Will you receive email sent to you at Bluehost?

I love Bluehost, and I usually recommend them for all my clients who need a budget web host. However sometime in early 2014, Bluehost made a change to their email delivery policies which makes them much less useful, at least insofar as email is concerned.

If you only rely on Bluehost’s own POP3 or IMAP mailboxes to receive and retrieve your email, then there’s no problem. However, if you rely on Bluehost’s email forwarders (for example, to forward yourname@yourbluehostsite.com to yourname@gmail.com) then you are very likely losing a significant amount of inbound email. Here’s why:

To protect the spam-free reputation of their shared hosting environments, Bluehost has begun applying aggressive anti-spam filters to all mail forwarded through their servers. You cannot disable these filters. At the time of this writing, any email that doesn’t pass “SPF verification” will not be forwarded. Email without valid SPF headers will not show up in your spam folder. It will not bounce back to the sender. It will simply… disappear.

There’s nothing wrong with paying attention to SPF verification, but to use this as a single-point measurement of ham/spam worthiness is pure folly, because even well-meaning but slow-to-evolve organizations haven’t yet configured their mail services for SPF compliance. For example, none of my official email from Verizon Wireless is SPF complaint. So, as far as I know, Verizon Wireless is now unable to send email to anyone whose email address is a Bluehost forwarding address.

How to improve deliverability of forwarded email if you are on Bluehost

There are basically three options:

  1. Upgrade to a Bluehost virtual private server. Since your VPS will have its own mailserver, it won’t be subject to Bluehost’s new forwarded mail spam filters. I don’t recommend this option because I’d rather see Bluehost fix this issue than turn a profit.
  2. Don’t use Bluehost for mail service. This is probably the most sensible route. You can keep your website on Bluehost while moving your mail service to something like Google Apps ($5 per user per month.)
  3. Use a Bluehost POP account instead of a forwarder, and configure your mail software or service to retrieve via POP3. If your preferred email is a Gmail account, there’s an especially clever solution available to you: Just delete the forwarding address at Bluehost, and setup a bonafide mailbox on Bluehost with the same name. Then login to your Gmail account, go to the settings area, click the tab for “Accounts and Import”, and click the link to “Add a POP3 mail account you own“. This will instruct Gmail to periodically check your Bluehost POP box for new mail, effectively recreating your forwarded mail solution while bypassing Bluehost’s new spam filters.

Instead of forwarding Bluehost email to your Gmail account, setup an actual Bluehost mailbox, and instruct Gmail to retrieve your Bluehost email via POP3.