Email Migration Overview

The aim of this guide is to give you some background on how email works so you can understand what we’re doing and so you can decide on how you’d like your email migration done. Email migration is a relatively straightforward task, we’ve done it for many many people, we’re experienced and know all the tricks and traps.


Email for each domain is hosted on a computer (aka a “server”) that’s connected to the Internet, often the same computer that runs your website. These servers are often great at serving web pages, but because of various technical reasons around shared hosting and spam lists they’re not always great at email. Moving your email to a dedicated email provider like Gmail, FastMail, or Office 365 can make your email more reliable.

When you switch your email from being hosted on one server to another it doesn’t switch immediately, it generally switches over a 2 – 24 hour period, due to what’s technically called DNS propagation. To put it as simply as possible, the internet remembers where your email is stored for a day or two, so if you change that storage place it can take a couple of days for everyone to realize. That means once you switch to another email host new email can go to either the old or the new host for a period of up to 48 hours, though most will arrive at the new host within two hours.

Note that there is no email downtime, and you will not lose email. However for a period of 48 hours it’s possible for email to arrive at the old or the new server, though most email will go to the new server as soon as the change is actioned. Because of this you have to check webmail on your old server for 48 hours.

Email Storage

Email you receive can be collected from your email host in two different ways:

  • The best way is called “IMAP”. Using this method your email is all stored on the email host, you can easily view it from anywhere: a webmail interface, your computer, your phone, etc. This is much better as most people check their email from multiple devices, and it means the email is all backed up by your email host.
  • POP3: this is an older method where email is downloaded to your computer or device. Email can be left on the server or deleted from the server. In general it’s not a recommended way to do things.

This is important background for email migration.

Migration of your Existing Email

Most people have a lot email, usually stored on their existing email host, but sometimes stored on their PC. Migration of email from the old email host to the new email host is generally quite straightforward, though it can take a few days if you have a lot of email.

If email is stored on your computer rather than the email host migration is a bit more difficult, though is almost always possible. It generally means we remote into your computer and do the migration manually, which uses your Internet connection and will keep your computer busy for between a few hours and a few days, depending how much email you have. It’s generally quite straightforward, but does take an extra hour or two depending on what type of computer and software you use.

Some Technical Bits

In 2015 around 80-95% of email on the Internet is spam. Because of this there are technologies that help prevent spam being sent, technologies that try to prevent you being attributed with sending spam, and email filtering.

SPF (sender policy framework) is one of the main tools that protect your reputation and prevent spammers sending email that claims to be from you. We set up SPF records for all our customers. We have to know all of the places that send email on your behalf to include in the SPF record, this includes:

  • your main email server
  • shopping carts that send confirmation emails to your customers: pixieset, pictures pro shopping cart, etc
  • any customer management tool you use, such as ShootQ, 17 Hats, Tave, etc
  • your website contact form

We also consider whether Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) is appropriate for your email setup. This tends to be done semiautomatically by the big email providers such as Google Apps.

Your Email Changeover

Because email is a critical system for most people we have to be careful when switching to ensure you never lose email, and that you see your email promptly even during the changeover period. There are two main approaches:

  • If you’re happy using webmail to check your old email host during the changeover period this makes things easier. We switch your email host when you ask, including setting up some technical bits that make setting up your new account easier (subdomains and autoconfiguration records). We help you set up your computer, phone, and any other devices to check the new email host. We have a guide to setting up Google Apps/Gmail on your computer and phone available, and one for Office 365 email.
  • If you’d like to check both email hosts using your devices during the switch we help you set up your devices to check both email hosts at the same time. This is a simple operation, but means we have to make changes to your devices and systems twice instead of once, so it takes a little longer. This is the method we use when we move our own email host, and it’s our recommended method.


There you have it, a quick summary of how email works, how we switch email hosting, and how we migrate your email 🙂