4 Getting online

4 Getting online

To put your business online, there’s a few steps you need to work through, the first being buying a domain name, followed by buying your hosting.

A domain name is the address of your website, what someone types into their web browser to visit your home page.

Web hosting is needed to store the files that make up a website. There are several different types of hosting to choose from and numerous hosting companies offering hosting packages at various prices.

4.1 Buy your domain

The first piece of advice I offer you is never get a free domain.

Some web hosts offer a free domain name when you buy a hosting package. That may seem like a no-brainer, but don’t do it.

Your domain name is going to be a key brand asset for your online business. You could build a hugely profitable business on a website using that free domain.

With a free domain from your host though, it’s not in your name and you don’t control the DNS settings (I’ll explain this soon) for that domain.

In the event you have a problem with your hosting, without control over your domain, you’re reliant on the host company to get your site online. Big problems that take websites offline for extended periods are unusual, but they do happen.

If you have full control of your domain, if necessary you could buy hosting with a different company, set your site up on that new hosting account and direct the domain to the new site.

Of course, you may already be using a free domain name, so in that case you may want to consider transferring your domain. We’ll look at how to do that a little later.

4.1.1 Which Top Level Domain should you use?

A Top Level Domain or TLD is the extension that appears at the end of a domain. For example:

  • .com
  • .org
  • .us
  • .io
  • .club
  • .shop

Those are all examples of TLDs. The first two have been around pretty well since the start of the web. The second two are examples of country specific TLDs and the last two are examples of newer TLDs that resulted from a change in the rules governing TLDs.

In addition to TLDs, there are Second Level Domains or SLDs. Looking at the website for this book, the SLD is shoestringhustle, however I’ll refer to domain name rather than SLD as I think it makes more sense to most people.

If your business is specific to a country, then looking to use the respective country TLD usually makes sense. It could boost search engine rankings for searches in the selected country.

If you want to use a country specific TLD for another reason other than your business operating in that country, be sure to check you’re eligible to buy it. Some countries, such as Spain with .es, require you to be resident or have a business office in the country.

If you’re not location specific and you can find a suitable .com that’s available, it’s probably still the best option to choose. If someone tries to guess a domain name, they’ll usually try .com first.

One reason to select a different TLD may be if there is one that is specific to your industry, such as .fashion for a clothes retailer.

4.1.2 How should you choose your domain name?

As suggested above, availability may be the main driver when you select your domain. Here’s a checklist of things you should bear in mind when choosing though.

  • Names can only include letters, numbers and hyphens and can’t start or end with a hyphen
  • Shorter is better as it’s more easily remembered
  • Google is a fan of brands, so including your brand name may have value, though it may offer less benefit for small and new businesses
  • Include a relevant keyword if possible as it helps signal what you’re business does, but this no longer affects search engine rankings
  • Is it easy to spell? Don’t select something that you need to explain how to spell it
  • Likewise, think hard before making up name with a vowel or two removed, like flickr.com

When you have decided on a domain name, type it out and look at it. Then get other people to look at it to ensure you get no unexpected surprises later.

It’s likely the owner of the online pen sales business that registered the domain penisland.net knew exactly what they were doing (they must have received huge amounts of traffic from people sharing their domain with others to give them a laugh), but it’s possible they never saw that some people might not interpret it as an island of pens, rather as a land of, well you get the idea.

4.1.3 Where to buy your domain name?

To buy a domain name, you will need to sign up for an account with a domain registrar.

I’ve used a few, but for the last few years I’ve bought all my new domains from Namecheap (http://www.namecheap.com/?aff=102849). I still have domains with other registrars, but that’s only because I’m too lazy to move them and save a few dollars a year on each.

It’s not uncommon for some registrars to sell domains more cheaply than Namecheap for the first year, but then the price jumps significantly from the second year onwards. So when you buy, make sure you check what the renewal cost will be.

Namecheap renewals may also be a few dollars more than the initial price, so you can always contact their support if that may be an issue for you and it’s not clearly stated at purchase. That seems to be the case with .com domain names.

The practice of higher renewals fees may be particularly prevalent with many of the newer TLDs. The owners of the TLDs know that if you set up a successful site using one of their TLDs, you will have to keep renewing year after year, so a low initial fee could lead to greater long term profits for them.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but make sure you’re aware of the ongoing renewal costs before you buy.

4.1.4 Are you a domain hoarder?

In case you’re one of those people with an itchy trigger finger when it comes to browsing sites selling domain names, this is for you.

Cloudflare, a company that helps protect websites from attacks (we’ll get to them later) have another service.

Cloudflare Registrar (https://www.cloudflare.com/products/registrar/) sells and renews many TLDs at cost price. You have to use Cloudflare’s service for any domain names bought through them, but if you’re just parking domains, then there’s nothing to set up.

If you’ve got a lot of domains you’re not using, it could be worth looking into transferring them to bring the costs down.

4.1.5 How to transfer a free domain

If you received a domain name for free when you bought your web hosting, in most cases you should be able to transfer with little trouble. You are reliant on your web host in this matter, but as long as you don’t owe any money to the hosting company, all reputable companies will comply with your request. It is possible there may be a fee to pay depending on your web host.

The exact process for transferring a domain may vary a little depending on the TLD. I’ll focus on transferring a .com domain name as those are still the most common.

Before pressing ahead, you want to check that your domain wasn’t registered or renewed less than 60 days ago. Most domains cannot be transferred during the first 60 days after being registered or renewed.

If you’re unsure about this, enter your domain name into the search form at https://www.whois.net/. The results page will show you the creation date of the domain name and the last date it was updated.

You also need to check that the domain’s status isn’t locked, information again you can see on the Whois page.

Assuming your domain is outside the 60 days period, contact the support department of your web hosting company, explain you want to transfer your domain to your own registrar’s account and ask them to supply you with an Auth Code or EPP Code to transfer the domain. Depending on the current status of the domain, you may also need to ask for the domain to be unlocked.

When you have the code, go to Namecheap and click the Sign Up link at the top of the page and register your new account.

After signing in, go to the Transfer to Us menu item and click Transfer Domains. Enter your domain name into the input field and click Transfer.

On the next screen, confirm that Registrar Lock isn’t locked before continuing. Assuming it’s showing Active or OK, check the Domain Contact Information box and enter the Authorization Code. Click the Verify Auth Code button and if the verification is successful, you can continue and click the add to cart button.

Once the payment is complete, it may take up to 5-7 days for the domain to appear in your Namecheap account. Namecheap will send an email to you when the transfer is complete.

Note that there should be no downtime when transferring a domain, as Namecheap will automatically use the same nameservers your site was using.

Note that most TLDs will extend the previous expiry date for the domain for a further year, so you don’t lose out on the previous registration period.

4.2 Buy your web hosting

Making the right choice on web hosting from the start can save a lot of pain later.

Once you’ve got a site up and running, you’re going to be very reluctant to move it without a good reason.

Even if you know what you’re doing, moving your domain and a live website can be a complete pain.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, it can feel like you’re punching yourself in the face. Just for reference, here’s the British boxer Tyson Fury demonstrating what that looks like – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dxPO_Z57xg.

4.2.1 The different types of web hosting

We’ll consider three different types of web hosting, shared hosting, virtual private servers and dedicated servers.

4.2.1.1 Shared hosting

The most common and usually cheapest type of hosting is called Shared Hosting.

The name is quite descriptive as it means multiple web sites are placed on to the same web server. The exact number of sites sharing a server varies from host to host.

All these sites share the same resources, so the more sites there are on the server, the greater the likelihood of poor performance.

Most sites on shared hosting are likely to have little traffic, so much of the time there are plenty of resources to share around. However, if a few sites get busy at the same time, they’re all fighting for the same resources and this can lead to all the sites on the server running more slowly.

When looking for a shared host, there are a few things to consider. Look for a host that states they use SSDs (Solid State Drives). These are faster than than the traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) and also more expensive. If a host uses SSDs, it’s likely they’re also taking other steps to try and ensure your site is as fast as possible.

Also make sure they supply a free SSL certificate. An SSL certificate is needed to get the padlock icon to appear in the address bar of your web browser. The Let’s Encrypt project supplies free SSL certificates that anyone can use. These certificates are fine for most sites, so don’t choose a host that only offers paid for certificates.

In some cases, there may be a requirement to use a higher grade SSL certificate, but if that’s the case for your business, shared hosting is probably the wrong choice for you anyway.

A final word of caution about shared hosting. If the server is poorly configured, it may be insecure in the event that one site is hacked. That one site can open the door for the hacker to hack every other site on the server. This is probably more of a historical problem now, and most big name shared hosts shouldn’t be vulnerable to this, but it could still be an issue with some smaller hosting companies.

Some of the pros

  • All completely managed for you
  • Usually includes email using your domain name
  • Many include a free SSL certificate

Some of the cons

  • Performance may be variable
  • Some charge for additional features you hadn’t realized you would need

4.2.1.1 Virtual Private Server (VPS)

This is similar to shared hosting in that multiple sites are placed on the same server. The difference is that each one is housed in its own virtual server that has its own IP address and it’s own guaranteed resources.

That means that if every other site on the server is busy, it won’t impact the speed of your site at all. Your site will always have at least the resources that you pay for. In fact a lot of the time, it may be able to access more than you pay for as some hosts keep an additional pool of resources that can be shared by sites getting traffic spikes.

At first glance that sounds great, but it does come with a potential downside. With Shared Hosting, everything is managed for you, but with a VPS, you have to take full responsibility for your site and the VPS itself.

You have to install the web server software and then maintain that server, as well as installing and maintaining your website. A few years ago that would have made this an impossible option for any but the most technically able site owners.

Nowadays though, there are a few services that automate this for you almost completely. This means this can be an option for those with a little bit of experience. We’ll look at these in the next section on Which host should you choose?

If there are problems with the VPS, you will have to resolve those issues yourself. In practice problems rarely occur, but they can happen so you do need to have strategies prepared for dealing with issues. That could be as simple rebuilding the VPS and reinstalling the website from a backup. That process may take an hour or more, but it’s not complex if you know what you’re doing.

Some of the pros

  • Guaranteed resources
  • Usually better performance than shared hosting

Some of the cons

  • You have to manage the VPS (this is easier to do nowadays as I’ll show)
  • Generally more expensive than shared hosting

4.2.1.3 Dedicated Server

As the name suggests, this is a web server that is dedicated to just your site. In fact you could choose to run more than one site, as you get to do whatever you want with your server.

You will usually find two types of dedicated server offered. One sees you receive access to a server that you then take full control and responsibility for. The other option is a Managed Dedicated Server where you specify what you want and the hosting company take care of it for you.

Either way, this is really a choice to consider later, when your site is established and constantly busy. At that point you may want to look into a dedicated server, though it’s possible a larger VPS will be a better option.

Some of the pros

  • Great performance guaranteed all the time unless you get super busy

Some of the cons

  • Can be very expensive, especially for a managed service

4.2.2 Which host should you choose?

The first choice you need to make is which type of hosting. If you’re starting out and you’re not too confident with tech, Shared Hosting is probably the best choice as most things are done for you.

A VPS may be the right choice if you’re more comfortable with tech stuff or have a site that is already getting a lot of traffic and you’re having performance issues with shared hosting.

Before we press on, some hosting companies allow you to pick the location of the server your site will be hosted on. If that applies to the host you pick, select a location that is nearest to your customers. For example, if your customers are all across the USA, you might pick Dallas as it’s fairly central for most users. For a European customer base, a location in France or Germany might be preferable.

4.2.2.1 Shared hosting companies

I don’t personally use shared hosting, but have past experience of a few companies that I believe offer reasonable performance at an affordable price.

All of these offer WordPress hosting packages that will give you a blank website to get started with.

  • Siteground
    Note they offer an introductory price, so the rate increases when you next make a payment
  • Dreamhost
    Offers a relatively low monthly fee, but email isn’t included in the price you see
  • A2 Hosting
    Usually automatically applies a discount code to first payment, so check the Monthly fee at checkout to ensure it’s what you expect

Of course there are other shared hosts you can pick from, but bear a few things in mind.

As I pointed out previously, look for a host that uses SSDs (this is usually clearly stated if that’s the case as they’re more expensive). This is generally a positive indicator that a company is prioritizing performance for customers over profits for shareholders.

Watch out for loss leader pricing where the price increases significantly when the package renews.

Be guided by the opinions of experts, rather than other site owners who may have no experience of other hosts to compare against. Users with little experience tend not to realize that their site loads more slowly than similar sites on other hosts. They also generally won’t have set up any type of monitoring of their site to let them know if it’s not working. So their site could be slow and unavailable multiple times a day, yet they’re happy to recommend the host because as far as they can see, everything is fine.

To find some expert opinions, pay a visit to Web Hosting Talk and try searching for the name of any web hosting companies you’re interested in. This is a site frequented by many professionals working in the web hosting sector, plus developers and established site owners, so should provide more objective feedback. Of course every company will have some problems now and again, so don’t be too swayed by the odd good or bad opinion, if the majority of opinions point the other way.

Finally, it helps to know that hosting companies tend to come in a few different types, though it’s not always obvious which type any company is.

At the time of writing, the three hosts I suggested above are all independently owned companies. As such they tend to prioritize the user experience. They can balance their customers’ needs with achieving sustainable revenues, as opposed to seeking to maximize returns for shareholders by employing lower cost technologies and cutting corners elsewhere.

Those aren’t the only independents and there are many more in the market.

You may also encounter resellers that put their branding on white label hosting services. There’s no easy way to identify a reseller, but it’s not always a bad solution. There are some good white label hosting suppliers. They handle all the tech side and the reseller just sells the hosting and manages the customers.

On the other hand there are resellers who rent servers and take full responsibility for them. These usually charge less as their fees are lower, but service may be very variable as they may not be qualified to manage web hosting. This is where researching a company first may help you identify hosts that should be avoided.

The last type of web hosting company is actually a single publicly owned company. Endurance International Group (EIG). Their business plan is to buy up existing hosting companies and maintain those brands while cutting costs through economies of scale. Wikipedia has a list of EIG brands at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endurance_International_Group, which includes some well known names.

If you search for more information on the company, you’ll often find reports that the service in companies they acquire drops after buyouts. Web Hosting Talk will be fruitful if you want to learn more about the business.

Most comments and articles I’ve read on EIG have not been favorable, sometimes down to performance and sometimes down to poor support and sometimes both. However, I must be clear that I’ve had little experience of EIG companies personally. I did work on a couple of customer sites on Bluehost a few years ago though and both those sites suffered from noticeably slow response times. Of course things could have changed. That’s where looking for contemporary feedback is vital.

4.2.2.2 Virtual Private Server companies

If your site is already up and running and getting significant levels of traffic, switching to a VPS may be worth considering to help ensure better and more consistent performance.

Note that setting up a VPS following my suggestions won’t include email using your domain name. I’ll explain the options available to you in the Set up your domain email section, including a free service with five email addresses.

For those just starting up, if you have a degree of tech confidence, a VPS may be an option for you to consider. I’ll give you some more information to help you decide whether this is a viable option for you.

I’m going to recommend just two companies, one that I use and one I haven’t. They have slight differences which is why I’m showing both to you.

In each case, we’re looking at a 1GB VPS. The 1GB refers to the amount of RAM the VPS has and that should be sufficient for most sites as they’re starting out. If in the future the site becomes busier and slows down, it is easy to upgrade a VPS to a higher specification.

4.2.2.2.1 Linode

I have several VPSs with Linode (https://www.linode.com/) and have been using them for at least three years. At the time of writing, a 1GB Linode is just $5. There may be taxes applicable on that depending on your location. That’s a similar price to low cost shared hosting.

As outlined earlier, you need to manage your VPS. That used to be horribly complex, but now it’s so straightforward, anyone who’s a little bit tech happy can cope with it. There are several companies that offer services that configure and maintain your VPS for you, but I’m recommending Runcloud (https://runcloud.io), which is one that I use.

This will set up and maintain your server for you. The full version for a single VPS currently costs $7 per month and I think it is excellent value for money. They also offer a free service level that you can use on a single VPS, which has less features.

The biggest negative with the free level is that it doesn’t include SSL certificates. An SSL certificate is needed to display the padlock icon in the address bar of your site. Whatever type of website you have, you really do need to have an SSL certificate. If you don’t, web browsers may display a Not secure warning on pages of your site.

It is possible to install a free SSL certificate supplied by Let’s Encrypt on a VPS using free Runcloud. You’re getting into quite specialized territory though and I believe you can’t set them to auto renew. That means you’ll have to manually provision a new certificate every three months. Still, if you’re comfortable using SSH and Bash (if that just sounds like an instruction from a librarian and another way to say hit, this isn’t going to be a good idea for you), this could be a short term option while you grow revenue.

Later on I’ll discuss a free service called Cloudflare. Among other things, they supply a free SSL certificate for sites using their free service, so you could use them and the free Runcloud service.

4.2.2.2.2 Cloudways

Cloudways (https://www.cloudways.com/) aren’t a VPS provider like Linode, in fact they’re perhaps more like Runcloud. What they do is resell VPSs from other companies with their server management tools already installed. So you only pay one company each month instead of two. On top of that though, they take care of the initial setup of your VPS and are also responsible for any problems that occur on the VPS.

I haven’t used Cloudways, but from what I’ve read about them, they offer a very good service. At the time of writing, their cost for a 1GB Linode is the same as if you were paying Linode and Runcloud. They resell other VPS services too though.

Select Digital Ocean or Vultr for the VPS provider and it’s a little cheaper. Both those VPS providers also have good reputations. I’ve used a Vultr VPS for an email server for years that’s been problem free.

Be aware though that Cloudways can become relatively more expensive if you have to start upgrading your VPS specification to cope with more users on your site.

4.3 Setup your domain’s DNS

DNS is the system that ensures when we type an address into our browser, we get to see the page we want to see.

Before we get into how you configure DNS, I think it makes sense to explain exactly what it is.

4.3.1 Quick introduction to DNS

DNS stands for Domain Name System. It’s powered by fairies who spend their whole time watching the address bar of your browser. When you type a web page address into your browser, the fairies find the website on the web and deliver it to you.

Actually, I lied about the fairies, but other than that, that’s not a completely inaccurate explanation of DNS.

Do you still receive a telephone directory? Before the web took off, every year we’d receive a thick book filled with all the phone numbers for the region we lived in.

We could look through by name and then narrow it down by address and find a phone number for a specific person.

DNS is much the same for the internet.

Every web server that hosts websites has an IP address. The equivalent of a phone number.

You can type an IP address into your browser and be connected to a web server, though often you’ll just see an error rather than a website. That may be because it’s common for multiple sites to use the same IP address and the server doesn’t know which site you want.

Also IP addresses aren’t easy to remember, unlike a website name. How many IP addresses like this, 83.35.10.219, do you think you could remember?

So DNS works like a phone book, but instead of books, the system uses DNS servers. There are many DNS servers distributed around the world.

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When you type a website address into your browser, you are then connected to a DNS server.

The DNS server searches its records for the website address you entered. If the server finds it, it returns the IP address of the website’s server.

Using that information, your browser connects to the server which returns the web page you wanted.

4.3.1.1 DNS propagation

Propagation is the process where the IP address for a domain is passed to all the DNS servers around the world.

This happens in two cases. When a new domain name is registered and when a domain name is moved to a new IP address.

The propagation process can take a while to complete. It used to be expected that it could take up to three days. In reality it’s usually quicker and can take just a few minutes in some cases for the DNS server you’re using to update.

Sometimes when you move a domain to a new IP address, something odd happens.

After waiting for the DNS to update, you find you’re connected to your new site. You start checking everything works and suddenly you click a link and you’re looking at the old site.

That can happen because you’re not always connected to the same DNS server. Because the servers can update their records at different times, while propagation is happening, different DNS servers may send you to different sites.

The figure below illustrates how this can happen.

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4.3.1.2 How to check DNS propagation

To an extent you’re in the dark as to how the propagation process is going. You can get an overview though using a site like DNS Checker (https://dnschecker.org/).

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Enter your domain name into the search field and leave the drop down (1) set to A unless you’ve been told otherwise.

That will show a selection of DNS servers around the world with a green check mark for those with a record for the domain.

Bear in mind that if you’re moving a domain, all the servers should show a green check mark. In that case, you need to check the IP address (2) that each server has returned.

4.3.2 Configure your domain’s DNS

After buying your web hosting, you need to point your domain name at the hosting.

In your web hosting account you should be able to find the IP address of your website. In fact you may find two, depending on how the server your site is on is setup.

You should be able to find an IPv4 or IP4 address that will look something like 45.79.135.208.

You may also find an IPv6 or IP6 address that will look something like 2600:3c03::f03c:91ff:fe55:5a6b.

Now go to your Namecheap account and click the Domain List entry in the left hand side menu. Click the Manage button of the domain name you are setting up.

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Click the Advanced DNS tab.

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Scroll down to the Host Records section and click the ADD NEW RECORD button.

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Ensure the first column control is set to A Record.

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  • In the Host column, enter @
  • Enter the IPv4 address in the Value column
  • Click the green tick icon to save the record

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If there is a CNAME Record with the Value column set to parkingpage.namecheap.com, click the bin icon to delete it.

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  • Add another A Record and enter www into the Host column
  • The Value column should be set to the same IPv4 address as before
  • Click the green tick to save this record

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If your hosting account also has an IPv6 address, click the ADD NEW RECORD button and set the Type column to AAAA Record.

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You need to add two AAAA Records, one with Host set to @ and the other to www, and each with the IPv6 address in the Value column.

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4.4 Setup your domain email

Domain email is where you have email addresses using the domain name of your website. For example, ian@shoestringhustle.com.

If you’ve selected to use a shared hosting company, you will probably have domain email included. You just need to add some more DNS values to your Namecheap account. I’ll explain that in the first part of this section, Connect to your web hosting email.

The second part of this section, Get five free domain email addresses, will show you how to setup email if you’re using a VPS with Runcloud or Cloudways as they don’t include email.

4.4.1 Connect to your web hosting email

In your web hosting account, you should be able to find at least one, but usually two or more, MX Addresses, most likely under an email section.

Each address should also have a Priority value that you will need too.

You need to check whether the MX Records’ domain name is your website’s domain name or another domain name altogether.

So if my site is joinbuilders.com, an MX Record might look like mail.joinbulders.com or mail.webhost.com.

If the MX Record does end with the domain name of your site, you will have some additional steps, otherwise skip the Set A Records section below and go straight to Set MX Records. More commonly with Shared Hosting, the MX Records won’t use your site’s domain name, but I’m covering this here just in case.

4.4.1.1 Set A Records

The MX Records will either be a domain name or a sub-domain and domain name.

Just a domain name will look something like joinbuilders.com, while a sub-domain will look something like mail.joinbuilders.com. Note there are two periods in that sub-domain address and the sub-domain is the text that appears ahead of the first period. In the example, the sub-domain is mail.

Go to your Namecheap account and the Advanced DNS tab of the domain name you’re setting up.

Skip this if your records don’t include a sub domain and continue to set your MX Records.

If your MX Records include a sub-domain, scroll down to the Host Records section and click the ADD NEW RECORD button.

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Set the Type to A Record, enter the sub-domain in the Host column, the IPv4 address of your site in the Value column (unless told otherwise, this will be the same as the www A Record) and click the green tick to save the record.

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4.4.1.2 Set MX Records

Go to your Namecheap account and the Advanced DNS tab of the domain name you’re setting up.

Scroll down to the Mail Settings section and set the dropdown control to Custom MX.

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  • Enter @ into the Host column
  • Enter the first MX Record into the Value column
  • In the Priority column, enter the priority specified by your web host
  • Click Save all changes

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Repeat the steps to add all the MX Records specified by your webhost. Note that when you’re finished, it may take anything from a few minutes to more than a day for these new records to propagate and start taking effect.

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4.4.2 Get five free domain email addresses

There are many email service providers that allow you to set up domain email, usually paying a fee for each address you require. I’ll show you how you can get five domain email addresses for free.

We’re going to use Zoho which is a company that offers a wide range of web based applications. Their email service allows us to use our own domain name and set up five email accounts, each with a 5GB inbox.

Note that with this free plan, you can only access your emails through a web browser or using their mobile app for iOS and Android.

Also, the free plan does not allow you to automatically forward emails to another address or use a desktop email app on your computer. If you need either of those features, you will need to select one of their paid for plans or use another service, such as Google G Suite.

Go to https://www.zoho.com/mail/, ensure that the Business Email radio button is selected and click the Sign up for free button.

On the next page, you can select the email plan you want to use. You will need to scroll down to find the free plan. Click the Sign Up button of your selected plan and complete the registration process.

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When you’ve completed registering your account, press on with verifying your account.

  • Click the dropdown control
  • Select Others

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There are several verification options, but we’re going to use the TXT Method. Select and copy the text in the Value / Points To / Destination box.

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Go to your Namecheap account and go to the Advanced DNS tab of your domain. Scroll down to the Host Records section, click the Add New Record button and set the dropdown to TXT Record.

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  • Enter @ into the Host column
  • Paste the text you copied from Zoho into the Value column and save

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It may take time for the TXT Record you set to propagate, but go back to Zoho and click the Verify by TXT button. If the validation fails, wait for half an hour or so and try again.

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Now that you’ve verified the ownership of your domain name, you can configure Zoho and update your domain’s DNS settings so that you can start sending and receiving emails.

Enter your desired email address and click the Create Account button.

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You can add further accounts later, so click the Skip button to complete the setup of your email.

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Groups are of more use for larger businesses, so click the Skip button.

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The first step is to setup the MX Records of your new email. Click on the dropdown control and select Others.

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Select and copy the text from the first row of the Address column and make a mental note of the first value in the Priority column.

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Go to your Namecheap account and scroll down the Advanced DNS page to the Mail Settings section. Set the dropdown control to Custom MX. In the table below, edit the first row’s values. Enter @ into the Host column, paste the text you copied from Zoho into the Value column and enter the priority value from Zoho into the Priority field. Click the green tick icon to save the new record.

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Click the Add New Record button to add a new row and enter the second MX Record from Zoho. Add a third row and enter the final MX Record before clicking the Save All Changes button.

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It will take a little time for the MX Records to propagate. Back in Zoho, click the MX Lookup button at the bottom of the screen. A popup should display whether the MX Records have validated. If validation fails, you can still click Next as the validation will be completed later.

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The next step is to add an SPF Record to the DNS settings of your domain. You don’t have to complete this step, but this will prevent anyone sending emails that pretend to have been sent by you. That can damage your sending reputation and reduce the deliverability of your emails, so this step is advisable as it only takes a few moments.

Select and copy the TXT Value from the table.

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Go to your Namecheap account and in the Host Records section, add a new TXT Record.

In the Host column enter @, paste the text you copied from Zoho into the Value column and click the green tick to save the record.

Note, if there is already an existing SPF Record in your Host Records section, unless you know it isn’t required anymore you need to edit that record rather than adding a new SPF Record. A domain can only have one SPF Record configured.

For example, if there is an existing record like v=spf1 include:servers.mcsv.net ~all, you need to add the include value from Zoho.

So if the Zoho record looks like v=spf1 include:zoho.eu ~all, when we combine them, the new record looks like v=spf1 include:zoho.eu include:servers.mcsv.net ~all. Finally, if the original record ends with -all, change it to ~all.

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Now go back to Zoho and click the Proceed to configure DKIM button. This will see you add another DNS record to help protect your emails being seen as spam. For clarity, this doesn’t mean you can send spam with gay abandon, if you send clearly spam emails, your deliverability will be damaged regardless of whether you’ve setup SPF and DKIM.

When the new screen opens, click the pencil icon at the right side of the row that contains your domain name.

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Click +Add Selector.

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In the Selector Name field, enter zoho and click the Save button.

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From the new screen, copy the zoho._domainkey text in the TXT – Host/Name column and go to Namecheap. You should not include the domain name part of the text as Namecheap will automatically apply this.

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In Namecheap, add a new TXT Record to the Host Records section and paste the text you copied into the Host column. Go back to Zoho and copy all the text from the TXT Value column and paste that into the Value column. Ensure that you copy all of the text as just one missing character will break this and hurt your email deliverability instead of helping it. Click the green tick to save the new record.

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Go back to Zoho.

  • You can try clicking the Verify button but it will probably fail at this point as the TXT Record needs some time to propagate
  • Click the Back to Setup button

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As this should be a new email address, skip the Email Migration step that can copy over emails from an existing account. The final step will introduce you to Zoho’s mobile apps and after that you will see the final screen.

That screen includes links to help files on how to use Zoho webmail and also how to manage all your email accounts.

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You should now have your email setup to allow the best deliverability possible using Zoho. Note that you don’t have to go through these steps when you add more email accounts. These settings apply to those new accounts too.

When you log in as the user you just setup, you will also have access to the main Zoho email control panel where you can configure various settings, including adding new email accounts. By default, those new accounts will not have access to the control panel.

One last thing you may want to do with your new email account is add a signature. It will give your emails a professional touch and allow you to share other details about your business automatically in every email you send. This could include a mailing address, phone number, links to social media accounts or even a current special offer your business is running. More information on getting setup is available at https://www.zoho.com/mail/help/signatures.html.

4.4.3 How to get unlimited domain email addresses

At a few points in this book, I cover some more technical options that are probably not going to be suitable for most users. This is one of those suggestions that I’m including purely for more technically able users.

There are a few open source projects that make it relatively easy to setup an email server. You can then use this to setup as many email addresses as you wish on any domain name that you own.

If you only have one domain, this probably isn’t worth the hassle, but if you have a habit of acquiring domains and need to set up a lot of email addresses as a result, this could save you quite a lot of money.

I’m only going to describe an overview of this rather than explain the whole process as I think it will only be relevant to a very few readers at most.

Firstly you need to get a VPS. I recommend a Linode as it must only have a Linux operating system installed and nothing else. A Cloudways VPS wouldn’t be suitable for this. The smallest size available, currently 1GB, should be fine.

You will need to set up an A record to point to this VPS’ IP address. The easiest way is to create a sub-domain of one of your domain names.

The email side will be handled by Mail-in-a-Box (https://mailinabox.email/) and you will find full setup instructions on that site.

Once it’s configured, you can create domain emails in the control panel. Make sure you create an MX record for every domain you want to use with this system, pointing at the A record you created for the VPS.

That is deliberately brief because this is only really going to be a good idea for very few users. I’ve done it because my wife and I have a habit of buying domains that we end up using email addresses with, but in very low volumes.

Despite being comfortable with the tech behind this, I still wouldn’t use this approach for a domain where I was expecting to get higher volumes and mission critical emails. In that case it makes more sense to pay for a managed service or even use Zoho for free accounts.

4.4.4 Create an email signature

If your domain email is set up with Zoho, follow the instructions linked above on setting up your signature. With Zoho, you’re able to upload images to include in your signature.

These instructions will work with Gmail and Outlook Live. They may work with other webmail systems too, but I can’t guarantee that.

Open a blank Google Doc and create your signature. You can use a table to help structure it and when finished, you can turn all the borders to white so they’re not visible.

You now want to select your footer, so that all the content is highlighted, as shown, and then copy the selection. On Windows use the Ctrl and C keys and on Mac use the Cmd and C keys.

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In your Gmail account, click the gear icon and select Settings from the drop down menu. In the General tab, scroll down to the Signature section and turn the signature on. If you have multiple email addresses attached to your account, select the address you want to add the signature to. Then just paste into the signature box, scroll down the page and click the Save Changes button. When you next compose an email, you should see your new signature included.

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With Outlook Live, you can use the same approach. You can also create your signature in your Outlook account using the signature editor. Choose the option that’s easiest for you.

Click the gear icon and click View all Outlook settings at the bottom of the column. Next click Compose and reply in the left hand list and now either paste your footer into the editor or create your footer from scratch. The editor lets you upload images directly. Remember to click the Save button when you’re finished.

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This approach may also work if you use a desktop app, like Mail on Windows. In some cases though, a desktop app may attach any images used in the signature to every email you send. If you find your footer images are being included as attachments, you need to tweak this method slightly.

Again, create your signature in a blank Google Doc, but don’t upload any images to the doc. Instead, upload them to your WordPress website. Then after uploading each image you need to use, get the URL of the uploaded image. Now when you add an image into the signature file in Google Docs, use the By URL option and enter the image URL you copied from your site. When the signature is complete, you should be able to paste it into your email app and the images now shouldn’t be attached to every email. If you use this approach, be sure not to delete the images from your WordPress site or you will break your signature.

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