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DNS Propagation: How It Works & Why Marketers Should Care

DNS Propagation

4 min read

Today’s digital marketers need to be comfortable with technology to succeed.

After all, if you couldn’t browse the Web, manage your email, and get involved on social media, opportunities would pass you by.

As true as this is, though, most marketers get away with not knowing too much about how things work under the hood. And, for the most part, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Every once in a while, though, you could learn something about technology that changes your perspective. Even things that are easy to take for granted – like the way websites just “pop up” whenever you type the right address – may have something to teach you.

That Internet magic is called DNS propagation, and we’re going to learn about it today.

Don’t worry if it seems a little bit esoteric: All will become clear!

What Does DNS Mean?

DNS stands for Domain Name System. It’s a database consisting of 13 global name servers and a huge number of local servers. These match up IP addresses with corresponding Web addresses. Every time you type a URL, part of the Domain Name System makes the match and forwards your traffic.

For example, if you want to check notifications on Facebook, you would type in Facebook.com – not But notice, if you do type in those digits – the raw IP address – you still reach the website.

Without DNS, we’ll all be stuck manually typing in IP addresses.

That would be a bummer for everyone, but especially for marketers – who use their Web address as part of a cohesive brand identity. Virtually every request on the Web every day utilizes DNS.

What is DNS Propagation?

When a website first launches, it’s only accessible through its IP address – oh, no!

In order to link up the domain name with the IP, webmasters have to update the domain name servers associated with their hosting. These servers are a public-facing record showing the correspondence between IP addresses and website URLs.

Once this information is updated, it percolates all throughout the world, gradually updating the various hubs Web traffic passes through. New information from an individual domain name server gradually makes its way from one end of the ‘net to the other.

Each internet service provider (ISP) updates its own DNS records as the updates pass through their local network. This ensures that traffic doesn’t have to be verified with the thirteen global name servers every single time someone looks up a website.

Although the Internet is a complex, global network, it has various trunks and branches. Data has to travel from one node to the next to get to its destination. In almost all cases, the devices that forward Web traffic from one place to the next are designed to select the shortest route.

Since the shortest route varies a ton based on destination, time of day, what you ate for breakfast, and countless other factors, DNS propagation is an uneven process. Although it should take no more than 72 hours, users in different locations can get different results.

This may lead to some users being sent to the wrong site (or no site at all) while DNS updates.

Why DNS Propagation Matters

DNS propagation impacts digital marketing in a few key ways:

DNS Settings Can Make or Break Your Search

Once a website is up and running, its IP address rarely changes. Generally, it’ll stay the same forever unless the site changes hosts. However, a domain name can change any time simply by updating DNS records. This has serious implications for search, as losing a domain will disrupt search rankings. Improper DNS settings can make a site impossible for crawlers to index.

DNS Settings Can Confuse and Frustrate Users

During the period when DNS settings are updated, some users will go to the right URL, some may see the IP address, and others could reach an error message. If you provide critical services over the Web, users won’t be able to access them until DNS propagation is finished. This can be a big problem, particularly if the data being used is especially time-sensitive.

DNS Settings Can Be Hijacked by Cybercriminals

In the worst case scenario, hackers can gain access to your site and redirect your traffic by changing name server settings associated with your hosting. Hackers do this to hijack legitimate traffic and infect users with malware. Spyware, which monitors user behavior, and ransomware, which encrypts files and demands money for a “key,” are common threats.

Making DNS Propagation Easier on Your Marketing

DNS service should be transparent and seamless. Here’s how to make sure it stays that way.

Keep Your Domain Name Stable

There are very few good reasons to change a domain name, and chasing after a new keyword-rich URL isn’t one of them. DNS affects not only your site’s accessibility, but its speed and overall performance. Don’t adjust it unless necessary.

Let Users Know if Settings Will Change

If changing your DNS settings is inevitable, your site will be down until DNS propagation is complete. Do what you can to inform your users about expected downtime. This is a great use for on-site lightboxes and for a quick email to your subscribers.

Phase Out Old Web Properties Gracefully

If you are making changes to a website to redirect its traffic to a different website, be sure users understand what’s happening. A prominent timer or ticker along the top of a website will help remind users so they don’t think anything shady is going on.

Ideally, you won’t have to think too much about DNS propagation during your digital marketing career. Still, it’s an interesting thing to know about – and a potential first place to look if you notice traffic isn’t reaching your site the way it should.

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Published on May 8, 2018


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