Here’s a scenario—you’re looking to buy a domain name.
You need a reliable place to buy domains that offer good value. However, once you find a few, you see they all look alike— just a website with a search box.
So how do you know who has the best domain hosting and who’s an outright scammer?
This is why I put together a list of the best registrars in the business. If you’re looking into domain names registration and management, this is the place to start.
NameCheap is the second-largest domain name registrar out there. It is a strong supporter of net neutrality and has openly taken a stance against SOPA and GoDaddy.
Let’s see if this domain name giant beats the rest.
Ease of Use
You can buy a domain name relatively quickly. NameCheap keeps upsells to a minimum so you can get to checkout without obstructions.
Managing your account is fairly straightforward as well. All the options are laid out in one place, so you can quickly configure the DNS of each domain you own, renew it, transfer it, or even allow another person manage it without forfeiting ownership.
The only possible complaint is that some bulk purchase features are clunky. This is a really minor thing, though. The fact that this is all I can mention as a downside speaks volumes of NameCheap’s intuitive interface.
You’ll have an easy time managing everything, even if it’s your first time around domain names.
NameCheap has an ever-expanding list of 458 TLDs. It includes all the generic ones like .com and .org and has even the newer ones like .travel.
NameCheap only lacks some of the popular country-code TLDs like .it and .pl.
Unlike many other domain registration companies, NameCheap offers privacy protection for free. The freebie is useful, but note that the TLD has to support it.
Another freebie is two months of professional email hosting. You’ll have to pay $9.88 a year to continue using it afterward, though.
NameCheap offers its own VPN for $1.88/month, a logo design tool for free, and resells a bunch of services like G Suite. You can also get an SSL certificate at an affordable price—$3.88/year.
NameCheap also doubles as a hosting provider. If you prefer to get domain registration and hosting in one place, NameCheap offers a free .website domain name for as long as you use its hosting services.
Support is available through email and live chat.
There is no phone line. Having phone support is be preferable, but it’s less of a priority with domain names than with hosting services. The support can work out your issues through the existing channels.
The support agents are knowledgeable and can solve domain name-related queries relatively easily. They have the annoying tendency to bounce you around from agent to agent, though.
If you’re just starting out, the knowledge base is respectable and easy to navigate. You’ll have an easy time learning the basics.
The price to purchase domain names always depends on the TLD. With NameCheap, this ranges from $8.88 for a .de domain name to $2098 for .inc. Some newer TLDs can go for less than a dollar.
In general, NameCheap is more affordable than most registrars. For instance, .com domains cost $8.98—$5 less than with GoDaddy.
NameCheap also does you a solid and throws in free domain privacy—not only for the first term but forever.
NameCheap does not offer outrageous discounts on generic TLDs. If you’re looking to buy a .com or .net domain name and let it expire after the first term, some registrars might have better one-off offers.
Otherwise, NameCheap has among the best domain hosting in the long-term, especially if you want WHOIS privacy.
Verdict: NameCheap combines excellent prices, life-long WHOIS protection, and a wide variety of TLDs that can be managed through a functional and pretty interface.
Tucows is the third-largest domain registrar.
It has an interesting structure because it only sells domain names through resellers.
On the other hand, Hover is owned by Tucows and is its recommended reseller at the same time. Which is why they share the review.
It’s generally safer to stay away from resellers, but since Hover is a direct subsidiary of Tucows it adds credibility. You’re essentially buying directly from an accredited registrar.
Just keep in mind that the service may differ if you go with other Tucows resellers—like eNom, which is also a subsidiary.
I’ll refer to the service as Hover to make things simpler. Let’s jump right in.
Ease of Use
Hover’s interface is straightforward. You can navigate around the dashboard without trouble. It even has links to basic tutorials at places you might find them the most useful.
It’s among the best domain hosting companies for beginners. You’ll get the hang of managing domains in a jiffy.
There are also no upsells, so you can focus on your work without distractions.
A few users complain domain transfers can be glitchy, which is worth keeping in mind.
Looking at the Hover’s status page, the number of service interruptions is concerning. These are partial interruptions, and Hover is refreshingly transparent about them—it even posts status updates on Twitter—but it’s troubling nonetheless.
Hover supports 459 TLDs, which is sumptuous. You also get free domain privacy if the TLD supports it—useful for avoiding spam.
Hover focuses almost exclusively on domain names, but you can get a small email inbox for $20/year or email forwarding for $5/year.
That’s it as far as features go. Hover puts all resources towards becoming the best place to buy and manage a domain name.
The support is professional, but only available 12h a day on weekdays and 5h a day on weekends. Not having 24/7 support is a significant disadvantage.
You can contact it through phone, live chat, or email.
The knowledge base is comprehensive, and the agents are knowledgeable, but it can’t really be hard-to-reach support.
The domains’ prices are average for the industry.
It does depend on the TLD, though. Hover offers surprisingly cheap domain registration for some specialty TLDs.
You can also find a discount code for Hover relatively easily. It took a quick Google search to find a bunch for 10% off my purchase.
Hover is a solid domain host that desperately needs 24/7 support to be in the run for the best domain registrar.
Verdict: Hover is a likable domain registrar with good support, streamlined interface, a bunch of TLDs, and fair prices.
With 78 million domain names under its belt, GoDaddy is beyond massive. It is the domain hosting provider with the most power (and influence) on the Web.
Although GoDaddy’s appalling company culture deserves an article of its own, I prefer to let the facts speak for themselves. Here’s what the domain name giant has in its arsenal.
Ease of Use
The process of buying a domain name is smooth. You can search domain names individually or in bulk, add them to the cart, and you’re all set.
GoDaddy offers two flavors of UI you can freely switch between. One is designed to help beginners get the hang of the navigation. The other is similar to NameCheap’s and lays out all the functions in front of you. Both are fairly straightforward, though.
However, you get upsells and lots of them. GoDaddy constantly tries to make you buy domain names and even automatically adds products to your shopping cart. It even sets the default registration period to two years, even though one year is the shortest.
If you can stomach the constant upsells, GoDaddy makes it easy to get around.
With 481 TLDs available and 267 upcoming ones, GoDaddy has one of the widest offers out there.
Yet, it is not keen on freebies. Domain privacy, domain protection, and email inboxes are all available but as paid addons.
If the domain name you like is already taken, you can pay GoDaddy $69.99 to contact the owner and see if it’s for sale.
Apart from domain name services, GoDaddy offers hosting, a website builder, a storefront, a mobile app, and more.
GoDaddy is way more than a simple domain name registrar. You’ll find a host of useful services, but they are usually paid.
Support is available 24/7 through email, live chat, and phone. GoDaddy has phone lines in 51 different countries, so most users will be able to talk to support in their native tongue.
GoDaddy also has helpful articles in its knowledge base. They are a great help in getting around during your first weeks.
All these factors should make the quality of the support solid but, alas, it’s GoDaddy. Its immensity and business needs (read: profit) almost always trump quality of service.
Clients have complained about GoDaddy withholding domain names longer than allowed.
NameCheap has challenged GoDaddy publicly on this, but it’s tough to tell if GoDaddy was really doing something shady.
Still, its reputation is tarnished enough to think the worst.
Although GoDaddy seems to be moving away from this practice, its sales strategy is to draw you in with outrageous discounts and then ramp up the price upon renewal.
To give you a rough idea, a .com domain name would cost you $11.99 in the first year and $17.99 each year after that. A .website domain name is an even better example—it costs $0.99 at first and $29.99 later.
In addition, GoDaddy sells domain name bundles. So, getting the same second-level domain with .com, .net, and .org extensions would cost you 51% less in the first year.
Keep in mind GoDaddy tacks tax surplus during checkout, so the actual cost is likely higher.
Domain privacy is also paid $9.99/year plus tax.
In essence, GoDaddy has a solid service, but it’s pricey compared to most domain hosting sites.
Verdict: GoDaddy is the biggest domain registrar largely thanks to skillful marketing and tempting initial offers.
4. HiChina/Alibaba Cloud
HiChina is often dubbed the “Chinese GoDaddy.” It is a part of the Alibaba Group—which is something like the Chinese Amazon. Therefore, its domain hosting services are a part of Alibaba Cloud.
Its services are available worldwide, though. Which is why it’s surprising so few online resources address it.
Anyhow, I took it for a spin. Since you actually get domain names through Alibaba Cloud website, I’ll refer to the service as “Alibaba.”
Ease of Use
I must admit, it took me a minute to figure out how to switch the website from Chinese to English.
From there, the navigation is alright, but some of the top domain hosting services handle it better.
Navigation is straightforward, but Alibaba adds a few unnecessary steps to the checkout process. The most annoying part is selecting which products in your shopping cart you want to purchase.
Everything else is simple, and Alibaba doesn’t annoy you with upsells like many other registrars.
Alibaba has 53 available TLDs. It has the more popular TLDs, but it lacks a bunch of country-code TLDs and many of the newer ones.
Since ICANN no longer lists personal info in the WHOIS directory, you can’t find out who hosts a domain. Consequently, Alibaba has discontinued its domain privacy service, perhaps prematurely.
The problem is that your email address is visible in the WHOIS directory—anyone can find it and spam you. Alibaba states there are measures to protect you from this, but this claim is dubious.
Alibaba Cloud also doubles as a cloud hosting provider so you can get a multitude of hosting-related services.
The offer is decent, but Alibaba could improve it with domain privacy and a few more popular TLDs.
Alibaba has several support tiers. Unfortunately, the free tier is quite limited.
You get phone support for about 16h a day and email support, which is supposedly available 24/7, but can take up to 18h to answer. You can only submit up to 6 tickets in one quarter.
Free support should be sufficient for users with few domain names. Those looking to buy dozens or hundreds of domain names can do with a support upgrade.
The knowledge base is extensive, but a few articles are somewhat outdated, and the search feature is clunky.
Support quality is alright, but many of the best domain hosting companies don’t impose such strict limits.
Alibaba has some impressive discounts. You can get a .xyz domain name for $0.18 and a .site one for $0.01. If you’re looking around for the cheapest domain registration, this is hard to beat.
When you see discounts like those, you expect steep renewal prices. Surprisingly enough, Alibaba’s renewal costs are about average. A .site domain name costs $15.99 to renew—more affordable than at both NameCheap and GoDaddy.
All in all, Alibaba lets you take advantage of some fantastic deals, although the overall service does have a few kinks.
Verdict: Alibaba offers some amazing introductory deals and very fair renewal fees. The support structure is somewhat unorthodox but gets the jobs done.
Domain.com is a relatively large domain host. Although it doesn’t advertise this, it’s a subsidiary of EIG.
Now, EIG-owned companies do have a reputation for declining quality. Let’s see if Domain.com breaks the mold.
Ease of Use
The interface is straightforward. Searching for domain names is easy. A sidebar widget even lets you manage items in the cart as you’re browsing the offers.
One kind of annoying feature is adding the first suggested domain name and domain privacy to the cart automatically. This is not such a problem, though, as you can remove them without opening the cart.
In one Domain.com review, a user complained the company keeps charging you for domain privacy after a domain name expires. It’s difficult to confirm whether you really need to cancel domain privacy manually. It’s worth keeping in mind, though.
Domain.com does have a few non-obtrusive upsells. It just suggests services like G Suite before checkout—many uses like these services, so this is actually useful.
Domain.com has 409 TLDs in its offer, which is decent.
Domain privacy is available, but, unfortunately, it costs $8.99/year.
You can also subscribe for hosting, email hosting, and a website builder.
Domain.com advertises free SSL when you register a domain name. This is misleading as the SSL only works if the company is also your hosting provider. Instead of benefiting you, it just locks you in.
Support is available through live chat and phone, which is enough for domain hosting.
The support agents are responsive but somewhat poor communicators. The issue is prevalent with EIG-owned brands. The agents resolve your problems, but it takes much longer than it should.
The knowledge base is respectable and easy to navigate, though. The search feature works fine. I did run into a few broken links, but apart from that, the knowledge base is useful.
The support is decent, but the support agents need more training if Domain.com is to become the best domain registrar.
The introductory prices are below average for most TLDs. For instance, a .com domain name costs $9.99/year while a .net one is $12.99/year.
Domain.com doesn’t display renewal rates before you purchase a domain name. You have to contact live chat support for this information.
The renewal costs are mostly either the same or only marginally higher. .com domains, for instance, cost $13.99 to renew.
Domain.com also lets you register a domain name for up to five years. If you do this, the discount applies to the entire first term. It’s a sweet deal if you know you’ll stick with a domain name.
All in all, Domain.com is in the top ten domain hosts, although it has room for improvement.
Verdict: Domain.com is a solid domain name registrar, with decent discounts and easy-to-use control panel.
Gandi has been in the game for a long time—since 1999, to be exact. It boasts integrity and honesty and presents itself as the good guy in a shady industry.
The company summarizes its philosophy in an NSFW motto (you can see it at the bottom of its home page, if you’re interested). If you don’t mind a domain host partial to raunchy language, let’s dig in and see if Gandi is the best place to buy domain names.
Ease of Use
The domain search tool is fantastic. It displays a long array of domains, has advanced search options, and lists the initial and renewal prices clearly. It even displays helpful tips like special conditions for registering a domain name.
That said, the website is sometimes buggy—for instance, forever loading certain functions. A quick page reload usually fixes the problem, though.
Refreshingly enough, Gandi doesn’t bother you with upsells. It only suggests buying a discounted domain name bundle, which is actually helpful rather than annoying.
If you thought GoDaddy’s 500+ TLDs were a lot, Gandi will blow you away with 700+.
Each domain purchase comes with domain privacy, two email inboxes with 3Gb of storage each, email forwarding, and an SSL certificate for free. It’s a generous offer.
You can purchase domain name bundles at discounted rates.
Gandi.net also has fairly cheap website hosting.
Gandi doesn’t offer fast support channels. You can only use the ticket system to submit queries (or potentially contact Gandi through Twitter).
Clients are encouraged to find solutions in the knowledge base or community forums.
The articles there are comprehensive, but the lack of both live chat and phone support can be a hindrance. Most domain hosting services offer at least one option, putting Gandi at a disadvantage.
The pricing is average. A .com domain name costs $15.50/year, which is about the industry standard.
Some domain names are discounted by up to 90%. You can also get a few extra bucks off by purchasing a domain name bundle.
As with Hover, it’s fairly easy to find a code for an extra 10% off. If you take advantage of the discounts, Gandi’s pricing is actually in the low end of domain name services.
Gandi is close to being the best domain registrar, but the lack of phone or chat support takes its toll.
Verdict: Gandi.net offers the widest variety of TLDs, excellent domain-search tool, and eye-catching deals. Support could be better, though.
7. Network Solutions
Network Solutions used to be one of the leading registrars in the early days of the internet. Unfortunately for the company, it has fallen behind its competition along the way.
For 8 years now, it has been a subsidiary of Web.com. Together, they boast one of the largest user bases out there.
Let’s see if Network Solutions has what it takes to catch back up with the best domain hosting of 2019.
Ease of Use
You don’t have to be an expert to notice Network Solutions’ website design is dated. Granted, the design doesn’t always correspond with the quality of the service.
Unfortunately, Network Solutions still uses some old school practices that ruin the user experience. For instance, a keyword search automatically adds the top suggestion to your cart.
You can also expect aggressive upsells. Network Solutions will ask if you want hosting package to go with your domain name. Whichever option you choose, you’ll find website hosting and domain privacy in your cart. These are listed as free, but the free trial lasts only a month.
Opening the shopping cart as a guest prompts the upsells every time. If you keep checking the cart, it quickly gets cluttered with “free” hosting plans.
Network Solutions is far too ungainly for one of the biggest registrars out there.
Network Solutions offers 10 generic, 70+ country code, and a host more specialty TLDs. It’s a solid choice.
Besides domain names, you can get domain privacy, hosting, email hosting, website monitoring, SSL certificates, and a lot more. You don’t get any freebies with the domain name, though.
The offer is decent. Network Solutions is a legitimate choice when considering where to buy domain names.
Network Solutions reserves email support for some services, but not for domain names. You can only contact support by phone. Unfortunately, you might wait up to 48h for a callback.
The knowledge base redirects to Web.com. You can find articles on resolving Network Solutions’ problems there.
The navigation of Web.com’s knowledge base could be improved. Searching for “top-level domains” yields 900+ results, many having nothing to do with TLDs.
The support quality is fine, but the best domain name registrar should have near-instant response times.
Network Solutions doesn’t list prices during domain search. The introductory fees are usually in the $2-3 range, but this is just the initial cost.
Renewal for .com, .net, and .org domain names is $35—twice as expensive as GoDaddy, which is one of the pricier registrars. A .io domain name is even more expensive—$79.99.
Domain privacy is $9.99/year on top of this.
Another thing that’s not obvious is Network Solutions charges about $20 for a domain transfer. You can’t take advantage of the low initial price and then switch to a more affordable provider.
All things considered, Network Solutions is far from a cheap domain registrar.
It’s a safe choice, considering its years in the industry and millions of domain names. Still, you can find far more lucrative offers among the best domain registrars.
Verdict: Network Solutions used to be a top dog in the domain registration business, but it’s fall from grace continues with outdated interface, dubitable marketing practices, and poor support.
8. How Domain Registration Works – The Infrastructure
Purchasing website domains might seem simple, but a lot goes on behind the scenes. Here are the key players in the domain name game.
ICANN manages the internet’s entire domain name system. In essence, it sets the rules for everybody else. A register can only work if it is ICANN-accredited.
Now, you can’t buy a domain name directly from ICANN. Doing everything would be too much for the corporation, so it delegates management for the top-level domains to registries.
Each registry is in charge of managing one or more TLDs. VeriSign is probably the most notable example—it manages .com and .net TLDs, among others.
You can’t get a domain name directly from a registry either. Registries let various registrars sell domain names under their TLDs.
Registrars are sort of like domain name supermarkets. Instead of going to several registries to purchase domain names under different TLDs, a registrar can sell you domain names with hundreds of different TLDs.
There is a complicated system in place to ensure this all works and that no two people register the same domain name. This is a topic deserving its own article, though.
For now, suffice it to say these are the main channels domain name registration goes through.
9. The Importance of Picking the Right Domain Name Registrar
If you’re just starting out, it might not be obvious why finding the best domain hosting matters. If the domain name is the same, why should you care who sells it to you?
The problem is that domain names are a service rather than a product. Being able to renew the domain name and manage it properly depends by and large on your registrar.
Can you imagine what would happen if Facebook lost its domain name? The company might lose billions.
But you couldn’t possibly lose your domain name, right?
Actually, just at the beginning of this year, ICANN shut down AlpNames—a registrar with 700,000 domain names—for dabbling in shady business. Hundreds of thousands of users suddenly had no access to their domain names for days on end. Undoubtedly, some domain names expired in the meantime… Who knows what happened to them?
Granted, this is an extreme case. But various website and domain hosts have been involved in all sorts of troublesome practices.
A bad registrar can make it difficult for you to switch hosting providers. It can even keep your domain name hostage if you miss the renewal, or ramp up the renewal prices. A few providers have increased the price of specific TLDs by 3000% in a single day.
The list of things that could go wrong goes on and on.
Which is why it’s advisable to review the registrars with a reputation for transparency and find the best domain host from those. Spending a little time to find proper service makes your life easier in the long run.
10. How to Choose the Right Domain Name Registrar
I’ve outlined the best registrars above. Of course, there are more quality registrars than these. Here are a few actionable tips on picking the best domain registrar when you do your own research.
Go for ICANN-accredited registrars—With a few exceptions, it’s generally safer to get domain names from a registrar than a reseller. ICANN offers a list of all accredited registrars so check if your registrar of choice is in it.
The more TLDs, the better—Going for a registrar that has your preferred TLD is a no-brainer. Which is not to say you won’t experiment with other TLDs down the road. It’s best to get a domain registrar with TLD-rich offer from the get-go.
Check the prices—The pricing difference between TLDs or registrars might seem negligible if you get a single domain name. However, if you buy more domain names from the same provider, the price difference can quickly snowball to a few hundred dollars a year. Better safe than sorry is the motto.
Easy navigation is king—This is more about convenience than anything else. You’d be surprised how many registrars make a mess of their websites. Check out the interface and make sure you can find all the essential functions before you purchase a domain name.
Can you transfer away—A registrar can’t legally stop you from transferring to a competitor. What it can do is make the process a massive pain. Check the terms of service. If the registrar can wait an outrageous amount of time before it relinquishes your domain name, find a different registrar.
On a side note, it’s illegal for a registrar to charge for releasing a domain name. If your current registrar tries to charge you for the transfer, you should contact the registry regulating the TLD. The registry will typically enable the transfer for you.
Don’t compromise on support—The more domain names you have, the higher the chance you’ll need help fixing something. A provider should offer 24/7 support, preferably through multiple channels.
What are the additional services—Registrars rarely restrict their offer to domain names alone. You can often get hosting, email hosting, SSL certificates, and a bunch of related services. These are a bonus, though they are not a necessity. Just make sure the domain name registrar doesn’t bug you with upsells.
Go for the reputable registrars—Reputation can be challenging to put your finger on. All registrars have favorable and less than favorable reviews. Still, if you see a variety of different sources commenting on shady activity, you might want to avoid that registrar.
You now know the world’s top registrars and the qualities that make a good domain host. Feel free to compare the prices of various registrars and TLDs and see which registrar has the best offer for you.
Q: Is Google a good domain registrar?
A: Google Domains is decent and has lots of additional services for a young registrar. It offers decent support and lets you buy a domain name without annoying upsells or costly renewal.
The problem with Google Domains is it’s still in its beta phase of development. Google has been known to discontinue such services, so caution is advised.
Google certainly has enough resources to become the best domain registrar. However, it’s not the safest choice until it’s out of beta.
Q: How do I buy a domain name forever?
A: You can’t own a domain name. You do not deal with ICANN directly, so you can only register a domain name through a registrar.
The longest period you can prepay for a domain name is ten years (though this depends on the TLD). When the domain name is close to expiry, you have to renew it.
This might seem risky—what if something goes wrong in the process and you cannot renew the domain name?
Well, registrars are legally obligated to notify you about upcoming expiry. Even if you don’t receive the emails for some reason, the registrars typically allow a grace period and a redemption period to renew a domain name. You should have enough time if you forget about the expiry date.
Still, the grace period depends on a number of factors like the TLD. Compare domain hosting registrars and their terms of service before getting a domain name.
Some companies with extremely valuable domain names (like google.com) bypass this process by doubling as their own registrar. Becoming a registrar is expensive, though, so it’s not a viable option for the average registrant.
Q: Should I buy domain privacy?
A: Without domain privacy, your email address is listed in the WHOIS directory. The problem is that the info becomes public, meaning anyone can find it and spam you as much as they like.
Domain privacy stops this by entering your registrar’s info instead of yours. The problem here is that your registrar (or whoever provides the privacy) officially owns the domain name. An unscrupulous registrar could easily leverage this against you down the road.
Yes, by all means, get domain privacy. It’s invaluable in avoiding spam. Just thoroughly check the registrar’s reputation first.
Q: Can I buy a domain name without hosting?
A: Absolutely! While hosting and domain names often go hand in hand, and many companies offer both, these are two completely different services.
Many experts even advise against getting both domain and hosting services from the same company. The argument is that the company that hosts both your website and domain name could make it nigh-impossible to change providers.
This is unlikely to happen with reputable hosts, but a little extra caution never hurts.
Q: Which is the best place to buy a domain name?
A: Domain registrars are tough to evaluate. Being a good registrar is more about not getting anything wrong than doing anything spectacular.
You should look for a straightforward service that doesn’t overcharge you and isn’t involved in any shady stuff. All the registrars in the reviews above fulfill those conditions reasonably well.
The pricing among them differs and so do the extra services they provide. Feel free to check them out and see which has the best domain hosting for you.