Setup Your Personalized Google Apps Suite

Google provides a powerful suite of web applications ranging from email and calendar to documents, chat and sites [and so much more]. For web professionals, the typical “@gmail.com” just won’t do. Thankfully, Google offers a professional version (called Google Apps) for professionals, educators, non-profits and government.

The Google Apps Standard version is the version we’ll walk through setting up and customizing to use the power of Google with our own branding. We’ll be setting up our custom domain, branding and checking out the advantages of getting yourself setup with Google Apps.

Google Apps

Google Apps is essentially the same services as the traditional Google services most of you are already familiar with. The advantage of it, however, is the additional advanced features and customization capabilities as well as better support, uptime reliability and storage. Some of these additional features come at a price though. You’ll pay $50 per user account if you want guaranteed uptime, support, better security and increased storage.

Google Apps

Google Apps

For many of us, Gmail and the other standard applications Google offers has been more than stable enough so I’ll only demonstrate setting up the Standard version of Google Apps, which is 100% FREE.

Google Apps Standard

Google Apps Standard

The Standard Edition is limited to 50 additional user accounts. If you plan on providing accounts for users and will exceed this, you’ll need to sign up for the Premier Edition.

Your Domain and Sign Up

The primary advantage to setting up Google Apps Standard edition for many of you, will be the custom domain name and ability to create additional users within your domain. If you’ve already registered a domain name of your liking, head over to the sign up for Google Apps [Standard]. If you haven’t registered a domain yet, you can do so via the signup form.

Google Apps Sign Up

Google Apps Sign Up

Fill out your administrator and organization information. Don’t worry, your organization can be a one man (or woman) team.

Sign Up Information

Sign Up Information

Next, you’ll create an administrator account and accept the terms and conditions (only if you agree to them!).

Create Admin Account

Create Admin Account

Verify Your Domain

You’ll need to verify that you own the domain you’ve signed up to use. You can do this by changing a CNAME record with your domain host or by uploading an HTML file. I always use the CNAME method but if you’re not familiar as to how that is done, uploading an HTML file will be easier for you.

Verify Ownership

Verify Ownership

I’ll be selecting the CNAME method for no other reason than I prefer that there isn’t a “random” HTML file sitting in my public web space.

Change CNAME

Change CNAME

Here I’ve added the CNAME record and verified the record exists via the link shown in the previous screenshot.

CNAME Record

CNAME Record

Once you’ve completed these steps, you’ll be asked if you want to go through the setup guide. This is new to me but you may find it useful. I’ll demonstrate activating the primary services and customizing them for a unique URL.

If you aren’t comfortable with editing CNAME or MX records, contact your web host with the necessary information (maybe including a link to this How-To) and they should be able to set things up for you.

Activate Your Services

The page you should see at this point is your Google Apps Dashboard. From here you can manage your domain, users, settings, etc.

Google Apps Dashboard

Google Apps Dashboard

If any of the services you would like to use aren’t already activated, go ahead and activate them. In this case, Email is currently not active so I’ll turn that on by clicking the “Activate email” link. The reason Email isn’t already active is because you’ll need to change the Mail Exchange records with your domain host. Mail Exchange (MX) records determine your email routing.

Please note that if you already have email setup through your domain, this will effect it. Once setup, you’re email will be accessible via your Google Apps account.

Setup Email

Setup Email

MX Records

MX Records

Farther down the page you’ll see a list of MX Server addresses and their related priority. This is the information we’ll need to use when editing our MX records with our domain host.

MX Editing

MX Editing

Here I’ve entered the three MX records for the 10, 20 and 30 priority levels (you don’t need more than that — my host actually deletes them).

Once you’ve completed those steps, Google will check your MX records which could take up to 48 hours (usually finishes in less than one hour for me) and Email will be activated.

DNS and MX record changes can take time to take effect. Try to be patient and give Google Apps a little time to activate your services.

Customize Your URLs

You may have noticed you’re given some relatively ugly standard URLs for your services. These are not user friendly and you won’t want to memorize these or type them very often. So we’ll go ahead and customize them to our liking.

Ugly URLs

Ugly URLs

Start by clicking the title of the service you would like to customize the URL for. You’ll be taken to that service’s settings page where you’ll be able to customize its URL (among other settings).

Calendar Settings

Calendar Settings

Click “Change URL” and enter the custom subdomain you would like to use. For this example, I’ll use “cal.xmdsys.com” as it’s short and easy. Continue to the next step where you’ll be given information on changing the necessary CNAME record with your web host. This follows the same steps as used before.

Custom URL CNAME

Custom URL CNAME

To speed up this process, you can enter all of the CNAME records you plan on using ahead of time then change the settings within Google Apps.

All Services CNAMEs

All Services CNAMEs

Now you’ll be able to access all these services via your custom URL with the power of Google behind you! (The email service will display its custom URL once Google has finished activating it.)

Custom URLs

Custom URLs

Brand Yourself

Whether you plan on providing accounts for others on your domain or not, you may want to personalize your account even further. Others may not see this but it does add to your professionalism if they do, and let’s face it — customizing our accounts with our personal branding is actually kinda fun (maybe just me?).

Visit the Domain settings page and click the Appearance tab. From here you can upload a custom logo and customize the sign-in box colors. It’s not much, but every little bit counts.

Custom Branding

Custom Branding

Custom Logo

Custom Logo

I’ve uploaded a rather bland, basic logo for demonstration purposes. This is the logo that will be displayed in place of the Google logo in your (and your users) email, documents, sites and calendar accounts.

Final Thoughts

If you aren’t familiar with CNAME and MX records or how to change those with your domain host, this might be a little bit of a challenge. Don’t let it scare you away though, your hosting provider should be able to help you get this all setup.

For those of you involved in organizations larger than one or two people, Google Apps can be a real life-saver. You get the power of familiar services like Gmail with professional URLs specific to your organization and a touch of branding. The additional features and flexibility alone are worth the time needed to set this up.

If you’re a one man team, this might still be a great move to make over the traditional Gmail service and other standard Google services. When I give people my custom email address, I get noticeably different reactions as it appears much more professional. However, Gmail is my preferred email service so the combination of customizability and the power of Google, this is a must-have for me.

Small Businesses

The last point I’d like to make about Google Apps is for those of you who run small businesses. As a web developer, I’ve had many clients who want a self-hosted email solution. It takes a lot of convincing but those who I’ve convinced to make the switch to Google Apps have thanked me time and time again. They’ve never been happier and they no longer worry about uptime or other problems that come with self-hosted solutions.

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I’d like to hear some feedback from you guys and what solutions, similar to this, you use. Leave a comment below with your input or if you have any questions!


  • http://www.fairheadcreative.co.uk Adam Fairhead

    I’ve been using Google Apps for a number of years now, and I sync with Apple Mail and iCal … invaluable service! Particularly useful for its CalDAV+iCal combination. :)

  • http://pictureandword.co.uk NJW

    I wrote this tutorial which covers getting Gmail working for your domain WITHOUT paying for any hosting. It would fit in well with this tutorial.

    http://www.netzma.com/2009/04/how-to-set-up-gmail-for-your-domain-in-5-minutes/

    Hope it’s of use to someone…

  • http://www.thinkflamingo.com Think Flamingo

    What a coincidence, I just set this up yesterday. I’ve had great experience using Google Apps in the past. Most specifically Email, Talk, and Calendar.

    I love being able to easily check my email from any computer, and Gmail’s labeling system is wonderful.

  • http://designwoop.com Stu Greenham | DesignWoop.com

    Great article I have been meaning to do the same on my blog! For any iPhone users out there take it one step further and sync your calendar, mail and contacts to your iphone from your google Apps http://designwoop.com/2009/02/google-iphone-synching/

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  • JOSEPH NWACHUKWU

    THIS IS QUITE AN ELABORATE DISCUSS. I HOPE TO TRY IT SOON. THANKS FOR THIS.
    I HOPE 2 SAY SOMETHING MORE AFTER MY TRIAL.
    TANX

  • http://ishouvik.co.tv Shouvik Mukherjee

    I have also been using Google Apps for about a week and you’re right, I don’t need to be worried about server-downtime.
    With a familiar environment, it works like a charm to my team.

    And, it does make a difference when I give people my address on my domain.

    Good articles!

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  • http://www.gallagan.fr Gallagan

    Using Google Apps for 1 week, working like a charm with push mail, contact and calendar on iPhone (and the 7 GB mailboxes are far better than the 2 GB offered by
    my host provider).

  • Rob

    I am a system manager for for about 8 companies and we run everything through Google Apps. The service works wonders. The greatest thing about it is Google is constantly coming out with new ways for the service to work seamlessly. I highly recommend it to anyone considering it.

    • Guzzyman

      I am the IT Administrator for my company..I was given a challenge to setup google apps for the companies email which I did. All help from this tutorial. I’m currently faced with he challenge of moving email contents from Cpanel to google mail both inbox messages and sent. I have researched ways to accomplish this and it seems to be a very big task without getting headson.

      We’ve got about 9users migrated to google but haven’t been able to change the txt records in Cpanel because users won’\t have access to their old inbox messages.

      As an experienced IT Manager for 8 companies, I would like to tap into your wealth of experience in resolving this challenge. Please I would be waiting to hear from you.

      Guzzyman.

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  • http://www.dpresident.net Damianne President

    I’ve recently set this up. Do you have a more tab for marketplace and other tools that you add to your apps domain?

  • http://nathansmusicstudio.cz.cc/ Nathan

    I am the Google Apps administrator for my company: Nathans Music Studio. I personalized the email log in page URL too: mail.nathansmusicstudio.cz.cc and, I think that Google Apps is the best! I am also hoping that Google Apps will allow more than 50 user accounts! Last year, they didn’t have a limit, but now, they do! Sadly. I hope that some day they will put it back to unlimited because someday, i am going to need more than 50 user accounts! I also think that they should make a separate email list for support and help for your company. like, the limmit could be 5.
    (ex. [email protected]) That would be great! They should also allow Google Video for standard edition! (But not that much storage as premier edition) They should also allow a customized email log in page for standard edition too! i hope that these features come available to standard edition someday! Anyways, if you are a person that is looking for a company email, i highly recommend that you use Google Apps! If you have an answer please email me at: [email protected] Thank you!

  • naaz

    Nicely presented article, very much simplified the Google Apps setup process!If I had seen this article earlier, it would have saved me $25. :)
    We couldnt get the setup for Google Apps right then we had got in touch with a company called searce apps..i think their site is http://www.searceapps.com they did it for us. They charged us but the charges were very nominal so that was ok. besides services were good and prompt.
    i’ll recommend your article to my friends, its really very helpful to new users!
    regards

  • ¯`°²¤Flash¤²°´¯

    Good description of how and why to set ths up.

    I’ve done it with own personal domain (and even made a logo that looks like Gmail’s font!).

    One thing I’m having a problem getting working correctly is the chat.

    I’ve got all the setting wide open, but I still have to manually invite people to chat…..meaning even if I’ve corresponded with them and they’re in my Contact list, they don’t show in in Chat (which I’ve set to be wide open and to show the LARGE list of chat addresses), with or without their Green Light Status.
    Anyone else have a similar problem using their own domain with Google Apps Standard email??

    Thanks,

    Flash

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  • http://www.cansurmeli.com C@N

    Google Apps is just fabulous for business’. It saves you a great amount of money and time. It’s perfect.

    Also not to mention that thankfully a lack of stress with regards to great technical service. It’s always and always up and running.

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  • http://tasneemsachee.com/ Tasneem

    I found this post to be extremely helpful and appreciate the time you took to write it WITH images! This really helped me to setup Google Apps – especially the branding bit.

    Thanks again!

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