Understanding Email

Email. Most of use it all day, every day. The ease of communication it allows is super convenient for our modern lives of needing an answer… NOW. But how many people really understand how email works? Know the difference between POP and IMAP? Or how to set up an email account on their computer? Understanding these things may help you to optimise your email usage… Or at the very least, will make you seem knowledgeable at a dinner party!

Often, the easy way is just to sign up for a free email account, for instance Gmail or Hotmail. However, if you want a more professional look, you’ll want to use an email address with the same domain name as your website. When you sign up for your web hosting, you’ll also have the ability to create email accounts.

Creating email accounts via cPanel

Most hosting accounts have some type of control panel you can manage them through. Hopefully, your host uses cPanel, which is standard server software. If so, the button for creating and managing email accounts will look something like this:

To create a new email account, click the “Email Accounts” button. In the next screen, you will be able to choose the first part of each email address (before the @ sign) and the corresponding password. Once you’ve created the account, it will appear in the list of accounts.

Setting up an email client

An email client is an application on your computer, smartphone, or tablet that you can use to access your email account. Examples are Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, and Thunderbird. You can even use Gmail as an email client for non-Gmail accounts. The first step to setting up your email client is to find the settings in cPanel.

Back in the Email Accounts section of cPanel, you can access the configuration details for the email client. This will look something like:

Mail Server Username: name@domain.com
Incoming Mail Server: mail.domain.com
Outgoing Mail Server: mail.domain.com

Each email client has a slightly different method of setting up email accounts. If you’re not sure how to do it in your client, look in the menus for the option to “add account” or “account settings.” Most clients will then have a set-by-step setup process that walks you through it, including the space to enter the above mail server settings.

Types of access

There are a few different methods for accessing email. Depending on who provides your email account, you may currently be using one or more of these.

POP (Post Office Protocol)
If you’ve ever been frustrated that mail you read on your smartphone doesn’t get marked as read on your computer, or mail that you’ve deleted on your computer still shows up on your iPad, then you probably have POP mail enabled. POP is like receiving snail mail from the post office: it gets delivered to one location, and then whether you file it, throw it away, or reply to it, the post office has no idea. Back when we were only checking our email on one computer, POP worked just fine. But now…

IMAP (Internet Mail Access Protocol)
In today’s world of multiple devices for checking email, it makes sense to keep everything in sync. Whether you check email on your computer, iPad, smartphone, or eReader, using IMAP will make sure that you only need to deal with each email once. Going back to our post office analogy, with IMAP it’s like the post office takes a copy of each piece of mail it sends you. Then whatever you do with the mail, the post office does the exact same thing with their copy. Every time one of your devices connects to the “cloud” (the post office), it will see the most up-to-date version of what has happened with the mail. Not all email providers support IMAP, but I would definitely recommend using it wherever possible.

Microsoft Exchange
Often used by businesses to run various applications like mail, calendars, and address books. Uses IMAP-style syncing. You will probably be using this for your work email, if you work for a medium or large company.

Webmail
Webmail is accessed via a web browser (such as Safari, Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer). It may be a free email account, such as Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo mail. But most of the time, you can also access your business email via webmail. Often, the web browser interface isn’t great, but if you’re stuck in an airport somewhere with no wifi and only a desktop PC to use, you’ll be thankful that you know how to log into it. To access your email via webmail, go back to the Email Accounts section of cPanel. Next to each email address listed, there should be a link you can use to access webmail.

Extra stuff

Email signatures
Check out the settings in your email client to set up a signature that will be automatically appended to outgoing messages.

Auto-responders
If you want a reply email to be sent out automatically (for instance if you’re going to be away from your computer for an extended period of time), it’s a good idea to set this up via your cPanel. This way, the response will be delivered as soon as people write to you. If you only set it up on your computer, your computer will need to be on for the message to be sent.

Spam
If you’re like me, you get spam email constantly. Unfortunately, it’s one of those bugbears of modern life that we have to contend with. You can report spam by clicking the “Junk” or “Spam” button in your email client. Apparently, this will send a spam report to the appropriate people. But sometimes, I like to go a step further, and report the offending email account to their mail provider. To do this, find out who is hosting the email account by doing a Whois search for the email’s domain name. Once you’ve discovered the provider, go to their website and find a link to report abuse. This takes time, but I’ve found it to be effective!

I hope you’ve found this guide to understanding email helpful. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below!