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It’s Not Sexy, But Understanding Your Website DNS Is Something You Need to Learn Right Now

Before smartphones and the Internet, most everyone had a landline phone that was used for one purpose — to talk to other people. And if you wanted to call someone, you needed their phone number.

Because we’re talking about basic telephones, there was no such thing as built-in directories that could be used to search or browse phone numbers. So, unless you had an exceptional memory, you most likely needed a phone book to find the number of a neighbor or business.

Consider for a moment what your world would look like if you had to remember (or look up the number) for your favorite website.

Perhaps a friend suggests a new website: 31.13.71.36.

While that address is relatively short, it’s still more difficult to remember than Facebook.com.

This is the wonder of DNS, the system that makes it possible for the Internet to know where to send traffic when you type a web address into a browser. It’s the Internet’s address book and if your website’s DNS isn’t configured properly, it can seriously ruin your day.

The Domain Name System

The Domain Name System was originally created to support the growth of email in the early days of the ARPANET, what we refer to now as the Internet. As technology evolved, this new naming system was developed to translate website names into computer addresses, or Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. The beauty of this system is that it makes it easy to move your website from server to server without having to notify everyone you moved.

For instance, if Google decided to move its website to a different computer server, you needn’t worry about it. Their engineers would update the DNS record to the new address and you would still be able to view their website when you enter Google.com in the address bar of your browser.

There are many types of DNS records that work to direct traffic for your domain, but for this article (and to stay out of the tech weeds), we’ll stick with just three: A, MX, and NS.

(High need for cognition type? Here’s the complete list of DNS record types.)

Why DNS is Important to Your Business Website

As you might sense, it’s kind of important to get your DNS records configured correctly if you want your website to work properly. But DNS also directs your email, so it’s equally important to make sure your IT people know what they’re doing. You may never need to configure your DNS, but it’s good to know the basics.

Address Record (A)

The A record tells the Internet on which server to find your website. To configure this, one would simply set the A record to the IP address of the server on which the website resides.

Mail Exchange Records (MX)

Like the A record, the MX record also directs traffic, but this record directs your email traffic. If your email service is provided by your website hosting provider, it’s likely that the MX record won’t need to be changed. But if your organization is using a third-party email provider like Office 365 or G suite (Gmail), the address will be different and require updating.

Name Server (NS)

The NS record tells the Internet where all of your DNS records are stored. One can choose to host their DNS records with their domain name registrar (think: GoDaddy), a DNS hosting provider, or their website hosting provider.

To simplify the DNS process, many hosting providers will recommend their customers store their DNS records on the website server.

While this may be simple and expedient, it’s not always the best solution. Why? If your hosting provider goes offline, not only does your website go down, but so does your email.

Unfortunately, many business owners usually find this out the hard way.

And because website hosting, domain name registration, and email service have become somewhat commoditized over the past decade, it’s often the case that business owners select the cheapest providers.

Until something goes wrong.

And if it can, it will — eventually.

DNS Best Practices

Most IT professionals are likely to recommend hosting DNS records with the most reliable provider. This might be the domain name registrar or a reputable DNS hosting company, but it’s unlikely to be your website hosting provider.

Consider that website hosting is rarely 100% reliable. And as I said before, if your website goes down and your DNS is hosted there, your email goes down with it, no matter what email service you happen to be using.

And for most organizations, email continues to be a vital communication tool, both internally and externally. Which is why it’s in the best interest of your businesses to use a dedicated email service.

Yes, most website hosting platforms include email service (typically for free or a small fee), but it’s not usually the smartest choice.

First, you’ll eventually run into storage issues. Website hosting is for hosting websites, not email, which means that your emails are using storage space that should be reserved for your website files, not email attachments.

And because email service is a secondary consideration with most website hosting providers, the interface, functionality, security, and support are often less than stellar. Moreover, with a dedicated email provider like G Suite or Office 365, you get tons of extras like cloud storage, office productivity apps, and mobile email apps.

Lastly, it can lock you into your website provider. Migrating a website, while not the easiest chore, is a walk in the park compared to migrating email accounts.

Clearly, there are many exceptions to these rules, but the importance of getting your DNS records configured properly cannot be overstated. And it’s a conversation that should take place in the planning stages of your website rather than after the site is live, or worse — simply left to chance.

Top photo by Puk Patrick on Unsplash