July 1, 2019 // Category: Digital Marketing
When planning to deploy your website, where to register the domain is often an afterthought. Major hosting providers like InMotion and Bluehost offer domain registration for free to their hosting customers. On the other hand, experienced website managers often opt to maintain separation between their registrar and their hosting provider, and doing so makes selecting the right registrar an important piece of the puzzle.
Separating domain registration from hosting provides a layer of assurance that if anything goes wrong with your hosting, or if you decide to move, your domain will not be affected. It is, in fact, against ICANN regulations for a hosting provider to keep you from moving your domain (Source: ICANN), however, it does stand to reason that any billing dispute with a hosting provider that arises could put your domain at risk, or at least create unnecessary headaches. For this reason, it is considered a best practice to maintain separation.
In this article, we will compare 4 domain registrars that have strong reputations among web designers, developers and small business owners in 2019. I will compare the domain registrars on a few key factors:
Registrars provide relatively few services. Their only real function is to record the user as the owner of a particular domain. Pricing, therefore should be fairly uniform, because top-level domain registries (.com, .net, etc.) charge standardized “wholesale” prices.
One of the main concerns that many webmasters have is with being inundated with calls and emails once a domain has been registered. Private registration should always be included in any domain registration package.
DNS spoofing is a major problem, as DNS is notoriously bad at authenticating servers. DNSSEC is an important measure that helps fix the problem and keep hackers away from your web traffic. In addition, basic protection measures such as SSL, domain locking and 2-factor authentication are standard security measures in the industry.
Purely a matter of user preference, many webmasters prefer an easy interface that makes handling of simple domain management turnkey. Updating DNS settings and locking/unlocking a domain should be simple, especially when managing and updating multiple websites.
With that, let’s jump right into the comparisons!
The name says it all. Namecheap has very competitive prices and is known for hooking customers on extremely low prices in the first year, then raising the prices in the second year. Namecheap is an ICANN-accredited registrar founded in 2000. As of 2019, it is the 2nd largest registrar by market shares with 11 million registered domains.
In addition to domains, Namecheap also offers a host of other services, including hosting (no pun intended), a content delivery network and a web building application. But what’s the real scoop in 2019 behind the 2nd largest webhost by market shares (Source: domainnamestat.com)?
The first year price offered is still among the best in the business, with .com domains going for just over $9 with ICANN fees. And yes, in the second year, you can expect a somewhat higher rate of just over $10, but not enough to break the bank. But aside from a bit of bait and switch, the pricing is quite good. And during Black Friday, domains sell for as little as .88 cents. Many users will start with Namecheap for the $1 fee and then after the first year move their domains to a cheaper provider.
Free private registration. That’s a big selling point. When compared against providers that charge extra for this feature, it makes the price point look even better.
Namecheap offers two-factor authentication as well as DNSSEC for a fee. Namecheap offers many SSL packages at a yearly rate, with certificates ranging from single domain to multiple domain and wildcard.
The support is good and bad. Namecheap offers 24/7 live support, but falters when it comes to telephone support, where there is none. Also, the live chat tends to be very scripted, and if you need personalized service you will be out of luck. The UI is pretty good, and it’s easy to locate, acquire and manage your domains on their website.
Namecheap’s simple DNS screen
Cloudflare has been making waves over the last few years, most notably by mitigating and reporting major DDoS attacks back in 2014. They were named the “most innovative company” in 2012, 2018 and 2019 by Fast Company (Source: Fast Company). Cloudflare has also been making news by releasing a new free DNS service to help internet users evade censorship, including encrypted DNS (Source: Arstechnica.com), and placed themselves at odds with hate speech watchdogs by remaining impartial in supporting the domains of radical groups such as Westboro Baptist Church. Needless to say, love ’em or hate ’em, Cloudflare has people talking.
The company launched its domain registrar service last year, promising to pass TLD registry prices to the end user (Source: CloudFlare). Cloudflare wins the day when it comes to pricing, even over Namecheap. You simply don’t find cheaper domain prices aside from hosting companies trying to hook you by giving you a domain for free.
Cloudflare’s host of services includes DDoS protection, web application firewall, and authoritative DNS, to go along with their domain registrar service. They are definitely becoming a behemoth in the industry. But for the purpose of this article, we will only be looking at the domain registrar service. So let’s dive right in!
Even compared to Namecheap, the plans are crazy cheap. Cloudflare does not rely on its domain registrar service with all of their other services, so they can afford 0% markup on domains. Plans start at $7.95. Cloudflare also offers free SSL (Source: CloudFlare) which puts them over the top in the price department.
Cloudflare takes privacy seriously. Like Namecheap, they offer Whois redaction for all of their registered domains.
One would expect no less from a company that’s made its name on detecting and thwarting cyberterrorist attacks, but Cloudflare’s security options are also top-notch. Domain registration is locked by default, protecting unauthorized transfers to another domain registrar. Like Namecheap, two-factor authentication can be enabled, and additionally, DNSSEC is automatically enabled.
The management tools are very simple and intuitive, so that’s a plus. Support is a mixed bag. There is no phone support for all but Enterprise members, and while the community feature is helpful, sometimes it’s better to get someone on the phone.
Google launched Google Domains in September of 2015. Google throws in private domain registration, DNS hosting, dynamic DNS, domain forwarding and email forwarding to any Gmail account, absolutely free. Naturally, for those who believe in staying within the Google ecosystem, this is where you want to put your money.
It was on Google Domains where, in 2015, a user managed to purchase the Google domain which had famously lapsed, and was awarded with a sum of “over 10,000” for the domain, which was graciously donated to charity.
Price – C
Not the most expensive, but certainly not the cheapest, Google remains firmly in the middle here, as .coms will cost around $12 (still, a fairly low price for Google.com). The only real advantage here is that there are no upsells for additional products. What you see is what you get. No hassle.
Like the other 2 in our comparison, Google bundles private registration with their domains for free.
Google’s security features are always fairly strong. You get two-factor authentication and DNSSEC as with the others. The only downside is that you will need to go elsewhere for SSL.
Google Domains integrates with sponsored hosting companies for users who like to seamlessly connect to their hosting provider without much headache. It also has an incredibly simple interface for access to features. G Suite also comes with 24/7 Live support.
The simplest domain control panel imaginable
The last on our comparison list is Hover. Based out of Ontario, Canada, Hover was founded in 2008 by Tucows after merging the three domain registration companies they already owned: NetIdentity, It’s Your Domain and Domain Direct (Source: Tucows.com). Hover is a bit of a dark horse in the race, but it maintains a strong reputation among registrars. So despite it’s lack of infamy or ties to a massive tech empire, it gets to go head to head with some stiff competition in the race. Let’s see how it measures up.
Hover’s pricing is around 12.99 for registration and 14.99 for renewals, making it the most expensive on our list. It’s even worse when you consider specialty TLDs, which can get quite expensive at over $30 per year.
Hover offers very strong privacy like the others on the list. We registered domains with Hover, and the free Whois privacy provided assurance that our clients would be protected from spam as a result.
Hover does not offer hosted DNSSEC DNS services. In order to enable DNSSEC, users must use a third-party DNS provider that offers DNS that supports DNSSEC (Source: Hover). For an expensive registrar, this seems a bit silly. In addition, you can’t get SSL from hover either, which makes the price look even worse. It makes you wonder, if you need to use a third party DNS and third party SSL, why you would pay $13 to Hover at all. At least Hover supports domain locking and two-factor authentication.
It’s hard to give Hover an A rating for extras without SSL included. So let’s look past that to the other extras: the interface, and integrations. Hover’s interface is clean and simple. There are no upsells which can be a bonus as the service is streamlined. In addition, Hover offers integrations, making connecting to hosted services a piece of cake. And if you do get stuck, you can rely on live customer service to help you through any foibles.
What the customers say:
“Simple Interface, Limited Up-sell noise”
“Easy, simple robust – domains done right”
“Great interface and super helpful support”
For those readers who are currently with GoDaddy because they bundled and found it easier, I will dedicate some time to reviewing this domain registrar as a bonus. Hopefully this review helps folks either feel more comfortable with the registrar they are with or consider better options if they are looking for a switch. GoDaddy of course, needs no introductions, so I will skip the fanfare and get right to the reviews.
GoDaddy has been much maligned for their unpopular pricing practices with its domains. Starting at 11.99 in the first year and rising to an astronomical (relatively) 17.99 in subsequent years, it’s easy to see why webmasters and web designers choose some of the above domain registrars ahead of GoDaddy.
While private Whois registration is available for a cost, not bundling this with the service has caused many domain owners to find themselves spammed with contacts. Whois privacy is a must, and shouldn’t cost extra.
GoDaddy will offer DNSSEC with a Premium DNS account. While it’s nice that it’s offered, it would be even better if DNS did not require an account upgrade. Naturally GoDaddy offers two-factor authentication and domain locking by default. We find GoDaddy to be pretty secure.
We really can’t find any fault with GoDaddy’s extras. Despite the upsells, GoDaddy offers a ton of integrations, as well as 24/7 phone support. The interface is not as streamlined as Google or Hover, but it’s clean and easy to use.
Depending on your needs as a webmaster/business owner managing your own web assets, you may find your priorities will shift to one or another provider. For those looking for an all-in-one bundled solution, where you get your hosting, SSL, and domains all in one place, you don’t mind paying a little more and getting 24/7 service, GoDaddy might be the solution (or Bluehost/InMotion, as they offer free domains with their hosting services). But if you like to keep your ecosystems separate, one of the other above providers might fit the bill.
All things being equal, we place CloudFlare above the pack due to their best in class security options and transparent pricing practices. We also think it makes sense to make the switch if you use CloudFlare’s free DNS service. But if their political affiliations cause you problems, you may want to look elsewhere on our list.
Our summary is not meant to be comprehensive. There are many other worthwhile options. But if you’re in the market for a new registrar, this list will be enough to get you started.