A simple guide to DNS, domains, email, & hosting

I regularly see confusion when it comes to people understanding the services you need when getting your business online. In this article, I’ll explain the differences when it comes to:

  • Domain names
  • Email
  • Website hosting
  • DNS

Domain Names

It all starts with your domain name which, in our case, is glassmountains.co.uk.

You rent your domain name from a domain name registrar. I say rent to emphasise that domain names need to be renewed every once in a while (depending on the term you originally purchased it for). Our domain is up for renewal in June 2022 – I’ll get email reminders before that time & I’ll be sure to renew it in good time.

If you forget to renew your domain name your website and email will quickly stop working – so make sure you stay on top of that (oh, and I would advise that domain names are under your direct control etc, not owned on your behalf by your web design or IT company etc).

Domain names can come in all types e.g. our domain name ends with .co.uk, but you can have .com, .org, or fancier varieties like .agency, .company, or even .repair and .show. Generally, I would go with .co.uk or .com but that’s just a guide – nowadays you can get pretty much anything to work.

Once you’ve purchased your domain name that’s pretty much all you have – the right to use that domain name. You’re going to need other services to make your website or email happen.

Note: by all means purchase multiple domain names but please only do that for brand protection or other sensible use cases – it will not help with SEO. And if you do have multiple domains for your website, there should be only one primary domain (the rest should redirect to that).

123-REG

I’m going to mention 123-REG here simply because that’s where we typically buy any domain names from. They have a nice search facility, you can see lots of alternatives to your domain, and when you purchase your domain, 123-REG can automatically renew them (which avoids the issues I mentioned earlier!).

Now, when buying a domain name from 123-REG, like all businesses, they’ll try to upsell you things like email, website hosting etc. Whilst you may be tempted by the pocket-friendly prices, I would strongly advise you to avoid these and to use better offerings. Just use people like 123-REG as this registrar for your domain name – the company you pay when the domain is up for renewal.

Please note: this is not a criticism aimed just at 123-REG here; I’m simply recommending that we think carefully about who supplies our essential services and we just don’t default to where we happen to have bought our domain name from.

Let’s look at the other services you may need:

Email

For email you’ll need a domain name to make this work (unless you are using free services like hotmail/yahoo/gmail, which does not look as polished as using your own domain name).

As I mentioned, I would avoid basic, cheap and cheerful email services like 123-REG offer because of this: email is a critical function of your business and you need a rock-solid provider here. If you think I’m joking, I’ve just helped migrate a client whose email kept on going into spam – why? Because they were using a very basic email provider – can you imagine how much client communication they may have lost into spam?

Email recommendations

There are only two email platforms we generally recommend:

  1. Google Suite
  2. Microsoft 365

I’m sure there are other great providers out there but I generally find that one of these two is typically fine for most people & businesses (I will also put in an honourable mention for The Very Good Email Company who I have used before as well).

Whether you choose Google or Microsoft is very much a choice of personal preference or tech preference. If you use Microsoft products a lot then perhaps that is a better route – I think their Office 365 offering includes email as well.

If you don’t use Microsoft products much (as I don’t) then Google may be more of a natural fit.

Either way, these are big blue-chip companies with the infrastructure and know-how for us to feel confident entrusting this critical service to.

Cost wise they both charge around £5 per user per month. A user is a mailbox so if you have 5 members on your team and they all need email, that’ll be 5x the cost. Mailboxes can also have aliases e.g. I have [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] etc – these all point to my mailbox and do not cost anything extra.

Getting your email set up correctly

The correct configuration of email is essential if you’re going to avoid deliverability issues, all too often client’s email is not configured in a way which helps minimise the possibility of it going into SPAM etc.

Here we quickly get into a wibbly-wobbly world of jargon with DKIM & SPF DNS records etc and if that scares you then, as a client of ours, we may well be able to handle this for you. Or we may recommend you speak to someone like Jim Lewington from Orbits IT who can help set up and manage this for you.

Who handles your email?

Website & hosting

As per email, companies like 123-REG will also try to sell you website hosting (with perhaps a free template). Again, I would avoid this route and instead use specialist companies who offer a superior level of service for these essential products.

Obviously, if you need help with your WordPress website (or bespoke PHP app), feel free to get in touch. If you have another technology (e.g. ASP.NET) then feel free to get in touch as, whilst we may not cater for them, I would be surprised if we don’t know a trusted partner we can recommend you to.

Hosting is where you are renting some space online to park your website. As we specialise in WordPress we tend to recommend WordPress specific hosting companies like FlyWheel or WPengine (we also use CloudWays).  A host which only deals with WordPress is a much better place to house your website – you’ll typically have fewer issues, better security, and better support.

Do you know where your website is hosted?

DNS

The DNS system is part of the fabric of the Internet – it’s a ‘look up‘ service which allows things to interrogate it about certain information relating to your domain name.  It indicates to the world at large things like where your website is hosted, and who handles your email etc.

If you’ve ever had a new website developed and the designer has said “we just need to change the IP to make the website live“, then they were referring to the DNS here.

Once again people like 123-REG offer DNS services simply because you bought your domain from them but, once again, I would advise you do not use them. In my experience the DNS offered by cheap & cheerful, generalist companies is prone to outages. And if your DNS is out, no-one can get to your website or email – it’s just not worth the risk to use poor DNS.

Instead, we would recommend:

CloudFlare

CloudFlare can look after your DNS for you for free, they have fantastic infrastructure for doing so and, again, they are a specialist company who are focused on delivering a focussed set of services.

There is paid Pro account (at $20 a month) which we would normally recommend to clients as this offers many extra facilities such as an advanced network-level security firewall to help further protect your WordPress site at the perimeter (I discuss this technique and more in this article on security).

Final Thoughts

There is no reason to have the same company being the registrar of your domain name, hosting your website, hosting your email, and hosting your DNS. In fact, you typically want to actively avoid this for all the reasons I have laid out above.

I would advise you to revisit how you services are laid out and to make adjustments accordingly: remember, we are dealing with the digital foundations of your online business here – it pays to get this right.

If you need any help or advice with any of the above, feel free to get in touch or ask a question in our Facebook Group for businesses who run WordPress.

Joel

 

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