If you’re setting up an online shop for the first time, there’s a lot that will probably be confusing, such as how to register your domain name, what an SSL certificate or PCI compliance is, and how to set up your first WordPress shop. However, there are also a lot of you out there that have gone through this process already, but may want to revisit some of the choices you’ve made when setting up your site. One choice I’d like to examine in this article is choosing a domain name registrar (I’d also check out our article on DNS services).
What is a Domain Name Registrar?
Okay, chances are you already know this, but for the newcomers in the crowd, let’s review. A domain name registrar is a company who registers your domain name (for example, ours is sellwithwp.com), processes name transfers, or handles renewals. Why do you need a domain name? It’s an easier way for people to find your site, rather than memorizing IP numbers for the server on which your site is hosted. Obviously, if you changed the server for your site, people wouldn’t be able to find you, and you’ll probably end up changing hosting at least once to find the right hosting company for you. Registering a domain name that points to where your site “lives” is a far more user-friendly way for people to find you and you can easily change the server(s) to which your domain name points so you’re free to change hosting if needed.
So how can any of these companies be different from one another if all they do is register an unused domain name (or transfer a used one) to you or allow you to renew the domain names you have? You would be surprised. Security is one issue, as you don’t want your domain name hijacked or shut down, which eliminates your ability to do business. Customer service is also another important factor to consider if there are any issues with registration, security, or renewals. Price is also a sticking point for many people, but I’d argue that if you’re going to make a livelihood from your website, you should invest in quality building blocks, which includes a reputable, ICANN accredited domain name registrar. Pricing will usually range from $10 to $50 per year (you’ll usually renew each year).
What qualities should I look for?
GoDaddy is the most popular domain name registrar in the business, but remember that popularity doesn’t always mean quality (such as some issues with stolen domains — see this and this, or google “godaddy domain stolen”).
You should look for a domain registrar that will contact you directly with issues and will resolve them without exorbitant fees. Test out their response time with a basic email question and see if you’re satisfied with the response (scratch them off the list if it’s longer than 24 hours or so), and inquire as to how support is handled (whether it’s 24/7 or has set hours). Also, checking out reviews of the services you’re looking into should be a must. One place you can check is the Web Hosting Talk forum. You may not think customer service will be that important for what appears to be a one-time purchase, but remember that this is how people get to your site. If anything is wrong with your domain name, nobody can find you, and you make $0.
You also want to keep your hosting separate from your domain name registration. Many companies that provide hosting will include domain name registration for free — don’t take it. The minimal yearly costs of registering the domain yourself are worth the freedom it affords you. If your web host has registered the domain, then you’re not free to leave if you’re unhappy with the hosting service without paying name transfer fees, and they know this. You’ve essentially locked yourself into the same company for both services, as you can’t change your domain name or your hosting freely without one affecting the other. Keeping this separate is worth any perceived inconvenience.
I would also recommend looking at ancillary services available from each company. For example, some domain name registrars will provide included email forwarding (forwarding an email @yourdomain to an email you choose), DNS services (more on this tomorrow), or Whois privacy (checkout the linked article for why you want this). I prefer Namecheap, who is fairly awesome, and offers email forwarding and Whois privacy. However, I wouldn’t recommend using their DNS services. Another option is DNSimple, who is focused more on DNS hosting security and would therefore be a better all-in-one solution, but is slightly more expensive overall. There are some other great options out there as well, so I wouldn’t limit your options to only those services. If you have one you’d like to share, please let us know in the comments! 🙂
Other resources to check out:
- Tech Republic has some guidelines for choosing a domain registrar.
- Lifehacker polled users for the Five Best Domain Registrars, and gives you an overview of the top five list.
- Web Hosting 101 has a good overview on choosing a domain name registrar.
- Web Hosting Talk has a guide to selecting a domain name registrar as well, and they also offer a list of do’s and don’ts.
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