In this post, we look at the potentially hidden patterns in your DNS file zone. We actually provide some rare context to how file zones work and then help you prevent and edit any potential patterns on your network.
As an experienced PBN owner, you realize the importance of minimizing footprints and ties between your network domains. Your IP range game is off the charts and you probably won’t find a single trace of evidence in your Whois data. However, most SEO’s don’t come to the game with a background as a web developer or a server administrator, so more technical patterns can be harder to identify and fix.
What also makes some of these deeper technical patterns harder to understand is that they are often provided in a checklist or blog posts without any context to how or why they are created. Such a pattern is the detail provided in the SOA (Start of Authority) contact email in the DNS Zone file for your network domains.
Before we go into details of what this pattern is and how you can identify and remedy any issues, let’s actually take a look at what a DNS file zone is for those of us that don’t have a technical background.
How does DNS Actually Work?
When we type a domain or select an external link on a website, our ISP (internet service provider) needs to know where to find the server that hosts that web page is located at. The Domain Name System (DNS) is a way to match up web addresses with the IP address of the server they are located on.
(If you would like to know the detailed process of how your ISP obtains the IP address for a domain, Verisign has an excellent interactive presentation that could explain it better than I ever would be able to. https://www.verisign.com/en_US/domain-names/online/how-dns-works/index.xhtml )
For our purposes, we just need to understand that our PC connects to a DNS Resolver at our ISP. This Resolver Server then queries the registry operator for that top level domain. This is currently delegated by IANA to different organizations.
For example, the server will look to VeriSign for .com & .net, Nominet to handle .uk, or even the mighty Amazon for .buy domains! These registry operators return the nameservers for the domain (NS1.AnExample.com), and then the DNS Resolver Server queries the nameserver to get the IP address of where the site is located.
The Issue with Your File Zone
When Google or other robots find our network sites they use exactly the same method as our consumer ISP. Now many SEOs could be forgiven for thinking that the IP address is the only thing provided to our ISP or a Google Crawler.
However, the Nameserver actually returns our DNS File Zone, which is a simple text file containing details of the IP to find the physical website. It also contains details like MX records, which is where to deliver incoming emails for addresses that use that domain, and also IP details of subdomains.
Most importantly for the purposes of this article, and to avoid patterns, is that it also provides some information called SOA (start of authority). SOA is mandatory for all File Zones and provides details about how a Resolver Server should treat the file (i.e. when to look for updates etc) and the actual nameserver it should be located at (which is helpful for transferring the site to a new NS host).
It also contains the SOA email record, which is meant to be the contact details for the administrator of the nameserver domain. The issue comes with the fact, that for maybe pointing your domain at your web host, or briefly editing the A Record to point directly at your assigned host IP, we often don’t check or understand the finer details of our DNS zone.
To compound the issue some domain registrars and web hosts tend to create the DNS File Zone and use the email address you gave to create your account with them. That means that you’re often giving Google your email address every time they query most of your PBN! So a single small mistake often undoes all of our hard work of creating diverse IP ranges, hosting, and WHOIS data.
Editing our DNS File Zone
So how do we go about editing our DNS file zone to remove this SOA contact email pattern? This will depend where your DNS file Zone is hosted.
At Your Registrar
It actually varies between registrars if they allow you to edit your SOA entry. GoDaddy, as an example, uses a standard ‘dns.jomax.net’ contact email for its domaincontrol.com nameserver. Sadly, you are unable to edit this even if you manually export and reimport your zone file in the GoDaddy backend.
Situations like this highlight why it’s particularly important to use a number of different registrars on your network, especially when attempting to use their standard nameservers. Although Google won’t be able to link your PBN just from this standard SOA email, mostly due to the number of domains that share it. It only becomes highly suspicious when a client site receives a number of links from root domains with the same SOA details.
If you able to edit the SOA details with your registrar then you’re probably already familiar where you can edit your zone file, seeing as you’ve modified the @ record to point to your host’s servers. Just look for the SOA details and edit as needed. Remember to replace the standard ‘@’ symbol in your preferred email address with a dot/full stop/period ‘.’ , so the file is able to be processed properly (Name@Domain.com becomes Name.Domain.com).
At Your Host
If you’ve used your host’s standard nameservers or created your own custom ones, your DNS File Zone file will likely be stored away on the same server as your actual website.
From a WHM panel look for ‘DNS Functions’ and select ‘Edit DNS Zone’. Select the domain you wish to modify and look for the 2nd text input right of the ‘SOA’ label after your namerserver entry. Again, remember to replace the standard ‘@’ symbol in your preferred email address with a dot/full stop/period ‘.’ , so the file/record is still valid.
If you only have access to the site’s cPanel, look for the ‘Contact Information’ option and update your address accordingly. If the details on SOA and this don’t match up, you’ll need to contact your hosting support to ask them to manually edit it for you.
Marketers that don’t have a technical background can find issues like DNS file Zones hard to comprehend and understand without context. Now you know why and how the issue occurs we hope that it’s armed you with the insight and confidence to check and edit your file zone as needed.
SOA Email footprints are just 1 of 15 known Google web spam team pattern tactics used to uncover your network that we monitor and track for your network in ExecPBN. We can provide you with a full breakdown of the % of domains on your networks that use the same SOA email. This allows you to take action to correct any patterns before you lose PBN domains and clients. It also helps you build stronger, more diverse networks as you expand, meaning you increase the ranking power of your PBN.
Why not start your 15-day free trial today?
References & Resources
DNS lookup tool (select SOA from the MX lookup dropdown menu) – http://origin.mxtoolbox.com/SuperTool.aspx
How the Domain Name System (DNS) Works: https://www.verisign.com/en_US/domain-names/online/how-dns-works/index.xhtml
What is a DNS ZONE file: A Complete Tutorial on zone file and its contents: http://www.slashroot.in/what-dns-zone-file-complete-tutorial-zone-file-and-its-contents
Iana Root Zone Database: http://www.iana.org/domains/root/db
WHM Edit DNS Zone: https://documentation.cpanel.net/display/ALD/Edit+DNS+Zone