Domain providers, also known as domain registrars, help businesses occupy their piece of online real estate. Websites form the core of a consumer’s buying experience, in fact, several reports have found that “70 to 80 percent of consumers research a business online before visiting or making a purchase [yet] only 50 percent of small businesses have a website.”
A business that does not leverage the benefits of creating a strong online presence using domain providers will be left behind in the competitive global marketplace.
This covers everything business owners need to know about domain providers. It also offers suggestions for the best domain providers to help a business create a strong web presence.
What is a domain name registrar?
A domain name registrar (domain provider) hosts a custom domain name such as www.mycompany.com. A domain name is a unique identifier for a website. Numbers and letters are combined to create a domain name and a variety of domain name extensions exist such as .com, .net, .co, .uk, .org and the list continues. Without domain names, people would have to type in the IP address numbers for a website each time they want to find it, which would be tedious and create an unpleasant user experience.
Most website hosting services offer free and custom domain names to users. Free domain names typically contain the name of the website host and offer limited search engine optimization (SEO) benefits. For example, someone who creates a blog using WordPress hosting will have a domain name that looks similar to www.myblog.wordpress.com.
On the other hand, there is an annual fee attached to hosting a custom domain name with a domain name registrar, but choosing this option creates more opportunities for the website to reach a wide customer base.
Two benefits of custom domain names are that:
- They are given higher priority rankings on search engines
- They are easier to monetize.
How do you choose the right domain name?
It is important to understand how to choose the right domain name before registering with a domain name provider. Making the right choice improves the chances of website optimization strategies succeeding. A domain name should correctly represent a brand and include the following best practices:
- The right length
- Avoidance of easily misspelled words
- An appropriate domain name extension
The right length for a domain name
The longer the domain name, the more likely it is that someone will mistype or misspell it. Data Genetics has discovered that the most common domain name length is 12 characters. Ideally, a domain name should contain between 6 and 14 characters. A branded domain, such as the company name, is fine as long as it does not exceed 14 characters.
Branded domain names
Some experts recommend including keywords in domain names to make them easily discoverable. While that is a valid suggestion, it can lead to generic domain names that are not memorable to the customer. A branded domain name gives a business a unique identity and can be created using one or a combination of these strategies:
- Use a domain name generator such as Name Mesh or Name Boy.
- Use a thesaurus to find synonyms for words that relate to the brand.
- Create a new, catchy word that epitomizes what the brand represents.
This does not mean that keywords should not be considered, however. They are important for SEO purposes so it would be beneficial to include a niche-specific keyword at the beginning of the domain name to improve search engine rankings. Avoid using hyphens and numbers though because those detract from the domain name. Also, do not feel forced to include niche-specific keywords, especially if they will make the domain name too clumsy or wordy. There are other ways to capitalize on SEO on website pages.
Avoid easily misspelled words
The best performing domain names are easy to spell. A good way to test whether a domain name is too complicated is to ask eight to ten people to type or write how they would input the domain name into a web browser. Their feedback will demonstrate the likelihood of the domain name being misspelled. A misspelled domain name can lead a website visitor to the wrong website and, therefore, result in lost sales.
Appropriate domain name extensions
Domain Name Stat states that .com domain name extensions dominate the field with 42.95 percent of websites using this domain name extension. As such, it’s suggested that websites be registered using this extension for the best chance of success. However, the domain name chosen may already use a .com extension. Provided that the domain name is not trademarked, another easy to remember domain name extension (such as .net) can be used.
What makes domain name registrars special?
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) accredits all domain name registrars, manages all domain names, and stores them in a large centralized domain name registry. Each domain registrar sells domain name licenses to customers and then registers these licensed domain names with ICANN. Permission is granted by ICANN for the domain registrar to provide domain name management tools and services to the user while managing the domain name on ICANN’s database on the user’s behalf.
Therefore, domain registrars act as a middle-man between users and ICANN. They ensure that all the domain names they register are securely stored in ICANN’s centralized domain name registry. They also facilitate the renewal, transfer or termination of domain name registration thus simplifying the process for users. Additionally, their domain name management tools help users capitalize on the benefits of having a custom domain name.
Check out our roundup of the Best Free Domain Name Registrars
What is the difference between registering a domain name and using web hosting?
Domain name registration and web hosting are two important components of website creation. The former provides a virtual address for a website, while the latter provides the actual space where website files are stored. That is a major distinction: the domain name tells the internet where the website is while the web host enables website visitors to view the discernable web page content.
A web hosting company leases pre-configured servers to users so that these users can create web pages and store the content of these web pages. Some web hosting companies also offer domain name registration services.
Why should you use a domain name registrar?
The primary benefit of registering a domain name directly with a domain name registrar is that the user is guaranteed to be registered as the owner of that domain name. Some web hosting companies that offer domain name registry services actually register domain names under their own name which makes them the owner of these names. They may then resell a domain name back to the correct owner at a high price. It is not mandatory for the web host to also be the domain name registrar so a user should register a domain name directly with a domain name registrar where possible.
Registering a domain name with a domain registrar also offers four additional benefits:
- Unique domain name
- Unique email address
- Domain Forwarding
- Sub Domains
1. Unique domain name
As previously mentioned, registering a domain name provides a business with a unique internet address. This is important for building brand credibility, improving search engine rankings, and making it easier for people to find the website.
2. Unique email address
Some domain registrars sync with email hosting service providers to offer personalized email addresses. These personalised email addresses add credibility to a brand and improve email marketing efforts. Suppose Kirk, owner of a fictitious company called Soap Box, registers the company’s domain as soapbox.com. He can then assign an email address to each of his employees using the format [email protected]. He can also include department-specific emails such as [email protected].
3. Domain forwarding
Domain forwarding occurs when the domain name redirects a website visitor from one webpage to another. A domain registrar allows users to register multiple domain names so that domain forwarding can be used.
Domain forwarding offers three distinct advantages:
- Forwarding old domain names to new domain names. This occurs when a transition is being made from an old website to a new website.
- Forwarding misspelled domain names to correctly spelled domain names
- Forwarding domain names that have different domain extensions (such as .net or .org) before competitors purchase them
An important point should be mentioned here. Forwarding misspelled domain names to the correct domain is an often overlooked consideration that can have a profound impact on a business’ online presence. Ignoring this element of the domain registration process makes the domain susceptible to typosquatting attacks. These attacks occur when domain hijackers register misspelled versions of a domain name to direct website traffic to malicious sites. Consequently, it’s important to register all possible variations of a domain name including all possible variations of domain extensions. This may not be practical in reality, especially for entrepreneurs who are on a tight budget, but it is a worthwhile investment to effectively prevent possible long-term domain security issues.
It’s recommended that domain masking and domain forwarding should be used together so that website visitors only see the domain name for the website they typed in rather than for the website to which they are being directed. Neglecting to use domain masking can result in confused website visitors who click out of the new website before taking the time to engage with its contents. This can, however, affect SEO since search engines penalize websites that use masked domain names.
Registering a domain name with a domain registrar allows users to also register subdomains which are additions to the domain name that enables navigation to different website pages. An example of a subdomain for the Soap Box domain name used earlier could be store.soapbox.com. A website visitor who inputs this domain name into the address bar will be sent directly to Soap Box’s store. Some other common uses of subdomains are described below.
- Web developers tend to use subdomains to test multiple versions of a website or new plugins. Testing helps the web developer iron out all the kinks before making the modified version available to the public.
- Some companies use subdomains to handle transactions for their eCommerce sites
- Location-specific sites can be created using subdomains. For example, a web page for Soap Box’s Australian store could be created using the sub-domain au.soapbox.com
- A subdomain can be created for the mobile version of a website, especially if the mobile version will offer unique features that the desktop site does not
- Domain forwarding becomes easier with the use of subdomains
How can domain hijacking impact a domain name registration?
Domain hijacking occurs when someone steals a domain name. The hijacker accesses the account holder’s details on the domain registrar’s platform and completely controls domain-based functions such as:
- Changing Domain Name Servers (DNS)
- Creating a new domain status
- Transferring a domain name
- Changing all personal, technical, and administrative details on the account
It is also highly probable that the hijacker will transfer the domain to another domain name registrar, making it even more difficult to recover the domain name. A domain hijacker can essentially thwart a business’ operations by rendering a website inoperable or a complete misrepresentation of the brand.
How does a domain hijacker gain access to a domain name?
There are four ways that a domain hijacker can access a domain name:
- The hijacker sends the domain name holder a phishing page that tricks him or her into willingly inputting domain registrar login details
- A data breach of the domain registrar’s servers
- A seemingly innocent call from someone who claims to be a representative of the domain registrar
- Malware infiltrates a poorly protected computer and subtly installs local keyloggers that provide the hijackers with all the information they need about the user’s passwords
Two ways to recover a hijacked domain
- The domain registrar should be contacted the moment a breach has been identified. This domain registrar can then act swiftly to investigate the account and authenticate ownership. However, this option will not work if the hijacker has already transferred the domain to another domain registrar. The user then has to use the second option.
- Contact ICANN and file a domain dispute. Several dispute resolution options are available here.
Useful strategies for protecting a domain from hijackers
It’s important to trust that a domain provider will take domain security seriously. Equally important is that the domain owner takes the necessary steps to ensure the complete safety of the domain itself.
Here are seven strategies to help protect a domain.
1. Do not use a web host as a domain registrar
Although convenient, bundling web hosting with domain registration can be risky. Doing this means that an attack on the domain registrar will have a ripple effect on all aspects of a website, including where client data is stored. Customers trust businesses to keep their data safe, so betraying this trust can ruin a brand’s reputation.
Furthermore, separating domain registration from web hosting increases the likelihood of the domain registrar investing heavily in domain-specific security. A company that provides both web hosting and domain registration services are more likely to use a general security package to govern both services. Again, this is a highly risky option because a breach of this overarching security threatens all website pages and the domain name.
2. Always use two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication adds a higher level of security to all online interactions. A hijacker who accesses a username and password would still not be able to access the user’s account without the additional level of authentication.
3. Ensure that domain locking is active
The best domain registrars offer domain locking which prevents unauthorized domain name transfers to another registrar. Most domain registrars activate this feature by default but the user should still verify that it is active after the domain registration process has been completed.
4. WHOIS protection should be active
ICANN requires that the contact details of a domain name holder be visible to the public via WHOIS lookup. Anyone can access this information. The best domain registrars offer WHOIS privacy which reduces the amount of personal information shared.
5. Password protection best practice should always be used
Basic tenets for password protection include:
- Using a strong password that contains at least eight characters and uses a combination of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
- Changing passwords every three months.
- Never share passwords and other login details with anyone.
Making these best practices habitual makes it less likely for a hijacker to access a domain registrar account unless the hijacker is using keylogging software.
6. Look out for phishing red flags
Phishing emails seem genuine on the surface but have some telltale signs that a domain user should keenly consider. These telltale signs include:
- The email is sent from a public domain such as @yahoo.com or @gmail.com
- Subtle variations in the domain such as a misspelled word. For example, @bluehost.com could be @bluhost.com
- The email is poorly written and riddled with grammatical errors that a native speaker would not make
- Suspicious attachments or links
- A seemingly urgent request
Any suspicious email a user receives should be forwarded to wither the domain registrar or ICANN depending on which organization the domain hijacker is attempting to misrepresent.
7. Keep domain contact details current
A domain hijacker can use outdated contact information to access a domain. The contact information for domain registration should be accurate and current to help prevent this problem. Furthermore, the domain registrar would not be able to contact the user to investigate suspected domain hacking if the contact information is outdated.
What features should you look for in a domain registrar?
Choosing the right domain registrar is important for several reasons. Here are five critical features to consider when attempting to make this crucial decision:
1. Up-to-date security features
The previous section detailed the profound impact domain hijacking can have on a business’ online presence. Domain registrars also face other security threats such as DNS attacks and typosquatting. The former involves sending an overwhelming amount of traffic to a DNS server which forces it to shut down and crashes the website. These DNS server attacks include DNS spoofing, DNS amplification, DDoS, and cache poisoning. Typosquatting was discussed earlier in this article.
Combining the threats associated with domain hacking, DNS server attacks, and typosquatting paints a scary picture about the possible security threats a domain registrar can experience. This makes it exceedingly important for domain registrars to use the most current and best security features to protect their servers and the data they process for the domains they register. ICANN mandates that all accredited domain registrars must implement strong security mechanisms to protect domains from spam, phishing, WHOIS complaints, and domain transfers. Therefore, a user should first verify that a domain registrar is accredited by ICANN before registering.
The issue is though that some domain registrars offer more advanced security features as additional purchases resulting in domain users ignoring the importance of these features in favor of the cheapest domain registration package.
A good domain registrar will have the following security features built into all packages:
- Two-factor authentication
- Account lock to limit the number of password attempts
- Registry lock to ensure that any requests to change a domain name server are manually verified
- Regularly updated malware, spyware, and virus protection
2. Great customer support
A domain name provider should be accessible 24/7. How this 24/7 support is offered can vary from an online ticketing system to live chat support. If a ticketing system is used, a response within one business day should be the norm. Domain name providers that value customer support quickly resolve users’ issues.
3. A user-friendly interface
A domain registrar with an interface that is difficult to use can become burdensome. The best domain registrars offer an intuitive user panel that enables users to capitalize on domain management features. Complicated or unfamiliar user panels have steep learning curves which inevitably results in the user spending numerous hours attempting to figure them out. Entrepreneurs cannot afford to lose so many precious hours.
4. Competitive pricing
Prices for domain extensions differ among domain providers and some domain providers offer more domain extension options than others. There can also be “hidden” fees that can come as a surprise if a user is not paying keen attention. For instance, some domain providers offer domain name search and checking for domain name availability for free but others require a service fee for these features.
Another important pricing consideration is the domain renewal fee. Some domain providers offer annual domain renewal, others offer more options such as two or three-year domain renewal. The key is to identify a domain registrar that offers a reasonable domain renewal fee.
5. Domain expiration grace period
It’s also important to consider the domain provider’s expiration grace period. Most domain providers offer an expiration grace period of a month. If the domain is not renewed within the grace period, the domain provider may auction it with the most popular domain names attracting hefty prices. Users should choose a domain provider that offers a long enough grace period so that there is enough time to renew it before it is either deleted or auctioned.
Are you guaranteed to get the domain name you choose when you register with a domain registrar?
There are approximately 11,471,838 domains and 3,051 domain registrars globally. Chances are high that more than one person will attempt to register the same domain. The best domain registrars offer a free domain availability checker so that a user knows whether the domain is available before purchasing. However, there are some domain registrars that do not offer this feature which means that the user will be subjected to a lengthy registration process.
Instant Domain Search is a tool that can solve this problem. The platform taps into ICANN’s extensive domain database to determine the availability of a domain. It even takes it a step further by showing domains that are about to expire or are up for auction. The latter is an important feature for someone who is determined to use a specific domain and wants to get it at the best price. There is also the added bonus of using the Domain Name Generator tool to create a viable business name.
What are the best domain name registrars?
BlueHost is one of the most popular domain name registrars. It’s free to check domain name availability on their site, and a domain can be registered using one or more of the following extensions: .com, .org, .net, .tech, .co or .website. Prices range from $4.99 per year to $12.99 per year. Add-ons come at an additional price.
Users can also benefit from BlueHost’s web hosting plans, which is a plus since it is one of only three web hosts that are approved by WordPress. It should be noted, however, that there are several risks involved with combining web hosting and domain hosting as previously discussed in this article. A user may prefer to host a website on WordPress but use BlueHost as the domain registrar.
BlueHost offers one-click integration with Cloudflare, one of the leading internet security providers that can protect domains from unwanted attacks. Overall, BlueHost’s security features are extensive and highly useful for protecting a domain from security threats.
Namecheap is an industry leader when it comes to domain registration. It’s free to check domain name availability and two groups of domain extensions are offered: generic and country code. There are over twenty options in both categories and some rather unusual generic extensions, such as .sex, have been thrown into the mix. The options are so extensive that users are bound to find something that represents their brand. However, there is a catch; the initial registration prices range from $1.00 to $1,998.00 and the renewal fee is greater than the initial registration fee in most instances. There is also a mandatory annual ICANN $0.18 fee for the domain registration, renewal, or transfer of some domains.
WhoisGuard protection is offered for free and includes:
- Personal Details Protection
- Spam Protection
- Email Forwarding
- Domain Hijacking Prevention
It’s so powerful that there are no reported instances of Namecheap’s DNS servers being hacked. One drawback though is that this protection is only available for about 90 percent of the domain extensions Namecheap offers. Regardless, domains are simple to transfer and there is 24/7 customer support although some customers have lamented that improvements are needed in customer support. Namecheap also offers a web hosting service but it is not as robust and reliable as some of its competitors.
GoDaddy is the largest domain registrar with more than 30 percent of the market share. The company originally began solely as a domain registrar in 1997 but has since expanded into offering website builders, web hosting, bookkeeping, and email hosting. Since then, their approach has shifted to lure customers in with their domain registrar services and then upselling their other services. Nevertheless, GoDaddy offers a wide variety of domain extensions that make it simple for users to find one that aptly represents their brand.
Domain search is free and simple to use. However, Domain renewal prices are comparatively higher than they are for other domain registrars but discounts are consistently offered for the company’s one-year plan. These discounts are usually about 2.6 percent of the actual price.
Privacy Protection and Ultimate Domain Protection and Security are add on features. Full Domain Privacy Protection costs approximately an additional $9.99 per year while Ultimate Domain Protection and Security cost approximately an additional $14.99 per year. Customers have also expressed that adjusting to GoDaddy’s interface can be difficult initially, especially since there is a lot of upselling throughout. Customer support is offered via phone, email, live chat or a consistently updated knowledgebase. Therefore, there is always a way to find a solution to a problem.
Hover also offers a wide range of domain extensions but places special emphasis on the .io extension for startups. Prices for domain extensions range from $10.99 to $2499.99 per year so Hover is definitely on the pricier side. Only domain and email hosting services are offered which means that users do not need to worry about frequent upselling.
The interface is user-friendly and allows users to connect their domain names to a variety of web hosting services such as Squarespace. Like most of its competitors, Hover offers various support options (phone support, knowledgebase, live chat, and ticketed support) but there are some customers who have found their customer service to be lacking.
One customer described a negative experience with Hover’s auto-renew feature. His experience led him to believe that there is no consistency with the auto-renew process. He was double-billed and some of his domains were auto-renewed as much as six months before the actual renewal date. An issue such as this raises red flags.
HostGator offers 15 domain extensions for more than eight million websites. These domain extensions are: .com, .website, .info, .club, .org, .host, .co, .net, .online, .space, .me, .site, .us, .biz and .tech. Initial registration prices range from $0.95 per year to $12.95 per year. However, annual renewal fees range from $15.00 to $45.00 per year.
Customer service is offered 24/7 but, like some of its competitors, it gets mixed reviews. One plus of this domain registrar though is that it offers free migration services for all new accounts which is important if a user has existing domains and wants to transfer them into HostGator’s web hosting platform.
1&1 IONOS is Europe’s largest domain and web hosting provider. Ten domain extensions are offered through the platform: .com, .org, .net, .biz, .info, .online, .site, .me, .club, and .co. The initial domain registration for all domain extensions is $1, the lowest in the industry. However, the renewal fees range from $15 to $40. Not only do they allow users to check domain availability for free, but they also provide suggestions for the best domain names.
Additional benefits include:
- A free email account with each domain registration
- A maximum of 10,000 subdomains
- WhoIsGuard protection included for all domains
- A smartphone app that can be used to manage domains
While these benefits are attractive and useful, but there are 2 major pitfalls:
- It takes a while to adjust to the user interface
- Some customers have had a negative experience with customer service and have expressed that responses to queries are not received in a timely manner
Domain.com began in 2000 and offers a variety of domain registration and web hosting solutions. They offer almost every domain extension imaginable which opens a world of options and possibilities.
One of the main drawbacks of this domain registrar is that a lot is not included in the basic domain registration package; several critical features have to be purchased as add-ons. Privacy and Protection have to be purchased separately at an annual cost of $8.99 per year. Site-Lock which protects a website from malware, hackers, and viruses also comes at an additional cost that ranges from $1.99 per month to $24.99 per month. Email hosting is offered by G-Suite and not included in the domain hosting package.
Shopify is best known as the leading platform for creating an e-commerce website. As such, it’s not surprising that Shopify combines its stellar e-commerce website creation packages with a domain name registration service. It costs about $11 per year to register a domain with Shopify but the price varies depending on the domain extension used. Email forwarding is included in all Shopify domain name purchases but requires syncing with an email hosting service such as GSuite.
Online discussion forums showcase the opinions some Shopify customers have about the company’s domain registrar services. The consensus seems to be that Shopify is not as flexible as its competitors and tends to be expensive in the long run. Some people have also recommended keeping domain hosting and web hosting separate for reasons similar to those discussed previously in this article.
Name.com offers standard domain extensions and what they refer to as premium domains which are domains that contain non-conventional extensions such as .engineer. Users can also search the database to find expiring domains that will soon be available for auction.
There have been several complaints from users about the poor security Name.com offers. Strong security features are not included in the basic domain purchase and many users do not have WHOIS protection. Therefore, the user’s contact information is accessible in the public domain and exposes the user to unwanted sales pitches and scamming attempts. Additionally, they do not have 24/7 customer service which makes it difficult to resolve issues.
Google Domains is Google’s attempt to dabble in the domain registrar niche. It has been in beta mode for about four years which essentially means that they are still testing it out to determine if it should be a long-term addition to what they currently offer. This service is only available in the following countries, however:
- United Kingdom
- United States
Another drawback is that Google Domains is also more costly than the average domain registrar. Prices typically start at $12 per year.
The flipside is that it’s reassuring to know that any domain hosted with Google Domains is being hosted on the same servers that Google uses for its own domains. Google also partners with some of the leading web hosting services to link the domain created with a robust website. Numerous domain extensions are available and there is strong customer support. The interface is also familiar to people who use Gmail and other Google online products.
Hosting a domain on Google Domains is ideal for developers who use Google’s app hosting platform, Google App Engine. There is seamless integration which makes it easier to create app-related domains and subdomains.