Google

Pro tip: Upgrade from Gmail.com to Google Apps

If you still use Gmail.com for work, it's time to upgrade. Andy Wolber explains how.

From Gmail to yourdomain

The physician sent the email from her Gmail address. The job applicant listed a Gmail account on her resume. The consultant's proposal came from — yes, you guessed it — his Gmail account. And the workshop presenter? A Gmail email, as well.

All of these professionals advertise Gmail with every email they send. However, that's a missed marketing opportunity, because they could promote their own name instead. For example, I upgraded from Gmail to Google Apps, so I send email as andy@wolberworks.com, instead of awolber@gmail.com. (Yes, I'll concede there's an element of ego and self-promotion involved. Noted.)

If you're a professional, and you still use a Gmail.com address for work, you should upgrade from Gmail to Google Apps. The benefits extend beyond branding. For Google Apps customers, Google eliminates ads in Gmail and provides support to Apps administrators by phone and email. Healthcare professionals concerned about HIPAA compliance should upgrade, since Google will sign a Business Associate Agreement with Google Apps customers.

The upgrade from a free Gmail account to Google Apps costs $5 per month, per account. There's also a Google Apps Unlimited plan for $10 per month, per account. But if you've been using Gmail until now, you probably don't need it. The Unlimited plan offers more storage, more administrative controls, and archiving tools that are typically used for regulatory compliance purposes.

To upgrade from Gmail to your own domain, you need to do four things: sign up for Google Apps, select your domain name, customize your domain's domain name system (DNS) settings, and move your data. Let's take a closer look at each of those steps.

1. Sign up for Google Apps

Go to googleapps.com, then choose "Get Started." Fill out the form with your name, your current work email (your Gmail account), and organization information (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

Sign up for Google Apps at googleapps.com.

2. Select your domain name

Next, select your domain name. Your domain will likely be your name or your business name (e.g., wolberworks.com). Domain name registration costs between $8 and $30 per year.

If you already have a domain, you'll need to verify that you control it. To do this, Google provides a string of characters that you select, copy, and then paste into a publicly-accessible DNS record at your domain name registrar. When Google's systems "see" this record, they know that you have control of the domain. (Refer to Google's help pages for more information on how to verify domain ownership.)

If you don't already have a domain, you can purchase one during the signup process (Figure B). You won't need to go through the verification process for a domain bought during signup.

Figure B

Figure B

Use a domain you own, or purchase one during signup.

You'll also choose your Google Apps account email address during signup. Choose your account name carefully: it's the email address you'll use to login to Google Apps. Most likely, you'll want to use a variant of your name, such as your first name (e.g., "andy") or an initial with your last name (e.g., "awolber"). You may add aliases later.

3. Customize your domain settings

You need to modify a few settings in both your domain registrar and the Google Apps admin console.

First, you need to point your domain's mail exchange records (or MX records) to Google's email servers. Login to your domain registrar to modify your DNS records. Remove all MX records, and then add five records that point to Google's servers (Figure C). Google provides a step-by-step setup guide for many domain hosts.

Figure C

Figure C

Change your mail exchange (MX) records to route email to Google Apps.

Next, you can add custom URLs to make it easier to access your Google Apps information (Figure D). For example, mail.wolberworks.com takes me to my email, calendar.wolberworks.com to my calendar, etc. Make changes in two places for this to work:

  • At your DNS host, add four CNAME records: mail, calendar, docs, and sites. Each of these CNAME records should point to ghs.googlehosted.com.
  • Login to the Google Apps admin console at admin.google.com, select "Company Profile," then "Custom URLs." Change the default URLs for mail, calendar, docs, and sites to the custom settings for your domain.

Figure D

Figure D

Add custom URLs to make it easy to access your mail, calendar, and docs.

Optionally, I recommend you add two more DNS records to improve the deliverability of your email. See my article "Send better email: Configure SPF and DKIM for Google Apps" to learn how to do this.

DNS records are distributed: there are copies of these records on servers around the world. Your changes will spread across these servers over the course of a day or two. If typing mail.[yourdomain].com doesn't work immediately, wait a few hours and try again.

4. Move your data

Next, you'll move your email, calendar, and contacts from Gmail to Google Apps.

The easiest method I've found to move everything from a single Gmail account to a Google Apps account is to use Backupify'sMigrationApp.com. For a single move, the service is free. You sign up, then specify that you're moving data from an individual Gmail account to your domain. You'll need to approve access. MigrationApp.com then moves your email, calendar items, contacts, and documents between accounts.

(Disclosure: I occasionally write for Backupify.)

Alternatively, you may move data piece-by-piece:

You should be able to complete the upgrade from a single Gmail account to Google Apps with a couple of hours of work over the course of a couple days. But if the process seems too daunting, you can get help. Google maintains a listing of Small Business Implementation service providers in the Google Apps Marketplace.

When you're completed, your email address will stand apart from the hundreds of millions of @gmail.com addresses out there. I think it's an investment every professional should make.

When did you upgrade from gmail.com to Google Apps? If you're a professional and you haven't, why not? Let us know in the discussion thread below.

About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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