What Business Owners Need to Know About Domains & DNS
At the kickoff meeting for every website development project, we ask the business owner where their domain is registered, and their DNS lives. I usually get a lot of blank looks, but we need that information to bring their website live. So in this article, I will share what every business owner should know about their domain and DNS settings, along with a drawing to make it all easier to understand.
Your domain is not the same thing as your website.
Your domain, also known as your website address or URL, is how people find your website (www.myawesomecompany.com), but it is not the same thing as your actual website. Your actual website is made up of many different files that live on a website server, and that website server could be anywhere.
Your DNS is not the same thing as your domain.
DNS stands for Domain Name Servers, often referred to as just Name Servers for short. Name Servers are basically giant digital directories that tell the internet where to find stuff. For every domain, there must be entries on a Name Server somewhere that says, “Hey world! The website files for myawesomecompany.com can be found on this server over here!”
Name servers have names like ns1.awesomeserver.com and ns2.awesomeserver.com. The individual entries are called DNS records, and you may have other records telling the world where other things associated with your domain live, such as your email. For example, website servers use A records, and email servers use MX records.
DNS records are often located at the same place where the domain is registered. This is why many people think of them as the same thing. But they don’t have to be at the same place, and in some cases, you won’t want them to be at the same place. In other cases, you will need to move some of these pieces to support your growing business needs.
Why should I care?
As a business owner, you can and should hire people to do things you don’t want to do or don’t have time to do. However, your domain and DNS are essential digital assets, and knowing where they live and how to access them is very important to protect the longevity of your digital footprint.
Often, business owners have tech-savvy employees or outside agencies register domains for them. Unfortunately, when you do this, you risk losing access to your domain if your relationship with them sours.
Additionally, many DIY website platforms offer domain registration services. It’s easy to say, “Cool! I can just get my awesome domain here!” You don’t even have to hear the word DNS because when you register your domain through these platforms, they will automatically create the DNS entries that point your domain to your website files.
That works fine until you graduate from a DIY website and want to build a new website that lives somewhere else. You must then go through the process of moving your domain and your DNS records.
So what is the best way to set all this up?
Ideally, you should register your domain under your own business name and address. However, you will want to use a separate email address that you will always have access to, regardless of what happens to your business and employment. Keep a detailed record of where this domain is registered and file it with other essential business documents.
Suppose your domain is currently registered by someone else, such as a website platform like WIX or Squarespace, or is controlled by a website development company, freelance website designer, or ex-employee. In that case, you’ll want to transfer the domain to your own domain registrar account.
There are many pros and cons of various domain registrars. You can certainly ask a professional in the industry for recommendations on where to register your domain or for help setting it up. Just make sure to keep a record of where the domain is registered and how to access it.
What is the domain transfer process like?
Transferring a domain is a multi-step process.
- First, the domain must be unlocked at the current registrar, and then an EPP transfer key is requested and sent to the email address associated with the domain owner. This is why you want to use a separate email address; if you lose access to your domain’s email address, it is difficult to get the transfer key.
- The new account receiving the domain enters the transfer key on their side.
- Then, an email is sent to both parties to approve the transfer.
- Once the transfer is approved, the domain is in the new account, and you can then set Name Servers or enter DNS Records.
- When transferring a domain, it is best to change only one variable at a time. So when the domain is transferred, you should utilize the previous Name Servers and keep all the existing DNS records in place for at least a week.
- After everything is humming along nicely, you can change the Name Servers.
I know where my domain is, but not my DNS.
Often we meet with a business owner who knows where their domain is registered but doesn’t know anything about their DNS. Since all your DNS records are public (remember, they are the directory telling the internet where to find things), you can use directory tools to look up the Name Servers for a domain.
If your domain uses the default Name Servers, moving from one website to another or one email solution to another is a relatively straightforward process. The proper DNS records just need to be updated.
Changing Name Servers
If your domain uses Name Servers of another service that you no longer wish to keep, you will need to change Name Servers. This process is more straightforward than transferring a domain since both parties do not need to approve the transfer. The trick here, though, is to make sure that you move over all the records associated with your domain. For example, if you have MX records for your email, you’ll want to be sure to transfer those records. Some domain registrars allow you to preconfigure all the DNS records ahead of time so that all the records are already in place when you switch Name Servers.
Is this article over yet?
If this all sounds complex and overwhelming, that’s okay. It takes years and years to fully understand DNS. You should certainly enlist a professional to make domain transfers or DNS updates on your behalf. Just make sure that they keep in mind what’s best for the longevity of your business and not what is quickest and easiest at the moment. Did I mention you should also be sure to keep accurate records of domain registration details?
Reach out to the team at Iceberg if you have any questions about the next steps for your domain or DNS during your new website development project.