So, You Think You Know Email . . . Part 2 - Finding the Solution!
Part 1 of this blog post detailed an email service disruption we had experienced earlier this year as well as an overview of email service-related terms. You now know you have an email problem, and sitting on your hands hoping it resolves itself isn’t an option - where do you start?
We went to our Office 365 reseller, GoDaddy. GoDaddy offers support to Office 365 business customers. Over the next 10 days we were told everything, from an IP address reputation problem, images in our email signatures were the source of our problem, to using the Outlook desktop app was damaging our email reputation. We were even told that two unused domain names affiliated with our main email domain were flagged for spam, so we needed to add an additional firewall and our problems would be solved.
None of this advice was accurate. We did learn that the Microsoft Office 365 licenses we thought we purchased from Microsoft, were in fact not and they were actually email licenses hosted on GoDaddy Microsoft-lool-alike email servers but not actual Microsoft licenses or servers. We also added the additional firewall based on the recommendation we received from Go Daddy, in no small part, on the fact that the agent said the firewall would solve our problems in about 48 hours.
By agreeing to this we also were to receive an additional tier of help using GoDaddy’s firewall. After another 6 days passed with no change in our deliverability, we requested GoDaddy support loop in Microsoft support to get to the source of our problems – the answer to this request was a resounding no.
We came to learn that because of this arrangement Microsoft direct help was not an option, Microsoft will not aid in email related problems running on a non-partner reseller parallel platform. We weren’t able to contact Microsoft directly, our reseller couldn’t loop in Microsoft, we were running Microsoft-like email but not actual Microsoft email. More than 20 phone calls to their support team over a two-week period and we were in exactly the same spot with exactly the same problems. Now what?
We contacted our ISP and had our IP address changed. This had no impact, positive or negative, on the situation – it was never an IP address related problem. We run non-cached Outlook desktop apps meaning our desktop and laptop computers do not run local copies of our emails. Outlook acts more like a view of the live email system. Which boils down to when we send an email it is originating from the GoDaddy email server or Firewall provider IP address – the IP address of our office was truly never a part of the equation. Now what?
Time to put all the excuses we had been told were the source of our problem aside and fix the problem.
Step one was to make certain our SPF, DKIM and DMARC records were all configured and implemented properly: done.
Step two, Microsoft Office 365 has several other products that can impact your email service. Microsoft Defender, Azure, Exchange all have additional control and/or security settings that can help protect your email system.
Defender was the key to getting to the bottom of our problem and correcting it. Most of these services are not directly accessible through GoDaddy’s admin portal but they are accessible, assuming you can find them. (Keep in mind we were not running on actual Microsoft email servers, Microsoft help was not available, but we can use actual Microsoft products to resolve our email debacle). Defender not only showed us our Microsoft-like email was in hot water with Microsoft, but it also showed the exact day the problem occurred and the impact that one email had on our “Secure Score.”
That one mistake lowered our score 85% overnight. (Remember our email licenses were not actual Microsoft licenses but were subject to Microsoft security scoring) On the upside Defender had an entire section for refining security settings and the related benefit to rebuilding that all important Secure score. In less than seven days our Secure Score, along with our email delivery challenges were well on their way to being resolved.
We had concurrently begun the search for outside experts while the changes were taking effect. Several firms did not respond to the online contact form, no phone numbers or emails available. A few told us to come back when our current licenses were ready to expire, as they were all too familiar with the problems associated with transitioning GoDaddy’s version of Microsoft Office licensing.
One large reseller partner actually told us, given the severity of a security infraction, they have seen entire company email systems suspended for six months. Could your business survive a six-month suspension of your email system? (BTW, these suspensions are not subject to appeal) We were fortunate enough to find two great independent consultants. They both listened to our dilemma, looked into a multitude of settings, reviewed our deliverability standings then made several recommendations for the near future to not only mitigate the tail end of our problem but to proactively monitor and avoid any potential future issues.
So, what does all this really mean?
Pay attention to your company email – see what happens when your communication is disrupted.
Make sure your email licenses are the real deal. “Just like” is the wrong product to have after you have a problem. Go directly to Microsoft, when possible.
No organization is too small to protect their email, how long can you survive without it?
The whole world is busy but, make a little time sooner than later and get to really know the potential hazards. Put a few “rainy day” business plans in your back pocket before you have way too much time someday and wish you had.