A registrar

Previously on the CogitActive saga:
Registering a domain name with a registrar separate from the hosting provider is the recommended way to go.

A registrar is a company that provides domain name registration services.

For the reasons put forward in the previous post (Self-hosting: a hard egg to crack), I decided to keep my domain name registration and my web hosting separate. All I have to do now is choose from one of the hundreds thousands of registrars. How to sort through that many companies? As with everything, there are many things to consider when choosing a registrar.

Why choosing a good registrar is vital

The majority of them are accredited with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number (ICANN) – a regulatory agency, which provides guidelines and enforces rules that bring enhanced protections for the registrants (i.e. you and me). Hence, why should I go to the trouble of researching a good registrar? Staying away from those that are not ICANN accredited should be enough, shouldn’t it?

Your domain is so important that you should
opt for a reliable, reputable domain registration company. Don’t treat this selection process lightly.

Stay away from registrars that are not ICANN accredited.

All legitimate registrars may be accredited with ICANN, however, they are not all the same. Beside, each comes with its own unique pricing model, feature set, and security protocols. In addition, not all registrars have access to the same top-level domains1 (TLDs); this may be particularly true for non-conventional TLDs and country code TLDs2. You want to pick the right registrar for your needs and you may also consider looking for features beyond domain name registration.

What to watch out for in a domain name registrar

Even if it’s impossible to say what you should pay for any particular domain name3, price is often the first criteria put forward in articles on how to choose a domain registrar. Why?

On the one hand, the TLD registration authorities set specific registration fees4. Still, there are variations in the prices of TLDs – expect to pay more for the non-conventional ones. In addition, the ICANN fee – charged annually for each domain registration, renewal or transfer – is insignificant: $0.18 at the time of writing. Consequently, there is very little reason not to get a reasonably priced registration.

Always double check what is involved with any special deal.

On the other hand, the price also depends on the profit margin of the registrar, the additional products or services you purchase with the domain name, and promotional offers. For these reasons, prices can vary greatly from one registrar to another. Nevertheless, given the relatively low price of domain name registration, this should not be a major concern.

So, why people put pricing as the top criteria when looking for a registrar? Why it matters? Because you should watch out for hidden fees!

Renewal fees

Beware of low introductory prices.

In order to attract customers, most registrars will offer extremely cheap first year registration fee, among other promotional offers. However, the rock-bottom domain prices5 of the initial purchase will turn into sky-high prices5 with unreasonable expensive renewal fees. Don’t be fooled by those promotional pricing and make sure that you check what the renewal rate will be.

Note that you can register a domain name for up to 10 years, and some registrars will offer a discounted rate if your register for several years at once. Nevertheless, it is generally recommended registering your new domain name for one year. Later, you can decide on committing to that registrar (or that price) for longer periods.

Transfer fees

Always read the fine print.

Suppose you are not satisfied with your registrar and decide to transfer your domain name to another registrar. This option – domain transfer – should be easily available and free. However, some registrars may try to make this process complicated and/or impose costly transfer fees to discourage customers for transferring their domains1. You may never have to use this service, but that possibility might arise in the future. Just make sure that you review the registrars’ transfer policy.

Note that you cannot transfer your domain name to another registrar during the initial 60-day period of registration.

Upsells

You pay for what you get, but don’t pay for what you don’t need.

Many registrars offer add-ons that might be of interest to you. However, they will often try to sell you things that you don’t need using various not-always-ethical tactics. For instance, they may pre-checked some add-ons on the checkout page(s). Worst, some will bundle your domain with a bunch of other services that you may never use5. Make sure that you buy only what you need and want.

What makes a good domain registrar?

A good way to tell registrars apart is by the services they offer. To rebound on the previous topic, having an amazing price with poor service is no deal at all3.

Domain management and customer support

This is the core service provided by registrar; it better be good!

Ideally, you deal with domain names once and then maybe not again for another year or more3, yet, domain management is one of the most important thing to consider in a registrar. You should be able to easily and effectively administer and manage your domain name(s). Is the domain management interface easy to use? Good quality management tools are essential and can avoid frustration. Actually, you should consider the overall user experience right from the beginning: from navigating the registrar website to purchasing your domain name (e.g. payment methods).

In addition, as you don’t want to make mistakes when configuring your domain name, you may check whether there is a good help system (e.g. contextual popup, video tutorials, wiki page). The company’s knowledge base or other support documentation can make it easy to integrate your domain name into other services, web servers, and application hosts4.

Finally, registrar should provide good customer and technical support. What type of support is available? Telephone, e-mail, live chat…? When these services are available? 24/7?

Protection and security

Security matters. Make sure your domain name remain yours!

A sound advice is to keep your domain names with registrars that have a long history of solid and secure service4. Domain names are valuable assets and domain name security is therefore critically important. Domain hijacking, for instance, is a fraudulent practice that consists in wrongfully taking of control of the domain name from the rightful name holder. The threat is real; these attacks and incidents are more common that you could imagine.

You may consider reading this ICANN article on Protecting Your Domain Name

To protect yourself and your domain name from unauthorized transfer, you should thoroughly vet a registrar’s authorization and security processes1. Look for security features like two-factor authentication, transfer lock, WHOIS privacy… Beware of registrars who put their information instead of yours to portions of your domain details, which secretly gives them ownership of the domain5. Last, but not least, implement basic security practices such as using secure login information, cautious online behavior, and so on.

WHOIS privacy

Domain registrars are required to provide valid contact information for registered domain names on WHOIS directories. The list of information included in a WHOIS entry is exhaustive: detailed contact information of the domain owner, information of the registrar, registration and expiration date, among other things. Unbelievably, all of this personal contact information is available publicly4 and fairly easy to access (e.g. ICANN’s WHOIS Lookup).

Anyone can look up a WHOIS record and these data may be used in ways that aren’t legitimate or desirable. For instance, hackers, identity thieves and stalkers could access your personal information. Spammers and scammers could use the WHOIS system to harvest email contact information. Unethical registrars could check domain expiration dates in order to send official looking renewal notices in an attempt to get the domain owners to transfer domains to their company.

Fortunately, many registrars provide domain name privacy, namely WHOIS privacy, a service that hides your contact information from public view6. This feature is a great way to protect your personal information and some domain registrars offer it as a free service4.

 

Renewal

In keeping with the idea of protecting your domain name “ownership”, don’t let your domain name expire! If you forgot to renew it before its expiration date, it will be released for registration by third parties. There are several safeguards available to prevent this from happening, though.

Generally, registrars send multiple expiration notifications to customers several weeks/days before the expiration date, but practices vary (registrars are not required to notify customers of impeding expiration). Also, be careful! As briefly touched upon above, a popular scam3 consists in other companies sending renewal notices in the stead of your registrar; when you sign the form, you’re actually agreeing to transfer the domain from your existing registrar to this other company3.

Most registrars offer auto-renewal services. The auto renews are automatically billed on the credit card associated to your account. This security precaution simplifies the expiration management – you don’t have to worry about the renewal notifications – and prevents you from forgetting the renewal of your domain name. Great, but what if your credit card on file has expired?

You may consider checking if the registrar also offers a grace period even after the expiration. This can be a lifesaver service – there are many horror stories of people missing the expiration deadline and losing their domain name – and choosing a registrar with a grace period is essential1 (you don’t want to be part of the next horror story).

What else?

Whereas registrars specialized in domain name registration, they offer other functions (e.g. e-mail account) beyond the add-ons services directly related to the domain name. Generally, it is recommended to get these services from more specialized vendors, yet, you may choose otherwise for various reasons (price, convenience…). Besides, some of these features may influence choosing a particular registrar. Just don’t forgot that what matters the most are the criteria outlined above; not how cheap or popular is the registrar.

To recap, beware of hidden fees! How much you will pay should be transparent and depend, among other things, on what services (e.g. TLDs) you use and on what options (e.g. add-ons) you apply to your domain name during the registration process. Stay away from those companies that offer large discount on the initial purchase and then later surprise you with significantly higher bills. Still, don’t base your decision on price only, choose a company that is reputable, reliable and that meets your needs.

A wrong decision could cost you money as well as your domain name. Choose wisely!

Coming next: my own choosing…

 


1 Cloudflare (2018) How To Choose The Best Domain Name Registrar. ^
2 If you don’t know what are TLDs, you may consider reading my post on domain name. ^
3 George Plumley (2011) Website Design & Development: 100 Questions to Ask before Building a Website. Indianapolis, Indiana: Wiley Publishing. ^
4 Who Is Hosting This (2018) Beginners Guide To Domain Names. ^
5 Google (2018) Be aware: 5 things to watch out for when buying a domain. ^
6 Of note: the European Union has enforced new rules regarding personal data processing that took effect on May 25, 2018. Accordingly, to protect the privacy of people, their personal identifiers should not be publicly available, anyway. ^

 

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