Creating a custom domain email address is essential for any business who owns a website. (And of course, every business should have their own website!) However, most services charge a monthly subscription fee for allowing you to host your emails with your own domain.
The first time I created a custom email address, I did it through Google because at that time, they were offering 10 free emails per domain. A few years later, their offer changed to one free email per domain. Now Google’s plan is not free at all, and you need to shell out at least $5 per month to get a custom email!
Well, when it comes to business, my motto is: Don’t pay for things that can be done for free.
After some research, I came across a way to set up a custom email that I’m going to share with you today.
With a small time investment (between 30-60 minutes depending on your level of tech savvy), you can set up your own custom email address (firstname.lastname@example.org), and send/receive emails entirely for FREE.
I do this for all my websites and it’s been a huge money saver.
Additionally, I can access all my mail in the comfort of Gmail (without paying for G Suite!) Unfortunately, Zoho no longer offers free POP/IMAP access, so you will only be able to access your mail through their ad-free interface.
Ready to get started?
Great! First sign up for a free Zoho email account.
Once you’re inside your inbox, look towards the top right and click “Enable Mailhosting”
If you do not have that option, visit the Zoho Mail Admin
Click “Add Domain”
Enter your domain (yoursite.com)
Now we need to prove to Zoho that we actually own this domain and can edit it. What we’re going to do is add a new piece of data associated with our domain, called a CNAME.
To do that, we need to find where the domain’s DNS Records are stored. This could be either where you purchased your domain or where you host your website. For me, I use Namecheap for purchasing domains, and A2 to host them. My DNS Records are stored with my hosting provider, A2.
If you don’t know where your DNS Records are, try the method below and if you can’t find these records, or you aren’t able to locate them, then call your domain provider and/or your hosting provider. Don’t worry, they should know exactly what you’re talking about!
In most cases, you’ll simply log in to your hosting account, and open cPanel.
From there, you’ll want to open the “Simple Zone Editor”
Select your domain name
Scroll down to CNAME Records
Input the two values they give you into the proper fields. “Name/ Host/ Alias/ CNAME” will go to Name and “Value/ Points To/ Destination” will go into CNAME.
Once your CNAME has been successfully added, you’ll see it appear under the User-Defined Records section:
Keep this tab open (we’ll need it again soon), and go back to the Zoho Domain Setup website. Click the big “Proceed to CNAME Verification” button
You should see a positive message pop up. Great job! Click “Verify now” to continue.
Set up Your Email Account
Now that our domain is verified, let’s set up our custom email address.
Enter the desired prefix for your custom email address:
You can add multiple users by uploading a csv on the next page, or skip this step if you only need one email.
Set up Email Delivery
Now you need to update some more records associated with your domain to start sending and receiving emails.
MX Records stands for “Mail Exchange” and these records determine where your emails go!
We need to point the MX Records to Zoho, and make sure no other previous MX records exist.
Go back into your hosting provider’s cPanel account and find the Zone Editor.
Find your domain and select “+MX Record”
Enter a “Priority” of 10 and a “Destination” of mx.zoho.com then select “Add an MX Record”
You should see a green success message appear in the top right.
Click the same “+MX Record” button again and this time, enter Priority 20 and Destination mx.zoho.com. Select “Add an MX Record” to save the new record.
Now, to the right, select the “Manage” button
Click “MX” to filter out the other records.
If you see any additional MX Records besides the ones you just added, you need to delete them.
In my case, I have to delete the first record, and leave the last 2 I just made:
Go back to the Zoho Domain Setup page.
At the bottom you’ll see a big green button saying “MX Lookup” to verify what your domain’s current MX records are.
Immediately after doing the above steps, mine had not been updated as you can see:
Wait 5-10 minutes then come back and try clicking “MX Lookup” again. You should see a message like this:
Click “OK” and then “Next”
Advanced users may wish to prevent email spoofing with SPF/DKIM setup here.
Otherwise, click “Skip”
Zoho will give you the option to Migrate any old mail to your new server. I clicked “Skip” here since this is a new email address.
Nice! We’ve just established a brand new custom email address.
Unfortunately, since the time of publication, Zoho has disabled access to POP/IMAP for their free-tier users and you can no longer automatically important your emails into Gmail using Zoho’s servers. So the instructions below no longer work. 🙁
Next up, you may want to configure your Mail Client if you don’t want to use Zoho’s interface, and prefer to send/receive email through a mail client such as Gmail or Apple Mail.
This step is totally optional. You can always manage your email through Zoho here: mail.zoho.com but I prefer Gmail’s interface so I typically set up my emails there.
I’ll go ahead configure this email address in Gmail to show you how to do it. You should already have a free email address set up with Google.
Click “Settings” at the top right of your Gmail inbox and then “Accounts and Import”
In the second section, click “Import mail and contacts”
Enter your new email address in the pop-up
On the next page, enter the password you used to sign up for Zoho. Edit the POP username, server and port with the information found in the Zoho Domain Setup:
Incoming Server Name : poppro.zoho.com
Port : 995
Require SSL : Yes
Username : email@example.com
Choose your import options. I recommend selecting “Leave a copy of retrieved message on the server” so you can still access your mail in Zoho if you need to.
Click “Start Import”
You should see a message saying “Your messages are being imported.”
While Gmail imports any messages you may have (none if you just created the account!), go ahead and click “Add another email address” in the Send mail as section.
Enter your name and email address
Make sure “Treat as an alias” is selected. This will allow you to select which email address you want to use when sending emails.
Click “Next Step”
Enter the SMTP information found on Zoho Domain Setup:
Outgoing Server Name: smtp.zoho.com
Port : 465 with SSL or 587 with TLS
Require Authentication: Yes
Your username will actually be the full email address you just created, so change Google’s default username:
Click “Add Account”
Go to your Zoho Mail Inbox and find the verification email Gmail sent you.
Copy and paste that code into the box and click “Verify”
The Send Mail As section should now show the email you just added to Gmail!
Personally, I change the setting there to “Reply from the same address the message was sent to” but you can adjust this as you like!
Go back to your Gmail inbox. Refresh the page, and the first email you see should be the Gmail Confirmation email you just opened in your Zoho inbox! That’s how you know the email has been successfully added.
You should also run a few tests with your personal email (both sending and receiving) just to make sure everything is set up properly.
Congratulations, you just set up your own email address for free, and can access it in the comfort of Gmail!