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Having your own website has a number of pretty cool perks. For one thing, if you have a decent web host plan, the odds are good that you can try installing and testing all sorts of neat web-based applications that you can host on your own web account.
Another cool thing about signing up for a web hosting account is that you receive your own email manager, where you could set up as many email accounts as you want with your own domain name. This is fantastic, because then there’s really no need to sign up for other email accounts – you are basically running your own email service that you can access through whatever webmail client your host supports.
The one drawback of doing things this way, is that you have to host all of those messages on your own web server or web account. In the world of web hosting, storage space is pretty valuable – and the last thing that you want to do, especially if you have multiple accounts set up, is to have each of those accounts start chewing up your precious web space.
So what’s the best solution? Believe it or not, you actually can have the best of both worlds. You can have email accounts that use your own domain name, and that can be accessed through a URL like mail.yourdomain.com, and you can create accounts using your domain name for other people – all hosted using a webmail service.
This means that the actual storage of the emails takes place on the free webmail service, but your actual email address and access point are from your domain, just like it would be if you were hosting the mail on your own web server. Pretty cool right?
Gmail vs. Microsoft
Now, using a webmail service to host your domain email isn’t anything new. Matt covered how you can set up email on your domain using Google Apps. But is Google really the only act in town? Isn’t there any other service out there that provides high-quality free online email service with the added bonus of letting you host mail there for your own domain?
Well, yes in fact there is. Windows offers this service through its Windows Live Mail offering, aka Hotmail email, aka Outlook.com. There are more people every year that are migrating over to Microsoft Live Mail, simply because of the features that the email client offers, the aesthetic quality of the Inbox over what Google currently offers with Gmail, and the Windows Live desktop client is pretty slick too.
But how do you set it up as email domain hosting? Well, it’s actually fairly easy. I’ll walk you through it step by step. The first step is to go to domains.live.com and click on “Get Started”.
Type in the name of your hosted domain. This will be a domain that you have full control over and can edit the DNS records for (we’ll get to that in a second). Select “Set up Outlook.com for my domain”, then click on Continue.
Now comes probably the hardest part of the whole process. If you get through this next step, you’ve pretty much home free.
You will see a listing of setups that you need to do. For the most part, you could ignore everything else on the page and just focus on the section under “Mail setup (required)”, because this is what directs your domain mail exchange to the Outlook.com servers.
That section describes creating an MX record. This is accomplished by logging into your hosting account. If it comes with CPanel (which most do), you can find this under Mail, under the icon “MX Entry”.
In this section, you need to select the domain that you want to add the record for. Leaving the Email Routing at Automatically Detect Configuration is probably your best bet. Then set the priority to whatever the highest priority is, and add the Destination provided by the Outlook.com instructions page.
Once this is done, it’s going to take a few hours for the change to filter through the Internet and become activated everywhere. Meanwhile, you can add the optional DNS entries listed on the Outlook.com instructions page by going back to your CPanel main screen and scrolling down until you see the “Advanced DNS Zone Editor” icon. In here is where you’ll add the TXT and CNAME entries that are suggested.
The CNAME entry is especially important, because it enables whatever email url you want for your domain to go to the Outlook.com URL. In the example below, I’m making mail.topsecretwriter.com become the URL I’ll use to access my email account.
Finally, you’re pretty much finished. All you have to do is go to bed, get up in the morning and likely the changes will be activated. You can check by going to the domains.live.com page, logging in, and clicking on that “Refresh” button. If everything is set up right and activated, you’ll see that yellow part of the page disappear, and you can access your dashboard to start setting up your new email accounts.
Setting up Your New Domain Email
From this point forward, all of your email management will take place in this Windows Live Admin center.
Setting up new accounts is really a one step process. Just fill in the form to add an account and click Okay. If you have a staff of people working for you, you can quickly set up their email accounts in no time.
Microsoft lets you create a whopping 500 email accounts under your domain. Most hosting accounts typically only offer 10 to 25 email accounts under a hosting plan, so already it’s an improvement and you haven’t had to spend a dime.
You’ve also just freed up your web server space for what it was intended for – storing and serving web pages.
The feel of accessing mail through your new mail.mydomain.com URL is a lot like it would be if you kept it on your own site. Typically you’d have some log-in page. Well, in this case your log-in page is simply the Hotmail log-in. You or your email users simply log in using the full email address that you’ve set up for them, and their password.
It’s obvious once you’re logged in that you are doing all of your email sending and receiving at Windows Live, but whenever you compose a new email, it will always use the email with your own domain, not the default Hotmail domain.
This means, when people receive an email from any of the accounts you created, it won’t even look like it came from Microsoft servers at all. It’ll look just like it would if you had sent that email from your own hosting account.
This is a whole lot like how you’d set it up with Google as well, but in my opinion it’s just a little bit simpler and faster. Not to mention that if you’ve used Gmail for a long time, using Windows Live is like a breath of fresh air. It’s hard to explain why it feels so much better to use. I can’t say it’s a better service than Gmail, but I do know it is a little easier to navigate and use.
So, what do you think about using such a web mail service for your email domain hosting? Are the benefits worth the trouble? Are you considering hosting your email with Google or Microsoft? Share your thoughts and your own experiences with the service in the comments section below.
Image Credit: Email Icons via Shutterstock