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Best place to buy a domain name

The day has finally come for me to write a blog post that is long overdue. So many people ask me this question, and now finally I will disclose my experience and share what I think is the best place to buy a domain name. The first domain name I registered was back in the nineties, and during more than a decade of a professional career, I’ve worked in various ways with about a dozen domain registrars. Surely I know what is the best place to buy a domain name.

Before we go deeper into that, let me start by saying who this post is for, and who it is not for. I will also explain the difference, and show some examples along the way. I will draw from past experience as a domain reseller, domain investor and just as a regular domain name holder. You have to understand that these domain owners have different priorities. Some are more price sensitive, while some can’t look at an outdated website and UX. Some like to spend 15 minutes every week on the phone with customer support, some don’t need support, but want everything to work properly.

Who this post is for, and who it is not for

Is it for a domain investor?

This post could be useful to domain investors. However, if you have a large portfolio (few hundred domains or more) you may want to skip this article or use just a small part of it. Especially if you want to transfer a large part of your portfolio and expect a concierge approach. I also won’t be getting into more “complex portfolios” where a few hundred domain names are making money from parking, some are active websites, some are for clients… Again, you may find parts of this article useful, but you won’t find all the answers here.

Is it for a web hosting company?

Similar to domain investors, some parts of this article might be helpful, but this is not the audience this article is intended for. Before I sold my web hosting business back in 2011, WHMCS just arrived at the scene. I was looking for a domain registrar that had a reliable API for checking domain availability, decent prices, and no “access fee”. For some domain registrars, you need to pay a fee in order to get better prices and join their reseller program.

Is it for a webmaster?

I know the term webmaster is going out of style according to Google trends, but I’ll take the chance. If you own 1-20 domain names or websites or manage them for your clients you certainly fit the profile. Gone are the days when webmaster was a coder, designer, and marketer. But still, webmaster sounds better than website owner, an entrepreneur that owns a website, blogger and other similar names. This article is for you.

best place to buy a domain name
The best place to buy a domain name

What do the domain investors say?

In November 2017 there was a survey on Namepros.com (very popular domain investor forum) on “Who is the best registrar in the business“. Here are the top 8 according to the voters:

  1. GoDaddy 253 votes
  2. Namesilo 191 votes
  3. Namecheap 114 votes
  4. Uniregistry 95 votes
  5. Dynadot 78 votes
  6. Name.com 34 votes
  7. Epik 29 votes
  8. Namebright 20 votes

Other’s have less than 10 votes, so I won’t list them. But I can mention them quickly: InternetBS, 101Domain, Domain.com, Dotster, Enom, Fabulous, Hover, Moniker, NamePal, NetworkSolutions, Register.com. Old school users like me were wondering what happened to Tucows and Network Solutions. Well, Tucows, that’s Enom, OpenSRS with only 5 votes. For a great Enom vs GoDaddy review, I recommend this article. And Although Network Solutions still is a strong player with over 2000 employees it is not a behemoth like back in 2000 when it was bought by VeriSign for $21 billion.

What about GoDaddy?

The discussion on Namepros was also very educational, and you can see the frustration and confusion on how GoDaddy tops the list. GoDaddy was and still is the largest domain registrar by far and for a good reason. I personally still have several domain names registered with them, but they are not my primary registrar. Besides, many domain sellers have an account with GoDaddy, so buying and selling domains is easy because of transferring between GoDaddy accounts.

What I like about GoDaddy

Their support is just great. Always available on the phone, email or chat. On the phone, they are positive, optimistic and happy to hear your voice. They even threw in a joke, advice or something to make your day. GoDaddy’s dashboard is simple to understand and has plenty of DNS functions. Also, unlike some other registrars, they have redesigned their website and dashboard in the past. Also, being the largest domain registrar in the world, they are reliable! There are no shocks or bad surprises. They send reminders about domain expirations and credit cards out of date.

Another good thing about GoDaddy is their domain search and TLD support. When I am on their website, I just type a keyword, and I am happy with new gTLD recommendation and alternatives from their marketplace or their domain suggestions.

What I don’t like about GoDaddy

The main reason for me personally to move away domains from GoDaddy is the price. I like to think of myself as a financially literate person, so I don’t like giving $1000 (or any amount) for some credits somewhere. I hate the “give me money, and I will let you buy from me”. So although the price of a .com is advertised at one price, the cart price is actually $12.17 with a note that the domain will renew at $15. That is way above what I am prepared to pay for a domain name renewal.

GoDaddy prices
GoDaddy prices

Another thing that rubs me the wrong way when it comes to GoDaddy’s prices are amounts in British Pounds. I live in the EU, and for some reason, GoDaddy charges me in British Pounds. Yes, same Britain that exit the EU. Anyway, it seems that GoDaddy instead of charging the equivalent of $15 in British pounds, they just charge £15. Or £26.20 for 2 years.

Just look at the screenshot below. I received an email from GoDaddy for automatic domain renewal. They have renewed my domain name for 2 years (maybe the price for multiple years is lower than for renewing for one year). And the total cost for 3 domains for the duration of two years was £78.6 which in today’s dollars is $109.63. Ouch!

GoDaddy prices in british pounds
GoDaddy prices in British pounds

The only good thing about this entire situation was that they agreed to refund me this automatic payment and I dropped the domain names.

By now you may be thinking, OK. GoDaddy is expensive. So what is a cheap solution? NameCheap? Well, I’ve never used NameCheap, but it seems that many domain investors think highly of it. NameCheap charges €9.02 which is $11.14 per .com domain name per year. Even with the first year WhoisGuard for free, that’s still too expensive for me.

[UPDATE 19th June, 2018.]

It seems that after the GDPR went live in May, it caused quite a stir with the WHOIS, as everybody has expected. All domain registrars retracted private data, with NameCheap and Uniregistry going one step further. This step definitely got my attention! As you can see from the last sentence above this paragraph that was written before this update, I commended the “first-year WhoisGuard for free”, but thought that they were still too expensive for my taste. For example, the often criticized (and let’s be honest, which domain registrar isn’t) Namebright also give whois privacy for free for the duration of that first year.

NameCheap and Uniregistry give free Whois privacy, for free, for everyone, forever!

Now NameCheap and Uniregistry definitely went a step further with a bold an unprecedented move in the domain registrar arena! They are now giving away Whois privacy service for free, for everyone, forever! I think this really sweetens the deal, and will definitely consider them for some of my domain names. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve never used Namecheap before, and I am not quick with moving my portfolio. Furthermore, a small part of my portfolio is on Uniregistry so I don’t see a reason (yet) to try Namecheap.

Majority of my portfolio remains on Namebright due to lowest price (the first year of Whois privacy is free. Even with paid Whois privacy, it’s still cheaper. But, let’s summarize this paragraph. Namecheap is giving away free WhoisGuard, while Uniregistry is giving away free Privacy.link.

Back to GoDaddy, is it really that expensive?

Look, if you have 10 domain names, and you renew them for 10 years. Hopefully, your company will be around for so long, that’s a lot. Or let’s say you have passive income from niche websites. Or you have a domain name on your last name or firstname-lastname.com. Either way, 10 domains multiplied by 10 years multiplied by $2 difference or $4 difference turns out $200 or $400. So just by choosing a different domain registrar, you could end up with a top of the line juicer or something else you really need or like.

For me, it’s even more of a deal. Let’s say I need to renew around 50 domain names. And, instead of paying $14 for renewals I pay $8.03.
So 50 domains X 10 years (hey I plan to stick around even longer than that), is 500 X $14. In total, that is a very nice $7000. Now let’s do this one more time.

50 domains X 10 years X $8.03 is $4015. I think I just saved $3000. Now sure, if you compare this rate to a cheaper registrar like NameCheap, the saving is smaller than that. But I was ready to jump ship from GoDaddy (where I kept most of my domains) to Namebright. More on them, and the $8.03 price later.

What other options are there?

Here’s one domain registrar that wasn’t mentioned on the domain investor survey, but is popular among web hosting companies. The reason for this popularity is WHMCS integration, low prices and no entry fee. You can register for an account for free and their prices are competitive and TLD support is very good. I don’t want to go too deep about ResellerClub because this is mostly for the WHMCS / Web hosting crowd. And, as I said, this post is for the proverbial webmaster.

But still, if you are running a small web design agency and you are handling 50, 100 or 200 clients. Maybe it makes sense for you to make the jump. With WHMCS your clients can open support tickets, access their invoices and have direct access to their domain names. I think that the price for a .com domain for 1 year is $9.99. But you can also deposit $3000 to get the best pricing $8.89 for a .com domain per year.

I have used this option personally for years before selling my small web hosting business and starting WhoAPI. I still have a ResellerClub account active, and a few domains registered there. Good things are hard to give up.

OK, that’s nice, and what about the cheapest domain registrar?

So the domain registrar I’ve mentioned earlier is NameBright. You can see the invoice below, o that you know the price is real. All you need to do is send them a wire transfer or a check (checks must be $100 or more). Then you get the $8.03 price. Even if you don’t deposit money, their prices are very low. It is $8.53 and you get free privacy protection for first year. This price is the same for new registrations, renewals and transfers. Now that is about as low as you can get anywhere in the world.

So, is this the best place to buy domain name?

NameBright renewal price
NameBright renewal price

What I don’t like about NameBright

Here’s the thing, I am an experienced domain investor, so the chance of this happening to me is very low. But to someone who considers domain registration something they tend to a few times per year have to be careful. NameBright is a part of a group called TurnCommerce, together with several companies operating in the domain industry. One of them is HugeDomains.com.

What Huge Domains do is they resell, backorder and hold a lot of domain names. What is “a lot”? According to TurnCommerce website, they own more than 1 million domain names, and according to rumors in January 2017, up to 3 million domain names. And, what tends to happen is that if you let your domain name expire, they might get it, and try to sell it for a couple of thousand dollars.

And what about NameBright support

Well, so far I didn’t have any problems (past 3 years), so I actually never had any support questions. Or maybe there was one minor that was answered and resolved quickly over email. But it seems that some people are really upset!

What about the future?

So these are well-known providers, probably dominating more than a decade in the marketplace. What about the future? Well, unless you were sleeping under a rock, you probably heard about the new gTLD (generic top-level domain) explosion. In the past, I’ve interviewed two biggest players in that arena Donuts and Uniregistry so that might be a good place to remind yourself.

The two of them have a completely different approach to the market. You can’t register domain names with Donuts, while Uniregistry created a very nice domain manager dashboard. They even have their own cryptocurrency, but this is totally outside of the scope of this article. The reason why I am using Uniregistry is that they have great support for the new gTLD (Namebright doesn’t) and their prices are more competitive than those of GoDaddy.

Uniregistry dashboard
Modern Uniregistry dashboard – very easy to operate

.Ninja, .club, .design .no-problem?

The few not-coms that I own are registered with Uniregistry. I like the dashboard design more than any other I’ve used. I suppose the only reason I don’t transfer all my domains to Uniregisitry is that Namebright has much better pricing. In the past, I also owned a .design domain registered at Uniregistry (their domain search is also very good), but after two years my fiancee decided not to engage in that project.

Nice bonus with Uniregistry, as I’ve already mentioned earlier is Privacy.link. With almost every TLD (.com included) you get free whois privacy!

Summary of “best place to buy a domain name”

I’ve shared with you the three domain registrars I’ve dealt with most. Resseller club I’ve used mostly as a web hosting / web design agency due to their WHMCS integration and good prices. GoDaddy I’ve used mostly as a regular user due to their reliability and good TLD support (for example I’ve registered webmaster.ninja there). Also, in the past, I’ve paid them the reseller fee, so that I could get much lower prices and it makes it easy to transfer domains from other GoDaddy users. And lately, I am using mostly Namebright and a little bit of Uniregistry. I don’t need any features, and I have 50 domains so it adds up.

Now since I have domains on several different registrars, things tend to get messy, so I also use our webmaster.ninja domain monitoring and domain management as a backup. This helps me stay on top of my portfolio, and so that I don’t miss any domain names.

Written by Goran Duskic

I am the founder and CEO at WhoAPI. Entrepreneur for more than a decade in the hosting and domain industry. Sold my previous company. 500 Startups and StartLabs alumni. Author of a white paper "Domain Disclosure: Dirty Dozen" and eBook "26 Fundraising Questions for Startups".

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