Choosing a Domain Registrar

Of the big three choices you have to make when starting a website — domain name, domain registrar, web host — choosing a registrar should come early, maybe even before you’ve thought of a domain name. The reason is the demand for good domain names.  If you find a good name that’s available, you’ll want to register it right away instead of starting your registrar research.

If your research time is limited, browse the reviews at Registrar Judge.  For the most part, the good registrars get the higher scores. The reviews aren’t a perfect sampling because most users don’t publish reviews unless they’ve had a fantastic or terrible experience. Also, some negative reviews come from user misunderstandings, fired off in the heat of the moment, that can’t be retracted after they were posted online.  However, Registrar Judge can at least suggest some good candidate registrars. To narrow the candidates further, search for more opinions at DNForum, Web Hosting Talk, or using Google.

$8-$10/year is a typical price for a .com domain registration. Extra features, such as URL forwarding and Whois privacy (both discussed in later posts), may cost a few dollars a year. If you look to pricing to differentiate between registrars, check for pricing consistency. Some registrars offer teaser rates at initial registration, then revert to a higher rate at renewal time. Instead of being distracted by minimal price discounts, look for the registrar you feel is most reliable and professional.

If you think you might have your registrar picked out but aren’t quite ready to commit, sign up for a free account.  You just need an email address. This lets you test drive their user interface from the inside. Ideally, you should be able to easily navigate your way to editing your contact (Whois) info, change nameservers (which point to your web host’s server where your files will reside), and setting auto-renew on/off. Realistically, though, you may have to do all these things just once.  Just put your domains on auto-renew and make sure your email is up to date so notifications of domain and credit card expirations reach you.

The following registrars get consistently high recommendations from their customers:

My top recommendation would go to Dynadot (simplest interface, extra features at no extra charge), followed closely by Moniker (large registrar, low base prices). (UPDATE: Contented Designs no longer recommends using Moniker, which after ownership changes has had problems with security and support.)

GoDaddy is the largest and best known registrar but customers are hit with an assortment of minor annoyances — confusing interface, outdated documentation, fluctuating prices, and constant upsell. On the other hand, they’re a reputable company with solid tech support, and the annoyances will mostly be in the background after you get your domain registered and put on auto-renew.

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