Why Aren't My Emails Being Delivered?
May 13, 2023
That's a good question! Let's talk about how email gets from the sender to the recipient. And we'll talk about it in terms of a courier delivering a letter between businesses.
Steve at ABC Corp writes a letter to Bob at XYZ Inc. Here's what happens:
- Steve pens the letter.
- Steve hands the letter to the courier. At this point, the courier is responsible for the next step, with the understanding that if he can't hand it off, he'll be able to communicate the status to Steve.
- The courier drives to XYZ Inc, and delivers it to the receptionist. At this point, the receptionist is responsible for the next step, with the understanding that if she can't hand it off, she'll be able to communicate the status to the courier.
- The receptionist hands the letter to Bob.
And now, the process has been completed. Pretty simple, right? Along each step of the process, whoever has the letter in their possession is either responsible for delivering it, or responsible for going backwards in the process and indicating why they couldn't deliver it.
Delivering an email essentially works the same way. Steve composes an email and hits Send. The email goes to his mail server at ABC Corp, which either hands it off in the next step, or rejects it and bounces it back to Steve. The next step (probably XYZ Inc's mail server) is then sent the email. And now it's responsible for either delivering it to the next step, or bouncing it back to ABC Corp's mail server. And the next (and probably last) step is to deliver it to Bob (usually his Inbox, perhaps his Junk folder).
Each time responsibility is handed off from one to another, the server receiving that responsibility can respond in one of several ways, including:
- It can accept responsibility for the message.
- It can reject the message (with a reason provided).
- It can bounce the message (with a reason provided). Bouncing is different than rejecting, in that the former means the message was first accepted, but then later it was determined to be undeliverable, so the server sends it back.
And when a message gets "lost" as described in the question above, what's happening is that some server along the line that accepted responsibility for it decided that it was going to act as if it was delivering it, and then just... not.
So how do you solve this sort of problem? Normally, as a business who subscribes to a business-class email service, you'd contact your provider and ask them what happened. They can check the logs and trace the email, at least for as long as they handled the email before the next step accepted responsibility for it.
But... there are some mainstream mail providers that are not business providers (even if they market so-called "business" email services). You may know them as AOL, Yahoo, Google, Hotmail, and a variety of others; because they won't (can't?) provide any support in a situation like this.
First, let's define what "business" email is vs. "consumer" email:
- Business Email: When I send an email, I want to know that the intended recipient received it; and if they didn't, I want an explanation as to why.
- Consumer Email: I casually send emails, and it's okay if they aren't delivered reliably.
Here are rules for choosing a business email:
- Use your own domain. You should have something like "mycompany.com" that is unique to you (even if you don't have a website). email@example.com is not a real business email address.
- Companies that don't have real people providing tech support that can trace out what happened to an email that went through their network are not acceptable for business use.
If you ever have questions about, please reach out to us and we'll be happy to assist.
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