There are several editions of Google Apps and these seem to fit under several categories, to the point that it is rather confusing, take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Apps and you will get an idea of the confusion. Anyway, that is not what we are about here, what I am after is the Free Edition of Google Apps, which works for up to 10 users and is suitable for a small business or personal web site. Most links will push you towards the Google Apps for Business and from here the idea is that you sign up with the 30 day free trial of Google Apps for Business and then downgrade to the free edition.
That said it seems that on December 7th, 2012 Google announced they would discontinue the Free Edition of Google Apps and force everyone to pay, a great shame but there you have it, see http://www.zdnet.com/google-kills-off-free-google-apps-offering-7000008467/ and the links from there for more details. You never know though, they might change their minds.
So as with most things this could all change, however at the moment the following will work. However it seems that the Free Trial followed by downgrade is the general way forward. If you want to do this then visit http://www.google.com/apps/ and click the "Start Free Trial" button.
Alternatively go straight to the free edition as follows:
- Start by going to https://www.google.com/a/cpanel/standard/
- Enter your domain name (personally I would not register a domain with Google)
- Click Submit
- Enter your Google Apps admin login username and password (I would stick to an "admin" account like email@example.com)
- Note that you do need to complete all the inputboxes (except "Organization name" which is optional, "Street address (line 2)" and "County")
- Enter an Alternative e-mail address, this must not be based on the domain name you entered above, so use a GMail or Hotmail account or similar
- don't put spaces in the phone number
- After hitting "I accept! Create my Account" you are presented with two options "Express" or "Custom"
- I went down the "Custom" route....
- First task is to confirm/verify you own the domain
- however you can take a break here, to get back just go to https://www.google.com/a/example.com
- unfortunately I left it so long that I could not login again and had to re-register, this time I did not get the Express or Custom option
- so get logged in to https://www.google.com/a/example.com
- click the link to verify the domain, instructions should appear, which need to be followed exactly
- as per instructions, download the verification file
- upload the file to your website
- confirm by visiting the URL specified, I would open this in a new tab
- click the Verify button
- Google should say "Congratulations", then click Continue
- now go back and remove the verification file
- if you temporarily parked your domain somewhere, this now needs undoing
- if prompted for e-mail, then uncheck the boxes of the categories you do not want mail for
- continue through the GMail Apps setup wizard
- you will reach a section about GMail setup
- choose the desired setup
- select your DNS host and make the DNS changed Google recommend for your host
- wait for these DNS changes to propagate, Google will check these, or you can carry on and come back later
- in "Extend and customise" I suggest checking "Create custom web addresses" and probably nothing else, however it seems this is done via Settings and adding CNAME records
Things to do afterwards:
- Domain Settings --> General --> set the Language and Timezone
Notes on Free Edition
- limited to 10 user accounts or mailboxes
- attachments limited to 25Mb
- email accounts limited to sending to 500 email addresses per day
Notes on Verifying domain ownership
- you can't use a Google Site for this
- if you are using a Google Site, you might need to remove the CNAME DNS record if you created one
You will probably want to create a new e-mail account or user, this is easy to do. However this is what your mail account should be, that is, the account you use every day. I would have a separate admin account for admin stuff. Using an admin account every day is never a good idea.
Written in August 2012.
Update: December 2012, I believe that Google have now stopped the free edition and after the trial you will need to pay.