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How to Pick the Best Domain Name Registrar

Domain Registration Excerpt from ICANN

So you came up with a great name for your new business, and now you want to grab that domain name before anyone else does. You learn that you buy domain names from businesses called domain name registrars. There are a lot of them, though.

Most registrars seem to be offering domains for a dollar or maybe even free. But if you look closer, you’ll see a lot of fine print that comes with these offers. Don’t fall for them.

Below, we’ll discuss some of these tricks so you’ll understand what you’re actually getting for your money. We’ll also look at some popular registrars and give a recommendation on which one you should go with.

But first, let’s look at what a domain name registrar is and why you need one.

What Is a Domain Name Registrar?

Most people know the domain name is the word or phrase you type into your browser followed by .com, .net, or similar so you can get to a website. Fewer people know that the words translate into a string of numbers.

The numbers are stored on specialized computers called Domain Name System (DNS) servers. On the internet, a website is stored on a specialized computer called a web server. The DNS servers tell people who wish to visit your site how to navigate the internet to get to your web server.

To do this job, each DNS server has a copy of a master list of domain addresses. Every domain name is kept on this master list. Only domain name registrars are allowed to add, change, or delete items on that list.

This is why, to get your domain name, you have to use a domain name registrar. After you’ve bought your domain name, you can change your registrar if you wish. The process can take up to 5-7 days. But you must always work through a registrar.

What Are Some Popular Registrars?

Domain registrars work with an entity called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). ICANN makes a lot of the rules for domain names.

There are two flavors of registrars—the registrars accredited by ICANN and the reseller registrars. The accredited registrars work directly with ICANN while the reseller registrars work through the accredited registrars.

Whether accredited or reseller, if you wish to buy or maintain a domain name, they’re both just as good. But, as you might expect, the reseller registrars might eventually be more expensive because they have to pay wholesale costs to their accredited registrars. Then, they usually want to make a little profit on top of that.

Here are some accredited registrars:

  • GoDaddy
  • Namecheap
  • Tucows
  • Network Solutions
  • Alibaba Cloud
  • Google Domains

Here are some reseller registrars:

  • Hostgator (LaunchPad owned by Hostgator and eNom owned by Tucows)
  • InMotion (OpenSRS owned by Tucows)
  • Squarespace (Squarespace Domains and Tucows)

Is There a Difference Between Web Hosts and Domain Name Registrars?

There is a difference between domain registrars and web hosts. Most companies, however, provide both services and usually offer them as a bundle.

What Web Hosting Companies Do

Web hosts are basically computers where your website is stored. These computers are connected to the internet 24/7. Anyone who wants to go to your website is routed to that computer by NDS servers. Then, they can view your webpages.

If you’re very tech savvy, you can host websites yourself. But this is not for most people.

Instead, there are businesses that provide web hosting services, and most people with a website rent computing space from these businesses. The hosting companies typically deal with various software maintenance issues and security issues, so you’ll have to worry about these less.

What Domain Registrars Do

When you sign up with a hosting company, they’ll tell you the NDS values they have assigned to your site. Then, you have to go to your domain registrar and enter in these values in the NDS settings. Only after you’ve done this will the DNS servers know how to direct traffic to your site. This action is called pointing the domain to your website.

So, while web hosting and domain registration are related, they are two different services. Your domain registrar doesn’t have to be your host service, or vice versa.

When Buying a Website Name, Watch Out for Ancillary Services Often Left Out

There are some services that are often bundled with domain registration. The better registrars offer at least some of these services for free. Others charge a fee.

Privacy Protection

The most important service offered by the registrars is privacy protection. This protection is available for some domain extensions but not others.

When you buy a domain, you’ll have to provide your contact information. This contact information is public by default. Some registrars put their contact information on the registration and hold your contact information private. Only they can contact you if any problems arise.

This privacy protection is useful because sometimes scammers look for public contact addresses and send phishing emails to you. If you’re using the privacy feature, you’re more likely to know that the email is a scam if the phishing email is to one of your public contact emails but you’ve always used another business email address when communicating with your registrar.

Many registrars offer this privacy service for free. Other registrars—most notably GoDaddy—might offer a thin privacy protection for free but charge extra for full privacy protection.

You’ll want to go with a registrar who offers full privacy protection for free.

Email Hosting

Believe it or not, email hosting is a service different from domain registration and web hosting.

Typically, email hosting is bundled with web hosting. However, if you have your domain name but aren’t ready to build your website yet, you can buy email hosting from your domain registrar. Usually, for an extra fee, you can get an email with your domain that looks like

Once you have your web hosting set up, you can move your email hosting there. Or not. Your choice.

Email Forwarding

This is slightly different from email hosting. The registrar can forward an email addressed to to another email. But, when you reply, you’re replying with the email address to which the email has been forwarded—i.e., you’ll be replying from instead of

Some registrars offer email forwarding for free. Others offer it for a small fee.


NDSSEC stands for Domain Name System Security Extensions. It’s a way to prevent scammers from using some specific methods to hijack your website. This feature is a good thing. You want this.

DNSSEC is offered for free by some registrars, but they don’t always specify it by this name. Just remember DNSSEC is a security feature that fights website hijacking, and you can match offerings at different registrars this way.

The Popular TLDs and Which Ones You Should Buy

Whenever you mention website names, you’ll really have to talk about the domain extensions as well. The extensions are the letters after the dot in the domain, such as .com, .net, .org, .biz, and similar. They’re also known as top level domains or TLDs.

Note that there are country level TLDs too that are commonly abbreviated as ccTLDs, and these are extensions like .uk, .au, .ca, .de, and similar.

Pick .com If Possible

Of all the domain extensions, .com is still best for marketing. This is especially important if your website is consumer-facing.

Sometimes, a .net is fine if you run a business-to-business company, or maybe you only use your website to showcase a professional portfolio or resume. The extension .org is open to anyone, but many people still mentally associate .org with nonprofit organizations.

Consider Buying Other Extensions and Similarly Spelled Domains

If you’re able to buy a domain with a .com extension, you might not want to stop there. Seriously consider buying the .net and .org extensions as well, or maybe even more (e.g., .biz), if the nature of your website warrants.

Also, consider buying common ways to misspell your website name and buy those as well. Given that domain names usually aren’t too expensive, this is an easy way to deter possible future trademark issues if someone wants to use a company name/trademark that is similar to yours.

While this is less necessary for small businesses, know that some large corporations even buy up [company name] or similar disparaging domains. This is an easy way to head off public relation disasters, so a lot of consumer-facing large corporations consider the expense to be worth it.

The Best Domain Name Registrar

Below is a comparison table listing some popular domain name registrars. Some are direct registrars, and some are resellers.

The table only shows five registrars. When we researched this article, we looked at more. But, because listing too many merely confuse the result, we picked the five that give the best cross-section in pricing.

We assume that you plan to hold the domain name for more than one year, so we’re only showing the renewal pricing. We consider this to be the true cost of owning the domain. We compare the pricing only for the three most popular extensions of .com, .net, and .org.

If you need the price for other extensions, click on the names of these registrars. You’ll get to the full pricelist.

We also include several ancillary services each registrar provides, along with the service’s pricing.

Comparison at a Glance PrivacyEmail ForwardingEmail Hosting*
GoDaddy$18.99$19.99$20.99Three tiers with unknown pricing (research suggests the pricing might be $0/$9.99/$14.99)N/A$5.99/user/month
Hover (subsidiary of Tucows)$14.99$17.49$15.99Free$5/year$20/year (unlimited usernames)
HostGator$17.99$17.99$17.99$14.95/yearAvailable but no pricingBundled with HostGator’s hosting services
Google Domains$12$12$12FreeFreeFree with Gmail account. $6/user/month with Google Workspace
Prices as of June 2021

*Storage limitations vary

**A mailbox typically means one address. Namecheap’s service includes a number of aliases, but aliases are email forwarding services. When you reply to the forwarded email, you reply with your actual address instead of the alias address.

Our Recommendation for Best Registrar: Google Domains

We recommend Google Domains as a domain name registrar.

Google Domains does not give a first year discount, but they don’t play games with their pricing either. What you see is what you get, and what you get is one of the lowest renewal prices available. You know exactly how much your domain costs per year without reading the fine print.

Google Domains also have privacy registration and email forwarding for free. If you have a Gmail account, you can set up a email address to send and receive emails from Gmail for free. Google provides easy to follow directions on how to do this.

Lastly, with Google, you can set up a free bare-bones website using your domain. While we don’t recommend you use this free hosting permanently, it’s perfectly serviceable if you use it as an About page with some simple contact information while you find your webhost and build that more robust website.

So, with Google Domains, you get your domain, multiple email addresses that use [insert name], and a simple website all for as low as $12/year. It’s a very good deal.

An Anti-Recommendation: GoDaddy

A word about GoDaddy. Be careful when buying anything from them. They like to hide actual costs.

For instance, to find the .org renewal cost, you’ll have to go through several pages to get to it. On privacy protection, the free tier appears to be very limited, and the most expensive tier appears to offer the same security Google Domains offers for free.

Often, when you add together all the services others provide for free, GoDaddy costs the most. This is true for website hosting as well. So, be very careful when you research costs for GoDaddy.

Should Your Domain Name Registrar Also be Your Web Host?

If you search domain registrar on Google, you’ll probably see ads for $1 domains bundled with web hosting. Should you sign up and then transfer the domain to a registrar with better renewal prices after the first year?

You can, if you wish. Transferring registrars might take up to 5-7 days and involves a number of steps. If you perform these steps correctly, your website won’t go down during the transfer.

It’s conventional wisdom that you should use a registrar that is separate from your web host. In practice, you’ll have very little interaction with your registrar after you’ve pointed your domain to your web host. In contrast, you’ll work with the hosting service every day as you build and maintain your website.

Typically because of server speed issues, website owners change hosting services far more often than they change registrars. Every time you change hosts, you’ll have to change the DNS settings at your registrar, but you won’t have to touch anything else. It’s easier to keep the same registrar as you change hosts, instead of switching both every time you change hosting services.

So, how do you find a good web host that you won’t have to change too often? Read our web host review article to find out.

Interested in starting and running a small business? Here’s the beginning of our step-by-step guide: What to do right after getting that great business idea.

Questions? Comments?