How WordPress Emails Work

Recently we came across a question on a WordPress related Facebook group about WordPress emails. The way the question was posed made us realize that many users might not really understand how WordPress emails work.

In particular the individual posting the question thought that there was a central control area for WordPress emails. And they were looking to exert some changes on top of different types of emails – core, transactional and marketing – that they thought could be done from a central location.

Experienced WordPress users and admins know that, while this would be nice to have, it it is the furthest thing from the truth. So we figured that we’d write this article to discuss how WordPress emails really work.

In The Beginning…

When WordPress is first installed, it includes a basic email component called “PHPMailer”. It’s job is to send emails. Unfortunately, this component is insecurely configured and most hosts turn off email sending from it. Additionally, many server providers such as DigitalOcean, Linode and others do not allow emails to be sent from their servers without additional verification.

This means that, from the get-go, you might not be able to send emails from your brand-new WordPress site.

As far as the contents of the emails, a new WordPress install only includes a few message templates related to users. These include messages related to resetting passwords, new user notifications and some admin messages.

The text and design of these messages are not things that you can control in a new WP install – there’s no pre-built WordPress screen that allow you to manage these messages.

In summary, a new WordPress site:

  • Installs a component to send emails but it might not be active on most sites. And…
  • Includes pre-set notification emails for a small subset of tasks related to user management – and you have no control over these.

Sending Emails

To reliably send emails you first need to install a plugin that will talk to some sort of email sending service that you pay for or that is under your control. Such a plugin might talk to your normal email sending service (usually some sort of “SMTP” service). Other plugins talk to dedicated proprietary sending services.

Plugins that use the email sending service from your regular email provider include:

Plugins that connect to proprietary email sending services:

Note that some of the plugins in the first group might also be able to send email via some of the proprietary email sending services. The advantage of using a proprietary email sending service is reliability and higher throughput volumes.

Once you’ve installed one of these plugins, you will be able to more reliably send emails.

Configuring And Customizing Emails

This is where things can get confusing for some users. WordPress itself includes some emails for user focused functions. But then, each additional plugin you install might also have their own emails and methods for customizing (or not) those messages.

Some plugins, such as WooCommerce, might even make you pay for a premium add-on before you are allowed to do deep customization to your email messages!

So, the process for customizing or enabling and disabling your marketing and transactional emails is going to be different on a plugin-by-plugin basis. Core WordPress itself exerts very little control over these.

The good news is that almost all plugins will send their emails using whatever email plugin or sending service you have installed. So you will only have to configure your sending method once.

However, as you might expect, some plugins do include their own sending methods but they are few and far between. These plugins tend to be CRM or EMAIL MARKETING plugins that are optimized for delivery of a large number of messages. So, they tend to offer an option to use a customized sending method.

Email Deliverability

Here’s the thing though – just because you can send emails from WordPress doesn’t mean that they’ll get delivered or delivered into the recipients’ in-box! The email host of the recipient determines whether to accept the message and where it goes – inbox or spam.

Factors that go into how an email recipients’ host will route a message include:

  • Your domain reputation
  • Your servers’ IP reputation
  • Whether or not your sending email address/domain has DKIM and SPF configured

These are all big areas that deserve their own article. The point we’re making here is that, just because you can send messages does not mean that they’ll necessarily get into the recipients’ inbox – and that has nothing to do with WordPress itself. For many new users for WordPress, this is a revelation and a point of much consternation.

Some of the plugins mentioned earlier in this article include a log that lists all messages sent. So, at the very least you can check to see if a plugin has sent a particular message.

How Does WPCloudDeploy Handle Emails?

WPCloudDeploy allows for an email relay to be installed on each server which connects directly to your preferred SMTP sending service. Once connected to your email SMTP sending service, all WordPress sites on the server can use it to send emails.

With this relay, restrictions on email sending that are imposed by cloud server providers can be bypassed.

If you choose not to install and use this relay, you can still install a sending plugin on each site you install. In fact, you can use both. Sites with dedicated email gate plugins installed will bypass the relay and those that don’t have a sending service plugin installed will use the relay.

Wrap-up

Hopefully, with this brief overview, you have a better understanding of how emails are handled in WordPress. You need a plugin to send emails or an email gateway/bridge on your WordPress server. And each plugin that is sending messages will offer various methods of customizing what’s being sent.

It’s not exactly straight forward or user friendly. But it does make sending emails in WordPress extremely flexible and extensible for plugin & theme authors.

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