Buying A Domain Name: The Complete Guide
Once you have chosen a name for your website you must register the corresponding domain name with a domain registration company.
There are hundreds of companies offering slightly different services. Many are honest, stable businesses. But many are poorly run, under-resourced and set out to deliberately confuse customers, so they can rip them off.
I should know. I have lost thousands of dollars over the past ten years using incompetent and dishonest domain name registrars!
This is my checklist to ensure you choose a good domain registrar who will provide the security, privacy and services you need to be successful online.
1) Always Register Your Domain Yourself
You should always be in control of your domain name. It is the single most valuable asset any Internet business has. Often website design and development companies offer to take care of domain registration as part of their service, but then if you have a dispute they are in control of your business
2) Pay (a Little) Extra For Quality
Your domain name is too important to put at risk by going for the cheapest registrar you can find. Pay a little extra to go with a reputable and well-established company. However, also be aware a high price is no guarantee of quality, honesty and good service
3) Telephone Support
If you are new to domain name registration I would recommend that you only use a registrar who offers telephone support.
When things go wrong with a domain, it is a very worrying and stressful time. Having telephone support can get issues dealt with quickly or at least you get to understand what the problem is.
4) Never Use a Company Offering Free Domain Registration
If a company provides free domain registration, their terms and conditions will be weighted very heavily in their favour. At worst they may own your domain name, at best you will have no comeback if they 'lose' your domain.
5) Use an Accredited Company
Whichever company you choose for registration, make sure they are ICANN accredited for the US or Nominet approved in the UK. Other countries will have their own governing bodies. Accreditation should give you some reassurance that they will act an ethical way.
6) Make Sure The Registrar Offers:
a. Clear pricing for sign-up AND renewal
b. Easy to use domain name management
c. Free transfers to another registrar
7) Domain Name Locking
When you register your domain name you will be given the choice to lock it; so lock it. This means that no one can transfer it without your knowledge or permission.
8) Domain Auto-Renew
For your most important domain names register them for a decent period of time (between five and ten years) and also put them on auto-renew.
9) Provide The Right Email Address
Make sure that the email address you list with the domain name is always going to be live and will reach you.
I recently came across someone who registered a domain using his work email address. When he left his job to run his website he forgot to change the email details. As a result he missed his renewal reminders and lost his domain name.
10) Don't Share Your Registrar Password . . . with Anyone
Treat the password for your domain name account as if it was the PIN for your bank account. Don't give it to anyone. If you do have to let someone access your account make sure you change the login details afterwards.
11) Privacy is Important
When you register a domain name your information is recorded in a 'Whois' database. All this information is then made public. If you have registered your domain to your home address, with home phone number and main email address, all this information is available to every spammer, hacker and criminal lurking in the shadows of cyberspace.
Because of this most good registrars offer a privacy service where they insert generic information into your Whois record instead of your private details. This is well worth doing. Privacy services can range in cost between free and $15 a year.
12) Register the Domain in The Country Where Most of Your Customers Will Be
This is not as important as it used to be but it will still have some impact.
Google and the other search engines take into account where a domain name is registered when ranking a site on the search results pages i.e. a domain registered in the UK will get a better ranking for UK searches. However it will be less well ranked for US searches. This is just one of the 200 criteria that Google uses to position sites in their results, so be aware but don't worry about it too much.
13) Register In Your Own Country For Fast Dispute Resolution
If you ever get in a dispute about your domain name, particularly with respect to who owns it, it is far easier to get it sorted out in your own country. A UK citizen dealing with ICANN in the US is very frustrating, and I suspect a US citizen dealing with Nominet in the UK can be equally problematic.
The last two points could be in conflict i.e. if you live in the UK, but most of your customers will be in the US, which country should you register your domain in? I would suggest going for a big US player with a UK presence like GoDaddy or eNom.
The Services Your Domain Registrar Should Offer
When choosing a registrar the essential services that you should check for are:
- Cost of registering the domain – A reasonable price to pay is between $5 and $12 a year (£3 - £12/year in the UK)
- Annual renewal price - Some domain companies offer cheap or even free first-year registration and then hit you hard in subsequent years or if you try to move your domain. Make sure you know what the renewal fees are and that they are similar to the original costs
- Simple and easy to use account management interface – It must be easy and intuitive to manage your domain and any additional services you buy
- Ability to easily move all your domains into one account for simple management – having multiple accounts, with multiple logins is a headache and can end up causing you to lose domains because of confusion about what is in which account.
- Free domain pointing - Your website will probably be hosted by a different company than where your domain is registered. You will need to point your domain at your website so that when people type your domain name into their browser, they end up at your website. Make sure it is free to do this
- Free email forwarding – If you own the domain www.Run-a-Bar.com, you should be able to forward all emails sent to that domain, such as email@example.com, to your email account.
- Free transfer to another registrar – You should not have to pay to transfer your name to another domain name registrar.
- Add privacy to your domain name – For a small fee ($1 or $2 a year), you should be able to add privacy to your domain name Whois record
- Domain name monitoring and auto renew – Losing your domain name can destroy your business. You should have several layers of protection to prevent this from happening. Domain name monitoring will alert you if the domain expires. Auto-renew will automatically renew your subscription
- Webmail accounts – Your registrar should offer an emails service so you can either collect your emails online or get them forwarded to your desktop email software e.g. Microsoft Express or Microsoft Outlook
Registration Companies We Use
The domain name registration companies that the team at SubHub have used for our domains are:
- eNom – Good solid company, but not the cheapest. They offer all the above services, but most of them have additional fees. They have telephone support which is prompt and efficient
- GoDaddy – Biggest registrar in the world, so they will always be around but they have a very confusing website and they are always trying to ram additional services down your throat like a goose being fattened to make foie gras. They have good telephone support. Some people report problems and a lack of co-operation from GoDaddy when they have lost a domain
- NameCheap – Well established, with reasonable prices. No telephone support, but responsive email help
- DynaDot – Up and coming domain registrar which gets very good reviews in the domain name forums. I have not personally used them
- 123-Reg - Big, UK-based registrar. Reliable and good price. Recently got rid of telephone support