Any time I am visiting a website and see an e-mail address listed that has the format YourName@YourISP.net it makes we just want to hit my head against the desk. I’m at YourSite.com, why is your e-mail not YourName@YourSite.com? You get better branding, it provides more identifying information when the communication has aged a little while, and you don’t have to worry about missing messages if you were to switch ISPs. Perhaps you have a domain and you even have hosting but you don’t want to mess with managing an e-mail server or perhaps you find the often included web clients like Squirrel Mail too limited? One answer is to outsource it! Using Google Apps, you can get all the benefits of having a hosted solution with the benefits of branding it with your domain. Even if you have a Yahoo!, Hotmail, or Gmail account already, using Google Apps will probably benefit you. Plus, you can configure the Google Apps Gmail to be an excellent spam protector, beyond what you even get with normal Gmail.
An Aside, Get A Domain
If you don’t have a domain name, it’s simple enough to get one and hopefully after this article, you’ll think it well worth it. A domain is the name to get to a website or the name of an e-mail server. For example, my domain is 404techsupport.com. In the e-mail address email@example.com, ‘yahoo.com’ is the domain. Even if you don’t have a website, buying a domain can prove worthwhile. For example, you could get creative and purchase your lastname.net, so then you can easily give out your e-mail address as John@smith.com. Buying a domain is more accurately renting the domain. You go to a domain registrar like GoDaddy.com, the one I use and prefer, and register an available domain with them. The cost of a domain can vary depending on its worth, how long you want to register it for, and what top-level domain it belongs to. The top-level domain, or TLD, is the .com, .net, .org or many others that you can see when you shop for your domain. (If you use this link to GoDaddy.com before March 31st, it will give you 10% off your order.) If you don’t want to buy your domain here, you can have Google buy it for you but I recommend buying it yourself so you easily retain full control.
For the rest of this article, we’re going to assume you have your domain registered and you have access to configure it as neccesary. We’ll also assume the domain is example.com. Substitute your domain in wherever you see example.com.
Google Apps for individuals is free and allows you to create up to 50 accounts under your domain. For more users and more features, Google Apps for Business costs $50/user/year and gives you access to enterprise level products. Google Apps for Education is for schools and gets many of the same features as Apps for Business. For this article, I’m going to be going through the Google Apps for individuals which is free and provides a great way to test out if it will work for you.
Inside Google Apps
The free Google Apps is for individuals, groups, and entrepreneurs that will need less than 50 accounts. This Google Apps provides access to Email, Calendar, Chat, Contacts, Docs, Sites, Google Reader, Blogger, Picasa, Adwords, Google Apps on your mobile device, and others. You can also add even more apps from the Google Apps Marketplace, like accounting, CRM, marketing, project management, and many other software titles..
Setting It Up
“Ok, ok, I’m sold.” Now we’re on to the fun part. Setting up Google Apps doesn’t require a whole lot of work. Just head on over to the Getting Started page. The first step is to enter your domain or subdomain, or if you elected to buy your domain through Google, you can try to find an available domain under the respective tab with a .com, .net, .org, .info, or .biz TLD. You’ll have more options if you go through a domain registrar which could allow you to get creative with a domain like chu.ck or coope.rs.
Step two involves setting up your account administrator. If this Google Apps is only for you, that’s a pretty easy pick. If it’s for your organization, you’ll have to decide who it should be but since you’re setting it up, my guess would be you will be the administrator. Fill out your contact info and then answer a few questions about your organization.
Step 3 of the setup process involves choosing the administrator account’s username and password. You must also agree to the Terms and Conditions of Google Apps and choose if you want new free services to be automatically available to your users. After choosing your settings, you can continue by hitting the ‘I accept. Continue with set up’ button.
Once you have access to the Google Apps back-end, you’ll have to investigate a lot of the settings to figure out how they work best for you. There are a lot of options and it could work better for you or your organization one way than it does for me. Google has a Setup Wizard that will walk you through the setup of configuring your domain correctly, creating new users, creating groups, allowing e-mail access, Calendar, Docs, and other settings.
Two settings worth noting that might improve first impressions:
1. Create custom subdomains to access all the tools more easily by visiting https://www.google.com/a/cpanel/example.com/CustomUrl You can create mail.example.com and docs.example.com to get to the login page for your tools instead of the longer: http://mail.google.com/a/example.com
2. Brand your site by changing the header logo to your logo instead of the generic Gmail and Google logos. This can help identify that you are in a work-related account instead of a personal account. This setting has taken some time to take effect after configuring.
A Smarter Gmail
Most of the other products that are included with Google Apps are very similar to their free, personal counter-parts. You do get some benefits like branding and the ability to work within your domain and set up groups for easier communication and collaboration amongst the organization. Gmail, however, has some marked improvements, you only get through Google Apps.
Gmail through Google Apps gives you all the benefits of the Gmail interface – clean, sleek, search-centric, labels, Priority Inbox if you want it, and the others. You can enable POP or IMAP access and connect to your email account from the Gmail app on your smartphone, use your preferred IMAP e-mail client like Thunderbird or Outlook, or use any email security software you would like.
You’re getting better branding with your e-mail addresses and you’re in control of the domain, so you and your customers are both enjoying the benefits of this new setup. Unfortunately, some of them still can’t spell. If my e-mail address were firstname.lastname@example.org, I could also create a few e-mail aliases so that any e-mails sent to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org would be delivered to my inbox. Another great feature of using an e-mail alias is that they’re pretty disposable. You could create an alias and publish your e-mail address on a website as email@example.com. Once it starts getting too much spam, update the address to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can create up to 30 email aliases for an individual. The maximum number of email aliases for your Google Apps account is 10 times the number of user accounts.
The alias approach to spam control isn’t really that new. With the standard personal Gmail account, you can accomplish much the same thing with plus filters. In that example, I could publish my email address as email@example.com an then filter the incoming e-mail based on that address. However, many websites won’t allow the plus character when you register and having to set up an alias each time you register for a new website could get very annoying. A better solution, is to enable the Catch-all address setting.
From the Google Apps configuration page, under Service Settings, Email settings, and on the General tab, you’ll find the option for the Catch-all address. Any mail that reaches the server that doesn’t have a related account can either be discarded or forwarded to a specific account on the server. I enable the forwarding to my account and then create filters based on the incoming address.
This is how I knew when Active.com sold my information because I kept getting spam e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. A few weeks ago I started getting phishing emails to email@example.com so unless a spammer just randomly tried the address, since I’ve never used it anywhere else or given it out, I assume Quicken Online was compromised or sold the information. After an e-mail address becomes a spam magnet, you can update or create a filter to just send those messages straight to the trash.
This also allows you to use the same account for outgoing messages. Inside of your Gmail account, you can go into the mail settings and add additional e-mail accounts. If you were to receive a message you needed to reply to, go into the settings and tell Gmail that you have another “account” called firstname.lastname@example.org. Google will send you a verification code to your email. Since you have the catch-all address setting forwarding all mail to you, it will show up in your inbox. Insert the verification code and you can now send out mail from that address (choose it from the drop-down at the top of the compose new message window).
Another setting that makes this even more useful is on that same Accounts settings page. I recommend configuring the “When receiving a message” setting to “reply from the same address the message was sent to”. This prevents the person you’re communicating with from getting confused to which e-mail address they should send e-mails. This way in an e-mail exchange filters will still continue to work as messages are consistently received to and sent from the same address.
I’ve been satisfied with Google Apps. It works as well as my personal Gmail account with branding benefits. I’ve seen it set up in organizations that were previously using free Yahoo! mail accounts for work-related matters for a much improved environment. From personal experience, it is incredibly more reliable than OtherInbox, a service I previously recommended but no longer can since they have changed their business model away from this kind of setup.