a week before you're due to fly – without you telling it to.
While these are helpful features by and large, if you expect you'll be using your email to discuss confidential or financial matters (or are just privacy-minded), you'll want to ensure there is no risk of this happening – by using a paid email service. Paid providers do not need to sell data to advertisers, as their users are paying them directly.
As well as this, you’ll need to deal with advertisements while you're looking at your emails. They can appear as banners on the page, or even as sponsored ‘emails’ within your inbox.
If you spring for a paid solution, your provider will often give you extra features to improve your email experience. These include increased storage for your mailboxes and a higher limit on file size for attachments. You might also get access to other programs that come with the email package.
Free email providers will serve their purpose when everything is going well, but if something goes wrong, their support can be very difficult to get hold of, or non-existent. This makes it difficult if your emails aren't sending or receiving properly, or there is a usability issue. You'll either have to wait for it to fix itself, or switch provider if it's ongoing – a free service doesn't owe you anything.
And this problem is even worse if your account is compromised – whether you lose your password, or if an attacker gains access to your account. Going to the support of a free email provider if you lose your account often gets you nowhere. You'd need to rely heavily on extra methods of security, such as 2-factor authentication (if this is offered) and having a secondary recovery email account.
When using a paid service, you'll be able to use a support service suitable for a paying customer. For our Standard and Exchange Email customers, we offer a 24/7 support helpline which will help you if you need it. If your account is compromised, our support teams will be able to help you through the process of recovering it.
Pay nothing for a little, or pay a little for a lot
Free email providers have made great strides in the past few years, with their offerings being fairly secure, user-friendly, and providing everything a normal user might need.
However, if you're security-conscious, use email often, or have a business, a paid solution offers a better package. The ability to personalise your email address gives your business or personal brand another layer of professionalism, and the increased support you receive makes for a more tailored experience.