Your domain name is your unique identity on the Internet. You know that it is essential to your branding and you probably spent days finding the perfect one. However, you may not realize how easy it is to lose it (see this report on Domain Name Hijacking for instance). Domain names are valuable assets and should be managed with care. Making sure that it is safe is just as important as choosing the domain name itself.
You don’t want to entrust your domain name to whoever is most popular or cheapest. Unfortunately, many people underestimate the importance of finding a reputable, reliable registrar. It is critical not to treat this selection process lightly. Now, knowing how to choose a good registrar is one thing; finding the perfect one for your needs is another.
So many registrars
Of course, considering all the ICANN accredited companies is quiet inefficient; at the time of writing, I counted 2462 companies. Following some guidelines to avoid bad surprises is necessary1. Moreover, this will help filtering out many companies. However, choosing a reliable company among the remaining registrars is still a daunting task. How to narrow down your choices?
Most people would look online for articles like
the best registrar(s) or other
top 10 registrars; I am no exception. However, can you trust these overly positive reviews or compilations? What about affiliate marketing; is it properly disclosed? How to distinguish endorsements from ads? In fact, it is very difficult to trace the honest and reliable recommendations. Nonetheless, going through these articles was a good way to start and populate my own comparison table with the most
reputable popular registrars2:
Namecheap – GoDaddy – 1&1 (IONOS) –
Name.com – Register.com
The best hosting providers are usually not the best registrars.
Seeing the same names repeatedly is a sign of popularity – not quality3 – yet, you may wonder why I report these five registrars among others. Why only five? Are they the best five? No, it is something different entirely. Often these compilations include hosting providers as well: Bluehost – HostGator – DreamHost – InMotion Hosting – OVH (to name a few). However, domain registration is not their core business; registering domains and hosting websites are two distinct specialty areas and it is hard to be great at both. For this reason, among other things (see Self-hosting: a hard egg to crack), I excluded hosting providers from my own compilation.
Anyway, as I didn’t want to miss out the best registrar (for my needs), I kept searching for alternatives (to those popular ones). Actually, it is quite hard to find quality information online; it is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Fortunately, going through forums, blogs, comments, and the like, I managed to dig up additional companies worth considering:
Hover – Gandi.net – BookMyName –
Domain.com – Network solutions
Of course, I came across several other names. Nonetheless, I didn’t deem necessary to fill out my comparison table with those registrars; accordingly, it is pointless to mention them here.
So few thorough appraisals
As previously touched upon, it is very difficult to trace honest reviews among the countless articles available online. What about customers reviews then? Reading through comments from actual users is generally a good idea – assuming they are real people – but this isn’t without drawback. First, people are more inclined to spend time providing a feedback when disappointed (as an outlet for their frustration) than satisfied with the services. Second, one can talk only about the company you know; rare are the people who have used the services of several registrars and can provide an informed opinion. In the same line, most of the comments will be either utterly negative –
this is the worst registrar ever – or positive –
this is definitively the best registrar – without providing any justification. Besides, often the information about the author’s credentials or field of expertise is missing. This is a tedious and laborious task, yet, it remains quite valuable going through these sources of information.
Let me go back to
the best registrars kind of reviews or compilations for a moment. Granted, they may be biased, and it is not always easy to figure out which ones are trustworthy. Nevertheless, there is still useful information to gather from them; especially if you put aside those committed to one particular registrar. In particular, reviews comparing two registrars side by side prove worthwhile. Having few shortlisted candidates (see above) also facilitates the task: googling “registrar A vs. Registrar B” for example. Of course, it is important not to believe everything and to stay critical. Moreover, reviews or articles are not always providing accurate information. At the end of the day, it is essential to visit the website of each company to have up-to-date information. However, don’t be enthralled by their amazingly attractive home page, read the fine print!
Who says that it would be easy? Not me! Anyway, after going through these lengthy searches, my own shortlist was down to three reputable registrars:
Namecheap – Gandi.net – Hover
Features that matters (to me)
You may read all the reviews you want; the best registrar may just be the most popular or the cheapest – not necessarily the best for your specific needs. To make an informed decision about which registrar is best for you, it is crucial to define your needs first. Besides, not only specific features may tell registrars apart, but also some companies may offer package matching what you are looking for. What were my requirements?
Of course, choosing a company that is reputable, reliable and reasonable priced is central. I previously described what makes a good domain registrar, but let me recap some important features – those that matter the most for security and privacy.
WHOIS privacy: to keep your personal information protected (still retaining legal “ownership” of the domain name4).
Transfer lock: to protect against unauthorized domain transfers.
Auto-renewal: to reduce the risk of domain name expiration.
Grace period: to reduce the risk of losing domain name not renewed in time.
Two-factor authentication: to have an additional layer of security.
Aside from these security features, which are critical aspects when choosing a registrar, I was also looking for additional functions. Specifically, apart from the domain name itself, I was interested in a registrar that would offer dedicated e-mail hosting as well. On the one hand, for the reasons outlined in a previous post (Self-hosting: a hard egg to crack), I wanted to keep my e-mail account separated from my web hosting. On the other hand, I didn’t want to look for a third party email service. Given that many registrars offer dedicated e-mail hosting and some excel at that, I decided to keep my e-mail account and domain name under the same roof. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to pay for this extra service (or convenience) as many third parties offer it free.
Why Gandi.net is the best registrar (for me)
If you click on the logo below, you will be redirected to their website; this is not a referral link!
If you limited your reading to those reviews, which promotes only registrars coming with a generous affiliate program, you may not have heard of Gandi.net. To the best of my knowledge, they don’t have an affiliate program. Actually, they do not even advertise, depending upon their reputation with current customers to spread the word about their products and services.
Who are they? On their About page, you can learn that Gandi was founded in 1999 and was
one of the first domain name registrars approved by ICANN. As of May 2015, they were managing
close to [two millions] domain names from 192 countries, making them in the top fifteen registrars worldwide. They consider themselves as
an ethical domain name registrar in an industry that has some ‘grey’ practices. Thus, their tag line is
No Bullshit5. They wish to provide
the best products and services at the most reasonable prices. Great, but what is their offer? To be more specific, which features tip the scales in their favor?
Obviously, their security features were cardinal in my decision. Among other things, they have a secure interface to manage your DNS and allow you to protect your Gandi account by two-factor authentication or IP restriction6. With their new platform (#GandiV5), they also implement a technology called Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC7), which is important to protect against a vulnerability in the DNS.
To make sure your domain name remains yours, you can also opt for their automatic renewal service. When your domain is not renewed in time, you can still restore it; the restoration, which can be costly, being possible within a period determined by the Top Level Domain (TLD). Last, they provide a transfer protection mechanism, namely transfer lock.
Privacy feature, namely WHOIS privacy, is an additional layer of protection that is of paramount importance when it comes to protect you against domain hijacking and/or to avoid unsolicited e-mails or marketing calls. This option, now activated by default8, is automatically included for no additional cost (this offer is not limited to the first year).
Finally yet importantly, when you register your domain, you also get two mailboxes with 3 GB of disk space each. This e-mail service, free of charge, comes with unlimited aliases, 1000 forwarding addresses, anti-spam and anti-virus protection, and advanced server-side management rules (sieve filters) among other tools.
Now, Gandi pricing may be higher than what other companies may charge for domain name registration, however, when you consider Gandi’s full range of services, the reality is different. They are not only upfront about their domain prices (no bad surprise, especially during renewal), but they also bundle services that other companies will charge otherwise – do the math!
For these reasons, I have chosen Gandi.net as my registrar. Whether my choice proves judicious only time will tell. Anyway, you can count on me to report anything worth mentioning.
Nota bene, this is not a review about gandi.net. Besides, while the aforementioned Gandi’s services sound appealing to me, they may not be what you are looking for. Likewise, their offer may lack some features or services that matter to you (e.g. customer phone support). Either way, the bottom line is that what is best for me is not, necessarily, what is best for you. You will have to do your own investigation.
1 See A registrar. ^
2 Cynically, I may also refer to those as the one with the best affiliate programs. Indeed, online reviews are a powerful tool for sharing information, but many are fake, paid, or from people who just promote things coming with a generous affiliate program. It is not always easy, especially if you are not an expert on the subject matter, to figure out which ones are trustworthy. ^
3 This is by no means a converging evidence that those registrars are the best ones. As outlined above, they may be the most popular, the cheapest, or the one with the best affiliate programs at best. Besides, copying the same information repeatedly – a common practice online, which is not limited to copy-paste bloggers or plagiarizers – is not the same thing as reaching the same conclusion independently. Whereas the former approach will merely amplify any information (irrespective of its accuracy), the latter will allow ascertaining whether the information is reliable (see concepts of replicability and reproducibility). ^
4 According to this article by Chad Perrin from TechRepublic, you should not
use domain registrars’ privacy services where your name doesn’t appear on domain registrant information. This information will show up when someone runs a WHOIS query, yet, it is the primary record of who “own” (i.e. control) the domain name. Having this name replaced with the registrar’s name can make it difficult to prove you are the domain “owner” in case of conflict. Apparently,
it is only unscrupulous domain registrars that offer such services. ^
5 According to them, this is
not just a tag line but their core values. Interestingly, people often perceived this slogan negatively (e.g. lack of professionalism). I don’t. ^
6 This will limit access to your account by allowing access to only the IP addresses you specify. However, to use this feature, it is required to have a static IP address. Otherwise, you may block yourself out if your IP address changes. ^
7 If you want to know more about DNSSEC, you may consider reading this ICANN article: DNSSEC – What Is It and Why Is It Important? ^
8 Recently, the European Union has enforced new rules – General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – regarding personal data processing that took effect on May 25, 2018. Gandi modified its WHOIS protection services accordingly (in order to be 100% GDPR compliant). In the former version of the service, while your personal information was hidden, your name was still visible. Although this could have been perceived as a shortcoming, it was preferable than replacing the registrant’s name with the registrar’s name4. With the new service, your name is now masked – replaced by the mention “REDACTED FOR PRIVACY” – the other information remaining obfuscated. ^