Every badass website needs an equally badass domain name.
Coming up with that can be quite the challenge, but once you’ve figured out what your website/business will be called, it’s time to register that bad boy.
Over the course of our collective website building experience here at Create a Pro Website, we’ve bought hundreds of domain names; to us, the process is as easy as reordering protein powder on Amazon.
If you’re new to the game, though, we know it’s not quite so easy (yet!).
There are literally thousands of domain name registrars (the companies you “register” your domain name with) and from the outside, most look pretty much the same.
But, like each and every one of us, it’s what’s on the inside that counts (twinkly eyes).
And on the inside, there are some big differences worth knowing about.
Never. Fear. As. Usual. Fam.
We’ve got your back with here with our list of reviews of the best domain registrars.
Let’s get jumpin.
The 7 best domain registrars
Initial price for a .com + privacy: $9.06 | Renewal price for a .com + privacy: $13.16
Pros & Cons
- One of the cheapest in the industry
- Domain privacy included!
- Fully loaded domain management portal
- Upsells, that’s really most of what brought them down
- No phone support; chat is top notch so not a huge deal but we like to see it
Namecheap gets a full 5/5 on price because it’s one of the cheapest around!
The only domain registrar that offers a cheaper first-year price is 1and1 with their basically unbeatable $1 offer.
BUT 1and1 jumps to $15 after that, which is fine but higher than Namecheap’s $13 and some change.
Domain privacy is always free which we love because that’s a gotta have.
One of the weird things we saw was that Namecheap adds an “ICANN fee,” which we assume other registrars just include in their price since Namecheap was the only one to explicitly charge for this.
But, it’s only $0.18 cents so not a big deal there, they’re still uber cheap.
Unlike a lot of the other registrars we found, which typically only offer a discount on your first year of registration whether you sign up for multiple years or not, Namecheap seems to offer discounts for getting multiple years at once.
If you register your domain for multiple years on your first checkout, you don’t get the lowest $8.88 price for all the years you sign up for, but it looks like you do get a lower discount than if you renew after your initial purchase.
When you renew, it’s $13.16 for one year, but you’ll get a discount if you renew for more years, as low as $12.76 with a 5-year renewal.
Finally, transferring your domain to another registrar is free (as was the case with every registrar we reviewed).
Transferring a domain from another registrar to Namecheap will cost you one year’s registration, but that will extend your current registration (so if you have 3 months left when you transfer into Namecheap, you’ll be good to go for 15 months after you pay the transfer fee/get your domain moved over).
Ease of Use: 4/5
Let’s look at Namecheap’s ease of use from a few angles:
Searching for domains is fast and easy, and they’ll offer a plethora of different TLDs for your domain in case the .com is taken.
They also offer a “Beast Mode” that lets you bulk enter up to 5,000 domain ideas or keywords (if you’re really getting after it lol), check multiple TLDs, and get variations on your initial domain ideas (eg if you search for “mywebsite.com” they’ll suggest “try-mywebsite.com”).
There were upsells on both the initial search page (when you add a domain to your cart), and on the first page of the checkout process.
That, combined with the 5-steps needed to complete your checkout (which is more than average), cost Namecheap some points here.
Look and Feel
The main Namecheap site looks great, when you get inside the domain hosting portal it looks good enough but there were a few rough edges (blurry graphics, 2008 style buttons).
They also stick to their upselling guns, with tabs for managing your products (hey, you should buy more than just your domains here), and upgrades like “Premium DNS” (probably not worth it for most of us).
Other than that, you’ve got all the domain management controls you’d want, plus a few extras like:
- You can add years to your registration ahead of time.
- You can easily setup email forwarding and domain redirects (instead of having to update DNS records yourself, though you can do that with Namecheap too).
- You can add “domain managers” which is handy if you want to have other people like virtual assistants manage this stuff for you in the future
- You can get a transfer code online, no need to call in support if you want to move your domain
- You can enable DNSSEC (adds some extra protection to your domain)
- You can also sell your domain through Namecheap too, might not be something you’ll do but nice to have, we didn’t see that feature with any other registrar.
- And they have DNS templates for Shopify, Weebly, and Wix – so all the DNS records you need to change to get your domain working with those website builders is done automatically for you!
Finally, definitely make sure Autorenew is turned on – they didn’t automatically do that for us which is nice from a “not trying to automatically keep charging you” perspective but you won’t want your domain to expire.
If you do let your domain expire accidentally (because you’ve just got solid procrastination skills), they “may offer” a grace period of up to 42 days, but if you renew during that they’ll charge you an extra $88.88 on top of the usual renewal fee.
On the support front, Namecheap’s knowledge base is easy to navigate and looks great, with an extensive list of articles that are as thorough as they need to be.
We’ve seen some knowledge bases that have videos too which is nice but not needed (Namecheap doesn’t have them).
But they also have nice touches like article ratings (so you can let them know if they need to up their game), stats like number of views (so you don’t feel so dumb for not knowing the answer lol), as well as when the article was last updated (so you know it’s fresh).
AND they have comments on each article, so you can ask clarifying questions and get help from other Namecheap users.
If you’ve got a problem that needs some human help, you’ve got 24/7 live chat and tickets available.
When we chatted with their support we were connected to someone super fast, they responded with knowledgeable answers fast (top notch in our book).
Nice little notes were the ping noise when there was a response (because we like to do other website work instead of staring at chat boxes while we’re getting after it), and you can print or email a transcript of your chat incase you get into a sticky situation (“that’s not what Robert said at 3:45 pm on Friday, October 13th).
Initial price for a .com + privacy: $12.00 | Renewal price for a .com + privacy: $12.00
Pros & Cons
- Consistent pricing: always $12, free domain privacy
- From checkout to managing domains – the whole process is easy and looks fantastic
- Zero upsells!
- Google will know that much more about you; not good for the privacy conscious website creator
- Chat support wasn’t 100, but we’d feel confident working with them to solve pretty much any problem
Google’s not the cheapest domain registrar for the first year…
But they are the cheapest to renew with, and their pricing is simple and straightforward: $12 a year, every year, domain privacy included.
No fees to transfer your domain out to another registrar, the same $12 one year registration fee to transfer in and that gets added on to any time you have left on your current registration.
Bottom line: 5/5.
Ease of Use: 5/5
Look, it’s Google, so we figured Google Domains would look amazing and be easy to use.
And we were right!
Fast and clean, Google’s domain search offers related suggestions (variations on your initial domain name idea), as well as a ton of TLD extensions.
And you can filter that list by relevance, name A-Z, price, only see options for certain TLDs, only see available names, and set price limits.
Oh and you can favorite domains for later.
Zero upsells, just two pages: enter your details, confirm your order.
Look and Feel
It’s GOOGLE, of course it looks awesome.
And their domain hosting portal is easy to navigate and understand, with all the features you’ll need like changing DNS records, nameservers, etc.
You can also share your domain so others can help you manage it, add additional years to your registration if you want, enable DNSSEC, get a transfer code online, and there’s easy email and domain forwarding.
IF you happen to ignore our constant advice to turn on auto-renew, Google’s got a straightforward expiration policy:
- 30 day grace period: you can renew at no additional cost.
- From 30-60 days, you might be able to renew but it’ll cost you extra.
- After day 61, your domain will be deleted and anyone can buy it.
knowledge base… it’s f-ing Google (translation: it’s top notch best in the biz you will find answers to just about anything).
If you’ve gotta get some other humans in on the problem-solving action, you’ve got 24/7 chat, call, and email.
One nice note on the calls: to talk on the phone, you just request a call back (they’ll let you know the estimated wait time) – no waiting on hold!
When we talked to their support, we got the answers we were looking for but there was a bit of confusion.
We asked about the fee for transferring a domain out of Google, our support gal said there was one, but it turns out that she meant there was a fee for transferring in.
Understandable so not many points off, but other support folks got our meaning the first time.
Initial price for a .com + privacy: $23.87 | Renewal price for a .com + privacy: $32.87
Pros & Cons
- Super clean and easy to understand interface
- Free domain for a year when you get hosting through them
- Privacy is extra
- Renewal costs are a bit high
- Support could be a bit friendlier
Bluehost is in on the higher end of pricing, but not in the realm of outrageous.
They don’t advertise that the first year of both your domain registration and domain privacy is discounted, which is nice from a “not pushing too hard” standpoint.
Registration itself isn’t too bad at $11.99, but privacy isn’t free – you’ll have to drop an extra $11.88 for that.
After that, you’ll pay $17.99 for renewal and $14.88 for privacy, which starts to get towards the high end of costs and there’s no option to register for multiple years the first time to get a discount for longer.
Also worth noting, if you get your hosting from Bluehost, you’ll get your first year for free!
Transfers out are free as usual, and you’ll pay the renewal cost to transfer your domain into Bluehost.
On that last part, Bluehost support told us that transferring in resets your registration date, meaning if you have 3 months left on your registration, you’ll lose that when you transfer in (so you’ll have 12 months left after transferring instead of 15).
Based on how the other hosts handle that (the registration fee you pay to transfer a domain in extends your registration by a year), we’re not sure that’s true, but that’s what we were told…
Ease of Use: 4.5/5
Bluehost as a company operates at a pretty high level, let’s see how that translates to buying and managing domain names with them:
Searching for domain names with Bluehost is fast, though it could look a little better.
And they do offer some other TLDs and domain name ideas, but the amount is more limited than with other registrars.
Once you’ve found your domain, it’s automatically added to your cart (along with domain name privacy) and there’s a big obvious “buy now” button to get the checkout train rolling.
That button takes you to the one upsell page (offering Microsoft Office email), then it’s just one more page to enter your info and your set.
Look and Feel
Once you’re inside, Bluehost’s domain hosting portal is super clean and fresh.
You could even say it’s “so fresh and so clean” if you want to reminisce the mid-2000s, though you’ll have to do that from your own memories because Bluehost looks very late-2010s (it’s for the best).
Transfers and managing your renewal settings are both easy to find, understand, and adjust, as are managing redirects, parked domains (ones you don’t have tied to a website), and adding subdomains.
We did have to dig a bit to find the pages where you can update your nameservers and DNS records, not super smooth but they were findable.
Digging through Bluehost’s domain name registration terms of service, here’s what we found:
- They might get rid of your domain name anytime after it expires.
- At 31 days, it’ll be available to be purchased buy someone else
- At 44 days, it’ll enter a 30-day redemption grace period – if it wasn’t already bought by someone else, you can re-register but you’ll likely be charged a $70 fee on top of regular renewal costs.
Bluehost has been at the top of the hosting game for a while, so as expected their knowledge base is extensive, easy to search, and has tons of helpful articles – some of which include videos!! [heart eyes]
24/7 call, chat, and ticket to get a human. Solid.
When we reached out to chat support, they joined fast and checked to verify our ownership of the account (a nice extra bit of security not all domain registrars had).
When getting into the chat, though, we wanted more.
Responses started to feel like they were coming slower – there wasn’t a terribly long wait, but we felt it.
The conversation started off friendly enough but took a bit of a turn; there wasn’t a point where they felt out and out rude and we so appreciate that being a customer support person can mean some tough days, but we like to feel like we’re not a bother to help out even if we’re asking tougher questions.
Initial price for a .com + privacy: $27.90 | Renewal price for a .com + privacy: $32.94
Pros & Cons
- Support was super helpful
- Free domain name when you sign up for hosting
- Have to use Cpanel to manage more advanced things like DNS records
- Prices are reasonable but on the high end
HostGator’s domain pricing is toward the higher end like Bluehost, but not at insane levels.
You’ll get your first year for $12.95 plus $14.95 for domain privacy.
After that, privacy renews at the same cost but domain registration jumps a bit to $17.99 per year.
You can register for multiple years at checkout, but you’ll only get the discount for the first year.
And like a lot of domain registrars that also offer hosting, you’ll get a year’s registration free when you sign up for hosting.
Transfer fees were interesting compared to the other domain name registrars.
There’s no fee to transfer out as always, to transfer in you’ll pay $7.95.
That’s a lower cost to transfer than other registrars that charge the cost of registration renewal which is a plus, but that doesn’t cover any registration renewal – if your domain expires in 11 months, it’ll still expire in 11 months; if it expires in 3, it’ll still expire in 3.
Ease of Use: 3.5/5
Let’s dig into HostGator’s ease of use:
Searching for a domain name was pretty fast and the page where you start looks pretty slick. The page where it takes you, though…
Kind of 2007.
On top of not looking the greatest, which is forgivable, it wasn’t that easy to use too.
It offered TLDs besides the “.com” we searched for, but they were in a slider at the top of the page and that wasn’t easy to scan through.
The “Other ideas” only showed variations on the domain name, but all .com (eg “superhostgatortesting.com” in a search for “hostgator-testing.com”).
Useable for sure but some points off here.
Simple three step process with no upsells is a plus, but we had to create an account before checking out (whereas other registrars handle that after the checkout process to keep things super easy).
Look and Feel
Their domain management platform looks super slick and it’s easy to use.
Here you’ll be able to update your contact info, domain name privacy, and manage your auto-renew settings.
BUT in order to do more advanced things like make changes to your DNS records (which you’d need to do in order to use things like CDNs, setup a professional email address through Gmail using your domain with your domain name, forward your domain name or email, etc.
Cpanel’s a bit more complex to use for beginners…
And you won’t get access to it if you don’t have hosting with them, meaning you’ll have to contact support to get them to update your DNS records if you just get a domain name through them. Extra hassle for sure.
Also, you have to contact them for a transfer code if you want to move your domain to another registrar which isn’t ideal.
We dug through their terms of service to find some mention of this and didn’t find anything clear, only that you might get charged an extra fee to renew after expiration.
Not the most confidence inspiring, sure, but you should have auto-renew turned on anyway!
HostGator’s knowledge base is extensive and super helpful – including video explanations (which we know yall love).
24/7 phone and live chat, good to go on the “talk to a human” front.
When we reached out via chat, the support guy offered a couple of knowledge base articles related to our question before we got into it which was nice; sometimes people don’t search the knowledge base first (which we may or may not be guilty of sometimes).
We didn’t get connected right away and when we did the responses felt a bit slow.
BUT our man was very helpful and friendly, he even added extra info for context around how domain transfers work on top of answering the question directly – which is super valuable if you’re trying to learn everything you can about the pro website making game!
Initial price for a .com + privacy: $1.00 | Renewal price for a .com + privacy: $15.00
Pros & Cons
- The cheapest domain name registration (for the first year, not too bad after that)
- Free domain privacy
- One of the easiest to use
- More upselling than most of the other best domain registrars
- Knowledge base could be easier to search, chat support wasn’t the smoothest
When it comes to the first year cost, 1&1 cannot be beat: it’s free if you also get hosting, even if you don’t, you’re only out a buck.
And that includes free domain name privacy!
After that, it’ll be $15 a year, privacy is still free, which is not as cheap as a couple of other registrars but still pretty cheap.
Transfers-wise, it’s another case of free to transfer out and just pay the cost of renewal to transfer in (and extend your existing registration).
Ease of Use: 4/5
On the ease of use front:
Simple enough to describe: fast, clean, solid amount of domain name suggestions.
Here’s where the points were lost in this category – 1 and 1 takes the “upsell king” crown.
The checkout process was 5 steps because they had not one page dedicated to upsells, plus more/different upsells when confirming your cart.
Then you have to create an account before you can register.
Not so hot.
Look and Feel
Their website and domain hosting portal are all clean; they don’t feel quite as fresh as Bluehost or Google but they’re close enough that we’ll call them good to go there.
Once you’re inside the domain management portal, though, it’s pretty smooth sailing – all the registration info, DNS record changes, and email forwarding features you’ll want are included and easy to get to.
If you let one go only to realize you love her, here’s what to expect (we’re talking about domain names just to be clear):
- For the first 30 days, you can renew at the normal price.
- On day 31, they can sell your domain or cancel it.
- On day 45, you can get your domain back for an additional fee if it’s not be sold to someone else.
1&1’s knowledge base is extensive and the articles are helpful, though some were a bit hard to find.
If you want a human you’ve got one with 24/7 chat and phone support.
Nice bonuses – you can schedule a call if you don’t want to wait on hold, and you can get a “personal consultant” (which we haven’t tried but seems like a dedicated support person so you’ve got one guy/gal to go to when you need help).
For our test chat, we were connected right away which is nice.
And the support person offered to start the transfer process (we were asking about how transferes worked), which is nice to know is an option if you don’t want to do something like that yourself.
But it felt like we had to wait a bit for responses and that our support person had some trouble understanding the questions we asked; it got figured out so not terrible but could have been smoother.
Initial price for a .com + privacy: $16.00 | Renewal price for a .com + privacy: $52.00
Pros & Cons
- You can buy a domain name from them
- Insane renewal cost ($52/year including privacy)
- Support is lackluster
- Domain management portal isn’t easy to use. And there are ads.
Ooof. Pricing was not so fun with Register.com.
It started when looking at the domain search results page, where you usually see how much you’ll pay to register your domain name.
Nothing, just add to cart buttons.
A bit weird, but then you get into the checkout process and see it’s just $5 to register your domain.
But domain privacy is an extra $11.
Oh, okay, still not too bad, that’s on the cheaper end.
Where you’d run into trouble, if we didn’t have your backs, if we didn’t get our hands dirty digging into the details of the best, most popular domain registrars around, is renewal.
Domain privacy, add an extra $3 to renew ($14 total).
Not great, okay.
But to renew your domain…
That’s more than any other registrar around; to renew your domain and privacy with register.com you’ll get set back $52 a year.
That’s… That’s just not okay.
As far as transfers go, we couldn’t find a cost.
Normally we’d ask support…
See below for more on that.
Ease of Use: 3/5
Is there any hope for Register.com on the ease of use front?
When you search for your initial domain idea, sometimes it’s taken.
Which is why all domain registrars offer a few other options; maybe one of them is better anyway.
Register.com does this, but there weren’t many alternatives suggested.
They do have a bulk tool where you can enter up to 50 domain names into, so if you come up with a bunch of domain name ideas off the top of your head you can check them all at once.
It’s just a 3 step process to sign up…
Plus 4 upsell pages.
7 pages to register. Not good.
Look and Feel
The checkout pages and domain hosting portal look 2008 (insert Black Eyed Peas joke here).
It took us a couple of clicks to find the page where we can manage our domain settings, but they were on point with making it super easy to renew for $52 freaking dollars with a big button right on the homepage.
And there are ads in the dashboard. Come on y'all.
You can change nameservers and get a transfer code online (because you’ll want to transfer your domain out pretty fast) – relatively easy.
It’s technically possible to change your DNS records but figuring out how to do that was more confusing than other domain registrars.
Icing on this not so tasty cake: you have to email them to disable auto-renew.
Nothing clear from reading their TOS.
They do offer “Domain Expiration Protection” for $9.96.
This doesn’t renew your domain automatically but “secures” it for a year if it expires.
So it seems like you won’t be able to use a domain that is protected but expires on a live website, but at under $10 it won’t go to someone else for a lower cost than just renewing at another registrar.
Probably not worth the hassle to save a couple of bucks though (and risk getting charged $52 by Register.com).
On the knowledge base front, there are tours and tutorials.
Those might be helpful but they require flash to play and, like most people, we don’t have flash anymore because this isn’t 2009 (what up OG Youtube!).
And their knowledge base is on Web.com – they’re owned by the same company, but that’s weird/confusing.
And when we were looking for domain help there were references to “network solutions” – another company owned by the parent company that owns Regiser.com and Web.com.
If you want human help, you can email them whenever.
But you can only call 9 am – 12 am Monday through Friday, 9 am – 10 pm Saturday and Sunday.
That’s most of the hours in 24/7, sure.
But no live chat, which is kind of a deal breaker.
You might miss that if you’re just glancing through the site, though, because there is a “chat” button.
But it just lets you search through the knowledge base.
It’s not a way to talk to a person.
It’s not even a bot.
Initial price for a .com + privacy: $18.98 | Renewal price for a .com + privacy: $22.98
Pros & Cons
- Solid knowledge base articles
- Domain hosting portal is pretty easy to use
- Domain Privacy isn’t free
Pricing’s pretty find and straightforward with Domain.com, not the most expensive, not the cheapest domain registration.
$9.99 for your first year, $13.99 after that, privacy is extra at a stead $8.99/year.
There’s no fee to transfer from Domain.com to another registrar, it’s $13.99 (the registration renewal fee) to transfer in.
Interestingly, there’s also no fee when you transfer to one of their “sister companies” (as the support guy called them) – meaning those companies won’t charge you to transfer to them from Domain.com
That list includes Dotster.com, Ipage.com, Ipower.com, Netfirms.com and more.
Ease of Use: 4/5
Domain.com is easy enough to use!
Search is fast and easy and provides a good few extra options if choice numero uno isn’t available.
Just 2 steps, which includes one upsell page.
Look and Feel
The site looks just a bit dated but overall pretty solid.
Edit DNS Records/Nameservers, renew, transfers (done online), add subdomains – all the usual stuff is there and easy to get to in their domain hosting portal.
Worth noting there’s no email forwarding option (some of the best registrars have it, others don’t) but you can do that with DNS records.
They do offer easy domain redirects including stealth redirects which is nice.
What that means is this: say you have “domain1.com” and you want to redirect anyone who visits that domain to “domain2.com”
With a stealth redirect, anyone who goes to “domain1.com” will still see that in their browser’s address bar, even though they’re technically on “domain2.com.”
This is a fancy feature you probably don’t need but cool to have it.
No extra grace periods or anything – if you let your domain expire, she’s out in the wild.
Domain.com’s knowledge base is solid – looks good, well organized, easy to search, and their articles have helpful images in addition to their detailed explanations.
Phone and live chat 24/7 – good to go there.
In looking at the live chat, they offer some “what are you looking for” options before connecting you with a support hombre.
Sometimes that’s helpful for getting the right support person but none of the options felt right for our questions about transfer fees so we just guessed.
When we were getting connected, the chat window said it’d be a 5-minute wait to connect.
Nice that there was some expectation setting there, also nice that it didn’t take anywhere near that long (we were chatting in less than a minute).
The support guy we got connected with seemed knowledgeable on the details, but had some trouble understanding our questions; kind of understandable because we were talking about transfers in, transfers out, transfers to their “sister companies,” – we can see how it’d get a bit confusing but other registrars figured it out easily enough.
What is a domain name?
Guessing you know the low down here but just as a quick refresher because we know URLs, websites, hosting, domain names – it can all get a bit confusing.
Domain names are (ideally) easy to remember words or phrases ending in things like .com, .net, .org, .co, etc. that make it easy for people to find and go to websites.
If you think of the internet as a series of streets that go around the world, your website is your house, your domain name is the address that people use to Google maps it over to you to join the party.
If you want to know more/get a bigger refresher, we’ve got a big ol’ guide covering the “what is a domain name” question here.
What is a domain name registrar?
It’s pretty simple really, at least at a high level (which is all you really need to know).
A domain name registrar is a company that lets you purchase and register domain names.
All domain name records are stored in a centralized database called a registry, which is managed by the non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
For a domain name to be recognized and usable, it needs to be added to this database which is way too much work for people like us to do.
Plus ICANN doesn’t want the hassle of doing all that work to register domain names themselves.
So they authorize domain name registrars to register domain names and make changes to the registry for us.
These companies then provide tools to make registering and making changes easy, and compete with each other to win our business (which means better service and better prices for us!).
How to buy a domain name (what to look for)
So how the heck do you know what to look for when you’re ready to buy a domain name from a registrar?
Well, starting with this guide was definitely the right step 1 for 2 reasons:
- We’ve narrowed down the list to some of the best and most popular domain name registrars
- We’re about to tell you a few things you should have in mind when you’re making your choice.
Because there’s so much competition in the domain registration space, you’ll come across all sorts of different offers and features.
Price is definitely a factor…
But there’s more to life (and domain name registration) than money friends!
(Steps down from soapbox).
Some of this info can be a bit hard to track down…
Luckily we did the dirty work for you in our reviews, but just for your edification:
Does the registrar have the Top-level domain you’re looking for?
Without going all the way into the deep dive, the top-level domain is the part that comes after the “.” at the end of your domain name.
Some of the most popular TLDs include:
You basically always want the .com if you can get it.
But everyone knows that so a lot of people have snapped up a lot of .com domains, either because they think they’ll use it someday or they think you’ll pay them a lot of money (like hundreds or thousands of dollars) to buy it off of them.
Probably don’t do that.
In most cases, we’d recommend nabbing the .co if the .com is taken, or the .net, maybe the .biz or .me.
In these cases, pretty much all of the best domain registrars will let you buy/register them, so you’re probably fine here.
But if you want one of the super fancy new TLDs like .xyz or .club, you’ll need to do a quick search to see if the domain registrar you’re looking to use can register it for you.
How much is this domain name going to cost you?
Once you know a domain registrar has you on the TLD front, it’s time to see how many $$ it’s gonna cost you to nab.
First, it’s important to note: registrars are middlemen between you and the ICANN domain registry that holds the information about your domain (that you own it, a few other things).
The people who maintain the registry set a certain price for that service, and every registrar pays them and charges you extra on top.
But it’s all the same product – as long as the registrar itself is reputable (isn’t a fly by night money grab that will shutdown as soon as you blink), they’re all offering the same basic thing in registration.
There are a few differences in the service (which we’ll talk about more below), but one registration isn’t “better” than the next.
So when you’re looking at prices, if one domain name registrar charges more but doesn’t offer an easier user experience or better support, all you’re doing working with them is spending more money.
Now when it comes to price, most domain registrars will offer a lower price for the first year of your registration than following years.
You’ll be able to register your domain name for a minimum of a year, some registrars will let you register for up to 10 years.
When you’re buying a new domain, we recommend registering it for just the one year.
In most cases we’ve seen, you don’t get a discount for registering multiple years in advance, and if you really get into the website game you’re definitely going to buy a lot of domains that you won’t actually need a year or two later (learntomakegrandmasweaters.com seemed like such a great idea once upon a time).
In general, domain names are pretty cheap when it comes to stuff you’ll spend money on to build your website.
Sometimes you’ll find .com domains for as little as $1-2 a year, sometimes they’re free when you buy hosting as well.
Usually you’ll spend somewhere between $10-15 for a .com, other niche TLDs like .co or .biz can cost more.
Sometimes you’ll see domain names for hundreds or thousands of dollars.
What’s happened here is someone else thought a body like you might want to have that domain name someday, so they bought it in advance thinking they’d sell it to you for a proverbial mint.
Don’t buy these. Just come up with another name, for real, unless your at least 98.67% sure you’ve found the perfect business opportunity that absolutely needs that $10,000 domain to succeed.
Final note: because of the way the registration process works, you won’t be able to get a refund for your domain name purchase.
BUT you can transfer from one registrar to another (more on that below).
Watch out for hidden fees and price jumps
A lot of domain registrars do business like cable companies – you get a nice juicy discount when you sign up, then after that you “renew” at the “regular” price.
It’s not always the case, but fairly common so put it in the “sort of sketchy but not really” category.
The key thing is that you know about the price jumps and what they are before you sign up to avoid a very unpleasant surprise.
We looked into this for you in our reviews below (spoiler: one of the domain registrars that made our “best” list because of its popularity had a jaw dropping price jump).
On top of the after-the-initial-discount price jump, it’s important to watch out for hidden or additional.
The most common additional fee we saw was for WHOIS privacy protection (more on that below).
Other than that, most registrars we reviewed didn’t charge anything more than the price they listed on their main search page.
BUT a lot of them offered add-on services we didn’t need; none of the ones that made our best list tried to automatically sign us up for these additional costs, but some less honest domain registrars might.
Figuring out the renewal cost is a bit trickier (we checked for you in our reviews below, after we bought domain names from each registrar; you might be able to ask customer support about this before you buy for other registrars).
But getting the scoop on additional fees is relatively easy.
For most registrars, you’ll search for your domain name, add it to your cart, then go through the checkout process like anything else you buy online.
At some point during this, they’ll have to show you the full and final price – just make sure that lines up with what you were expecting before smashing that “purchase” button.
Remember to turn on automatic renewal
Re: register your domain for one year at a time, every registrar will have an auto-renewal setting that will automatically… renew… your domain name when it expires.
Most will automatically turn this on, we’ve found one or two that didn’t, so just double check once you buy your domain to make sure you don’t accidentally lose it.
But also double check the renewal cost (re: price jumps) to make sure you want to stick with that registrar; if not you’ll want to transfer your domain to another registrar before it expires.
Whether you turn auto-renewal on or off, every registrar will send you reminder emails and confirmations as the date of your domain’s expiration approaches (they’re required to do this by ICANN).
And if you forget to both turn on auto-renew and miss those emails, some registrars have “grace periods” where you can get your domain back for the cost of renewal plus a fee.
We looked into these for our domain name registrar reviews and…
Just turn on auto-renew. It gets way too complicated (and expensive) if you don’t.
From purchasing to managing, the process should be easy
The best domain registrars get the easier they make your life, the more likely you’ll register your domain through them (and keep it there).
Some registrars don’t quite get this.
Compared to something like hosting, there won’t be too many things you’ll need to do to manage your domain name once everything’s setup.
But to set it up, and sometimes when you’re making changes to your site, you’ll need to do things like update nameservers (where internet servers/web browsers look to find the IP address your domain name is associated with), change DNS records, and you might want to transfer your domain name at some point.
All of this should be easy to do through your registrar’s domain hosting portal.
This stuff isn’t really possible to figure out until you’ve purchased a domain name from a registrar…
But we’ve got your back for the domain registrars we reviewed for our best of list!
On top of that, when you’re buying your domain name, well that process should be easy and beginner friendly too.
Every registrar will have a domain name search tool – that should be easy and helpful for finding related names in case your first idea was taken.
And their checkout process should be easy too, without a lot of hassle trying to dig through upsells.
Customer Support should be solid
We’ve pretty much never had to contact our domain registrar’s support in our collective experience here at Create a Pro Website.
Maybe once or twice when we had to contact them to do a transfer.
But, also, we’ve been doing this a while and figured a lot of it out through reading posts like this.
Maybe you don’t want to spend hours digging through the interwebs trying to figure out what every DNS record means though.
And sometimes in the website world, you actually can’t find the answers to your problems on the internet (shocking, we know, we’re trying to combat that here).
Whether you just want a fast answer from someone who knows what they’re talking about and can look at your specific account or problem, or you’re facing some spectacularly unique can’t find the answer on Google challenge, you’ll want solid support.
First step is their knowledge base – it should be easy to search through and offer helpful answers.
Beyond that, most of the best domain registrars will at least offer live chat 24/7.
Phone support is nice to have too, in case it’s pretty complicated to explain what you need via text.
And a lot of times the support folks can do things for you, so you’ll want them to be tech savvy so they can both understand/figure out your problem but also fix it without breaking things further.
For some domain registrars, you might be able to test out their tech support ahead of time by asking a few questions you have, some you might not
We talked to support for our reviews to give you our impression of those that made our list.
While you might only need a domain name, many of the best domain name registrars offer other products/services as well.
These might include:
- Domain privacy (this one basically always)
- Web hosting (a lot do, not always)
- Professional Email (a lot do, not always)
- SSL Certificates
- Website builders
- Ecommerce tools
- SEO services
- Email marketing
TBH besides web hosting and email, we don’t usually care about these things and you probably shouldn’t either – often times there are better options from companies that are dedicated to making awesome products/services in those categories and the ones your domain registrar offers aren’t that useful.
Whether you decide to get any addons or not, be sure to make sure none of those addons are automatically added to your cart “for you” during checkout.
Except for domain privacy/WHOIS protection (more on that below).
Also on hosting…
You might want to keep your domain name and hosting separate
Basically every web hosting service (including the ones on our list of best web hosting providers) will let you buy a domain name from them.
Some of the domain registrars on our list below are actually mostly known for their hosting!
For sure, it’s easier to get your domain setup with your web hosting if you get them at the same time from the same company.
A few will also offer free domains for a year when you buy hosting and we do love a deal that’s “free.”
- A lot of times if it’s free the first year, the host is going to charge you a lot more to renew your registration after that (more than free obviously, but also more than other domain registrars will charge you to renew).
- If the domain isn’t free for the first year, you might be able to get it cheaper from another registrar than the company you’re getting hosting from.
- It’s a bit more secure: if one account gets hacked, all of your website building eggs aren’t in one basket.
- Though it’s a bit more technically complicated to set up hosting and a domain that are each with separate companies, it’s not that hard and you’ll probably only have to do it once.
Ultimately, though, it’s up to you. If you want to take the easier route here, we don’t blame you.
And if you do decide to get that free domain name (because we probably would want it too), you can always transfer your domain name out of your hosting account later.
Which leads us nicely into…
Domains can actually be transferred between registrars!
A couple of things to note here.
Firstly, you won’t be able to do that during the first 60 days after a new registration, after that, transfer as much as you want.
Most registrars won’t charge you to transfer your domain out to another registrar, pretty much all of them will charge you a fee to transfer a domain in (usually the cost of one year of registration though they vary – see our domain registrar reviews below for info on their transfer fees).
Most of the best registrars also make it easy to transfer your domain out should you choose to leave them in the proverbial dust – there’s just a couple of steps that you can do through their domain hosting portal to get it all done.
Always opt into domain privacy
ICANN requires some sort of contact information to be connected with your domain name as part of the registration process.
By default, this information is yours and it’s publically available using a “WHOIS Lookup” tool (Google “whois lookup [insert your favorite website here]” to see what we mean).
That information includes:
- Your name
- Your address
- Your phone number
- Your email address
The problem: while most people don’t care enough to do this for your site or any site, spammers do.
And we’ve gotten the emails and phone calls to prove it.
That’s where Domain Privacy/Whois Privacy comes in.
With this, your domain registrar will include their contact details instead of yours.
They eat the spam, so you don’t have to.
Definitely get this. It’s the one “addon” that’s always worth it.
Some of the best domain registrars will include this for free, the rest will typically charge about $12/year for it.
Our domain name registrar review process
On the face of it, most domain registration companies are pretty similar.
But we go beyond the face, we take our scalpels to the face and dig into the meaty goodness beneath (yum).
Cannibalism jokes aside, we covered the general things for you to be aware of when buying a domain name above, which we looked at as well.
But, for the sake of transparency and to give you a bit of further insight into what you’ll want to look at and how we got to our ratings, here are the categories we used to rate each registar and what we looked at for each.
Like we mentioned multiple times now (including with a juicy, gory analogy), domain registrars are all pretty similar.
So while in the grand scheme of things you won’t be spending a ton on domain registration and for the most part the prices aren’t too different, this is still a key decision factor for choosing the best domain name registrar for you.
But we didn’t just look at the publically available pricing tables on each registrar’s website. You can do that on your own because you’re a smart cookie.
We dug deeper, so you don’t have to.
To rate each registrar based on price we looked at not only the first year price but the first year price INCLUDING domain privacy.
Because you really need that.
And we also bought domains with each registrar and looked at the renewal price for both the domain and privacy, because those do change and that’s not something you can easily find out before you buy.
We then gave each domain registrar a 1-5 rating based on both the initial price + privacy and the renewal price + privacy.
Ease of Use
You can start to get a sense of ease of use just by looking at a domain name registrar’s website and their domain name search and checkout process.
BUT WE DIG DEEPER FRIENDS.
We bought a domain name with each registrar so we could take a look at the backend too, then we gave them each an “ease of use” rating based on:
- How easy/useful their domain name search is (is it fast, do they give you a lot of good options if your first choice is taken?)
- How easy their checkout process is (not a ton of steps/form fields)
- How many upsells they throw into their checkout process (because we don’t want those)
- How their domain hosting/management portal looks (because looking good = feeling good)
- How easy it was to change settings you might need like DNS records, nameservers, and making transfers (you might only need to do this once, but it shouldn’t take you 5 years to figure out how to do it; that’s longer than your domain name’s registered for!)
Finally, we rated each domain registrar based on how solid their support is.
You probably won’t need it, but if you do you’ll want it to be fast and tasty (“helpful” for the non-cannibals out there; okay this joke is definitely played out).
Three things we looked for:
- Knowledge base quality (is it easy to find answers to questions, are the help articles actually helpful)
- Support channels available (phone, email, live chat; are they open 24/7 for those 1am website building sessions)
- Support helpfulness (we asked a couple of questions via live chat to see how fast/friendly/smart their tech support people are)