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Before you take a website live you’ll need a domain name on which your site will “live.” Domain registration companies sell internet addresses (aka domains). Some registrars only focus on domains; others offer additional services such as web hosting. Which company is best for your site?
- What Is A Domain Name?
- Finding A Reliable Domain Registrar
- Top Picks
- Use Caution In Choosing
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Need A Web Host?
A domain name is your website’s address and gives all internet servers around the world one unique place to find you and your website. The Domain Name System (DNS) develops names based on set rules and procedures.
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 is an easy and effective way to administer and manage your domain name. Other functionality and features to look for 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 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
- Easy transfer of domain names in and out of the registrar
- Domain name forwarding
- Manual and auto-renewal – 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
- 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.
Ultimately, when choosing a domain registrar, it’s important to use a company that’s 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 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 lowest price, although we do have an article on the cheapest domain registrars in case you’re curious.
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’s 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, its domain registration is its core business, and Namecheap does it well. Not much up-selling or hidden fees — you get what you pay for, and its interface is intuitive and easy to use.
Renewal Price for .com – $10.88
Namecheap often has seasonal coupon codes, visit our dedicated Namecheap coupon page to see and discuss current offerings.
1&1 IONOS (previously known as 1&1) manages over 12 million domain names, making it a big-time player in the domain registration world. In 2018, 1&1 combined its web hosting, applications and server product lines with ProfitBricks’ cloud infrastructure solutions, becoming 1&1 IONOS.
1&1 IONOS offers web domain purchases, web hosting solutions for individuals, small and medium-sized companies as well as e-business solutions like cloud hosting. Despite its expansion into hosting, its domain service remains solid and reliable.
Renewal Price for .com – $15.00
1&1 IONOS often has seasonal coupon codes, visit our dedicated 1&1 coupon page to see and discuss current offerings.
GoDaddy is the largest domain registrar with more than 77 million domain names and 18 million customers. 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, subdomains, online marketing, email aliases and search engine optimization. Privacy protection is also available.
GoDaddy also offers a special service that enables users to commission a GoDaddy Personal Domain agent to try to acquire domains even if owned by someone else. The agent will identify ownership and seek to negotiate a sale.
Renewal Price for .com – $14.99
GoDaddy often has seasonal coupon codes, visit our dedicated GoDaddy coupon page to see and discuss current offerings.
Other Domain Registration Companies
The following companies didn’t make our top 3, but you might find the perfect fit for your needs.
Cosmotown is a Korean-based company that focuses mainly on domain registrations. It offers the most common domain extensions and a handful of others.
Cosmotown stands out for its affordable pricing and the services included with your domain name purchase — masked or unmasked URL redirecting, Whois privacy settings and two-factor authentication to name a few.
Its website has a good knowledge base and community forums, but you can only contact it via email. Cosmotown also doesn’t offer email, which could be a deal breaker.
Renewal Price for .com – $8.79
Dotster’s focus is on the small to medium-sized business. This company offers 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 you can purchase, 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.
This company’s domain systems are easy-to-use, and its website provides 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)
NameSilo solely specializes in domains and sells itself as a cheaper alternative to the well-established domain registrars. This company has over 2 million domains and gives NameCheap a run for its money regarding price.
With each NameSilo domain, you get lifetime privacy protection, email and domain forwarding, DNS management, registry lock and more. You can find hundreds of extensions at NameSilo. Transferring a domain is $8.39 and includes a one-year extension to your domain’s expiration date.
So, why isn’t NameSilo in our top 3 picks? We found many user complaints that support representatives are unprofessional, unknowledgeable and rude. The company also has a D- rating with the BBB.
Renewal Price for .com: $8.99
Porkbun is a lesser-known company based in Portland, Oregon that specializes in domain registration at outstanding pricing. The site’s domain search is easy to use, and it also has a useful domain suggestion generator and Whois and online DNS lookup tools.
Every Porkbun domain comes with email and URL forwarding, Whois privacy protection, SSL certificate and a free 3-month trial for its Weebly-powered website builder.
Porkbun doesn’t stop at domains, also offering shared web hosting, email hosting, a site builder and other services. But domains are its specialty, and it shows. Customers rave about Porkbun’s user-friendly site and superb customer support.
Renewal Price for .com: $8.84
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? We answer this and many other domain-related questions in our reader community.
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 in the top right corner. And if you’re still coming up empty, let us know below in the comments!
Once you’ve bought your domain name, pop that champagne!
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.
Need some pointers to take your company’s site to the next level? Our comprehensive web series covers everything from naming your business to SEO to monetizing your website and much more, all explained in layman’s terms.
What experiences have you had with domain registrars?
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