Over the course of my career starting, running, and selling businesses, I’ve bought hundreds of domain names. For me, the process of heading over to my registrar of choice and buying a name is as simple as reordering toothpaste from Amazon. If this is your first time, it’s likely not so simple for you. I’ll walk you through what makes the best domain registrars stand out from the rest, how to skip the upsells you don’t need, and get your features up correctly.
I’m used to the process now — this guide encapsulates my knowledge and experience to help both the first-time and the experienced buyer pick which of the thousands of accredited domain registrars to use to buy a domain name.
Want my quick take? I prefer Domain.com over other top registrars. They have great prices and it is really easy to use. It’s the registrar I use, and the one I recommend to my family and friends when they are building websites.
The Top 7 Domain Registrars Ranked
- Domain.com — Fast checkout, limited upsells, and multi-year purchases
- Namecheap — Simple checkout, free privacy protection, and clear dashboard.
- Bluehost — Best option for bundling domain registration with web hosting
- NameSilo — Cheaper than Namecheap and super-easy bulk purchase process.
- Gandi — Beautiful interface, but not worth the price jump
- Google Domains — Classic Google interface, but you’ll be giving more information to Google
- Hover — Straight-forward purchasing process
Registrars to Avoid
I do not recommend 1&1 or GoDaddy. In terms of price, customer service, and overall value, you can do better elsewhere.
Bundling Domain Registration and Web Hosting
Free domain name included
Plans start at $2.95/mo
24/7 phone and chat support
30 day money back guarantee
Although you may be tempted to bundle domain registry with your web host, if you’re planning on buying more than one domain over time, you should keep them separate.
It’s not a big deal to go ahead and buy them together if you’re doing something simple, like starting a portfolio site or a small personal blog. But, domain names and web hosting are two different competencies, and it’s best to use expert providers for each, especially if you are building a business or many sites.
With that said, if you have a very specific need and don’t think that you’ll ever need or want more domain names, then you can save money by using registering with Bluehost when you start your website or blog.
Bluehost offers a free domain name with their web hosting plans. This is my recommendation for those of you who want to bundle these services from the same provider.
My Methodology For Ranking The Top Domain Registrars
I am not swayed by freebies or pricing, but I do keep them in mind in my reviews. More important freebies, for things like security are on the top of my list. I appreciate that it makes it easier to do the one thing I visit a registrar for: to buy my domain and get on with my business.
When I research and rank the best domain registrars I look for those that meet these criteria:
- Quick to search
- Easy purchase process
- Simple configuration process
- Intuitive dashboard for managing domains over time
- Quality customer service, both live support and in a robust knowledge center
- Limited upsells
- Strong reputation
Why the reputation of your domain registrar matters
In mid-March 2019, the 9th largest domain registrar by volume went dark — out of nowhere. Customers could not renew expiring domains, couldn’t log into their accounts, couldn’t buy new domains. Their domain registrar was out of business, and their domains were in limbo.
When this happens the first concern is if the defunct registrar has protected the vast amount of information they have in their domain database, and if that information is properly escrowed.
In cases like this, ICANN steps in to de-accredit the registrar and bulk transfer the domains to an accredited registrar. The new location of the domains will be announced on ICANN’s bulk transfer page.
How the Best Domain Registrars Compare
- Straightforward and easy to use
- Great for buying multiple domains
- Limited upsells
- Secure a domain for up to five years
- Easy domain transfers
Whether you’re a first-time or experienced buyer, Domain.com is the most logical place to start your domain name registration process. It’s my top overall pick due to the simplicity and quality of the service.
You can get a .com domain from Domain.com for just $9.99 per year. During the checkout process, you have the option to purchase your domain for up to five years, which is one of my favorite features offered by this provider.
Privacy and protection is just $8.99 per year. This is definitely something that you’ll want to include with your purchase.
As you continue through the checkout process, Domain.com will hit you with some additional upsells, which is standard procedure in the domain registrar industry. They offer things like G Suite, web hosting, SSL certificates, and SiteLock.
You can skip these add-ons. G Suite is something that you can purchase independently and directly from Google. An SSL and SiteLock should come with your web hosting service, which you can get elsewhere.
The entire purchase process can be completed in a minute, at most. This is ideal for those of you who plan to purchase multiple domains. With helpful 24/7 customer support, Domain.com is a great option for domain transfers as well.
Overall, I can’t find anything bad to say about Domain.com. It should be one of the first places you look for a domain.
- Simple checkout process
- Limited upsells
- Free privacy protection
- 24/7 live chat support and 2 hour ticket response
- Find and buy a domain name in 2 minutes
Namecheap’s checkout process is simple, with very limited upsells. There’s nothing confusing about the process and nothing to slow you down either. It’s everything I want in a domain purchasing experience and nothing I don’t want. I’m able to search for a domain name and purchase it in under two minutes, and I think you’ll be able to do the same even if it’s your first time buying a domain.
How to navigate the Namecheap upsells
During the purchase process, Namecheap will hit you with a few questions — do you want to add this? You can blast through that section pretty quickly using this cheat sheet of which to add and which to skip:
- Stellar Shared Hosting ($2.88/month) – Skip it
As I said before, web hosting and domain registration are very different. It’s tough to find a company that nails both. If you’re looking to bundle domain registration with hosting, then my recommendation would be Bluehost. Otherwise, you can get your domain from Namecheap and check out my guide on the best web hosts for alternative options.
- Private Email (two months free, then $9.88–$49.99/year) – Skip it
If you want a business email, it’s always free to forward emails from Namecheap. If you’d like cloud storage for that email, or to send emails from your domain name, we recommend not buying it from your registrar. My universal recommendation is a no-brainer: G Suite ($5/user/month), which includes Gmail, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Calendar, and Hangouts.
- Professional Gmail ($5/user/month) – Probably skip it
This is the going price for G Suite, so you can buy it here now, or add it later, but I think it’s simpler to keep your billing for G Suite directly with Google. That way, if you ever leave Namecheap, you won’t have to get them to transfer your G Suite account back to Google. You don’t save much time (once you get your Gmail on autobill it’s the same amount of work — none). And you risk entangling things that you’ll have to detangle later. Build for the long term for the start by setting up best-in-class accounts across the board, and separately.
- PositiveSSL ($1.99/year) – Skip it
You’ll need an SSL certificate if you plan to accept payments or collect other sensitive information on your website, but not this one. The PositiveSSL Namecheap is upselling here is just a Domain Verification. I recommend getting your SSL from your web host instead.
- EasyWP ($1/month) – Skip it
You’re here to buy your domain name and only your domain name. If you want managed WordPress hosting, I recommend using a top web host, focused on hosting and only hosting. SiteGround and Dreamhost both have some good managed WordPress built into their shared hosting plans. But Bluehost will still be your best bet if you want to get WordPress hosting and domain registration in the same place.
Namecheap’s $0.18 Fee
That $0.18 ICANN fee is a mandatory charge from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, for each domain registration, renewal, or transfer. It’s negligible, although noticeable, especially considering other registrars, including NameSilo, absorb it.
Free Domain Privacy
Namecheap provides a WhoisGuard subscription for free forever. You definitely want WhoisGuard. It’s a privacy protection that prevents your personal contact information from being displayed in the publicly accessible Whois database. (If you don’t have protection, you get spam. So much spam. I skipped WhoisGuard once years ago and am still getting spam phone calls…) As long as your domain is with Namecheap, you’ll never pay for WhoisGuard. GoDaddy, on the other hand, charges $10/year and most web hosts that offer domain registration charge $12/year.
Note: Privacy is also free with NameSilo, Gandi, Google Domains, and Hover.
Once you’ve purchased your domain, the dashboard is clearly laid out.
I’ve found Namecheap’s knowledge base to be thorough and helpful. Great documentation is key: buying and setting up a domain isn’t part of most people’s expertise. It’s just not something you do every day. If you need more support, Namecheap has 24/7 live chat help and a 2-hour ticket response time.
- Bundle domain registration and web hosting
- Easy domain manager
- Domain autorenewals
- Free SSL certificate
In most cases, it’s best to keep domain registration and web hosting separate. But if you’re starting a new website and want to bundle your domain and web host, Bluehost is the only provider that nails both of these services.
More than 2 million websites across the globe are powered by Bluehost. They are an industry leader in web hosting.
If you don’t plan on buying any more domains then you can save money by registering with Bluehost. A free domain comes with all of their hosting plans. With shared hosting plans starting as low as $2.95 per month, you really can’t find a better deal elsewhere. At least not from a provider that offers quality hosting and quality domains.
As soon as you select a hosting plan, you’ll be brought to this page to set up your domain:
The Bluehost domain manager makes it easy for anyone to buy, track, transfer, and update domain names from a simple dashboard. You’ll also get a free SSL certificate, which is something that other domain registrars try to add-on as an upsell.
Bluehost also offers autorenewals for domains, so you won’t have to worry about your domain expiring because you forgot to renew every year.
Add domain privacy and protection to your registration for just $0.99 per month. You can also prevent any unauthorized domain transfers with domain lock, which is $1.99 per month.
- Outdated site and aesthetic
- Really cheap — cheaper than Namecheap
- Free privacy protection
- Bulk domain discount program
At first glance NameSilo is laughable, especially compared to its competition. Its aesthetic seems to be late 90s Power Point — although a new site is thankfully in beta testing. (I suspect this is in large part due to NameSilo being acquired in early 2018 by software company Brision Innovations).
It’s almost impossible to believe that it’s the second fastest growing domain registrar in the world (based on November 2018 sales). Even more impressive, NameSilo’s CEO says this growth isn’t fueled by marketing dollars:
“The fact that NameSilo is growing faster than nine of the top ten domain registrars in the world, most of which are public companies with at least a billion-dollar market capitalization and very large marketing budgets, is a testament to the team and the service we are providing our customers. This growth by NameSilo has been accomplished with a near zero marketing spend.”
NameSilo’s comically outdated site isn’t stalling growth.
What I appreciate about NameSilo
It’s a domain registrar and that’s it.
It’s really cheap (even cheaper than Namecheap), throws in domain privacy for free (though you’ll need to opt-in by selecting it in your cart), and offers a full-blown discount program for bulk domain purchases.
There are virtually no upsells and you can start configuring your domain in checkout — linking it to a third-party service (like a website builder) and entering custom NameServers.
Customer support is also comparable, with a rich knowledge base and 24/7 live chat.
So, if you don’t mind some (hopefully temporarily) outdated interfaces, NameSilo is a great option.
You can start configuring your domain name during NameSilo’s checkout flow. Don’t forget to opt-in to WHOIS privacy protection.
- A few dollars more expensive than Namecheap ($15 vs. $10–$12)
- Beautiful interface
- Free domain privacy, free SLL for one year, email hosting
- Good deals on multiple domain bundles
For over $15/year for the same domain we can get for $10–12/year from Namecheap, I want to see more from Gandi. It has a beautiful interface, and is well-regarded amongst developers, but there’s not much it offers that Namecheap or even Google Domains doesn’t: free domain privacy, free SSL for one year, email hosting. One standout is its domain bundles. You can score a deal if you want to buy multiple TLDs at once.
If you want to bundle popular TLDs, Gandi will give you a good deal.
- Familiar and simple Google-style interface
- Literally zero upsells
- But, you’ll be sharing even more information with Google
I like the familiar and simple Google-style interface.
It’s clean and there are literally no upsells and absolutely zero flourish.
But, most web developers prefer not to share more information with Google than is absolutely necessary. I felt the exact same way.
One huge downside with Google Domains: If you need help, you won’t be able to dig into a rich knowledge base.
However, there is chat, email, and phone support in English, 24 hours a day, and in French, Spanish, and Japanese with more limited hours.
In February 2019, Google hosted an early access program for users to pay extra to register a .dev domain through Google Domains through its early access program. As of February 28, 2019, these .dev domains are available without any additional fees — just the annual registration charge of about $12 to $15. Google has a filterable list of domain registrar partners.
Google Domains makes no fanfare of its free privacy protection — make sure you turn it on.
- Fun automated name engine
- Limited upsells
- Privacy protection included
- Some stability issues
Hover spit my domain name request through a thesaurus. I appreciate Hover’s recommendation engine in principle, but I think that buying a domain name is an important enough decision that you shouldn’t be playing around with automated suggestions at the last minute.
If you’re still tinkering with your URL, you’re probably not ready to buy.
Step away from the registrars for a minute and work through the brainstorming steps in my post.
You’ll thank yourself for it.
That being said, I do like that there are limited upsells in Hover’s purchase flow, and privacy protection is included. Email forward isn’t free though; it’s $5/month.
My biggest worry with Hover ultimately is its backend. Browse through Hover’s outage history and you’ll find hours-long outages are frequent.
Domain Registrars I Don’t Recommend
Avoid any domain registrar with a bad reputation or history of poor customer support. This includes any company on Spamhaus’ list of the worst domain registrars.
I’d also stay away from GoDaddy and 1&1. There are lots of unfavorable reviews of these registrars online. GoDaddy has even been suspected of throttling down outbound transfers, which is obviously not great.
Pro Tips For Buying a Domain Name
Before you settle on a domain registrar and buy a domain name, review these tips to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Don’t bundle domains and web hosting from just any provider
It’s common for domain registrars to offer web hosting services. It’s also common for web hosting providers to offer domain registration. These bundles might seem tempting, but in most cases, you should keep each service separate.
Bundling your domain and hosting isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially if you’re only working on one website. Lots of free domains from web hosts only last for the first year, and web hosts will almost always have a higher domain renewal fee than a good domain registrar. So, you’ll save in the first year to spend more in the second, third, fourth, and so on for the life of your business. And, if you ever want to move to a different web host, there’s a chance it’s going to be a major hassle. Make sure you read the fine print of your web host’s domain policy to make sure they’ll allow you to transfer it, should the need arise.
However, if you’re going to bundle your domain and web host, you should use Bluehost. They are the only provider that is able to nail both of these services.
I’d only recommend this if you’re not planning to buy more domains in the future. This is a great option for something specific and simple, such as a blog or small personal site. You can register a single domain for free when you sign up for web hosting from Bluehost.
Always opt in to domain privacy
Most domain registrars include it for free; those who don’t charge about $12/year. Buy it. It’s what keeps your personal information (including your name, phone number, email address, and mailing address) from being listed in the Whois public database — and therefore out of the hands of spammers. This may not be the case forever. Since the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect in May 2018, some registrars are not publishing their customer’s information to avoid liability, and many people suspect the entire Whois protocol will be overhauled in the near future. But, for now, buying privacy protection is still my recommendation.
What is ICANN?
“ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. It’s a non-profit that’s responsible for coordinating the unique, specific names and numbers that identify your online presence — also known as domains and IP addresses. ICANN doesn’t own or operate domains and IP addresses; rather, it coordinates with domain registries and domain registrars, and acts as a central repository for IP addresses, to implement universal operating procedures that keep the internet running. It’s not unlike how cities manage naming streets and assigning home addresses: the city doesn’t own your house, but someone has to keep track of what it’s called. ICANN also requires domain registrars to provide accurate contact information for the owner of each domain, and to make that information publicly available through Whois.”
Remember to turn on automatic renewal
In a lot of businesses, auto-renewal is sneaky — a way to charge you for something you never use and forgot you bought in the first place. But when it comes to domain names, I absolutely recommend it. If there’s anything you know your business will always need is its website. Forgetting to re-up means your site will go down, which happened to automated marketing powerhouse Marketo in 2017. Even worse, if you have a covetable domain name, it might get scooped up. That’s what happened to Google.com back in 2016.
Prioritize your URL over your registrar
For the most part, if a name is available, you will probably be able to purchase it through any of the best domain registrars. But some accredited registrars only offer limited top-level domains (TLD). (A TLD is the stuff that comes after the dot.) This is especially common in smaller registrars, or providers that offer domain registration as a secondary service, like a web host. (For example, InMotion Hosting, one of our favorite web hosts, can only register .com, .net, .org, .biz, .us, and .info domains.)
That’s because a registrar is different than a registry. Registries are who actually hold the TLD and their associated names — for example, VeriSign controls all .com and .net domains while PIR controls all .org and .ngo domains. Registrars manage the reservations of the names provided by the registries, and have to act in accordance with each one they are involved with. Not all registrars work with all registries, which is why some only have access to specific TLDs.
What matters here is that you get the URL you want — if it’s not available at the first place you check, look around. You may also be able to buy it with the help of a broker.
Don’t make a big deal of tiny price differences
Registrars are middlemen between you, the customer, and domain registries, who hold all the domains. It’s similar to how department stores are the middlemen between shoppers and clothing manufacturers. The registries set their prices — the equivalent of wholesale prices — and registrars add their fees on top. That’s how they make money. A registrar selling a domain for more money than its competitor is just making more money off the sale of the same product. (Some registrars are making headlines for registering domains “at cost,” including Cloudflare, the content delivery network provider.) If you are price-comparison shopping, take into account the renewal fee, the price of privacy protection, and the cost of your time should you need to wait on hold longer for worse customer service.
Recap of the Best Domain Registrars
Buying a domain name can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. Finding a reliable domain registrar will make your life much easier. These are the best options for you to consider:
- Domain.com — My top overall recommendation
- Namecheap — Fast checkout and free privacy protection
- Bluehost — Best for bundling domain registration and web hosting
- NameSilo — Best cheap domain registrar
- Gandi — Great deals for multiple domains
- Google Domains —Simple interface and no upsells
- Hover — Free privacy protection
Regardless of your situation, budget, or website type, you’ll be able to buy a domain name from one of the registrars on this list.