How to Use Google's SMTP Server (a little known free service)

Google offers a free SMTP service that organizations and individuals with low email volumes can use to send their outgoing messages. This is a standard email transmission protocol that enables sending of emails from non-Google web and desktop applications, such as WordPress, Outlook, Thunderbird, and others.

The Google SMTP server overcomes email delivery challenges that users experience when traveling, away from the office or unable to use the hosting provider, or ISP’s SMTP servers. It is available to both paid and free Gmail account holders.

However, the free version is limited to a maximum of 100 emails for every 24-hour period. This translates to 3000 emails in a month, hence only suitable for start-ups or businesses with low outgoing email traffic.

Benefits of using Google’s SMTP server include

  • Large, reliable and stable infrastructure
  • More secure mail servers not likely to be blacklisted
  • It eliminates the need to set up an in-house or hosted SMTP server.
  • Reduced load on hosting server

Setting up Gmail SMTP server on email applications

To use Google’s free SMTP server, a user must have

  1. Free Gmail address or paid Google account
  2. A custom domain email address
  3. Enable access by less secure applications

Step 1

Enabling access by third-party applications

By default, Google will block less secure devices and third-party applications. This includes web, mobile, and desktop applications that do not meet Google’s security standards. Typical applications include the Mozilla Thunderbird, Microsoft Outlook, and web applications such as WordPress.

Although this may compromise security, you can enable access for these applications as shown below.

Log in to your Google account and go to

  1. MyAccount
  2. Sign-in & security
  3. Connected apps & sites
  4. Allow less secure apps

You can also use the link below to go directly to the page

https://www.google.com/settings/u/2/security/lesssecureapps

Step 2

Adding Gmail SMTP details to the applications

Generally, the method to add SMTP details will differ according to the application.

However, both the desktop and web applications will require the following details.

  • Outgoing SMTP server: smtp.gmail.com
  • Authentication:    Either Yes or No. It is always recommended to use authentication, hence selecting yes.
  • Encryption: For security reason, enable the secure connection by selecting SSL or TLS port.
  • Outgoing server port: This depends on the encryption type, SSL uses port 465 and TLS port 587
  • SMTP Username:          Full Gmail email address
  • SMTP Password:           Gmail or Google account password

Setting up the Google SMTP server on Microsoft Outlook desktop application

From Control Panel, open Mail and use the manual configuration.

Add New Account details in the Internet E-Mail Settings as below.

  1. Your Name: that your recipients will see,
  2. E-mail Address - Custom
  3. Incoming email server (custom).You can leave the incoming server type as pop.
  4. Outgoing mail server (SMTP) - use smtp.gmail.com
  5. Enter the username for the custom domain email address and password in the Login information section.

Click on More Settings to configure authentication, encryption, and ports.

Authentication settings

Go to the Outgoing Server tab.

  1. Enable My outgoing server (SMTP) requires authentication,
  2. Add your Gmail address and password in the provided fields.

Encryption

Click on the Advanced tab

Leave the incoming server as POP, otherwise, IMAP if it is the one you set in the Internet Email settings.

Choose TLS or SSL in the Use the following type of encrypted connection. If you choose TLS, the outgoing port will be 587 and 465 if SSL.

Your Microsoft Outlook desktop client is now configured to send emails through Gmail SMTP servers.

Step 3

Add custom domain email address to Google account

When using this SMTP feature, Google re-writes the From email address, such that the recipients will see as if the message is coming from a Gmail address.

To display the custom domain email, add it to the Google account as follows.

  1. Login to your Gmail, go to settings, then Accounts and Import tab.
  2. Click Add another email account you own
  3. Enter the display name and custom email address, then go to next step.

  1. In the SMTP server, use smtp.gmail.com, 587 as the TLS port, or 465 if SSL.
  2. Input your Gmail address and password.

Once you add the account successfully, Google will send a confirmation code to the non-Gmail account. Click on the link or enter the code in the provided field to confirm the account.

You can add more than one email address to your Gmail account. This enables you to send out emails from different accounts and domains from a single Gmail account. When sending, Gmail will display a drop-down list and an option to choose the sending email address.

Configuring WordPress to send emails through Gmail SMTP server

Other than allowing users to send emails from desktop clients, the Gmail SMTP server will also work with other non-Google messaging platforms or applications such as WordPress.

WordPress PHP Mailer and challenges

A WordPress website usually sends notifications, newsletters, subscriptions, lost password resets, and other emails using its inbuilt PHP mail function. However, there are several instances when these emails are never delivered successfully. This can be due to restrictions by some hosting providers as they try to prevent abuse and spam, wrong configurations, or blacklisted shared IP addresses.

In addition, some email providers may use tools to detect and block emails that seem to originate from suspicious sources. To overcome these challenges, a website owner can use an external SMTP server such as Gmail to send all outgoing emails.

Step 1

WordPress Gmail SMTP plugins

There are several plugins that allow admins and website owners in configuring WordPress to send out emails and newsletters using Google’s SMTP servers.  Typical plugins include Gmail SMTP, WP Mail SMTP, Easy WP SMTP and more. These will allow you to configure settings such as SMTP hostname, port, and authentication.

For the purpose of this article, we will look at the Gmail SMTP plugin because it offers the most secure configuration.  The plugin uses OAuthe 2.0 mechanism to authorize access to the Gmail API, does not store passwords, and you do not need to enable access by less secure apps.

To install a plugin, you must have the WP administrative rights.

  1. Login to your WordPress dashboard,
  2. Go to Plugins and select Add New.
  3. Type ‘Gmail SMTP’ in the plugin’s search field.

4. Locate the plugin, click on the Install Now button and activate once finished.

Step 2

Go to the Gmail SMTP settings; it will generate an Authorized redirect URI which you require for Google Developers console project.

Note the SMTP status is Not Connected.

To proceed from here you need to first create the web application that will enable access to the Google account. During the app registration process, Google will also generate the API keys for Gmail.

Step 3

Create Gmail SMTP project

  1. Login to the Gmail account you will send to send emails, then go to http://console.developers.google.com
  2. Use the Create project button start the new project. If unavailable click Select a project drop down list. This will open another page
  3. Click the plus sign to create a new project
  4. Give it a name that you prefer.

Step 4

Enable API

  1. Click Enable APIs and services button,
  2. Select and enable the Gmail API

Step 5

Create the credentials

Open the Credentials tab, Select OAuth client ID, and click Configure Consent Screen

Step 6

Configure consent screen

Configure consent screen with a product name such as Gmail SMTP. Save the settings, and proceed to create the OAuth Client ID.

  1. Select Web Application and give it a name. (i.e. Web client 1)
  2. Enter the custom domain for your WordPress installation
  3. Copy the Authorized redirect URI that Gmail SMTP plugin generated and paste it into the field provided.
  4. Click Create.

Once you click on create, it generates the OAuth Client’s ID and secret which you need to add in the WordPress Gmail SMTP settings.

Step 7

Configure Gmail SMTP plugin

Enter the following on Gmail SMTP plugin settings (Step I)

  1. OAuth Client’s ID details,
  2. Gmail account that you have used to create the project,
  3. From email address and name that will be sending WordPress emails.
  4. Choose encryption  (TLS or SSL)
  5. Add port: 587 for TLS and 465 if you choose SSL
  6. 6. Save changes and click on Grant Permission.

Google will send a notification with a warning that there was a suspicious attempt to login to your account. It also gives you an option to allow or deny the Gmail SMTP full access to your email account.

Allowing this activates the plugin and the Gmail STP status changes to Connected with a green colour button.

Save the changes.

You have now successfully configured WordPress to send all emails and notifications through the Gmail SMTP server.  You can confirm this by sending a test email.

Conclusion

Google’s free SMTP server is a feature that organizations and individuals with low mail volumes can use to improve their email deliverability.

Since Google observes the best security practices, Gmail servers are clean and always whitelisted. As such, any emails originating from here are rarely blocked or delivered to SPAM folders. In addition, they have a large infrastructure spread across the world, hence shorter emails queues and delays.

 

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