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How to Configure WordPress to Use SMTP Server: WordPress Tutorial

Last Updated on January 16th, 2023

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Having trouble with WordPress emails not sending or ending up in recipients’ spam folders? Setting up a WordPress SMTP server might be just the ticket.

The default way that WordPress sends emails (via wp_mail) just isn’t that reliable because it’s not designed for reliable emailing. SMTP, short for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, is designed exclusively for email, which is why it’s the solution to your WordPress site’s email woes.

In this post, I’ll share a little bit more about what SMTP is and why it’s so useful for WordPress users. Then, I’ll show you how to configure your WordPress site to send its emails via SMTP instead of the default WordPress email function.

Why Set Up a WordPress SMTP Server?

By default, WordPress sends its emails using the wp_mail function. This function is nice because it’s super simple. You don’t need to configure anything – your site can start sending emails right away as soon as you install WordPress.

However, the problem is that your WordPress site’s server isn’t really configured to send emails and this method also lacks authentication. When you put those issues together, you end up with a lot of your site’s emails ending up in users’ spam folders.

For example, it’s pretty common for notification emails from a form plugin to end up in spam, as I’ve personally experienced plenty of times back in my “WordPress newbie” days.

So if the problem with WordPress’ built-in email sending tool is that it’s not really designed for emails, the solution is to find something that is specifically designed for sending emails. That “something” is SMTP.

The only issue is that SMTP isn’t among WordPress’ core functionalities. Hence, you must install a plugin if you want to have more control over how and when your emails are delivered. 

Fortunately, there are hundreds of WordPress email configuration plugins you can use to send messages from your website.  

An SMTP server is a web server that’s specifically designed to reliably send emails. Using a WordPress SMTP plugin, you can configure your WordPress site to send all of its emails via the dedicated SMTP server, which will make your emails a lot more trustworthy.

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Once you set up an SMTP server for WordPress, your site’s emails should be able to avoid the spam folder every time.

Better yet, as long as your site doesn’t send more than a few hundred emails per day, you should be able to find a free SMTP server that can get the job done. Speaking of…

Best Free WordPress SMTP Services

There are a variety of different SMTP services that you can use. Here are some of the best options that offer a forever free plan:

  • SendGrid – forever free plan for up to 100 emails per day.
  • Sendinblue – forever free plan for up to 300 emails per day (also lets you send marketing emails – learn more in our Sendinblue review).
  • Pepipost – forever free plan for up to 100 emails per day.
  • Elastic Email – forever free plan for up to 100 emails per day.
  • Mailjet – forever free plan for up to 200 emails per day.

And here are some good options that, while not offering a forever free plan, are still pretty dang affordable:

  • Amazon SES (Simple Email Service) – very affordable pay-as-you-go pricing for just $0.10 per 1,000 emails.
  • Mailgun – three-month free trial and affordable pricing after that.
  • WP Mail SMTP – The plugin doesn’t have a free plan, but it comes with a 14-day money-back guarantee. The Pro plan is the most affordable option for online entrepreneurs, bloggers, and other WordPress website owners who want to explore different STMP setup solutions.

Please remember that the installation and configuration process for each of these WordPress plugins is different. Each plugin comes with extensive documentation, so you shouldn’t encounter any problems adding them to your site.

Finally, some WordPress hosts also offer their own SMTP servers that you can use for your WordPress site. This is an option…however, it’s not an option that I recommend. I don’t find these servers to be as reliable and they usually don’t offer API access like a dedicated SMTP service.

A plugin like WP Mail SMTP lets you send emails directly from your Gmail account. However, integrating Gmail SMTP with WordPress is technical as it involves enabling Gmail API with the Google Developers Console. 

Moreover, the WP Mail SMTP plugin might be too expensive for bloggers or digital entrepreneurs starting their first site. 

Since you can find so many solid free SMTP services, I recommend just using a dedicated service instead of your host’s SMTP server.

How to Configure WordPress SMTP Server Using SendGrid

Again, while there are different free SMTP services, I’m going to choose SendGrid for this tutorial because:

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  1. It’s free forever for up to 100 emails per day, which should work for most WordPress sites.
  2. It offers an API that gives you a simpler way to send emails instead of needing to enter standalone SMTP server credentials.
  3. I’ve been using it on my own sites for a while and have had a great experience.
  4. It features a dynamic template editor that allows you to perform conditional testing. 
  5. The plugin features an activity feed and gives you an estimation of your sender reputation.

One of the biggest downsides of using SendGrid’s Free plan is that it doesn’t include guaranteed ticket response times, so you may have to wait a couple of days to get an answer to your question.

The basic WordPress SMTP server configuration process goes like this:

  1. Register for a free SendGrid account.
  2. Access your SendGrid API key.
  3. Use a WordPress SMTP plugin to configure your site to send its emails using the SendGrid SMTP API.

Let’s go through it in more detail…

1. Register for a SendGrid Account

To get started, go to SendGrid and register for a free account. You’ll be asked to provide information about yourself, your company, and the number of emails you want to send monthly.

You won’t be able to create a SendGrid account if your WordPress website still isn’t live.

2. Create SendGrid API Key

Once you’ve activated your SendGrid account, you need to create an API key. The API key is what you’ll use to connect your WordPress site to SendGrid. It’s also more secure/reliable than entering SMTP credentials directly (e.g. a server, username, password, etc.).

To create your API key, click this link or go to Settings → API Keys in your SendGrid dashboard. Then, click the Create API Key button:

create api key in sendgrid dashboard

Next up:

  • Give it a name – you’re the only one who will see the name, so this just helps you remember it.
  • Choose Full Access.
  • Click Create & View.

create api key and configure in sendgrid dashboard

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Then, you should see your API key – keep this screen open because you’ll need it in the next step and SendGrid will only show you your API once. If you accidentally close it, don’t worry! You can just create another API key.

Authenticating your domain and activating the two-factor authentication are some of the steps you’ll have to take when configuring your account. Still, you can complete these steps after you integrate SendGrid with WordPress. 

I’d like to point out that you cannot manage subscribers, access dedicated IPs, or test emails with the free version of this plugin.

created api key and view in sendgrid dashboard

3. Install Post SMTP Mailer/Email Log Plugin

Next, you need to install the free Post SMTP Mailer/Email Log plugin on your WordPress site. There are lots of different WordPress SMTP plugins, but I like this one for several reasons:

  • It’s 100% free.
  • It lets you connect to the SendGrid API and has a ton of other services.
  • You can view a log of the emails that your site sends, which helps you make sure everything is working.
  • The plugin has over 300,000 active installations 
  • Intuitive setup wizard
  • It uses OAuth 2.0 authorization protocol to protect email passwords
  • It lets you set a fallback SMTP server so that you can still deliver emails even if SendGrid fails for some reason.
  • It’s a fork of the previously-popular Postman SMTP plugin. This plugin was very popular until the developer stopped supporting it.

So yeah – I like it, and I’m not alone – it has a 4.9-star rating on over 230 reviews at WordPress.org.

Go to the WordPress Plugins menu and locate the Post SMTP Mailer/Email Log plugin. Proceed to install and activate the plugin.

4. Configure Post SMTP Mailer/Email Log

Head over to the WordPress’ Settings menu, once you’ve installed and activated the plugin on your site. Find the plugin’s ‘Start the Wizard’ option and follow the on-screen instructions to configure it. 

Afterward, go to the new Post SMTP tab in your WordPress dashboard and click the Show All Settings link under the wizard button:

post smtp mailer settings

On the next screen:

  1. Choose SendGrid API in the Type drop-down.
  2. Leave the Mailer Type as PostSMTP.
  3. Paste your SendGrid API key into the API Key box (from Step #2).
  4. Click Save Changes.

post smtp setup

Then, open the area of the full settings again and go to the Message tab. There, enter the From Address and Name that you want to use. When people receive an email from your site, they’ll see this information:

post smtp setup tutorial

Then, save your changes. Optionally, you can manually configure the password and OAuth 2.0 authentication, but I don’t recommend doing this if you don’t feel comfortable tinkering with the plugin’s settings.

5. Send a Test Email

To make sure that everything is working, the plugin lets you send a test email:

  • Go to the main Post SMTP tab.
  • Click the Send a test email option under the Actions column.

Then, enter the email address that you want to send your test email to:

post smtp setup and sending mail

You should see a success message:

post smtp setup and sending mail successfully

And then when you go to your email account, you should also see a test message:

post smtp setup and sending test mail

You can also see a log of all the emails that your site sends by going to Post SMTP → Email Log. Again, this helps you diagnose any potential problems with undelivered emails:

post smtp email logs

Frequently Asked Questions about WordPress SMTP Servers

How to Configure SMTP WordPress?

SMTP isn’t one of WordPress’ native functionalities, which means you must install a plugin if you don’t want to use its default PHP mailing options. 

Open WP’s dashboard once you complete the plugin installation and head over to the Settings menu. Choose the Email option and provide the sender information, including your email address and the name you want the recipients to see in their inboxes. 

Continue to adjust the mailer settings by selecting the Other SMTP option and clicking the Return-Path checkbox. Next, you’ll be asked to insert an SMTP host and port before adding an SSL or TLS protocol to protect your site’s email communication.  

How to Use SMTP in WordPress?

Improving sender reputation is one of the primary reasons to integrate a mailing service like Sendinblue with a WordPress website. Moreover, you can install a plugin that allows you to create a custom WordPress email configuration. 

Configuring an SMTP server can be overwhelming for novice WordPress users, but it is well worth the trouble.

Once your SMTP server is up and running, you can launch and manage marketing campaigns or maintain communication with the website’s subscribers. Moreover, SendGrid and similar services feature WYSIWYG editors that allow you to personalize the messages you send to your contacts. 

What is SMTP WordPress? 

Simple Mail Transfer Protocol delivers messages sent from a WordPress website to a server or directly to a recipient’s mailbox. 

WordPress sites commonly utilize plugins that connect them to different transactional email services such as Gmail, Yahoo, or SendLayer. 

SMTP replaces WordPress’ PHP email function and allows website owners to improve their email delivery rates by sending messages recipients perceive as reliable. 

Simply put, SMTP WordPress reduces the chances of your emails being labeled as spam, which makes it useful for website owners that send hundreds of emails every day.

Start Using a WordPress SMTP Server Today

Even for a simple WordPress site, your site will send a lot of transactional emails for things like password resets and form submission notifications. By default, you might experience poor reliability for these types of emails.

The fix is to use a dedicated WordPress SMTP server. In this post, I’ve shown you how to do just that using a 100% free solution. Implement it today and enjoy much more reliable emails.

Remember that free SMTP server solutions often limit the number of emails you can send daily, which is why they’re only suitable for recently launched websites. 

You’ll have to upgrade to a paid plan once your subscriber list and marketing needs start to grow. 

Do you still have any questions about setting up WordPress with an SMTP server? Ask in the comments!

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A team of WordPress experts that love to test out new WordPress related software, WordPress plugins and WordPress themes.