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      The Website Owner’s Guide to Email Marketing


      Email is the sharpest tool in the box for building relationships, generating new customers, and increasing sales on your website. Here’s how to get started.

      Remember in 1998’s You’ve Got Mail when Meg Ryan‘s character waits impatiently for her dial-up internet to connect before typing an email to her virtual pen pal on a simple dialog box? Watch it now and cringe; we’ve come a long way, baby. 

      But while dial-up and AOL instant messaging are stuck in the stone ages of the internet, email isn’t, especially for you website owners out there — and here’s why.

      Email still has a very real place in society, with more than four billion email users worldwide, a number predicted to rise to 4.5 billion by 2024.

      New Email.jpeg

      Even though we tend to dread the sight of an overstuffed inbox, the reality is this: Email triumphs as a powerful tool of communication and persuasion for website owners and businesses. 

      And marketers understand this. 

      In fact, 89% of marketers say that email is their primary channel for lead generation. This seemingly-archaic medium is increasingly relevant — unlike screen names or Myspace pages — for website owners looking to build customer relationships and augment sales. 

      Marketers consistently rank email as the single-most-effective tactic for meeting their awareness, acquisition, conversion, and retention goals. They’ve branded it, fittingly, “the workhorse” and prove your marketing budget should include more $$$ allotted for an invested email strategy.

      And they’re not the only ones waving virtual foam fingers for email practices; more than half of consumers say they enjoy receiving emails from brands.

      But understand this: You don’t have to be a big-shot marketer to create and send email campaigns. Even beginners can use emails to generate slam-dunk sales or build a loyal blog following.

      So what exactly is email marketing? How can you encourage customers to sign up for your emails in the first place? Then, how do you craft sparkling newsletter copy while avoiding the spam folder? 

      Well, you’re in luck. We developed the Website Owner’s Guide to Email Marketing to help you understand and implement the fundamentals of email marketing. Read on and learn the ins-and-outs of segmentation, automation, sequencing, bounce rates, and how to craft that email your visitors are anxious to open:

      We promise it’s easier than dial-up.

      1. Email Marketing: Ground Level

      If you’re like 58% of adults, after waking up and resisting the urge to hit the snooze button, you’re rolling over groggily to grab your phone. Within seconds, you’re scanning your email inbox before your eyelids have even fully opened. 

      Checking Email.jpeg

      And now, with the increased usage of everything mobile, people are “always on” in terms of their inboxes: whether on commutes, in the bathroom (germy, but true), or in almost every social situation, they’re one micro-click away from checking their email.

      Email marketing capitalizes on habits like this in a major way. 

      At its most basic, email marketing involves acquiring the email addresses of potential customers as a way to share content with them and build business-to-customer relationships. And there’s a reason that this strategy is tried-and-true; it’s a good investment — for every dollar spent, email marketing averages an ROI of $38. Cha-ching!

      The numbers don’t lie: 66% of consumers have made a purchase online as a direct result of an email marketing message. 

      Still not convinced that you need an email marketing strategy? Consider these stats:

      • You are six times more likely to get a click-through from an email campaign than you are from a tweet. Bonus: you get more than 140 characters to do it.
      • 90% of email gets delivered to the intended recipient’s inbox, whereas only 2% of your Facebook fans see your posts in their News Feed (they’re probably watching cat videos).
      • Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter and achieves 174% more conversions.
      • More people use email than social platforms
      • Email is a direct line of communication you have with website visitors that explicitly said they want to hear from you!
      • Some social media platforms cater to specific age groups — and not others (hello, Snapchat). Biting your nails over catering to millennials, baby boomers, or Gen Xers, respectively? Email marketing crosses age groups in terms of effectiveness. Email is the preferred means of business communications across all age groups.
      • Once you have their email address, you can continue to market to your subscribers for mere pennies (unless they unsubscribe). A budget-friendly marketing gift that keeps on giving!

      Consider a basketball analogy: Email marketing is like shooting a layup, versus a shot from half-court . . . blindfolded. One is targeted and direct — an almost guaranteed score — while the other is haphazard hit-or-miss. 

      Basketball Layup.jpeg

      Point made, yes?

      So, let’s get down to it.

      What You Need to Get Started

      If you’re a business owner, you’ve probably got a snazzy website up and running. If not, follow this guide to building a WordPress website in five minutes and then rejoin us. 

      Don’t worry. We’ll wait.

      All setup? OK, now it’s time to market your content and products to loyal followers.

      First, it’s smart to set some goals and make a plan for what you want to accomplish through your email marketing efforts. This will guide the type of messages you sent and how you target your subscribers.

      Second, you’ll need a reliable Email Service Provider (ESP). This kind of provider is different than your basic Gmail account — an ESP allows you to send messages in bulk.

      The most popular of these is probably MailChimp. Still, many ESPs offer various features — like security reports and levels of automation — so do your research and choose a service that provides the tools you want at the price your budget allows.

      MailChimp.png

      Next: Building a list of subscribers.

      Successful email marketing works like visiting someone’s house — you have to be invited first. Email marketing begins when a potential or current customer gives you their permission to send them emails. 

      Just say “Nooooooo!” to buying email lists or firing off spammy messages to those who haven’t granted you their permission. You want to nurture relationships that lead to sales, not alienate and annoy potential customers. (We’ll address this more in the “Slam That Spam” section below).

      For your website, you accomplish this with an opt-in form. You’ve probably seen a handful of different versions of these on nearly every web page you visit. 

      Optin Sidebar.png
      A sidebar opt-in widget on food blog How Sweet Eats.
      Optin Popup.png
      A pop-up email subscription form on craft site Thimblepress.
      Optin Popup 2.png
      A creative pop-up subscription option from Chronicle Books.

      Just as there is with crafting your email content itself, there’s an art to creating a winning opt-in message, like incorporating appealing visuals, a persuasive description — that offers subscribers some kind of additional benefit — and a compelling subscribe button (among other things). 

      OptinMonster is a simple — and effective — way to set up lead capture forms on WordPress (and other websites and e-commerce sites) that integrate with many ESPs. Easy peasy!

      optinmonster.png

      2. The Nitty Gritty

      Just as there is with crafting your email content itself, there’s an art to creating a winning opt-in message, like incorporating appealing visuals, a persuasive description — that offers subscribers some kind of additional benefit — and a compelling subscribe button (among other things). 

      OptinMonster is a simple — and effective — way to set up lead capture forms on WordPress (and other websites and e-commerce sites) that integrate with many ESPs. Easy peasy!

      Email Segmentation

      According to OptinMonster

      “Email list segmentation is the process of breaking your subscribers into smaller groups based on specific criteria so that you can send them more personalized and relevant emails.”

      Emails that are more targeted will help you get the right content to the people who will be most interested in reading it, resulting in higher click-through rates and conversions (not to mention a decrease in the number of those hitting the “unsubscribe” button or sending your mail to spam). By segmenting, you can vary the content, like sending your newsletter or promotional content to the most receptive audience.

      So, what kinds of groups can you segment subscribers into? Here are a few examples:

      • Location — Having an upcoming event or pop-up sale? Notify subscribers who are local to the area.=
      • New Subscribers — Welcome the newbies and let them know how glad you are to have them as a part of your following.
      • Items Remaining in Shopping Cart — Give a call to action to those hesitant or forgetful shoppers. Remind subscribers with yet-to-be-purchased products in their online carts to complete their check-out.
      • Preferences — Segment your emails based on certain types of emails. Some subscribers may only want to be notified about upcoming sales or discounts; others may want news of every just-launched blog post. 
      • Open Rate — Call it a “frequent-reader” perk: lavish your engaged subscribers with unique content or premiums.
      • Survey or Quiz Results — Group customers based on how they respond to your prompts for feedback.

      Online Shopper.jpeg

      Those are just a few ideas on the ways you can segment your email list (and there are tons more). 

      The goal of segmentation is personalization; each subscriber receives content relevant to them and will, therefore, interact with the content more. Picture it: fewer spam designations, more engagement, more successful email campaigns, more conversions, etc.

      This can also be accomplished with OptinMonster as it integrates with your ESP.

      Sequencing

      Along with segmentation is sequencing, a tactic in which a series of emails are generated based on set intervals or subscriber behavior-triggered automations

      Sequencing helps you automate (less work for you) and get the right messages to your subscribers — the groups you’ve segmented — when they will be most effective. (More details here.) 

      Types of sequences may include a series of emails targeted at reactivating disengaged subscribers, encouraging them to attend a local event, or following up on a recent purchase.

      And it works; after one year of using automation, 32% of businesses reported increased revenue.

      3. Slam That Spam

      A major — repeat, major — part of your email marketing success (aka increased conversions, killer content, and a growing readership) is understanding — and avoiding — the spam folder. 

      So what is spam exactly? Well, in short, it’s unsolicited messages (meaning, no consent was given to receive them) sent in bulk. While sometimes amusing to read, spam is ultimately annoying to consumers, and no business wants their carefully crafted copy relegated to the black hole abyss of email spam holes. 

      Spam.png

      It’s true: Consumers are deleting fewer promotional emails without looking than in years past.

      But with this, there’s good news and bad news. 

      • The good: As people are sending fewer email communications to the trash (or spam) bin, it’s a sign that perhaps email marketers are refining their craft so that email messages are more useful to consumers.
      • The bad: Spam filters are better and more aggressive than ever before, so it’s important to take care that your emails don’t lead to a negative brand association. 

      So let’s consider a few (OK, several) roadblocks that can stall you from reaching your consumers’ inboxes.

      Understand the How of Spam Filters

      An important key is understanding how the filters work in the first place. While there are many triggers, here are some things they look for:

      • Relationship with subscriber
      • Reputation of IP address and sender domain (read more on this here)
      • Quality of email subject line, teaser, and content
      • Quality and safety of included links
      • Presence or absence of images
      • Inclusion of text version of the email

      Additionally, spam filters monitor subscriber behavior to improve their filtering formulas, tracking actions like the opening of emails, time spent reading the email, enabling of images, spam flagging, folders applied to email by the subscriber, forwarding of emails, etc. 

      And because these behaviors vary from subscriber to subscriber, a unique “email spam score” is given to each email sent to every individual subscriber. Sounds complicated, but there are things you can do to significantly improve your chances that your message will arrive successfully to your subscriber.

      Spam filters are smart. Some other instant red flags: over-the-top font colors (consumers don’t like this either), font color tags that aren’t formatted correctly, misspellings, overstuffing keywords, and risky word choices (best to avoid “free,” “prize,” “promo,” “no obligation,” and “buy”). 

      In addition, be conservative with punctuation and capitalization. Aside from the resulting in red-flagging, it’s just . . . ANNOYING!!!!! 

      See? We told you.

      Lastly, don’t play dirty. Attempting to outsmart spam filters (like inserting random characters and numbers into your content or subject lines or concealing text in an image) or tricking your subscribers by starting the subject line with “Re:” or “Fwd:” to suggest an ongoing communication with you just eats away at your credibility.

      Instead, put your efforts into building a quality email list and sending out content that customers want to see pop up in their inbox.

      Build Your Own In-House Email List

      The permission-based approach is best. Make sure that the recipients of your messages have provided explicit consent to receive your communications through a sign-up or opt-in form. Encourage them to add your email to their address book.

      Resist the temptation to purchase an email list or scrape sites for addresses. This is often your message’s one-way ticket to the spam folder. Build your list ethically.

      Make Unsubscribing Easy

      No one wants a dwindling email list, but the reality is this: 50% of consumers branded a company’s email as spam because they couldn’t easily figure out how to unsubscribe to the messages. 

      Make it easy for your subscribers to part ways; it’ll save you the spam label and leave you with the most invested subscribers — plus, it’s the law!

      Don’t Send Lackluster or Irrelevant Content

      Consistency is the rule for creating content on your website. This make-it-or-break-it principle is critical for your email communications too. If your blog channels a friendly-neighbor tone, you should have an email voice to match. Keep your messaging consistent, so you don’t give your readers branding whiplash. 

      Secondly, honor your subscribers’ time. As it has been aptly said, minutes of your customers’ time are like dog years on the internet — woof. 

      Our digital diets are only programmed for rapid-fire “tastes” of virtual content, so your subscribers’ time reading your content should be well-spent. Honor their minutes by making your emails worth reading. Otherwise, it’s “Email, meet Trash Bin.”

      Also, understand that you really only have a few seconds to grab their attention in the first place. Research shows that most people have a group of “trusted advisers” from whom they will almost always open emails — secure this spot and your customers’ attention is yours. 

      Using a Reliable Email Service Provider (ESP)

      In addition to checking your domain name for blacklisting (you might also hear this referred to as a denylist), you should use a reputable ESP. Need help choosing the right provider? Check here. You could also consider getting third-party accreditation, which can help deliverability. 

      Understand the Rules

      More than just staying clear of boring or unrelated content, you need to be aware of the rules surrounding email marketing and how your content could potentially be violating established spam laws. With most — if not all — email providers, you will need to verify that you are abiding by the law.

      CAN-SPAM Act applies to “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.” Simply put, all emails must comply. Each email in violation can incur a fee of upwards of $40,000! Gulp.

      Here are the must-dos and don’t-even-think-about-its for staying on the right side of the law.

      1. Don’t Deceive or Mislead

      Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” routing info (the domain name and email address), and subject line must all accurately reflect the correct information, including the business the message is originating from and the content of the message. Be truthful and clear. 

      2. Identify Ad Content

      You must communicate clearly and visibly that your message is an advertisement. 

      3. Give Your Location

      In your email, you must include the physical address of your business (whether that be a street address, P.O. box, or private mailbox you’ve registered under Postal Service regulations).

      4. Tell Subscribers How to Opt-Out

      It’s not just a good idea to have an easy unsubscribe method. Letting your subscribers know, clearly and conspicuously, how to opt out of future messages is the law. You must give subscribers the choice to stop emails, and you must explain how (by using a clear, contrasting font to distinguish it on your email, by giving a return address to reply to — which should be a human reply-to address — or providing another internet-based way). 

      Unsubscribe.png

      Additionally, make certain that your own spam filter does not block opt-requests from subscribers. Another element of the law is honoring these requests swiftly (within 10 business days) and not requiring additional demands from the subscriber, like fees, personal information, or other actions besides visiting a single page or sending a reply email. You cannot transfer or sell the former subscriber’s email address.

      5. Understand Your Personal Obligation

      Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re working on improving (or starting) your business’s email marketing strategy. But, on the off chance that you’re merely reading this for fun (totally understandable) and you’ve hired someone else to manage your email marketing, understand that you still possess the legal responsibility to comply with the law. Even if it’s just your product promoted in the email messages, you could be held legally responsible for violations. You can read up on more details here.

      6. Keep Your Email List Updated

      It’s important to stay connected with your subscribers and keep your email list as up-to-date as possible, as email addresses change often. Hey, that young professional doesn’t want to use their “starwarslover6785@aol.com” address forever. A stale list can lead to too many hard bounces (emails rejected for permanent reasons like invalid or inoperable email addresses) and raise your spam score.

      7. Think Timing

      Sure, your subscribers might not like a lengthy email every day, but sending out a rare email every few months could hurt. When your messages do show up, your readers might not recognize the “From:” designation and send you straight to spam or delete your message quickly, damaging your stats and credibility. 

      8. Consider Size

      If your email content is too large, it could result in a soft bounce, a temporary delivery issue that signifies that your content got as far as your subscriber’s mail server but was then bounced back. Reasons for soft bounces may also include full inboxes or an offline server. The email provider you use should attempt to resend your email over a period of days, but be on the lookout for repeat bounces and remove them from your list. (Read more about bounce rates in the Metrics section below).

      9. Be Wary of Inserts

      Videos, embedded forms, and attachments aren’t smart things to include in your email messages. Forms and videos often aren’t supported for security and compatibility reasons. Plus, there’s mobile to think about (more than that later). If you have an additional PDF or worksheet you want to share, upload it to your site and provide a link in the email you send out. 

      10. Test Before You Send

      Lastly, it’s smart to use a service like IsNotSpam.com to test your email for possible spam triggers.

      Not Spam.png

      And for the record, we’re web hosting experts, so talk with a legit attorney if you really want to get into the minutiae of spam law.

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      4. Putting Pen to (Virtual) Paper

      It’s time to decide the type of content you want to send out. A good tip is to analyze your email reports and website analytics to see what content did best — and get writing more of that. Here are some email communication best practices that will earn you more opens, more engagement, and more satisfied subscribers. 

      Be a Stickler for Good Grammar

      This isn’t seventh-grade English class, but it’s important to put in the work to make sure your content is error-free and professional. You want your subscribers to trust you and keep returning to read. Get a second pair of eyes and use an editing checklist to help you spot mistakes. Nothing turns off a subscriber more than a misplaced comma or spelling error. Can you say amatuer amateur?

      Write Like a Friend

      While you still need to be professional, it’s also important to write conversationally and not like a robot. Add personal touches that help show your personality and approachability. Also, use the word “you.” Turns out it’s pretty convincing.

      Promptly Journals.png
      The emails from Promptly Journals make you feel like a VIP, not just a subscriber.

      Learn From the Pros

      There are a lot of companies out there who are doing email marketing well. Here are a few. Learn from the best and adapt your content to adhere to winning principles and make your emails — dare we say it — fun to read! 

      Make it Visually Appealing

      If your subscribers wanted to slog through dense copy, they’d read a textbook. Remember, they’re “snacking,” so avoid clutter and make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for with text breakups, visual cues, and a clean design. 

      Invite Readers to Take Action

      Just like a good story needs a good ending, don’t leave your email with a blah finish. Give a clear call-to-action prompt that engages your subscriber to do more. I mean, that’s why you’re sending the email in the first place, right?

      Take Your Subject Line Seriously

      Subscribers decide whether your emails are worth their time and attention in 0 to 3 seconds. One, two, done. Another scary fact: 70% of emails get flagged as spam based solely on the subject line! So make it enticing and relevant. Again, learn from the pros.

      Some important things to keep in mind when writing subject lines:

      • Personalize, personalize, personalize. The more you can make your message seem tailored to each subscriber, the more they’ll keep reading — and buying.
      • Rise above clickbait. Readers will quickly ditch if promises are left unfulfilled.
      • Keep it short and sweet. 
      • Take it easy on punctuation and caps, OKAY?!?!?!
      • Offer hints at what’s inside — discount, you say? I’m enticed. Bonus points if you can make the reader feel part of an exclusive club or create a sense of urgency to act.
      • Follow an enticing sub headline with a complementary preheader. If the two play well together, you’ll have committed subscribers that anxiously await your messages.

      Subject Line.png

      5. Think Mobile

      You’re already aware that your website needs to be geared toward mobile users — the same goes for your emails. 

      But why?

      Many consumers are now reading email exclusively on mobile devices and are pretty picky about how your messages look on their devices: more than 80% of people reported that they will delete an email if it looks wonky on their phones. Yikes.

      Mobile.jpeg

      You know the principles of optimizing your site; here’s how to optimize your messages for mobile.

      • Make Sure Your Templates Are Mobile-Ready — Regardless of which ESP you use, ensure that your message is formatted for every mobile device. Use readable fonts, a single-column layout, and touch-friendly buttons (mobile screens are small!)
      • Be Conscious of the Length of Your Subject Line — Too long, and it will get cut off on a mobile screen.
      • Resize Your Images — Make sure images and text are balanced in relation to each other.
      • Make Sure Your Links are Mobile — Verify that the pages you link to are also mobile-friendly so subscribers can successfully answer your call to action.
      • Create a Browser Version — Offer a browser version of the email so readers can open it outside of their email client.
      • Do a Practice Run — One of the best ways to assure that all content is ready to hit your subscribers’ inboxes is to send yourself a test email. Check all links, images, and subject lines in your own personal inbox. 

      6. Gauging Success

      You’ve crafted your winning email and sent it out into the interwebs — now what? How can you judge the success or failure of your email marketing campaign? What should you look for? Like any marketing effort, it’s important to analyze your results and improve any needed efforts, but what metrics are most important?

      Metrics.png

      Here is a quick-guide glossary of metrics you should keep an eye on in coordination with your personal goals.

      Bounce Rate

      As we mentioned before, bounce rate (both hard and soft) indicates the percentage of total emails that were undeliverable — permanently or temporarily — measured by the total number of bounced emails divided by the number of emails sent. Sometimes this is a server issue, sometimes it’s a spam issue. 

      Unsubscribe Rate

      This number — the rate at which people remove themselves from your email list — is a good correction tool; it can help you know which emails were causing subscribers to ditch your list and correct those issues in future communications.

      Open Rate

      The percentage of email subscribers who open a given email. But this can sometimes be misleading, as an “open” is counting as a subscriber who receives the images embedded in a particular message. But it can clue you into what subject lines are most effective, which days your emails are opened, and the average percentage of your email list responding to your messages.

      Click Rate

      The number of times links in your message are clicked on. This is important for understanding your subscribers’ level of engagement and how they are interacting with you — and acting on your invitations to buy, visit, or give feedback. 

      Action Over Time

      A timeline of engagement with your emails; this stat can assist you in planning when is the best time to send campaigns.

      Spam Score

      Not all email marketing service providers will provide you this number, but it’s worth thinking about if you can get your hands on it. Before you hit send, it can indicate the likelihood of your message getting slammed by spam filters. A Spam Complaint metric can also be used to correct past errors that caused your subscribers to designate a certain message as spam. Based on these numbers, you can adjust your content format.

      It might also be important to keep track of email client data; with this, you can see how successfully or unsuccessfully messages might be appearing on different client types. Also, encourage your subscribers to give you feedback so you can learn and improve your communications the next time around.

      Lastly, here are some tools that can help you keep track (if your service provider doesn’t already) and benchmarks that help you see how you stack up in your industry.

      The Last Word

      Take a breath. Email overload, we get it. You can always bookmark this guide and refer back to it when you’re ready to take the next step in improving your communications with subscribers. 

      And in case you scrolled all the way down here looking for the TL;DR, we’ve got you covered. Here are the key takeaways for starting your own email marketing program. 

      • Test, Test, Test — Whether it’s spot spelling mistakes or checking for possible spam triggers, test your emails before sending them. It’s an investment worth the extra few minutes.
      • Keep Your Email List Healthy — A fresh list will help you avoid a lot of issues, including spam and legal concerns, not to mention depressing analytics. Consider running a re-engagement campaign every six months or so to maintain your list.
      • Be Consistent — Not only in the type of content you share but the frequency in which you send it. Your subscribers will come to know — and trust — you and anticipate your messages.
      • Focus on Quality — Spend time on both the writing and design of your emails. These elements will not only increase your stats but help build solid relationships with subscribers. 
      • Add a Call-to-Action Button — Make that CTA easy to find and use. You want to turn those readers into customers!
      • Make It Personal — Send segmented messages to get the most relevant content to each subscriber. Personalized email subject lines are more likely to be opened.

      Now, back to that inbox.

      Ready to Create an Email Newsletter?

      Whether you need help finding a target audience, crafting the ideal social media strategy, or setting up a newsletter, we can help! Subscribe to our monthly digest so you never miss an article.

      RE: Your Feedback

      How have these email best practices gained you more subscribers or sales? What’s helped you successfully stay out of spam folders? Forward us your ideas (see what we did there?) on Twitter or join our Facebook group for site owners.





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      The Website Owner’s Guide to DNS Propagation


      Unless you’re in the information technology field, it’s possible to go your whole life (blissfully) without hearing the words “DNS propagation”.

      That is, unless you migrate your website to a new web hosting service. Only then do you learn that the lightning-fast internet you’re accustomed to has this thing called propagation, and it moves like a turtle.

      The good news is that it’s really not that slow. DNS propagation isn’t instantaneous, but it has a lot of ground to cover. By understanding what’s involved in DNS and how propagation works, you’ll be able to use this knowledge to better secure your site and offer stronger performance for website visitors.

      In this article, we’ll explain what DNS is, how it works, and most importantly, what it means for your website. We’ll also offer some tips to help you ensure DNS security for your site. Let’s get to it!

      What Is DNS?

      DNS is an acronym for Domain Name System. It’s the directory of every domain name used to access websites across the internet. DreamHost.com, YouTube.com, Wikipedia.org, and your own website’s URL are all stored in the Domain Name System.

      It’s called a system because it involves a hierarchy of nameservers that work together. They ensure that when you type “dreamhost.com” in your browser, you’re served the content from our site and not from any other of the millions of websites out there.

      When you type a domain name in your browser, DNS gets to work. It facilitates communication between your computer (or another connected device) and the server where the website is hosted. How does this happen? DNS matches domain names with IP addresses. Let’s take a closer look at that process.

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      Don’t let someone else register your URL. Search DreamHost’s 400+ TLDs to find the perfect fit for your website.

      How DNS and IP Addresses Work Together

      Each device connected to the internet has a unique Internet Protocol (IP) address, expressed as a numerical value. IP addresses help to route information requests over the internet. Queries (like typing a website’s name into a browser) are returned to the sending IP address – the device you’re using.

      IP addresses are assigned by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) for each network device. IP addresses can be updated or changed too, so this makes keeping up with them an ongoing process.

      For example, if you use your laptop at home, it’s assigned an IP address by your internet provider. If you take that same laptop to work and join the network there, your laptop will be assigned a different IP address by your employer’s internet provider.

      Websites have IP addresses too, since they also are stored on computers connected to the internet. When you type in a domain name, it doesn’t know where the website is located. What you really need is the IP address for the site. Then you can send and receive information.

      Rather than having to remember numeric strings (IPs) to designate website addresses (the servers where websites are stored), we use domain names. This makes it much easier to visit the many websites that we frequent. The process is similar to looking up a contact on your phone.

      Instead of memorizing all the phone numbers listed in your contacts, you can use a series of lookups. Let’s say you wanted to find Joe’s number. To call him, you might:

      • Open your contacts.
      • Tap the letter “J” for Joe.
      • Scroll through all the “J” contacts until you find Joe.
      • Tap Joe’s name to open his contact card.
      • Tap the phone icon to call Joe.

      DNS progresses through a series of lookups as well, until it finds the one unique number (IP address) for the website you’re looking for. In other words, DNS translates every domain name into its assigned IP address through a series of queries and servers.

      DNS Lookup in Action

      DNS lookup happens behind the scenes when you type a domain name into a web browser. The request is sent through a series of queries and servers. Namely:

      • DNS recursor (recursive resolver)
      • Root nameservers
      • Top-Level Domain (TLD) nameservers
      • Authoritative nameservers

      The DNS Recursor (recursive resolver) handles the initial DNS query from the web browser. This is similar to tapping your contacts app to start your search for Joe’s phone number. You have a name, but you need a number.

      For example, the nameservers for all of the domains managed by DreamHost, including ‘dreamhost.com’, are set up using the following:

      • ns1.dreamhost.com 162.159.26.24
      • ns2.dreamhost.com 162.159.27.142
      • ns3.dreamhost.com 162.159.27.84

      Back to our phone example, if Joe’s name is saved in your Favorites, the search is over. You have his number in hand, and you don’t need to look it up in your contacts listing. The DNS resolver acts similarly.

      Before your query is sent out to servers across the web, your DNS resolver checks for a “hosts” file on your computer, an index that isn’t often used now. Next, it will search your computer’s DNS cache to see if the IP address is stored in your browser.

      When the DNS resolver exhausts its search through your computer, router cache, and internet provider’s nameservers, the query is then sent along to the appropriate root nameserver. There are 13 root zones for the global internet. Each of them has a root DNS server.

      These root servers answer queries for the records contained in their zones. The root nameserver looks up the authoritative DNS server that contains the IP address for the domain name being queried. The root server knows where to send the query based on the Top Level Domain (TLD), such as .com, .org, or .net.

      Authoritative nameservers index domain names based on TLDs. The root domain (the website name, plus the .com or other TLD extension) is located on the authoritative nameserver. Its corresponding IP address is returned to the sending IP address, your computer. Finally, you have Joe’s number.

      What DNS Propagation Means (And How Long It Really Takes)

      DNS propagation refers to the amount of time it takes for a DNS change to update across the internet. For instance, if you move your website to another host, your DNS settings will change because you’ll have a new IP address.

      Your website has several different DNS records that might be updated, and you should be aware of these records and what they do:

      • A record: lists your website’s IP address
      • CNAME records: lists your subdomain or other aliases (can be used to point one domain to another)
      • MX records: specifies which mail server will handle your domain’s email
      • TXT records: attaches information to your domain, such as verification records

      When a DNS change is made, propagation can take up to 72 hours. However, it usually takes less than a few hours. Some obstacles may delay complete propagation. Let’s look at a few of the most common factors involved.

      • Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Internet providers keep DNS information cached so they can provide faster page loads for their customers. Sometimes, they may ignore TTL settings and keep DNS information for several days.
      • Domain Name Registries. When you update your DNS information, the update is sent to your domain registrar. It then publishes your nameserver records to its root zone. Some domain registrars don’t publish DNS updates immediately.
      • Time to Live (TTL) settings. This setting determines how long DNS information is allowed to “live” on a computer or DNS server. A higher TTL saves lookup time by keeping the information cached. This helps deliver faster results to the user. The downside is that a higher TTL setting prevents the DNS resolver from getting the most up-to-date DNS information.

      If you update your DNS records, a delay in propagation means that website visitors may be getting outdated information. You can check DNS propagation progress using an online tool, such as Google Admin Toolbox or DNS Checker.

      How to Flush Your DNS Cache

      Your DNS cache speeds requests by caching information locally, rather than relaying the requests through the DNS every time. When changes are made to a website’s DNS settings, your cache is not immediately updated, so your information may be outdated.

      To solve this, you can flush your DNS cache by following the directions for your particular operating system below. If you’re using Chrome for browsing, check out these instructions to clear your cache.

      Windows 8 & 10

      Click on Start, and when the Run box appears, type in Cmd and hit Enter. At the command prompt, enter ipconfig /flushdns as shown below.

      Flushing the DNS cache in Windows.

      After the command runs and returns the prompt, type Exit and press the Enter key to close the window. Instructions are also available for earlier versions of Windows.

      MacOS X 12 (Sierra) and Later

      First, navigate to Launchpad > Terminal, then type the following:

      sudo killall -HUP mDNSResponder;sudo killall mDNSResponderHelper;sudo dscacheutil -flushcache

      Flushing the DNS cache in MacOS.

      That’s all you need to do!

      OS X 11 (El Capitan)

      You can start by going to Launchpad > Terminal. Then enter:

      macbook$ sudo killall -HUP mDNSResponder

      Alternately, you can find directions online for older versions of MacOS.

      Linux

      Linux currently doesn’t cache the same way as Windows and MacOS, so you’ll need to find out how your particular machine should be flushed.

      What to Know About DNS Security

      The Domain Name System is constantly assaulted by Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. These target DNS servers and try to disrupt the system so that domain requests are denied.

      There are several steps you can take to minimize your risk from these DDoS attacks. First, use a secure web host. This is your first line of defense, and your website host should proactively ensure tightened security.

      Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access to your site’s files by adding an extra layer of security. The first layer is using your secure username and password to log in. The second layer is provided by an authentication application, such as Google Authenticator. Many users also use YubiKey, a hardware authentication device.

      You can also use a third-party security service like Cloudflare, a Content Delivery Network (CDN) that helps protect against malicious traffic and attacks. Cloudflare also speeds up your website. You can enable it through your DreamHost panel by going to Manage Domains.

      A web application firewall.

      Finally, a Web Application Firewall (WAF) like Cloudflare’s can add additional security by monitoring website traffic between applications and the internet.

      Next-Generation DNS

      DNS security is a growing concern, as DDoS attacks are on the rise. Many businesses use free DNS services for their websites. Not all of these free services have the resources to enhance security. Alternatively, premium services can offer:

      • Better security measures, pointing your domain to more secure nameservers
      • DNS failover, to keep your site accessible in case of a system disruption
      • Better performance due to faster resolution times

      The Domain Name System is key to keeping internet traffic safe, secure, and accurate. As hackers and other bad actors continue their assaults against DNS, businesses and individual website owners may consider how they can help ensure security and stability for their sites.

      Next-generation domain services play an essential role in developing products and services to ensure DNS security and keep the internet safe and accessible.

      Stay in the Know

      Join our monthly newsletter for tips and tricks to build your dream website!

      Domain Registration, Demystified

      DNS propagation ensures up-to-date information throughout the internet so that when someone sits down at a computer and types in your domain name, they’re routed to your website. All of this happens behind the scenes through the Domain Name System’s queries and servers.

      You can ensure that your DNS is accurate and up to date by managing your domain names with DreamHost’s domain services. Find your new domain name and get competitive pricing on registrations. Plus, you can stay secure with free Domain Privacy Protection and optional domain locking.

      If you registered your domain name somewhere else, we’ve got you covered too. You can transfer your domains to us and manage them all in one place, right from your DreamHost panel!



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      11 Things Website Owners Should Update During a Crisis


      Ever since the coronavirus crisis hit, it can sometimes feel like it has affected every area of our lives. Anyone who is now homeschooling kids or suddenly spending way too much time over a hot stove can vouch for that! Of course, that includes business too, and if you’re a business owner, there’s a good chance you’ve really felt that impact.

      “In my 13 years as a marketing agency owner, I never dreamed of this time, when my team and I are assisting hundreds of struggling small businesses to understand how best to market and communicate now to save their businesses,” says Wendy O’Donovan Phillips, CEO of Big Buzz.

      “Re-evaluate your vision statement to focus the team’s efforts through this time,” she advises. “Revisit your SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis with a particular focus on opportunities. Your clients and community have different needs now than they did even a month ago and will have different needs in another month. This approach will help you more readily hit your revenue and profit projections. Take the right action, and you will survive!”

      It’s time to create a crisis management plan. One of the most crucial things you’ll need to tackle as a small business owner is updating your website and social media channels.

      To keep your small business on the up and up, we’ve identified 11 things website owners should update during a crisis. Let’s dive in.

      How to Update Your Website During a Crisis

      1. Create a new landing page.

      When people visit your website, your homepage is likely the first thing they’ll see. That’s why keeping it fresh is always crucial, but with things in flux during a crisis, that’s even more important.

      To show that your business is on the ball and staying up to date, you’ll want to create a landing page for crisis-related content. Make sure to change the page often, especially when new information is released or policies evolve. If those affect your business, outline how you’ll be implementing anything new and how that will impact customers. Every time you update it, you can spread the word on social media by sharing a link.

      Another reason to continue refreshing your landing page is that search engines will recognize it’s a key page on your site for the crisis, which will boost SEO.

      2. Update your FAQ page.

      If you don’t have a FAQ section on your business website yet, it’s time to add one! The COVID-19 crisis is changing every day, so a FAQ section is a great place to address that and share your updates. Local businesses especially need to answer common questions about their crisis management and how your company is adapting because of restrictions due to COVID-19.

      To ensure that clients are aware of your FAQ section, you can spotlight a link to it on your homepage. Continue to add relevant information to your FAQ page, such as how you’re keeping employees safe, who comes into contact with your products, and policy changes, for instance.

      The FAQ section is also an opportunity to share any changes in your supply chain, offerings or any potential product fulfillment delays.

      “Always ensure you have the right resources to deploy readily available,” says Bob Minhas, Founder and Lead Trainer for eSchool for Entrepreneurs. “Whether documents or videos, walk through your customer journey and understand what they might need to know to complete a transaction with you online and have the right FAQ ready for them.”

      3. Change your menu/navigation.

      To make it easy to find your crisis content, it’s a good idea to add a link in your main navigation or an alert bar that sits above the navigation to your crisis landing page. Be sure to keep the title of the new navigation item short.

      Plus, regardless of the status of a crisis situation, it’s always a good idea to update your navigation to keep it timely and relevant, which should be part of a best practices strategy for your website.

      4. Review your product descriptions.

      Have your offerings changed in any way since the crisis started? Then you’ll want your website to reflect that. Change the text accordingly and add item availability information to postings.

      “A lot of small businesses that we work with are looking to add new services or products that are complimentary and interesting to the audiences they have built both online and in previous customers,” says Chris Sica, Chief Revenue Officer, The Ronin Society. “We encourage business owners to step into their customers’ shoes, think about the new buying journeys they are going to be on, what new pain points they will be experiencing and attempt to solve those using the resources they already have available to them.”

      5. Check your events page.

      If your business hosts events of any kind, you’ll want to give updates on how the schedule has changed, including if they’ve been cancelled, postponed or are going virtual.

      To avoid confusion, continue to list the original event date so that clients can confirm the event. For events that have been changed from in-person to digital, be sure to link to the virtual location for easy access.

      6. Make a homepage hero.

      In the midst of a crisis, everyone could use some good news. If you’ve realigned your business to help in any way, make it easy for customers to find out by updating your homepage. For example, if you’re now doing carryout or delivery, be sure to spread the word.

      “A delivery option is absolutely essential now,” Sica says. “Lots of customers still want to get out of the house and curbside pickup gives them a bit of a break from being at home. [Another element to expand is] payment options to make it easy to afford your product or service.”

      7. Utilize pop-ups or banners.

      One of the easiest ways to catch your clients’ attention and update them is to add a pop-up or banner. It’s an easy way to spread the word about reduced hours, limited inventory, shipping delays or changes in service availability. Make sure that it visually grabs people’s attention.

      8. Refresh local listings.

      If your hours have changed, the world needs to know. Be sure to update your website. Additionally, you’ll need to adjust hours and temporary closures on platforms where customers go to find your hours, such as Google My Business, Facebook and Yelp.

      9. Update your scheduled messaging.

      If you regularly send out pre-scheduled emails or social media updates, be sure to adjust them to fit the current situation. Otherwise, if you send out the same old communication, it can make you appear tone-deaf and not up to speed.

      “Customers are used to coming by your shop, seeing your advertisements, or whatever your traction channel is,” Sica says. “Their entire user experience with your brand has been removed or changed. Their fears and pain points have been altered. As a result, you need to make sure that you stay top of mind in a useful way. The easiest solution is by creating or updating your newsletters. We’ve also seen businesses create how-to videos for clients based on in-store or online products they like, and we’ve also seen customer happy hours.”

      10. Change your social media accounts.

      At the minimum, ensure that your business hours, closures, and product availability information remains updated for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak.

      Just to be on the safe side, it’s best to post more than once on your regular social media channels about any business changes, since we all know how quickly a Tweet can disappear to the bottom of a Twitter feed. This increases the odds that customers will see the news.

      11. Increase crisis communication.

      Ensure everyone is up to speed by sending updates via email, texts or blog posts — communicate with your customers in the way that is best for them.

      “It is important to stay in touch with customers,” says Jaryd P. Kase, Principal at Kase Consulting, LLC. “First off, if you are open, your customers might not know and they should know you are open. Second, your customers are dealing with the same crisis as you. By communicating how you are working to mitigate risk factors in the pandemic or working hard to continue bringing them a great product or service (or pick up where you left off if you are closed), it helps put the customer at ease that their favorite store or an important supplier isn’t going out of business.”

      However, there is a fine line between communicating too much and too little. “Communication with customers should be tempered,” says Deborah S. Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com. “It is important to not over-communicate or be too sales-y. Share information cautiously. Share content and information, but don’t try to sell. Inform and educate.”

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      Whether you want to stay focused at home or increase team engagement, we can help! Subscribe to the DreamHost Digest so you never miss an article.

      Your Crisis Management Team

      The coronavirus pandemic — and the resulting economic downturn —  is making things tough for small business owners. At DreamHost, we’ve provided digital homes for small businesses for more than two decades. In that time, we’ve learned that entrepreneurs are scrappy, smart, and savvy. We believe in you and your business and are here to help.



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