Over the course of my career starting, running, and selling businesses, I’ve bought hundreds of domain names.
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.
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.
My quick take? I prefer Domain.com (Get 20% off with coupon code QUICKSPROUT) over other top registrars. They have great prices and super easy to use. It’s the registrar that I personally use and always recommend.
The Top 7 Domain Registrars Ranked
- Domain.com — Fast checkout, limited upsells, and multi-year purchases (Get 20% off with coupon code QUICKSPROUT).
- 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.
With that said, if you have a very specific need and don’t think that you’ll ever need more domain names, you can save money by 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
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, and couldn’t buy new domains. Their domain registrar was out of business and their domains were in limbo.
When this happens, panic sets in. “Am I about to lose all my domains?”
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 is announced on ICANN’s bulk transfer page.
Even though there’s an established process, the last thing any of us want is to be at the mercy of a bulk domain transfer to another register. Too many things can go wrong. And there’s too much at risk. Losing the wrong domain would kill my business.
How the Best Domain Registrars Compare
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. I can set it and forget it.
Privacy and protection overwrites your WHOIS information. The name and address of every domain owner is available publicly. Obviously, this can cause privacy issues. Domain registrars will offer to overwrite your personal info with their generic info to help protect your privacy. Some domain registrars offer this for free but Domain.com charges $8.99 per year per domain. I get around this by having my domains under a company name which I’m fine being publicly available. If you’re buying domains personally, I’d definitely protect your personal info even if it means paying a bit more.
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. SSL and SiteLock should come with your web hosting service.
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. Get 20% off with coupon code QUICKSPROUT
- 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.
How to navigate the Namecheap upsells
During the purchase process, Namecheap will hit you with a few questions. 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 ($6/user/month), which includes Gmail, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Calendar, and Hangouts.
- Professional Gmail ($6/user/month) – Skip it
This is the going price for G Suite 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 separate their billing.
- 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 that focuses on 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. 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: WHOIS 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 SSL 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 domains at once.
If you want to bundle domain registrations, 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.
(Namecheap, NameSilo, Gandi, and Hover are on that list.) If you buy a .dev url, you’ll be joining GitHub, Women Who Code, and Codecademy.
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. We’ve all been there, desperately trying to find an available domain after hitting hundreds of dead-ends. Any tool that can offer new ideas when buying a domain name is super helpful.
I also 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.
This gives you a lot more flexibility with changing web hosts and/or domain registrars in the future. It also improves the quality of service on both.
I’d only recommend registering a domain and getting hosting with the same company if you’re not planning to buy more domains in the future. And 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. This is a great option for something specific and simple, such as a blog or small personal site.
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. You can also use the your business info since it’s already publicly available. Definitely don’t use your personal info though.
Remember to turn on automatic renewal
In a lot of businesses, auto-renewal is sneaky 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 before you can rebuy it. That’s what happened to Google.com back in 2016. If someone else buys your domain, it could be gone forever. Don’t ever let you domain registrations lapse.
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 and domain registries that 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:
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.