The first step is to buy a domain name – the part of an email address after the @ symbol. Domain names are effectively rented, so you’ll have exclusive use of the domain until such time as you stop paying the annual renewal charge.
Typically, the rental period will be for a period of two years for domains ending .co.uk. There is no shortage of domain-name providers (also known as registrars) and here isn’t the place to give specific recommendations.
However, expect to pay no more than around £10 to license a domain name for a period of two years. For more advice on purchasing domains, there are blogging articles out there. With a domain paid for, you’re ready to start setting up Google Apps.
Launch a web browser and visit Google’s apps page. Click the blue Get Started button, type in the domain name bought in Step 1 and click Get Started.
Now fill in the personal details form and click Continue. The next stage is to set up an administrator account. This is an account that will give the power to add and remove users from your Google Apps account, so make sure to pick a strong password.
The free version of Google Apps can create up to 10 different user accounts – and it makes sense to use the administrator account as your personal email address. So, fill in the form, agree to the terms and conditions and click ‘I accept. Continue with set up’.
For obvious reasons, Google Apps requires you to prove that the domain named in Step 2 does indeed belong to you. The way to do this is to make a small change to the domain’s settings that Google Apps is then able to check.
When the new Apps account is first accessed a ‘Let’s verify that you own your domain…’ message appears – read it and then click Next. On the next screen, click the Alternate methods tab and choose ‘Add a DNS record’.
If the company used to register your domain isn’t listed in the dropdown menu, choose Other. (If you’re wondering why we’re not using the ‘Recommended method’ link, incidentally, it is because this technique requires a web-hosting account as well as a domain.)
Below this is a long text string: select this with the mouse then right-click it and choose Copy, to copy it to the Windows Clipboard – we’ll need it in the next step.
Now open a new browser tab or window and visit the website of your domain registrar.
Log in and, in the Settings or Controls area, look for a section called DNS Settings, Manage DNS or similar.
Here, you should find a field to create a new text record (it may be labelled ‘TXT’). Right-click in this box and choose Paste to paste in the text string copied in the previous step.
Save the change by choosing Save or Update DNS – the exact terminology may vary. If you need more help finding or editing the relevant section, contact the registrar company’s support department. Now return to the Google Apps website and click the Verify button.
Next, emails that arrive at your domain need to be directed to Google Apps instead. To do this, in Google Apps click ‘Set up email’ link on the left-hand side of the page followed by ‘Make the switch’.
Keep clicking Next until the screen that asks for the name of the domain host. Life is slightly simpler if you’ve bought a domain from one of the listed companies, but choosing ‘My domain host isn’t listed’ won’t pose too many problems.
Click Next and a list of MX (Mail Exchanger) records will be displayed: these need to be to supplied to the provider of your domain, which we’ll explain next.
In simple terms, an MX record is an instruction that tells a domain what to do with incoming email. The MX records displayed in Step 5 tell your domain provider to direct emails to Google’s email service.
This is normally done in the DNS records section of the domain’s Settings or Controls area. There may already be MX entries there – note these down for future reference and then delete them.
Next, copy the settings from Google Apps’ setup page and paste them into the domain provider’s MX boxes. When done, click Save or Update DNS.
Changes to MX records can take a day or two to filter through the internet, so in the meantime start setting up users. In the blue menu bar in the Google Apps dashboard, click ‘Organization & users’ followed by then ‘Create a new user’.
Type the relevant information into the text boxes, choosing a different password for each user if desired, then click ‘Create new user’.
To log in to Google Apps, users should visit Google’s Mail page and type in their email address (u[email protected], for instance), plus the password.
Those who have used Gmail before will be at home, as the interface is the same.
The difference is that the emails sent will appear in recipients’ inboxes as having been sent from your own domain name.
The administrator account set up in Step 2 is not able to access other users’ emails, so Google Apps isn’t a substitute for parental controls.
It’s worth knowing that your new Google Apps account doesn’t stop at email – it’s a full-blown office suite. Visit Google’s Calendar web page, for example, and log in using your Google Apps’ username and password to access Google’s diary and scheduling tool.
If Google Apps users tied to the same domain also use it, you’ll be able to see each others’ appointments – great for busy households or small offices.
Finally, if after all this you decide that, actually, Google Apps isn’t for you, the service can be easily disabled. Log in to Google Apps and, at the dashboard, click ‘Organization & users’, and delete all the users on the account except the administrator.
Now click Domain settings (at the top), choose Account information, and click Delete Google Apps. As the following pages make clear, there’s no coming back from this option.
So, when sure, tick the box to acknowledge that you understand the consequences then click ‘Yes, delete Google Apps’. Now log in to the Settings or Control area of your domain provider and edit the MX records to restore them to the values noted down in Step 6.