My goal is to host multiple Wordpress blogs on a single Ubuntu server. This will be for outbound email only. Setting up SMTP for each of my blogs by selecting from a plethora of plugins isn’t a sound solution. With sendmail/postfix and default PHP mail() settings, it isn’t difficult to send mail. However, the problem is that seemingly valid email often times gets marked as spam (e.g., Password Reset).

Gmail’s spam filter is incredibly sophisticated and a bit more stringent than others. Reason being, the sender address can be easily spoofed. However, the originating server can not be forged so easily. Even then, there are further checks to make sure the email isn’t spam.

From my experience, there a few factors which determine whether an email is going to be marked as spam by Gmail.

  • You need to have a Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and a DomainKeys Identified Email (DKIM) records in your DNS.
    • You could run: dig [domain name] txt to find out any domain’s TXT DNS records.
    • The SPF record determines which servers are allowed to send email.
    • The DKIM record is used to validate the actual email itself. This ensures the message wasn’t tampered with even if it did come from a valid mail server.
    • If both are valid you’ll see something like this (You can see this under “Show Original” from the message pull-down menu):
      spf=pass ( domain of designates
  1. The “From” email address and name. From what I’ve seen, only valid sender email addresses were able to avoid being marked as spam. So if you setup but that email address doesn’t actually exist, it will be marked as spam. Same goes for “no-reply” addresses, etc.
  2. The content itself. Even emails without subjects could be marked as valid but a suspicious “Subject” could cause the spam filter to trigger. From my experience, the content of the email has a greater weight in determining whether the email is spam or not. Play around with the email templates, fix formatting errors, broken links, etc.

Setting up a SPF DNS Record

This one is straight forward. Create a TXT record “v=spf1 ip:[IP ADDRESS] ~all”

How To Setup EXIM4 with DKIM

DKIM is included in Exim 4.7+. I’m installing Exim version 4.82 on Ubuntu 14.04.1 LTS, Trusty Tahr.

# Let's remove any residual installations
apt-get --purge remove exim4 exim4-base exim4-config exim4-daemon-heavy

# Installation
sudo apt-get install exim4 -y

# Select "internet site; mail is sent and received directly using SMTP" 
# and split files.
sudo dpkg-reconfigure exim4-config

# Make sure exim4 is your default MTA
netstat -ltnp | grep :25
tcp 0 0* LISTEN 16122/exim4 
tcp6 0 0 ::1:25 :::* LISTEN 16122/exim4 

# Create keys
mkdir /etc/exim4/keys
chown -R Debian-exim:adm keys
openssl genrsa -out dkim.key 1024
openssl rsa -in dkim.key -out -pubout -outform pem
chmod 600 /etc/opendkim/dkim.key


You need to create a DKIM record with your public key. This ensures your email wasn’t tampered with.

The hostname will be the combination of your selector, “_domainkey” and your domain. The selector (which is just a label for a key in a DNS record) we’ll be using is “mail.”

Hostname: mail._domainkey.[your domain]

Value: “v=DKIM1; k=rsa; p=[Your public key]”

-----END PUBLIC KEY-----

You’ll replace the “p=” section with your own public key without any line breaks.


Now create a new file /etc/exim4/dkim_vhosts. Here you would list out all the virtual hosts and allowed sender addresses in your domains. For example:


Now edit /etc/exim4/conf.d/transport/30_exim4_config_remote_smtp. The entire file should look something like this:

  debug_print = "T: remote_smtp_dkim for $local_part@$domain"
  driver = smtp
  hosts_avoid_tls = REMOTE_SMTP_HOSTS_AVOID_TLS

dkim_domain = ${lookup{$sender_address}lsearch*@{/etc/exim4/dkim_vhosts}}
dkim_selector = mail
dkim_private_key = /etc/exim4/keys/dkim.key
dkim_canon = relaxed
dkim_strict = false
#dkim_sign_headers = DKIM_SIGN_HEADERS

Now restart exim4 (and Apache if you wish):

sudo service exim4 restart

sudo service apache2 restart

Now just send a test email from WordPress and it shouldn’t be marked as spam anymore! Lastly, I want to stress that the sender email should be valid, that includes “no-reply” addresses.