Google Apps logoI’ve been using Google’s new service designed for small business for the last 2-3 months now…just for my email service. While it’s not perfect, I have found it more dependable than ANY domain-based email solution. The only thing I’ve seen that was better was Webmail.us, which was (as I recall) about $12 a month.

In my experience, email is treated as the bastard stepchild of most web hosting accounts. It’s not like they are all terrible, but if any little thing goes wrong, you may lose email service periodcally…which can be incredibly frustrating…especially when you’re using it to run your business. Add to that the fact that spam protection is always dicey…whitelists and blacklists that rarely function consistently, etc. Ugh!

Because I have built web sites for a lot of friends, individuals and small businesses (something I no longer do, by the way), I have dealt with email issues multiplied by a numerical factor to which only IT folks and server admins can relate. And I’ve been on the hunt for a long time for a decent, stable email solution that didn’t cost extra (for these folks as much as for myself). And finally, I’ve found something that I’m comfortable recommending.

Google Apps is actually a whole suite of services, but I’m just addressing the email thing here. Many, many people are fans of Gmail, which may not be perfect, but certainly is in the discussion for “best free email” service. But here’s the cool thing about Google Apps. You can have all the benefits of Gmail…BUT with email addresses linked to any domain you own. So I get Gmail’s very impressive spam filtering, browser-based access (when I need it), support for reasonably-large file attachments (up to 20mb or so), etc…but I get to use any domain-based address I want. And the cost?: Still FREE.

Also, Gmail is POP-friendly (although you MUST enable it manually…don’t just assume it’s turned on when you set up your account, because it’s not), which means that you can use Outlook, Thunderbird, etc…so you can still use styled email signatures, if you prefer (which the Gmail web interface does not natively support), as well as folders and any other benefits of those POP clients.

Google Apps is free as long as there are less than 50 of you in your organization (which, of course, applies to your self-employed individuals, etc). Domains are cheap…less than 10 bucks per year (I use NameCheap for domain name registration, by the way). So you can basically have a custom email address, with all the benefits of Gmail…for less than 10 bucks a year.

One other little trick: Since the Google Apps addresses to actually access your email take a bit of typing, you can easily use a redirect to put together your own solution. You can see mine here: http://chuckbrown.com/mail (notice the way-more-complicated URL in the address bar once you’re redirected to the new destination)

Here’s how I did that: I created an HTML file named index.html, with only this code contained in the document (added in the code view, not in a design/visible view)…added in a single line, although it wraps in my blog format here:

<META HTTP-EQUIV=”Refresh” CONTENT=”1; URL=http://mail.google.com/a/chuckbrown.com”>

Then, I placed that index.html page in a folder called “mail” on my root domain. Nifty, eh?

One final tip: Be sure to log in via the web at least once a day to check your spam folder. You’ll find that there are occasional legitimate emails that get caught in there. But I get a couple hundred pieces of spam in there each day…and maybe see one legit email every few days. Still, you want to know. Create a filter to get rid of unwanted domains that slip thru to your InBox…and when you find a keeper in the Spam folder, just click on the Not Spam button, and you’re probably done with future issues with that address. That’s the way it’s worked for me, at least.

Check out Google Apps. I suspect you’ll be very glad you did.

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