How to set up a Gmail custom domain for free

I have 7 different domains connected to my personal Gmail account, receiving all emails in one place while still enjoying the benefits of email in my own domain – the one that hosts this blog.

The benefits of custom email domain

  • You can use any email provider you wish. If you use gmail to authenticate into all of your accounts, switching email providers is tiresome, since you need to update it everywhere (and email everyone your new address). With custom domain, your address never changes.
  • Conversely, there is lower risk of any provider closing your account. If you loose access to your account with custom domain, you just point that domain somewhere else and can continue to operate
  • I would say there is a point of looking more professional, but I wouldn’t focus too much that factor. Sure, it looks cool, but is also ok.

There are several ways to get a custom domain connected to your email address:

  • Subscribe to a dedicated email solution like Google Apps, Tutanota, or Protonmail. These are paid, and even Google has discontinued support for legacy free plans.
  • Get a full hosting plan (aka VPS), which includes www hosting as well as email. This is paid as well, and email has typically much worse UX than the modern-ish solutions like gmail.
  • Set up redirects to your existing email, which can also be a free gmail account

Email redirects to your gmail

Email redirects are, in my opinion, the best of both worlds: You can use your own domain and enjoy the benefits and experience of a modern email inbox for free.

Additionally, you can point multiple addresses to one inbox. Back in the consulting days, clients would set me up with emails in their own domains, which I pointed to my “main inbox”, and was considered very professional for responding to emails quickly.

Others would forget about the yet-another-email-inbox they got. This was even a bigger problem in the NGOs I worked with.

So how do you set up the black magic of email forwarding?

  1. You have to configure a forward in the Email server your domain points to
  2. You can configure Gmail to send email as your custom address
  3. You can set up Gmail to route all email into a specific folder, so you can keep everything tidy

First step: set up your redirect in your email server settings.

In order for your domain to receive any email at all, it needs to have an MX record and email server connected to it. Many domain merchants give you a redirect server for free with your domain. Others will offer you a very cheap hosting plan (VPS) with minimal space for your email. That is still fine since your email will be forwarded elsewhere.

Here are the settings for a few typical cases: email redirect

I happen to have my domain registered on You can set your email forwarding at Upgrades->Domains->Emails->Redirect:

Generic hosting settings email forwarders

Another host that I own uses a panel called “Direct Admin”, and there the feature is called “Email forwarding.”

Forwarding email from Gmail to Gmail

The trick also works if you want to forward the email from one Gmail account to the other:


Step 2: Configure Gmail to send email as you

If you want to send the email “from” your new domain, you have to configure it in the Gmail settings.

For that, go to the Settings->”Accounts and Import”, and you will see the “Send email as” section:

Here is where you put the email address you have forwarded to your Gmail. It’s best to check the “Treat as an alias” option.

Send your email through your SMTP server

Gmail will ask for an SMTP password before continuing. SMTP is a way to send email, so spammers are very happy to abuse these systems. In order to prevent that, Google has been forcing users of the email forwards to use their own SMTP server to handle outgoing mail from that custom address.

You can put details of any email inbox you own here, even completely unrelated to the domain of your email address.

Or, you can put the SMTP settings of the Gmail account you are currently configuring – you can find those here. I guess Google could have made it easier for you, but they decided to make you hack the system.

Now, while composing new email, you will be able to select the address in the “from” field

Making it all clean and tidy:

You can set Gmail filters to route all emails sent to a specific address to a folder:

I’ve been using this system for 10+years to manage my multiple accounts, have one place to search my all emails, and use custom domains for free.

But please remember to back up your email. You never know when Google decides to delete your account.

Cover Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

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