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Before you take a website live you’ll need a domain name on which your site will “live.” But where do you buy a domain name and which company is best? Domain registration companies sell Internet addresses (aka domains). Some domain registrars are solely involved with the provision and sale of domain names; others offer additional services such as web hosting. But with so many options of domain registration companies to buy your domain name from, finding the best one can be overwhelming. So, we’ll tell you what to look for and how to pick the best domain name registrar to fit your needs.
What Is a Domain Name?
According to Wikipedia, “A domain name is an identification string that defines a realm of administrative autonomy, authority or control within the Internet. Domain names are formed by the rules and procedures of the Domain Name System (DNS).” In more plain English, this is kind of like your address because it gives all Internet servers around the world one unique place to find you and your website.
Finding a Reliable Domain Registration Company
Domain registration companies all have access to sell you the same URL’s; they just feature different services at different prices. So, what should you look for in a domain registrar? First, the most important function of a registrar is that they allow you to easily and effectively administer and manage your domain name. Functionality and features to look for in a domain name registrar include:
- An established reputation (given the ease of becoming a registrar, there are many fly-by-night outfits out there that will take your money and run).
- Accreditation by a governing body (such as ICANN: The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a non-profit organization). You’ll note that all the providers we review here are ICANN accredited.
- No hidden fees (such as a fee for transferring a domain out to another registrar).
- Comprehensive administration (for nameserver, mail, who-is records, etc.).
- Reasonably priced registration and more importantly renewal fees (many registrars will advertise an inexpensive first year registration fee, but then jack up the renewal fee for subsequent years, and make it difficult to transfer your domain to another registrar if you don’t like the price. In our comparison below we highlight renewal fees for this reason.
- Easy transfer of domain names in and out of registrar.
- Domain name forwarding.
- Manual and auto-renewal, but be careful with this one. Many registrars will try everything they can to auto-renew by default, which may result in you renewing a bunch of domain names every year that you don’t want to renew.
- Private whois registration conceals your whois data, i.e., your name, address, phone, etc. from prying eyes.
- Do you need email accounts? Some registrars will host your domain’s email for you (this is practical if you need email up and running but are not yet ready to host).
- Customer support. It’s crucial that your domain registrar has good customer support, whether via phone, email or live chat.
Checkout our 5 pitfalls to avoid when buying a domain name to make sure you don’t get sunk by a scam. And now, without further ado, on to our reviews and winners.
Best Domain Registrar Reviews
Ultimately, when choosing a domain registrar, it is important to use a company with that is reputable, reliable and reasonably priced. And you want a company that’s good at domains and doesn’t get distracted by hosting and other up-sell services. Information needs to be understandable, and the system should be easy to use. Equally as important is the level of service. Cost should also be a consideration; however, sometimes you get what you pay for, so we don’t recommend making a decision based on whoever is offering the name the cheapest, although we do have an article on the cheapest domain registrars in case you’re curious. On that note, below are our top 3 picks for the best domain registration companies and an in-depth explanation of why we picked them along with pros, cons and pricing.
Note: We leave hosting out of this discussion because we don’t recommend you host with your registrar. Why? Because they are two very different specialty areas and it is hard to be great at both…it’s like eating at a restaurant that sells both Chinese and Thai food and expecting both to be authentic!
Namecheap is a leading ICANN accredited domain name registrar and web hosting company. The company has over 1 million customers and manages over 3 million domains. VMware-based private clouds incorporating HP SAN storage with an OX Cloud Email platform serve Namecheap’s domain registration infrastructure. While Namecheap offers hosting, their domain registration is their core business, and they do it well. Not much up-selling or hidden fees — you get what you pay for, and their interface is intuitive and easy to use.
Renewal Price for .com – $10.98
Namecheap often has seasonal coupon codes, visit our dedicated Namecheap coupon page to see and discuss current offerings.
1&1 manages over 19 million domain names, making it a big-time player in the domain registration world. 1&1 entered the US market in 2003 and is the world’s second-largest domain registrar. 1 & 1 offers web domain purchases, web hosting solutions for individuals, small and medium-sized companies and e-business solutions such as cloud hosting. Despite their expansion into hosting, their domain service remains solid and reliable.
Renewal Price for .com – $14.99
1&1 often has seasonal coupon codes, visit our dedicated 1&1 coupon page to see and discuss current offerings.
GoDaddy is the largest domain registrar. In 2014, it was reported that the company had over 59 million domain names. The range of domain name availability is extensive and includes everything from the classic .com to .guru and .rocks. GoDaddy offers numerous other services, including web hosting, sub domains, online marketing, email aliases and search engine optimization. Privacy protection is also available. There are numerous payment options including credit card, debit card, American Express, PayPal, checks and GoodAsGold.
GoDaddy offers an additional special service that enables users to commission a Go Daddy Personal Domain agent to try to acquire domains even if it is already owned by someone else. The agent will identify ownership and seek to negotiate a sale. Professional web designers and builders can take advantage of a specially tailored service called GoDaddyPro. Users can sign up for this service for free, and they gain extra support provision, simplified shopping, site monitoring and access tools. The aim is to encourage professional web designers and builders to automatically use GoDaddy.com as their system of choice, whether for buying domains or for web hosting. They receive member-only content and special pricing discounts with a minimum of 30% off the regular retail prices.
Renewal Price for .com – $11.99
GoDaddy often has seasonal coupon codes, visit our dedicated GoDaddy coupon page to see and discuss current offerings.
Other Domain Registration Companies
Below you’ll find an alphabetical listing of other domain registration companies we’ve reviewed. They didn’t make our top 3, but these are good companies, and you just might find the perfect fit for your needs.
Cosmotown is a Korean-based company that focuses mainly on domain registrations. They offer the most common domain extensions and a handful of others. Cosmotown stands out for its affordable pricing and for the services that are included with your domain name purchase — masked or unmasked URL redirecting, Whois privacy settings, and two-factor authentication to name a few. They have a good knowledge base and community forums, but you can only contact them via email. Cosmotown also doesn’t offer email, which could be a deal breaker.
Renewal Price for .com – $8.99
Dotster’s focus is on the small to medium-sized business. They offer a range of services, including online marketing, security and privacy solutions, email accounts and web hosting. Dotster focuses on providing secure solutions, credible deals and product innovation. The company is an ICANN accredited global top 10 domain registrar and has around 1 million customers. Dotster has an extensive selection of domain extensions that can be purchased, including, .XXX, .BIZ, .TV, .TEL and .US. Transferring existing domain names costs $16.99 per year. This is an introductory price for the initial term of one year only. Other domain renewal rates are made available via a control panel that is accessible only to logged in users of the system who have already purchased a domain. On registering a domain name with Dotster, users automatically obtain several free services: email forwarding, URL forwarding, Namesafe and Domain System management facilities.
Renewal Price for .com – $17.49
HostGator is now a leading provider of shared, reseller, VPS and dedicated web hosting services. To fully use the customer portal, you have to register and log in. The web bar has a clear marker as to where you can go to buy domains, although the front pages focus on web-hosting offerings. With each domain purchased, HostGator users also obtain free domain locking, automatic domain renewal and domain management systems. Real-time guides are available to help newbies purchase and manage domain names. New .com domains start at $12.95 for the first year.
Renewal Price for .com – $15.00
Moniker has an extremely good reputation as a provider of reliable domain registrations within the U.S. and is one of the top 15 ICANN accredited registrars of generic domains internationally. Moniker domain systems are easy-to-use, and they provide clear instructions on a range of key topics, such as how to renew domains, how to add funds to an account and how to do single and bulk nameserver changes. Moniker also has a bulk registration tool, which enables users to search up to 500 domains at a time.
Renewal Price for .com – not listed (must login to your control panel)
Why Use Caution in Choosing Your Domain Registrar?
While there are quite a few domain registration companies out there that meet the above criteria, there are even more that don’t. And of those that do, there are many that charge above and beyond the wholesale price of a domain name (for example, register.com, which charges a hefty $38 renewal rate, or Network Solutions, which comes in at $35 per year). This may make you scratch your head and ask why you can’t just become your own registrar and register your own domain names? You’ll see you weren’t the only one thinking that, we answer this and many other domain-related questions in our reader community.
What About Keywords, Hyphens, Transfers, and Other Domain Questions?
Choosing your domain name is the crux of your online business, so we realize many questions will come up before you can comfortably press that “register” button. We tackle the questions of keywords in domain names, hyphens in domain names, getting your name back if you forgot to renew it, transferring to another registrar, and many more. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, just plug it into the search box at top right. And if you’re still coming up empty, let us know below in the comments!
Dude, I Already Bought the Domain!
Once you’ve bought your domain name, pop that champagne! 🙂
Need a Web Hosting Provider?
As we mentioned above, we recommend going with two different services to host your website and register your domain. Check out our reviews of the best web hosting services. And if you haven’t already, we have a comprehensive guide that gives you the A-to-Z on everything you need to know to take your online business to the next level, explained in laymen’s terms. We cover everything from naming your business to SEO and monetizing your website in our comprehensive web series.
Who do you use for domain registration and what has your experience been?