Is poor DNS holding back your WordPress site?

Is poor DNS holding back your WordPress site?

We offer ad hoc WordPress support – clients come to us with all manner of website problems. We hit an issue today which everyone with a website (not just WordPress) needs to be aware of: poor quality DNS.

The client had given us a wish list of changes and, as usual, we started by investigating the website (in a read-only manner, not doing any changes), estimating how long things would take, and then constructing a staging website. A staging website is critical because we don’t want to be making changes untested on a live website – that’s like trying to swap out your windscreen wiper blades when you’re travelling 70mph on the motorway – ill-advised and likely to end disaster!

During our initial investigations, we kept on losing the site. I don’t mean ‘losing’ as falling down behind the sofa; it kept going offline.

Uptime Monitoring

So we set the website up on UptimeRobot – the website availability monitoring solution we use (here is a link to instructions how you can do that). This allowed us to start accumulating uptime data for the client. If their website was going offline regularly, the client needed to know so that we could address that serious issue first.

A short time later, UptimeRobot reported an outage for the client:

Fig 1 - website outage

Fig 1 – website outage

Why is this important?

You might think that 14 mins 30 seconds, in the grand scheme of things, is not that important. And I have to say, when you consider that the average small website might get well under 500 visitors a day, then there is a good chance that those visitors will land on the website when it is online and available (not during that 14 min 30 second outage).

To that, I would say to things:

What if they DID try to visit during the outage!?

What if a potential new lucrative client had just got off the phone from someone recommending you; and they went to check you out online.  This was your website’s big moment to shine! And instead, they get hit with no website. Phoey!

Now I’m not saying that you’ve lost this potential customer for good (though you may of – people are busy with short attention spans), but even if you haven’t, this is hardly the good first impression you wanted to make.

However, the next point is actually even more important….

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Google & other search engines are regularly ‘crawling‘ our websites, scanning all the pages, looking for updated content etc.

What do you think Google etc will do if they keep on seeing that your website is down? They will think it is unreliable and this will massively impact your SEO; because Google does not want to take the chance that your website may be offline when someone clicks on a related search query – so they may well suppress your website listing to help avoid people being disappointed. Yes, it’s that drastic.

Let’s now finally get to the heart of this article; what was wrong with this client’s website?

DNS Servers

It quickly became apparent to us that the DNS servers in use were of very power quality, and were causing these issues.

What are DNS servers you ask? Well, I talk more about in this previous article, but the bottom line is that DNS helps translate domain names (like GLASSMOUNTAINS.CO.UK) into IP addresses (which web browsers & computers need to actually access your website).

Put another way, DNS servers are like a tourist information office, helpfully pointing people to the right location. If the tourist office is shut, then we’ve got a lot of lost, wandering tourists on our hands.

The client was using poor quality DNS servers; I’m not going to name names but suffice to say, they are one of the cheap domain name purchasing companies. Fine for buying domain names (i.e. being the registrar) but I would not use them for website hosting, email hosting, or DNS. And it was the DNS causing the issue here.

The good news is that this is all sortable, without breaking the bank.

Recommended DNS

CloudFlare is our recommend DNS service. Best of all, their basic plan is free. Though we would recommend you use their $20 a month Pro plan as it adds additional features such as a Web Application Firewall, which can help add more protection around your WordPress site.

We’ll be putting CloudFlare in place for the client tomorrow, if I can record a video of the steps we’ll take, I’ll drop it in here.

With CloudFlare’s rock-solid DNS in place, this will be one issue we’ve solved and put to bed for the client’s site. That’s not to say that there are no other issues, but this was a big one. As an old friend of mine used to say when working our which problems to tackle first, ‘deal with the crocodile nearest the canoe‘ (thanks Phil!).

Hope that helps.


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