Sunday, 12 July 2009

How to Fix a Broken Blog

Any regular readers of Online-Marketing-Manager.co.uk would have experienced problems in the past 4 days due to a technical reasons beyond my control and to be honest, initially beyond my comprehension.

I thought it would be helpful for any budding bloggers, to explain what happened and how I have now finally managed to resolve the problems. The most useful starting point would be to
explain how this site is configured in the first place.

The site began as a blog, using the Google Blogger software as the host and publisher of the content. I then purchased the domain Online-Marketing-Manager.co.uk in order to have a more SEO friendly URL in which to advertise with. Rather than purchase a web hosting package with Fasthosts, I knew that Blogger offers the functionality to publish on a custom domain as well as fairly comprehensive instructions as to how to set it up.


The key instruction here is to alter the CNAME for your web address to point to ghs.google.com. A CNAME, which is short for canonical name, informs web browsers that a domain is hosted on a particular IP address. As different URL's generally have different IP addresses, a CNAME is used when there is a desire to point one or more addresses to the same IP address. In this instance, I wanted to inform web browsers that Online-Marketing-Manager is held on the blogger IP address.

Fasthosts are not mentioned within the instructions for common hosting services, that has a distinct US bias.
In fact, Fasthosts do not support CNAME amendments. Therefore, I was stuck.

I searched through a number of forums on the subject of Fasthosts and CNAME's with no luck until I eventually discovered that I could get around this problem, simply by changing my A record. An A record is the main record of the IP address for a website that is stored within the Domain Name System (DNS). Essentially it pushes a domain name to a set numerical IP address. In this instance, the address was, 72.14.207.121, the same IP address the CNAME ghs.google.com would direct me to. My DNS settings would look as follows:

mydomain.com. 3600 IN A 72.14.207.121
www.mydomain.com 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com


Eureka! My site was live and registering within the Google search index, exactly how I had intended it. However on Thursday, disaster.


Now I specialise in understanding the more technical aspects of online marketing. I can speak with authority on search engine marketing, tracking and analytics. However, when this message was returned, I was completely dumbfounded as to the potential reasons why.

First I checked that all my DNS setup at Fasthosts and my blogger settings had not been changed. To be honest, given I set the site up some 18 months ago via the scrambled method detailed above, I was unsure whether an anomaly would jump out at me. Having seen no obvious problems my initial conclusion was that my fasthosts web hosting package had expired. After 20 minutes on hold to fasthosts I proceeded to have a heated exchange with the customer service operator who argued, quite correctly, that as far as fasthosts was concerned, my settings had remained unchanged.

I looked again at the Blogger settings and ran through the complete setup process again before deciding that everything was fine and there must be a prob
lem with the fasthosts web servers. Indeed, when I called fasthosts again, there was an automated error message detailing a server problem that was due to be fixed on Friday 10th July at 1800. I waited eagerly by my computer until 1800 only to see the problem continue. I called fasthosts again.

On this occasion, I was informed that the web server problems they were experiencing only affected clients using email. The customer services operator then speculated that there was a problem with the IP address I had specified as my A record. Again, this triggered lots of searching on the internet for "blogger changing IP address" and
"72.14.207.121 expired".

The web blogger that came to my rescue was Nitecruzr. After surveying a large number of Google groups, he/she appeared to be an expert on the subject and I was drawn to their site, only to find the solution right there in front of me.

On Thursday 9th July 2009 Google expired the IP address for server 72.14.207.121. According to Nitecruzr, this was the third of three historic Google servers to be expired and replaced by new Google Apps IP addresses that were launched in Nov 2008. For those who are interested, a stable DNS configuration that includes all four of the new Google Apps Servers would look as follows:

mydomain.com. 3600 IN A 216.239.32.21
mydomain.com. 3600 IN A 216.239.34.21
mydomain.com. 3600 IN A 216.239.36.21
mydomain.com. 3600 IN A 216.239.38.21
www.mydomain.com 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com

Because Fasthosts only supports one A Record and no CNAME amendments, I simply changed my IP address within Fasthosts to one of the four new IP addresses above.

My issue here is communication. Google must know the amount of blogger users that are pointing their blogs at the expired servers. The very nature of their blogger account also means that they are easily able to contact them. No communication was received. In fact, the information above was so difficult to find out I eventually settled on the advice of a third party, whose domain was so suspicious, I was prohibited from accessing it from my work laptop.

I can only hope that any other bloggers out there using any of the expired web servers find my host, and follow the instructions kindly detailed by Nitecruzr. I can validate that they are 100% authentic.

Now come on Google, let's increase the communication. It's not as if you have more important things to be concerned with.

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