How to Pass the DNS Test: Making Sure Your Emails Get Delivered
For any online presence, Domain Name System (DNS) configuration stands out as one of the most critical, but it can be all too easy to ignore. Getting into the acronyms of internet infrastructure sometimes leads folks to getting lost in the alphabet soup of FTP, HTTPS, SSL, DKIM, or SMTP. This article will lay out both why DNS is important, and how easy, even deceptively so, it is to get it right for 95% of marketing efforts.
So what is the Domain Name System? Well, it’s the phonebook of the internet, a directory for all listed sites so other folks can find them. When I want to go to a great website like ours at Blue Heron Digital, I can put blueherondigital.com into my browser’s address bar and know it’s going to deliver me to the right place. That works because the DNS configuration told my browser when it looked for that domain, what servers it needed to look up in order to receive our site assets. Humans like to put in an easy to remember, readable url for accessing sites, but computers need Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. So while it might be easy for me to remember a site name like blueherondigital.com, in reality, the site is accessed at the machine level by our server’s IP address: 18.104.22.168.
It works as a shortcut; think of it like the White House. It’s an easy way to refer to the building that’s at the physical address of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20500. The same is true with domain names and their IP address, and DNS is what connects the two.
Then you might be asking yourself, my domain name points to my website, so what do I need to worry about DNS for? If your website is your only digital marketing tool, then you are correct, no further adjustments required! However, if you also are among the vast majority of organizations that sends email as part of their marketing efforts, the journey’s not quite run its course.
Email adds another step to the process, because if you want to send from your own domain (like Joe@blueherondigital.com) and you’re using an email marketing service like Mailchimp or Constant Contact, they’ll need to authenticate their use of that domain. If you’ve ever seen a spam email that sort of looked like it came from a trusted source you’ll probably understand why security at this level is important. Spammers want to look like someone you trust, and to do that they send emails that look as though they come from an organization you do trust, or already have a relationship with like Google or your bank. Sometimes you can see through them because their sending domains aren’t quite right, such as firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s close but not quite right, yet still close enough you might not notice the issue at a glance. They might even try to use the exact domain of a trusted source, but in that case, the ‘spoof’ emails will be sent to your spam folder, or not delivered at all because their DNS won’t be configured to authenticate themselves as senders.
To protect users, your email service providers, e.g. Outlook, Yahoo, Gmail, check the Domain Name System for who’s allowed to send emails from specific domain names. So when some Russian who wants my bank information sends an ‘urgent’ email from my bank’s domain name, I probably won’t ever see it, which is great because then I don’t have to look as hard to understand whether an email I received is authentic or not, my email service provider does it for me, which is a great load off my mind as an email recipient. As an email marketer though, that also means if I haven’t set up my DNS configuration for my specific email marketing service, those emails might get lumped in with the Russian scammers and Nigerian princes because I’m provided the same amount of authentication they are—none.
So, presuming that you’d rather your emails be delivered than dumped, what do you do? Easy, follow the steps from your email marketing service! Mailchimp has very specific steps, so does Constant Contact or most any other place you may care to use. They all break down along the same lines, to prove that they are allowed to send emails from your domain, you have to add some new records to your DNS, specifically SPF and DKIM records that your marketing tool will generate and then all that’s needed is adding them to where your DNS are configured, usually the place where you bought the domain.
Once those two records are added, odds are you are now covered! You’ve told the internet how to get to your site and also that your emails really are your emails, for real, a good day’s work. Those settings will stay the same most likely until you change one of the three pieces involved, domain registrar, email marketing services, or hosting platform. There are additional steps that can be taken however in case you want to serve your site securely, track your email responses more closely, decided whether or not you really want that www in front of your domain, or even if you think a .net and a .com for your domain should both end up at the same place. Check back in soon, and please reach out below if you have any other questions Blue Heron can help address!