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Free vs paid email – what is the difference?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of free and paid email accounts?

Written by Nadin Thomson | Updated Aug 2022

free vs paid email - what is the difference?

Paid email account or free email account – learn the about differences

There are a few different types of email accounts and it’s important to make the right choice for your business when selecting an email provider. Let’s look at the different types of email accounts:

  • Free email accounts (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail),
  • Google Workspace (Paid Email Account)
  • POP3 and/or IMAP (sometimes offered as a free or paid email account with your website’s domain name, such as sarah@mybusiness.com)
  • Paid email account: Microsoft Office Email Accounts

We will provide you with an in depth review of the types of email be it free email, Google Workspace, POP3, IMAP or Microsoft 365. Hopefully you will be able to decide which one is best for you and your business based on the advantages and disadvantages of a free email provider and a paid email service.

Free email account providers

(gmail, yahoo, hotmail, AOL mail, ZOHO mail, Yahoo mail, Apple mail or iCloud mail)

You can easily set up a free email account (also known as email hosting service) through an email hosting service provider. The downside is that you will see advertising in your email account and the provider is likely to gather personal information from you. The most popular free email accounts are gmail, yahoo and hotmail, all of which provide you with an interface that allows you access to your email.

Advantages of a free email account

  • You can access your email account from any device.
  • You can receive extra features (e.g. virus protection, spam filtering, additional storage and enhanced graphics).
  • You can access additional services (e.g. instant messaging).

Disadvantages of free email accounts

  • You have fewer services than if you had paid for an email service.
  • Your privacy may be compromised as your personal data could be sold or traded.
  • Your service may not be reliable. Always check the terms of service for the provider you are using to make sure they are available when you require them.
  • You may be limited in the size of emails and attachments you can send or receive.
  • You may have limited storage space.
  • You may not be able to send large attachments in an email.
  • You do not have ownership of your email address and data.
  • You will receive frequent adverts.

Cost of a free email account


Who should use a free email account?

These accounts are meant for personal use only. If you run a small business, it might be tempting to use a free email hosting service with a free email address, such as mybusiness@gmail.com, however, this does not look professional and a gmail email address does not look like a professional business emailaddress. It also indicates to your potential customers and suppliers that you have no proper IT setup for your business.

Google Workspace (paid email accounts)

What is Google Workspace?

Google Workspace (formerly known as Business Suite) is a set of applications which includes email, calendar, Google Drive for unlimited cloud storage, Google Docs for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, and Google Vault for email retention and e-discovery. In addition to this, you can use the extra reporting and auditing functions that Google provides. For the purpose of this article we will just be concentrating on the email service.

You will need a Google account (also known as a gmail acount) to set up your own Google Workspace.

Google Workspace is one of the options I would recommend for setting up a business email address.

Google Workspace Advantages (paid email accounts)

  • Access your email address anytime, anywhere and from any device.
  • The paid email service is reliable as there is no scheduled downtime for maintenance purposes. It has 99.9% uptime.
  • The emails are secure.
  • You can customise your own email domain to make your business look more professional. Even though you’re using Google Mail, emails will look like paul@mybusinessname.com  rather than paul@gmail.com.
  • Benefit from the advanced features (eDiscovery, search, email archiving) at a low cost.
  • You have automatic backups, spam protection and security measures to preserve your business data.
  • There are no adverts.
  • Your gmail account also gives you access to Google Docs, Google Forms, Google Sheets, additional cloud storage, it helps filter spam emails and you can use additional Google apps too.
  • You can easily set up your Google email address with an external email client, such a Mac Mail, Outlook, Thunderbird etc.
  • You can use your Google account to manage your website’s domain name too.

Google Workspace Disadvantages

  • You require to have good internet connection, as a slow or an intermittent connection may limit your access to some applications.
  • You may have issues with converting Google Docs, Sheets and Slides to Microsoft Word or PDF formats. Also, Google Docs, Sheets and Slides do not contain the same amount of features as most Microsoft software applications, such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint.
  • You are only able to recover a deleted email or Drive data for a limited period of time.
  • Your business will be affected, if there is an outage or server issues.

How much does Google Workspace?

Please check the Google Workspace website for the current prices.

Who should use a paid email account – who is Google Workspace for?

Small er businesses who will utilise the extra features.

POP3 Email Accounts (this can be offered for free or as a paid email account service)

What is a POP3 email account?

POP3 which is an abbreviation for Post Office Protocol version 3 allows you to connect to an mail server and download your emails to your local device (e.g. PC, mobile or tablet). Even when you do not have access to the internet you will still have access to your email as it is stored locally.

You can configure your POP3 email account to store your email on the server or delete the downloaded emails from the server so that you only have them on your device. POP3 is best used when you only have one device that will be sending and receiving emails.

Advantages of POP3 email accounts

  • Your emails are always available as they are stored on your local device.
  • You only connect to the mail server to download your emails or to send emails to others.
  • You can open attachments quickly as they are already stored on your local device.
  • You mailbox size is determined by the size of your local device.
  • You do not receive adverts.
  • You do not require a licence.

Disadvantages of POP3 email accounts

  • POP3 accounts are setup in the same place where your website is setup and have a limited size. Depending on the hosting company you use, your account might be limited to 2GB or 10 GB (or any number in between).
  • If your website is down for whatever reason, such as server maintenance, or if it was hacked, your email will not be accessible either.
  • Your email is removed from the server when you have downloaded your email to your local laptop or PC.
  • Your server does not store a copy of the emails you send.
  • If your laptop is broken and you do not have backup in place, all your emails – sent and received – are likely to be lost.
  • Your laptop or PC storage will be reduced over time as you store your emails on your local device.
  • You are at higher risk of a virus attack as all your attachments are stored on your local device, so you should ensure your virus scanner is up-to-date.
  • You do not have any email syncing if you use different devices, so if you access your email from multiple devices (e.g. your PC, mobile, and tablet), you will only see the emails that you have downloaded to that device.
  • Your emails and attachments may take some time to download as the download speed is reliant on your bandwidth.
  • Your email folders may get corrupted, and occasionally they may be lost for good.

How much does a POP3 email account cost?

POP3 accounts are often offered free of charge with your web hosting. Some hosting companies might charge for them though. But the charge is usually only for the provision of the email account, not for any additional services such as backups.

Who are POP3 email accounts for?

For micro businesses – if email is not important and business critical.

IMAP Email accounts

What is an IMAP email account? (can be a free email account or a paid email account)

IMAP which is an abbreviation for Internet Message Access Protocol allows you to view the same emails on all your devices (e.g. PC, mobile, tablet). All your emails are stored on the server. You are able to download local copies so you can use them offline but the server holds the master. When you delete an email it will also be deleted from the server so that you will not be able to see it from other devices. Your sent email is also stored on the server.

Advantages of IMAP email accounts

  • You can access all your email from any device as your incoming and outgoing email is stored on the server. Thus, you do not need to panic if you device fails as you will still be able to get access to your emails from another device.
  • Your Laptop or PC will only download those emails that you have opened which saves storage space on your device.
  • You can use ‘search’ and ‘sort’ functions on less powerful devices as all the processing happens on the server not on the local device.
  • You can have several people share a mutually used mailbox.
  • You are able to add different folders in your Inbox.
  • You do not require a licence.

Disadvantages of IMAP email accounts

  • IMAP accounts are setup in the same place where your website is setup and have a limited size. Depending on the hosting company you use, your account might be limited to 2GB or 10 GB (or any number in between).
  • If your website is down for whatever reason, such as server maintenance, or if it was hacked, your email will not be accessible either.
  • You may suffer from occasional synchronisation issues.
  • You require to have a fast internet connection to use it productively.
  • Your email server storage is limited, so you will require to remove/archive old emails to get more space or alternatively upgrade.
  • You will not be able to get new emails, if you have no internet connection.
  • You will not be able to view existing emails if you are working offline unless you have previously downloaded them.

How much does an IMAP email account cost?

IMAP is similar to POP3 and IMAP accounts are often offered free of charge with your web hosting.

Who are IMAP email accounts for?

For micro businesses for whom email is not business critical, and for business people who want to use multiple devices.

Microsoft 365 Email Addresses – Paid Email Accounts

What is a Microsoft 365 email account?

A Microsoft email account runs on an email server application server which manages all your emails and also has additional features which allows businesses to share their contacts, calendars, diaries and tasks with their employees.

It requires you to purchase either server or end user licences. Initially it was promoted to large businesses, but when Microsoft 365 was released, small and medium sized businesses were marketed to as the product has become more affordable.

Advantages of paid Microsoft 365 email accounts

  • Your emails are not dependent on your web hosting. I.e. if your website is down for whatever reason, such as server maintenance, or if it was hacked, your email is unaffected.
  • Your emails are saved and backup is included in the service.
  • You have full email syncing so you can view you email from multiple devices.
  • Your contacts, calendars and data are all synced within your business.
  • You can add different folders to your Inbox.
  • You can set an out-of-office reply so that colleagues or clients are informed when you are not available.
  • Your emails will have threats eliminated before they reach your network. Your email is protected from viruses by numerous anti-virus applications protecting them. Spam and phishing emails are detected by anti-spam filters.
  • You have access to Microsoft products such as Office and Sharepoint.
  • You can purchase licences on a per server or per user basis.
  • Your mailbox capacity will be larger than if you used POP or IMAP.
  • Your software is regularly updated to the latest version.
  • You do not require to maintain on-site hardware if you move Exchange to the Cloud. Normally, Cloud vendors guarantee higher up times.
  • With a Microsoft email account, you can use Microsoft Office and Microsoft Outlook

Disadvantages of paid Microsoft 365 email accounts

  • You may suffer from occasional synchronisation issues but they are rare.
  • Your folders may be duplicated if the accounts are not setup properly.
  • You will require specialised knowledge to setup and maintain a Microsoft Exchange account.
  • Cost

Please check the Microsoft website for the most current prices. 

Who are Microsoft 365 paid email accounts for?

Small, medium and large businesses who have a team environment and require users to have shared contacts, calendars, file storage and use numerous Microsoft products. The businesses will have the expertise in-house to manage and maintain Exchange, or they will procure the expertise as a service.

Conclusion – what is the best email account – free or paid?

Which type of email account is right for your business? This depends entirely on how you want to access and use your emails as there are advantages and disadvantages for each email account type.

If you are starting out with a lower budget, you could start with a free email service (POP3 or IMAP) and migrate to a business email further down the line. This is relatively easy, but you might need an IT expert to migrate your old emails – sent and received – to a new business account. You can plan to pay  £60-£100 (+VAT) for a migration.

If emails are important in your business, we would always recommend using a professional email setup such as Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace.

What email account should I use for my business - free email or paid email account?

E-Mail addresses are sometimes offers as part of the web hosting with your website, but these tend to be only IMAP or POP3 email accounts. This is not a good option, as the email account is then dependent on your website status. This means – if your website is down – your email is usually down too. This rarely happens, but if your business relies on email, it’s best to choose a business email account.

Nadin Thomson

Nadin Thomson started developing websites in 1999 as a hobby and started her business as a web developer in 2004. She has 18+ years of experience in helping businesses of all sizes to create an online presence and improve their website. She's also worked as a photographer in Scotland for 15+ years. The majority of her customers found Nadin through Google as she's continually optimised her website for SEO.

Nadin Thomson has a University Business degree and a Postgraduate Diploma in Digital Marketing.

Find out more about Nadin Thomson.