Domains, DNS, and hosting – Oh my! The internet is a complicated place for the everyday, non-technical person.
While some of the basic concepts (like emails) seem straightforward, there are a lot of question marks for many people as to what it all means, where it all lives on the internet, what you need to do to ensure everything works, and what features you need for your business.
This technical guide to the galaxy covers what you need to know as a business owner or decision maker in order to get your digital ducks all in a row — across the key areas of emails, domains, hosting and DNS. Let’s get quacking.
We’ll cover each area individually in this technical guide to the galaxy, but it’s helpful to first understand what each element basically is, and how it relates to one another.
Here are some short definitions of what each area is, so you can get a basic understanding, from the ‘bigger picture’.
Important to note: You need a registered domain name for people to find you, but your website also needs to be ‘hosted’ somewhere as well to be ‘live’ on the internet. Which brings us conveniently to our next point…
Top tip: Sometimes your domain provider (who you register your domain name through) will also provide hosting services.
Another top tip: Sometimes your website host will also provide email hosting services.
Technical SEO and how it relates
While you may or may not know what technical SEO refers to already, it’s important to mention here that technical SEO can be impacted by the decisions you make around all of the areas covered above (among many other things). The choices you make with your domain, DNS, website hosting and email hosting, can all impact on your overall SEO performance, due to technical factors which can be impacted negatively by making the wrong decisions. We’ll cover some of those considerations further in this guide.
For those wondering ‘what is technical SEO’
There’s quite a bit involved, but a short description of technical SEO should suffice for this guide – along with the advice that it’s ideal to get the help of SEO specialists to ensure the technical SEO elements of your website are looked after. And it’s a good idea to get guidance on these areas before going ahead with any of these decisions (as they can impact your performance in the long run). Our experts at Excite Media would be more than happy to help.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It essentially means optimising your website in all areas, for the best visibility on search engines, and best, and easiest searchability for those looking for the products or services that you have to offer. SEO has four key pillars; technical SEO, content-based SEO, on-site SEO, and off-site SEO. Technical SEO refers to the technical aspects of your website that impact on your overall SEO performance.
Site Speed and how it relates
One of the biggest technical SEO factors is site speed. And site speed can be largely impacted if you make the wrong decisions in technical areas, especially in terms of website hosting. Choosing something that is unable to handle the website traffic you need it to (yikes) can result in slow loading speeds, and/or time offline (double yikes). Aside from slow speeds, less-ideal hosts can also be unreliable in staying online consistently due to handling a whole lot of websites without enough resources to do so reliably (also double yikes). Both of these issues are really not ideal situations for your technical SEO.
Why? Google and other search engines make money off their systems being easy for people to use, and giving people the answers they are looking for. They need the experience to be an ideal one. And a website that loads too slow, is, quite simply, a terrible internet experience. Technical SEO handles a bunch of technical elements similar to site speed. But this is one large factor that’s important to address (or at least make sure your decisions don’t impact on negatively).
So, what does a business decision maker need to know?
Let’s take a deeper dive into each of the key areas we’ve spoken about above, and what you need to know about these as a business owner or decision maker.
Main things to know – A domain is like a registration to be able to use the name. It’s similar to a trademark, or a business name registration. Essentially, it’s the www or .com.au name of your website — the name you see in your web browser address bar when you go to your site.
Yes, you do. The same as a business name registration on ABR allows you to use your business name (and is a recurring charge to keep using it), a domain name registration is also a recurring cost of having your domain.
If you don’t, your website, and anything attached to your website will stop working — including any emails, if you have emails that have your domain name in them (eg email@example.com). Why? When you register a domain, it’s only for a certain period of time — which is usually one or two years. While your website can be put back up if this happens, it can be a bit of a scramble, and will need you to re-register that domain (if someone else hasn’t taken it!) and in the meantime, both your website, and anything attached to that domain will be down.
Another problem that can happen if you let your domain registration expire, and 60 days passes, the domain name can be ‘stolen’ by another — and you’ll need to start from scratch, which would mean you’d need to rebuild the reputation you’ve built with Google over time for good SEO ranking.
If you’re having your website rebuilt, and this new website is replacing the old site, you can certainly use the same domain that your previous site was on. It’s important to make sure that certain measures are taken to ensure this is done right, with the new website being technically set up properly. At Excite Media, we ensure this for every new site that we build for our clients to ensure that you’ll get the best SEO value possible, and that the transition is seamless.
You purchase a domain name registration through a domain registrar or reseller — this is something we can absolutely help you with at Excite Media.
A common misconception of domain registration is that it’s the same as hosting — but it’s not.
We often hear of business owners that are confused as to why their website has been taken down by their website host (due to failing to renew their website hosting, or pay their bills), as they remember ‘paying for the website renewal’.
You’ll need to keep your website hosting, and your domain registration up to date.
The good news is that many providers of each give you the options to renew automatically, and should also follow up with emails when your term is coming close to an end — be sure to check those inboxes though, and if you receive a renewal reminder you’re not sure of, it’s always best to call the provider, or check with someone who is across your digital space, to make sure it’s not something crucial like your hosting or domain registration.
To prevent competitors from taking your domain name, or any iteration of it, we recommend securing your brand by registering three versions of your domain name — .com, .com.au, and the new .au versions.
In a general marketing and branding sense, it’s also always good to register a domain that’s as close to your brand name as possible. Depending on your brand name, there are some other recommendations that may come into play — which our experts would be more than happy to help you with.
We also recommend picking a domain registration company where you can talk to someone if you need to, and someone can be contacted to help you if you have any issues. It’s important to pick someone you know you can trust — so getting expert advice is always recommended.
Without getting too much into the nitty gritty detail (there’s so much involved in technical SEO, and we’d like to keep this guide to the basics), the main takeaway is that if your website has been up for a while, and/or you have been working hard on your SEO rankings and optimisation, it’s important to not lose your domain. Aged domain content is better value, as it has your Google reputation built up from your website. Losing it and going with a new one, is like starting from scratch. So to ensure you don’t lose it, just ensure you’re keeping your domain name registration up to date. The best advice here is to pay attention to any renewal emails, ask if you’re unsure what a bill that comes up is for, and it’s probably also a good idea to pop a reminder in your calendar just before your current domain registration is set to expire — so you can get ahead of it, and chase up that renewal if you haven’t heard prior. This will help prevent any issues due to not seeing, or missing, any email reminders.
There is a bit more to the technicalities of getting some of your SEO goodness from one site to another, (same domain or not) but you can leave that to the experts, as it gets really complicated. If you want any further information in this area, or have any questions, our technical geniuses would be happy to assist.
Main things to know – Every domain needs to have a DNS zone. This is a directory for the traffic coming to your domain, whether it’s traffic going to your website, emails, or anything else attached to your domain. As we mentioned before, it’s like an old school traffic operator, but if they were translating international calls – as they translate human speak (domain names) into internet speak (IP addresses) and send the requests to the right place. There’s one zone for each domain, and if you send an email to that domain, it has to go to that DNS zone, which tells it which IP or address to go to. It’s the same for website traffic.
Aside from the above, which your technical support team can take care of for you, people often also use DNS zones to verify ownership of the website or domain. You’ll often be told to add a text record with verification codes to your website’s DNS. It’s a way of proving that you own the website/domain to outside sources (including Google). You’ll know when you need to do this, as you’ll be prompted when it’s required for an outside source, or your technical team will let you know when it’s needed for website optimisation, security or SEO.
DNS hosting is often included with your domain, but you can also use standalone DNS hosting, like Cloudflare’s free DNS hosting. A lot of website hosting companies and packages will also include a DNS. We often recommend and work with Conetix for this reason.
Some DNS hosting providers will charge you relatively high fees for basic steps, so it’s good to get advice on the best alternatives. For free or cheap options, some may seem cheap or free, but charge for basic changes, or a certain amount of changes are included, but this cap is very low, and you’ll likely have to pay for many of the changes you will need.
Similar to domain registrars, it’s important to know who you can trust here. We recommend getting the advice on the best alternatives, and be careful to not be tricked into going for an option that looks cheap or free, but will cost you in charges for basic changes or changes over a (very small) cap of included changes. It’s a good idea to include your DNS with your domain registry if you can, or with your website hosting. For our clients that don’t already have DNS included, we recommend cloudflare. We also frequently recommend and work with Conetix. And it’s important to be able to contact your DNS provider, and keep a hold of any login credentials you are given for this, so you can add any text records you need.
Without getting too much into the deeply technical elements, the DNS you choose can impact on your site speed, and therefore your SEO performance.
DNS outages which occur frequently and/or for long periods can affect your site’s availability, which has a negative impact on SEO, so it’s important to at least avoid using a ‘dodgy’ DNS.
A domain that ‘resolves’ faster will provide a better user experience, which is a signal for Google and search engines, which in turn can benefit or harm your overall SEO performance and ranking.
DNS speed also can have an impact on your site loading speed, as the DNS is the first ‘process’ that happens before your website is loaded, when someone visits your site. While the difference can be 20 milliseconds vs up to 500 milliseconds, (so just a fraction of a second), this can all add up, and every millisecond counts. Getting advice from an expert for your particular site can help you determine the weigh up of site speed vs affordability and which of the options is best for you, and whether a tangible difference would be made or not for your particular site. For the most part, it should be okay if you choose a ‘good’ DNS provider that you know you can trust.
Main things to know – There are many different types of hosting, and it’s easy to get confused. What’s important to know is that there are many options, and it’s a very good idea to get expert advice on which one is best for you. For example, not every website needs the highest level of hosting (which costs a lot more than some of the ‘lower levels’ of hosting). But some websites need the added performance, and security of the highest levels. And if you have multiple websites, it may be worth your while to do the highest levels of hosting (as they’re dedicated to you).
Your website hosting is the aspect of your online / website setup that has the impact on your site speed. This is a big factor in technical SEO and your overall search engine ranking and visibility.
There is a specific computer somewhere (or computers) that is hosting your website files. This computer is connected to the internet (that’s what a server is). It’s like a computer with all of your files on it, that’s reachable from anywhere in the world.
VPS stands for Virtual Private Server. It’s usually a single server (computer) that just has your website on it. Or just your websites, if you have many.
In some cases, it may not be a single computer, but a “virtual” slice of a computer that’s dedicated solely to you. You get a guaranteed slice of CPU and RAM on this server, rather than having to share this with other users (like you would on a ‘shared server’).
Going with a VPS is much more expensive, and for most websites you won’t need a whole VPS to yourself.
However if you own 3-10 websites, the costs might work out to be not too bad. A VPS may also be required if you have specific needs, like sensitive data and security protocols that need you to control every aspect of it.
Has a whole bunch of websites on a single computer. It’s important to note here that shared hosting, if set up correctly, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most website hosting companies do provide this service for a reason — it’s well-priced relative to what you get vs cloud or VPS hosting. For most websites, this is absolutely fine, and can save you money. But it’s important to make sure you choose the hosting provider carefully when you do opt for shared hosting. Which brings us to this important note…
Important to note: the cheapest shared hosting options will put way more websites on a single server. The problem is that if there are not enough resources to handle all of those websites, this will slow your website down (bad site speed) which negatively impacts on your SEO and your user experience. With bounce rates increasing by 32% when page load times increase from 1 second to 3 seconds (and by 90% when they increase from 1 second to 5 seconds), this is a very important consideration.
Cloud hosting is more complex and more scalable, but does require a lot more time and work in the initial set up and to keep them running. There are a bunch of elements that need to be set up to get your emails to work, for example. This is very specialised hosting, and if you decide to go with it, we definitely recommend having an expert working with you to manage that hosting.
Cloud hosting is less tied to a specific machine, and is also scalable. If for some reason your website suddenly gets way more hits, a cloud hosting option will usually scale it with the right plan so you can have a lot more servers available to host your data to share the load of incoming traffic (and handle that load, so it doesn’t result in slow loading times or your website going down). Cloud hosting is faster, as there are more servers running the website. It’s the way of the future, but not necessary for most, at this point.
There are so many different options and considerations for website hosting, and it plays such an important role in your site speed performance (and therefore affects your SEO performance) that it’s important to ensure you choose the right options. For this reason, we absolutely recommend getting some expert advice on the best option for your situation.
The other biggest advice we can give is to not ‘cheapen out’ on your website hosting. A slow shared host will make your website run slower, and take longer for assets to be served. An unreliable host (or a host with too many resources) can result in your website being ‘down’ — offline — frequently and potentially for long periods of time. Providing an unreliable, and damaging, website experience and impacting on your customer experience as well as your search engine rankings and visibility.
If you’re running Google Ads, or Facebook Ads, your website going down can also cause issues with your ad campaigns, as they’ll stop running when the downtime is detected by Facebook and Google, and won’t always start running again without your manual interference.
A good website host will usually provide an uptime SLA of over 99.9% of uptime (time online vs offline).
There are also major considerations with security, and so it’s important to pick a good website host, rather than a dodgy host, for the security of your website, its susceptibility to viruses and hackers, the security of your information (and your customers’ information), and more. Hosting that is insecure, with a bunch of websites could mean your website is affected — as viruses can pass from one affected website to another via the website host or server. Good hosts will take measures to improve your website’s security, and the server’s security, and section off websites into their own ‘bubbles’ within the server. But it’s important to pick a good, reputable host to minimise your risks, and ensure these measures are taken.
Some really dodgy hosting could even mean you could end up on an email blacklist, which could make it harder for your emails to reach your customers, impact any email campaigns, and could make your website emails harder for you to receive.
Make sure you don’t make these decisions lightly, do get expert advice on the best type of hosting for you, do ensure that your host will have enough ‘resources’ dedicated to your website to handle the amount of traffic you have (and serve your website up quickly enough), and do ensure you only go with a trusted host you have been recommended by someone who knows this area well.
A related, but separate area: website maintenance
It’s important to note at this point that ongoing website maintenance is important. Website maintenance is a separate service to your hosting, and ensures that your plugins are up to date, backups are taken, your website is kept running well, and your website is kept secure. This is highly recommended for all websites, to keep security, and performance across all areas (including SEO). It’s also something we can help you with at Excite Media, if your website is a WordPress website — ask us about our ExciteCare plans, specifically created for websites on the WordPress platform, and we’ll sort it for you.
Main things to know – You get what you pay for with email hosting. A lot of hosting companies for websites also offer email hosting. Some will do this with Google and Microsoft.
Google and Microsoft will let you use your own domain name for your emails (white label), as long as you own that domain. It’s often a bit more expensive than just using a @gmail.com address, but it looks excellent for branding and professionalism. You can use your domain name in your email address for a number of options, but this will always cost (unless using a low quality provider, but this is not advised – more on that below). A normal Gmail account is free (with an @gmail.com address). We recommend using your domain names in your email, as this is good for credibility and branding.
You can sometimes get emails with your website host.
If your emails are important, it’s a good idea to go with one of the big cloud hosting companies like Google or Microsoft. Cloud hosting is usually more expensive, but the benefits outweigh the cost:
- Huge amounts of storage
- These often come with file storage as well (like Google Drive space)
- Microsoft includes the outlook web app along with other Office Suite applications (Outlook/Excel/Word etc.)
- These are also more secure
- It’s usually about $7 per email address per month for Google Suite / Microsoft 365.
A lot of low quality email hosting companies (cheaper email hosting companies) will store your emails directly on your website server. This means that if you run out of space on your emails, your whole website can go down. If you run out of space on your website, your emails will stop working. And if your emails are very close to being full, the website can go slow. This is of course terrible for your user’s experience, and for your SEO performance.
As we mentioned, we recommend going with an email that has your domain name (like firstname.lastname@example.org). We also recommend going with a cloud hosting option, as the benefits outweigh the cost, they’re more secure, they come with huge amounts of storage, and they’re not stored on your website server. If you do decide to go with another option however, we definitely recommend doing your research to ensure that your emails won’t impact on your site speed (and vice versa).
Need an ongoing technical guide to the galaxy guru?
At Excite Media, we’re passionate about everything ‘digital’. We love guiding our clients to their best successes online. And, as anyone who has engaged with us knows, we’re experienced and passionate about creating websites that deliver more for our clients.
If you need help with anything to do with your website, website performance, or need ongoing support, we would love to hear from you. We could help you look at whether it’s time for a new website, to get you better results online, whether your existing website needs work, or whether your website simply needs the ongoing love and care to keep performing well (and keep secure). Hint: all websites need ongoing maintenance for this!
Talk to our experts today about our website packages and our ExciteCare service for WordPress websites, to ensure your WordPress website stays in good health and to get the expert support when you need it.