PHP VS. SMTP: the email conundrum for WordPress websites

Written by Jamie Bowers

Man looking at email on computer screen holding computer mouse

Navigating WordPress’s email landscape can be like journeying through technical jargon-jungles. Two acronyms often at the heart of the conversation are PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) and SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol). For WordPress website owners, understanding these mechanics is not just about tech-talk; it’s pivotal to ensure that important emails are being delivered to stakeholders.

But here’s the puzzle: Which email option is best for your specific needs? How do they work, what are the key differences, and more importantly, what’s the best route forward? We’ll walk through it all, demystifying the tech, to help you make the right choice for your business.

Understanding PHP

When your WordPress website sends out email notifications, confirmation messages, or other communications, it relies on a server-side scripting language called PHP to handle the email processing. This method is simple and embedded within PHP — making it a quick and straightforward way to get your website to communicate without third-party applications or additional setup.

The pros of PHP Mail

  • Simplicity and ease of use: For those familiar with PHP, setting up email through this method is often a breeze. It’s often the out-of-the-box solution for any WordPress plugins that have email capabilities.
  • No additional tools: No need for external programs or integrations, which can reduce complexity and save costs.

The cons of PHP Mail

  • Deliverability: PHP Mail can be flagged as spam more often, as it’s perceived as a less secure and less official mail method. The server’s IP reputation, which sends the email from your web server, is critical in this type of email function’s deliverability. If it has a poor reputation, then your email could be flagged as spam or blocked.
  • Speed and scalability: It might take longer to send out bulk emails, and it’s not as scalable as dedicated email server solutions.
  • Limited functionality: It doesn’t include options for email tracking, bounce rates, or other advanced capabilities.

Understanding SMTP

SMTP, or Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, is the industry standard for sending emails. It requires a separate email server and is often used with professional email services like Gmail or Outlook. You can integrate an SMTP server with your website to ensure that your emails are reliably delivered, with measures in place to prevent them from landing in the dreaded spam folder.

The pros of SMTP

  • High deliverability rates: SMTP is known for its high deliverability because emails are sent using a verified and secure email server.
  • Enhanced security: With proper settings, SMTP offers encrypted transmission to protect sensitive information.
  • Advanced functionality: Offers additional features that are not included in PHP like email tracking, bounce handling, or automatic retries for failed deliveries.

The cons of SMTP

  • Set-up complexity: Integrating SMTP into your website may require more technical know-how or professional assistance.
  • Cost: In some cases, SMTP services can be an additional expense, especially if you opt for premium services or need to send large volume of emails.

What PHP Mail and SMTP mean for your website emails

When it comes to email marketing, PHP Mail and SMTP can play significantly different roles. To understand which one suits your business’s marketing, let’s break it down by three critical aspects: speed, security, and deliverability.


In the realm of speed, PHP Mail might come off as the hare, quick but not always reliable for a marathon. SMTP, on the other hand, is the tortoise of the email game — perseverant, with a steady, deliberate pace that wins the race.

  • PHP Mail: The speed of PHP Mail largely depends on the web server’s current load, potentially causing delays during peak traffic periods.
  • SMTP: Offers consistent and reliable email sending speeds irrespective of server load, ideal for bulk or timed email campaigns.


In an age where data breaches make headlines daily, the security of your email system is paramount.

  • PHP Mail: Security measures are generally more limited with PHP Mail, especially if your website’s server isn’t fully secured.
  • SMTP: Provides encryption and authentication protocols, offering more robust protection for your email communications.


The goal of any marketing email is to get it into the recipient’s inbox. Here’s how PHP Mail and SMTP stack up.

  • PHP Mail: Due to its association with potentially lower-security environments, PHP Mail emails can have a higher likelihood of being flagged as spam.
  • SMTP: Known for high deliverability rates, especially when used with reputable email services, making it more likely that your messages will land safely in inboxes.

The best option for your business

The superior option comes down to your specific business needs and resources. Here’s a simple determination checklist:

  • If you’re not relying on website email notifications to send valuable updates to you or your customers, starting with PHP Mail for your website might be a reasonable choice to get off the ground.
  • For long-term scalability and reliability, particularly for businesses intending to grow or send bulk emails, investing in an SMTP setup could be more prudent. This is particularly important as Google and Yahoo are requiring email senders to verify their identity in each message as of February 1. This is meant to keep spam rates very, very low.
  • If security and professionalism are critical, especially when handling sensitive information or customer data, using SMTP will likely serve you best.

Remember, the email setup you choose can affect your brand’s perception. Brand reputation and customer trust are the leading factors when considering which option is best for you.

When integrating SMTP into your WordPress site, a range of SMTP plugins and email service providers are at your disposal. It’s important to carefully assess your requirements and budget to make an informed decision, as different plugins offer varying features and pricing plans.


Deciding between PHP Mail and SMTP isn’t just about the technology—it’s a strategic business decision that is directly linked to user experience. If you’re a small business with a function-over-form requirements and limited needs for email notifications, PHP Mail can suffice with its simplicity and cost-effectiveness despite potential drawbacks. But as you grow, investing in a more professional email system, likely through SMTP integration, can be the threshold to higher deliverability and security.

Have questions about this that you’d like to ask an expert? Book a free 30 minute discovery call with us! We’d love to talk through your website needs and questions.

Hi! We’re Zainatain

Zainatain is a web design and conversion rate optimization company fueled by coffee ☕, adventure ✈️, and a healthy dose of humor 🤣. We believe in the power of digital interfaces to accelerate business growth and help our clients achieve their business goals.

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