There are lots of most excellent web designers and developers out there. Then there are others. What follows is a true exchange that happened not long ago here at Gotham Bus. Names are hidden to protect the innocent.
CUSTOMER: We’re having a serious emergency this morning. Our email isn’t working and its impacting our business. Please help.
US: Lets take a look. Wait, it appears that your email and web site are no longer here.
CUSTOMER: What does that mean? Can you fix the email?
US: We’d love to, but we can’t. It appears that your email and website were moved to another network. We no longer have any control over any of that.
CUSTOMER: But every time we call, you’re always able to fix things for us. Can’t you help us with this? Why not?
US: Again, we’d like to help, but as of right now technically you’re not our customer any longer. Someone has moved your web and email hosting to another company.
CUSTOMER: Then who can fix this? Who should we talk to?
US: You’ll have to call the new hosting company. We were your hosting company, but we’re not any more. Someone moved your services elsewhere.
CUSTOMER: Why would they do that?
US: We have no idea. Do you have someone working on your website, or doing IT consulting for you or anything like that?
CUSTOMER: You don’t understand. We’re losing money because our email isn’t working!
US: We do understand, and we’d like to help, but we simply cannot. Did you hire someone to help you with your web site or your computers in any way recently? Odds are that person moved you.
CUSTOMER (now with the boss screaming in the background): We didn’t tell anyone to move anything, and now its broken. This is unacceptable.
US: We realize that, and we really do want to help, but its all been taken away from us. We simply have no control over it any longer. Did you hire anyone to work on this lately?
ANGRY BOSS IN THE BACKGROUND: Did anyone call (insert web designer’s name here)? Maybe he did it?
US: So you hired a new web designer?
CUSTOMER: Yes. We have someone helping us update the web page.
US: We can’t be 100% certain, but the odds are very high that you’ll need to talk to him to get this fixed. He moved your web site and your email to another company.
CUSTOMER: But we didn’t ask him to do that. Can’t you handle our email for us?
US: No, because he changed the DNS servers on your domain and the MX records. That controls where your mail goes.
At this point there’s a considerable amount of confusion at the Customer’s office.
We’re asked to wait on hold for a few minutes. When they get back on the phone, the mystery web designer is also now conferenced in on the call.
CUSTOMER: Can you explain to Gotham what you did?
US: No need. We know what was done. The DNS servers for the domain, along with all A records and MX records were changed. We can see it from here. We no longer have any control over any of this.
Long pause …..
WEB DESIGNER: We do all our hosting at (insert provider’s name here).
US: OK. So you’ll have to fix the email issue.
WEB DESIGNER: What has to be done? We don’t do email, just the web site.
US: But you changed the DNS servers and the MX records for the domain. That means all email for the domain is going to your hosting company now, and since you didn’t set up any email, its all bouncing. Looks like it has been for a day or two now.
WEB DESIGNER: We didn’t do that. We just do the web stuff.
US: Yes, you did. Does your hosting company provide you with some kind of control panel that you use to set things up?
WEB DESIGNER: Yes.
US: And you just use the default DNS settings when you add a new site/domain to your reseller account?
WEB DESIGNER: Yes. Is that a problem?
US: Yes, that’s a problem. You’re telling the world that you host the email for this domain, but you don’t. See the problem?
WEB DESIGNER: So can you fix that?
US: Uhm, no. We can’t fix that. Only you can.
WEB DESIGNER: Can you tell us what to do?
US: Do you know how to change MX records?
WEB DESIGNER: Not really. Is that part of email?
US: Never mind. Just go back to Network Solutions and change the DNS servers back to the old ones. Then tell me the IP address of the new web server and we’ll send all the web traffic over there if that’s what you want.
WEB DESIGNER: Don’t you know the IP address of the new web server? How would I find that?
You get the idea, and sadly, this happens on a fairly regular basis. In fact, a very similar incident occurred again just this morning. The moral of the story is that before you hire a web designer – who might be the most talented designer on the face of the planet – ask a few basic questions to be sure that you don’t wind up in this kind of quagmire down the road.
1. If you like your current web host, or rely on them for good service, ask if your designer will leave the site where it is. Many designers supplement income by also selling web hosting, but as you can see, it takes more than an idiot-proof hosting control panel to make a web host.
2. CLEARLY outline how your email will be impacted or not impacted. If your site is down for a day its a problem, but if your email is down, that’s a GIANT problem. Address the issue directly and insist on specifics if the new designer says they’ll provide email hosting too.
3. Ask your new designer how they’ll ensure that you don’t lose any email during the switchover. Its easily done if you understand how DNS and MX records work.
4. Ask your designer specifically what DNS servers and MX records for your domain will be. Even if you have no idea what that means, look for the tell-tale “deer in the headlights” expression when you ask the question. If you see it, there’s trouble coming.
As always, when in doubt call us. Odds are we can help you get what you need, but we do understand that sometimes that’s not in the cards. We’d rather preserve a good relationship by helping you make a smooth transition to a new provider than to have you wind up in an emergency that we have no control over.