What Is DNS and Why Do I Need It?

By: Dave Kramer Friday January 29, 2016 comments Tags: small business, dns, new business

You’re all ready to launch your new business — you have a great idea, a snazzy name, and you just bought an awesome domain. But what does it take to actually create a domain that’s unique to you — one that allows people to easily access your website and allows you to send secure emails?

When you type your new website URL into your web browser, something more complicated than what you see on the surface is happening. Same when you send an email. Let’s take a little deeper look at what’s really happening.


What’s in a Domain Name?

When you purchase a domain name from a site like GoDaddy, you get a URL that is your domain name. You also get an IP address from your website host. These are used to make what’s called a DNS (Domain Name System) record, which tells computers what websites the user is trying to visit.

IP Address

An IP (Internet Protocol) address is how computers and servers identify each other across the Internet. While IP addresses are very straightforward and simple for computers, humans have a harder time with them. They’re made up of numbers and periods that are difficult to remember.

URL Address

A URL (Uniform Resource Locator) address is how humans remember websites, and is what you type into your Internet browser (Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Firefox, etc) when you want to visit a website.

You can learn more about the types of URLs and more terminology by clicking here.

While URLs are very simple for humans to use and remember, they are not easy for computers to understand. When you type google.com into your web browser, your computer can’t just look it up by that name — it has to use an IP address. But how does the computer know which IP address goes with which URLs?

DNS Records and Cell Phone Address Books

You need both an IP address and a URL address, so that both humans and the computers they’re using can find your site easily every time. This is where DNS records come in. DNS records act as a way to translate between humans and computers in much the same way that the address book on your phone translates between you and the phone.

How Phones Translate

When you use your smartphone, you probably aren’t aware of the translation that happens every time you send a text or make a call. Humans remember their contacts in terms of names — often names accompanied by a picture. But this isn’t very helpful for phones.

If used your phone’s voice command system and said, “Call John Doe,” but you didn’t have a John Doe entered into your contact list, your phone would have no idea what to do. That’s because phones think about contacts in terms of phone numbers — which humans have a more difficult time memorizing.

But say John Doe is a friend of yours, and you entered his name and phone number into your phone’s address book. When you said, “Call John Doe,” your phone would look up the contact name and then use the phone number associated with that name to call John Doe’s phone.

How DNS Translates

Similarly, when you type in a URL to visit a website, the first thing your computer does is go to a DNS server, to try and figure out what website you’re looking for.

Your computer will show the URL you typed to the DNS server, and it will look through all the DNS records on the Internet, trying to find a match. The Server acts like the address book, translating the URL you typed in into an IP address that your computer can use to access the website.

If it finds a match, the DNS server will then tell your computer the IP address that corresponds to that URL.  Now your computer can communicate with the correct server and display the website you want.  

If the server doesn’t find a match, your computer won''t know what website you are trying to visit and will show an error. There are several reasons why this could happen, but most often the reason is a mistyped URL.

DNS Enables Secure Email Marketing

DNS records are used for more than just finding and displaying websites. They''re used for identifying many different Internet resources, including identifying legitimate email sent from a domain name.  Specifically, they’re used for determining whether the marketing emails your company is sending are spam or not.

When an email is sent with AllProWebTools’ Email Marketing tool, it doesn''t travel there in a straight path to the recipient''s inbox. The email goes to another server like Mandrill or Mailgun in between, and then to the inbox. Just like when you mail a postcard, it has to go to the post office before it gets into somebody else''s mailbox.

An SPF (Sender Policy Framework) is a special kind of DNS record, specifically a TXT (text) record, that specifies who is allowed to send emails associated with your domain name. It''s similar to telling your friend that they should expect a package coming from UPS. That way, if they get a package from FedEx, they already know it''s not from you.

Spam Filters: Is It Really From You?

These SPF records are used by email programs like Gmail or Outlook that try to filter out spam. Spammers usually don''t use real email addresses to send their spam from. Instead, they’ll try to imitate someone else — possibly a small business like you.

Gmail will check these SPF records you''ve created to determine whether this is a real message that should go into your list’s inboxes, or if it should go into their spam folders.

When you send an email through AllProWebTools Email Marketing, Gmail can see more information about that message than you typically see when you check your email. Gmail will be able to see the email address that you are trying to send from, (example: [email protected] ) but it will also see that the email didn''t come straight from johndoe.com and instead came by way of Mailgun.

This is where the SPF record comes in.

Gmail will try to look up the DNS records for john.com, just like described above. Except, instead of trying to display the website, Gmail is trying to see if john.com has given Mailgun permission to send emails on its behalf.

If Gmail can find the SPF record that says Mailgun is allowed to send emails on behalf of john.com, then Gmail will decide that everything looks OK. If Gmail can''t find that SPF record, then Gmail will get suspicious because the email lied about where it came from. Since the email lied, Gmail will decide it can’t be trusted and it will get marked as spam.

While this is not the only method used to identify spam messages, it is a very common and very strict method used by most email programs. Make sure you have proper SPF records when you start using AllProWebTools Email Marketing, otherwise most emails you send will be considered spam.

Services like Mailgun and Mandrill don''t want to send spam (even if it’s just email that looks like spam), because it hurts their reputation just as much as it hurts yours. So, they typically will not even let you start sending emails until you have demonstrated that you really own that domain name. They do this by  making sure that you have the correct SPF records created.

So What Do I Do?

This kind of stuff is confusing, and many small business owners end up making tiny errors that prevent them from sending email from AllProWebTools. Make sure you communicate with your web developer, and double check the DNS entries associated with your domain name, to make sure they match up with everything in AllProWebTools before you try to send marketing emails.

Dave Kramer

About the Author: Dave Kramer

My goal is to provide small business owners with the marketing, productivity, and commerce tools they need to make their business a success!

I am passionate about small business and helping small business owners to succeed in business through the use of technology and tracking systems to identify those areas in their business that can be improved. I enjoy the rush of being a part of a business that is growing.  It is so exciting to have helped so many business owners and their staff to improve efficiency.




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