5 Tips To Avoid Common DNS Problems

Last week’s Tech Tip explained how the DNS system works and introduced you to the most common DNS records: NS, MX and A records. This week’s Tech Tip lists 5 DNS management tips for small business owners to avoid common problems. If you follow these tips you’ll reduce the chances that your company’s web site or email will ever stop working. 

Tip 1 – Keep Your Domain Name Registration And DNS Records Separate From Email And Web Hosting

Many businesses use one company for all of the following services:

  • Registering their domain name
  • Storing (aka hosting) their DNS records
  • Hosting their email accounts and web site

I don’t recommend using one company for all of these services, since it is easier to change to a new email and web hosting company if a company’s DNS records are not stored with the email and web hosting company. Let me illustrate this.

When I start working with a new small business client, I typically ask if they are satisfied with the reliability and customer service they get from their current web site and email hosting company. The business owner sometimes tells me that he or she is far from satisfied. Thus, I’m often asked to help the business switch to another company for email and/or web hosting.

To change hosting companies, DNS records need to be edited. While most hosting companies allow their customers to edit their own DNS records, not all permit this. Thus, it can be awkward to ask the inadequate web and email hosting company to edit your DNS records so you can work with another hosting company.

Another reason to keep DNS records separate from the email and web hosting company is tougher to explain simply, but it permits reduced downtime when switching email and web hosting companies.

I recommend that every business use one company to register their domain name and to host DNS records. Then use a second company to host email accounts and the web site. Sometimes a company might even want to use two different companies for their email and web site hosting.

Here are two scenarios that illustrate why a company might want to actually work with 3 companies — one to register their domain name and host their domain records, a second to host email accounts and a third to host their web site.

Scenario 1 – In my experience, many solo-business owners like the affordable, professional looking web sites built using the Do-It-Yourself approach provided by Weebly, Wix, SquareSpace and other similar companies. These companies typically don’t offer email hosting so the business owner needs to shop for a reliable and robust email hosting, like that provided by Rackspace.

Scenario 2 – A business is happy with the reliable email hosting that they have but decide it’s time to overhaul their web site. They hire a web designer who has a preferred web hosting company. Thus, the owner wants to move only their web hosting but not modify their email hosting.

Tip 2 – Every Business Owner Should Register His Or Her Own Domain Name

I recommend that small business owners register their domain name themselves. My Tech Tip titled Registering Your Domain Name explains how to do this easily yourself. Once a domain name has been registered through Hover or some other registrar, it’s easy to set up DNS records. Thus, the domain registrar is used for both registering the domain name and for hosting DNS records.

Tip 3 – Put A Reminder On Your Calendar To Renew Your Domain Name

All domain registrations will expire after 1 or several years. If your domain name is not renewed before it expires, your business’ web site will no longer be visible to the world and your ability to send and receive emails will cease. So it’s essential that you set a reminder or alarm to renew your domain registration a few months before it’s scheduled to expire. Not remembering to renew your domain name registration is analogous to not paying your electric bill. If you don’t pay your bill your lights will stop working because the power company will turn off power to your home. If you don’t renew your domain registration your email and web site will stop working because the domain registrar will delete all records of your domain’s existence.

Another reason to make sure you renew your domain name is to avoid squatters. Squatters will sometimes register a recently expired domain name in hopes that they’ll be able to get you, the rightful owner, to pay a ransom to the squatter to regain control of the domain name.

Tip 4 – Before DNS Records Are Edited Make A Record Of The Existing DNS Records

To setup email and web hosting you’ll need to modify your domain name’s DNS records. Before any DNS records are created or edited, it is extremely important to fully record existing DNS records. By doing this, you can always reset things to the way they were before you started. To record existing DNS records, I like to do a DNS query at UltraTools. Then you can print out the result or take a screen snapshot of the current DNS records.

To set up email hosting you’ll need to modify the DNS records by creating an MX record. It’s actually customary to set up two MX records since this provides some redundancy. For example, I frequently recommend using Rackspace as an email hosting company. Rackspace has a tech note about setting up MX records.

To set up web hosting you’ll need to modify the DNS records by creating an A record that points to the IP number of the web server. For example, some of my small business clients use Weebly’s affordable, template-based system to build a basic web site. Weebly has a tech note about the DNS record that needs to be set up.

Tip 5 – Choose A Qualified Person To Edit DNS Records

As a small business owner, if you’re not comfortable setting up or editing your own DNS records ask somebody else, but get reassurances from that person that they understand how to make the DNS changes that you’re requesting.

In my experience some web site designers have a good understanding of DNS record management and others do not which can lead to significant problems. So please double-check with your web designer to assess their knowledge and confidence levels.

If you want to ask somebody else to edit your DNS records, I recommend your domain registrar or a consultant like myself. Support staff at your domain registrar are probably accustomed to editing DNS records and do it on a daily basis. If you have instructions or a tech note from your email or web hosting company, like the ones I list above from Rackspace or Weebly, just send these instructions to your registrar’s support staff. They’ll know how to follow the instructions.

I hope you’ve had some fun learning the basics of the DNS system and why you should be involved in registering your domain names and involved in determining who edits your DNS records.

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