It’s a common story. You wouldn’t thoughtlessly give a relative stranger your power of attorney or access to your bank account. However, most business owners (large and small) regularly and naively give up full control to their reputation, communications, and business continuity. How?
They let random web guys control their external DNS (Domain Name System). Before your eyes glaze over and you move on – PAY ATTENTION. Just like the myriad other acronyms you’ve learned to manage a business, this one is a definite must know.
DNS is simply the service that converts an IP address on a network or the Internet to a computer name like SHERYL-PC or a domain name like www.matrixforce.com. If the local DNS service on a network is not working, you can’t browse the Internet or send or receive e-mail. If your external DNS is not working, no one can access your network, send/receive e-mail, or find your web site. Before you smugly think “I’ve got people who handle this for me”, think again.
Do a whois search by entering your domain name like matrixforce.com (without the www) and see what is displayed by clicking this link: Network Solutions Whois. For the majority of you, the address or phone number will be wrong and some unknown vendor or past employee will be listed as contacts. Also, the renewal date is likely a shock and no where on your calendar reminders. If this is you, then that vendor owns you or if it’s a past employee you have to now go through a lengthy process to prove ownership. Oh and if the DNS addresses listed at the bottom aren’t related to the Registrar then you have another problem of a third-party in the mix. Which leads to the next question of where are you registered and what is the user name and password to change the information?
For best practices you should:
- Have your domain at a Registrar that offers not only domain creation and renewal services, but a DNS Manager and web hosting. My preference is Network Solutions (no compensation based upon this recommendation), but there is Register, Godaddy and several others. These services are long-established, stable, and reasonably priced.
- Your registrar account should be something generic, like your business name. The Registrar URL for login, user name, and password should be kept where you can access it for maintenance and during disasters independent of a vendor, IT support, or other employee. Ideally, you should have separate contact information for the administrative and technical contacts. The e-mail address should be something generic like email@example.com that is associated with a distribution group or someone’s actual mailbox. That way contact isn’t lost when people change roles and multiple staff can receive notices of things like pending domain name renewal to prevent website and e-mail disruption. If you want to have a technical contact for IT or a vendor, the same rule should apply using something like firstname.lastname@example.org.
- DO NOT allow a random web guy or even an established web design company access to your Registrar account. There is a mandatory 60 day waiting period if your domain registration is moved, before you can move it back. Escaping from being captured from some no-name Registrar or web guy can be trying, because at any point they have the power to stop a transfer back. AND they don’t want you to move back to someone reputable because they lose control and annual domain registration commission. Guess what? You have no e-mail or website while the transfer takes place and likely for DAYS afterwards as most web designers know little about the process and don’t add any DNS settings for remote access, e-mail, or even the website.
- DO NOT allow a random web guy or established web company to change your external DNS. To update a website, all a web designer needs is a FTP user account and password (separate from your Registrar user name and password). They desperately want to move you to a hosting they resell, so they are motivated to not only change your web hosting but move DNS to them too. Now you’re at a questionable web host for long-term viability or high uptime and more importantly totally dependent upon contacting the web design company, hoping they make any necessary changes for you. Can you say OWNED? Try getting ahold of Johnny-Bag-Of-Donuts during normal times, much less during that e-mail migration on the weekend or blizzard natural disaster. And yes, unless they are expert about the process and got a copy of your DNS records ahead of time to emulate at the new host, you go without e-mail or a website again.
So now the staff is trying to get a $200M manufacturing company to have e-mail again, because the owner’s niece had a college buddy that does websites and moved the registration. They’ve gone 2 days without sales people able to access the system, no one has had e-mail, and the website is down. The customer was able to contact Rupert, but the DNS Manager at Wheely-Wacky-Wild Domains has been down and as a third-tier registrar does actually take 24 hours for updates to happen, rather than the average 15 minutes of the big boys. After all this bungling, the customer can’t be found in Google and the site is not even in HTML5 – but that’s another story.