How to send email to groups efficiently with Google Apps

Google Groups is the most powerful way to communicate with a group of email users.

There are several ways to email groups of people in Google Apps: type email addresses individually, send email to a saved list of recipients with Contact Groups, or send email to a Google Group email address that forwards the email to group members. Of the three, Google Groups is the most powerful way to communicate with a group of email users.

Type email addresses and "Don't forget Bob"

The simplest method of sending email is to type each email address every time. This works well when sending email to one person or a very small number of people.

As the number of recipients increases, you're more likely to forget to include someone. Gmail lists the names of people you might "Consider including:" below the "To:" box, to the right-hand side of the screen. Click on a name to add the recipient. Google sometimes refers to this as the "Don't forget Bob" feature.

Gmail suggests users to Consider including

Use a Contact Group

With a Contact Group, you type the name of the Contact Group in the "To:" box. Gmail replaces the group name with email addresses of all the list members. A Contact Group is essentially a saved set of email addresses: no need to cut-and-paste a recipient list from a prior email.

To create a Contact Group while in Gmail, click on "Contacts" in the black bar menu at the top of the screen. Then, choose "New Group" from near the bottom of the left-side menu. Learn more about "Managing contact groups" from Google's support pages.

In Contacts, create a New Group

There are three significant limitations to Contact Groups:

  1. Sending to a Contact Group works only when sending email from a web browser. You can't send to a Contact Group from an email app on your smartphone or tablet.
  2. Contact Group recipient addresses are visible, which means recipients can "Reply All" to send email to the entire list. To hide the addresses from recipients, send an email "To:" your own address, and enter the Contact Group in the "BCC:" field.
  3. Contact Groups also present problems if your list is large. Google Apps does place limits on the number of emails per user. This includes a maximum of 500 external addresses in the To, Cc, and Bcc fields for an email, and a daily sending limit of 2,000 messages total. When you send an email to a Contact Group, each email address on the list counts towards these limits.

If you're a smartphone user or want to manage larger lists, a Google Group may be a better choice.

Use a Google Group

Each Google Group gets its own email address: users with permission can send messages to that address, which are then forwarded to all Google Group members. Each email sent to the group is also stored as part of the group history; group history that can be searched.

Google Groups also provides many administrative controls. Google Apps administrators control many group privacy settings; group owners can lock down privacy, as well. Groups can be configured to be used as private discussions lists, or as public email lists that anyone can join.

Suggested Control Panel sharing configuration for Google Groups for Business system administrators

When you use a Google Group, many limitations of Contact Groups are gone. You can send a message to a Google Group with any device that supports sending email. Recipients see the message as being sent to the list; individual email addresses are not displayed in the headers. The sending limits mentioned above still apply, but a message sent to a Google Group counts as one message sent.

There are still some limits. Free Google Apps account users are limited to a maximum of 10 groups, with each group having a maximum of 100 members. Google Apps for Business and Education (including the Nonprofit Edition) users can have as many groups as needed. The sending limit for Google Apps for Business and Education users is higher than the free editions, allowing up to 10,000 external recipients per day. Organizations with large numbers of users have even higher limits.

See How to create a Google Group >>


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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