The Best Domain Registrar Guide (And the Worst) for 2020
You have a business, or maybe you just have an idea for a blog. It's time to plant your flag on your own internet domain. It's time to get a domain registrar.
In 2020, there are many choices out there. But not too many if you know what you're doing! This guide will help explain the basic facts, and show you how to pick the best domain registrar for your blog or business.
- 1 The Best Domain Registrar Guide (And the Worst) for 2020
- 1.1 What Is a Domain Name?
- 1.2 What Is a Top Level Domain [TLD]?
- 1.3 What Is a Domain Registrar?
- 1.4 New TLDs
- 1.5 Brand TLDs
- 1.6 Separation of Concerns
- 1.7 Reasons to Choose One Registrar Over Another
- 1.8 The List
- 1.9 Best Domain Registrar
What Is a Domain Name?
The internet is a network of networks, connected to different countries in different languages. It's a complex global system that connects computers everywhere with a logical identifier called an IP [internet protocol] address.
You've seen IP addresses before. They are those long string of numbers and letters that look like gibberish.
There isn't any main address book for the internet. There is no central ‘map'. It's like a dividing tree branch. Each number represents a path that data can travel down.
Data packets don't need to know where they are going to start the journey across the network. With just IP numbers, one connected computer device can find another connected device by following the branches until the data gets to its destination.
A domain name is a human-readable version of an IP4 or IP6 address. When you type in a human-readable domain name like ‘marketingbykevin.com', a series of steps is initiated by your browser. The result is an IP address that the network can use to find the site.
Another important difference between human-readable domains and the IP addresses they point to is that the IP numbers can change, while the domain name remains the same. This is crucial for large networks with more than one server. Or in situations where webmasters want to route traffic to another machine for one reason or another.
It's also how data can find it's destination. The IP address or domain registration might change, but the human-readable domain name will remain the same.
What Is a Top Level Domain [TLD]?
The United States military created the original internet back in the 1960s. It was called the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network or ARPANET.
In 1984, the original six Top Level Domains were deployed. They are as follows:
- .net was added in 1984 during the first upgrade to the system.
These are now known as ‘generic' top-level domains or gTLDs. Control was transferred to ICANN in the 90s, and in 2016 was split up into a multi-stakeholder model.
ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. While they no longer control domain names in places like China, they still are the de facto controllers of domain names on the internet.
ICANN controls the standards, and they distribute IP numbers to ‘regional registrars'. Regional registrars are companies in particular countries where the domains exist. When you register a domain with a company like GoDaddy, GoDaddy ultimately gets the IP address from ICANN.
There are many more TLDs now. Thousands more actually, and new ones come online every day. Most of these are in local languages in local countries.
What Is a Domain Registrar?
A domain name registrar is a company that ICANN assigns to manage the names servers on a particular TLD and a particular IP range. You need to purchase a domain from a registrar, or a reseller who works with that registrar.
There are many resellers, including many hosting companies. Not all registrars can sell you all TLDs. In fact, none can!
Some are specific to certain countries and some use special characters.
Since 2008, ICANN has allowed the creation of many new Top Level Domains. These are grouped into three main categories:
A “sponsored” TLD is one that has been purchased through a contractual agreement from ICANN and is usually controlled by some sort of regulatory agency.
For instance, the domain “.museum” is controlled by the Museum Domain Management Association (MuseDoma). If you want the domain “mydomain.museum”, you need to get it from MuseDoma or you are out of luck. They only give them to museums so good luck if you're not one yourself!
Geographic TLDs are domains that are related to a particular geographic location. The TLD “.vegas” is for websites associated with Las Vegas, Nevada. There are about 1000 geographic TLDs, and many more are due to come online soon.
If you want the best domain name registrar for these TLDs, you'll have to do your research. There are about 10,000 different companies associated with different TLDs. Many resellers don't have even a small percentage of them.
Another type of geographic TLD is a country code. These are also sold off to a registrar, but the country associated with the TLD gets to assign the company. There are several “open” geographic TLDs, live “.tv” [Tuvulia, not Television!].
International Domain Names are domains that exist with characters other than Latin script. Domains from China can now use Chinese character as TLDs themselves.
For many years, international domains could use their local character set for the secondary domain space, but not the TLD. Now even the TLDs can be characterized.
This definitely requires some specialized resources. IDNs aren't actually stored in name servers as the local characters themselves. They use a system called “Punycode”, which encodes a foreign character set URL into an ASCII compatible URL.
Companies with large brands can get their own TLDs. It's not clear that these domains will take off. The .com TLD still seems to reign in the commercial space.
Most companies with brand TLDs still maintain their flagship web presence on the .com space. Some companies, like Pepsi, have rejected using brand TLDs. Other companies, like the German automaker BMW [who owns the .bmw TLD], have embraced it.
It's extremely expensive and time-consuming to get your own TLD from ICANN. It will cost about a $1M total, not even including legal expenses, so it's really not an option for most small and medium-sized businesses.
Separation of Concerns
One way to really screw up your domain name is to have your site hacked and lose control over it! This can – and has – happened to a huge array of small and large-sized businesses in the past few years. The best domain registrars are the ones that don't get hacked!
The truth is, this type of cybercrime is almost impossible to prosecute. The basic attitude of most law enforcement agencies is that it is your responsibility to secure your own servers, not the cops.
Most registrars have a “locking” mechanism which provides some kind of security on your account. You have to first unlock the domain before it can be transferred. This makes good sense, but what if your account itself has been hacked?
A good security practice is to have your hosting company and your registrar be different entities entirely. This is a top secret from professional webmasters. Register your domain with one company, and point it at the hosting server of another company.
You also retain control over the domain, even if your site is hacked. You can simply point the domain at a different server and abandon the infected one.
Reasons to Choose One Registrar Over Another
You'll have to determine what TLD you need based on your business objectives. Are you an e-commerce site or a WordPress blog? If you have a particular need, such as a special TLD, or industry TLD, you'll have to register with a company that can handle that TLD.
ICANN distributes the IP numbers and assigns companies to run each TLD. Some TLDs have been repurposed.
For instance, the “.me” TLD, is actually a country code for the nation of Montenegro. Because “me” is a typical word in English, lots of personal autobiographical blogs are registered at the “.me” TLD.
If you want a “.me” TLD, you'll have to buy it from the one company that the nation of Montenegro has authorized to sell them, the Montenegran company “doMEn” (that's the company's name, doMEn).
You may have noticed, those other companies like GoDaddy also sell “.me” domains. They are actually re-selling them from the official registrar. When you buy a .me TLD from GoDaddy, they purchase the space from “doMEn”.
Since there are thousands of different TLDs that can only be registered by certain companies, you will have to do your research. If you are trying to get a specific IDN, you'll have to find a company that deals in those.
Why this is the best place to buy a domain name: convenience and customer support.
These companies are considered hosting companies. They are perfectly appropriate for small businesses, small e-commerce platforms, blogs, and information or vanity websites. They are particularly known for their customer support systems.
You can get someone on the phone if your website crashes! If you screw it up, they might not be able to fix it, but they'll try.
They take slightly different approaches, but all of them offer about the same products more or less. It's slightly more expensive than a discount registrar, but you get what you pay for.
Another key feature of using these companies is that you get a professionally managed email server with your account.
Yet another key feature is that they will manage your SSL certificates for you. This costs a lot, but it's a very difficult skill to learn.
Cloud Computing Companies
Why this is the best place to buy a domain name: technically skilled, cost at scale, and control.
- Amazon Route 53
- Oracle Cloud
- Google Cloud
These are the “cloud” computing companies. They are the cheapest way to do anything on the internet. The race is on to industrialize and scale the cloud computing space. Amazon is eating the world.
You can register a domain on any of these services, or just point a DNS at one of their servers.
When you connect to these services, you deal with high-end APIs, DNS records, and other extremely technical mattes.
It's not for the faint of heart! You really do need a system administrator or your servers will be hacked. You have to manage and install your own SSL certificates and manage your own email servers.
The benefits are that you have absolute control over your instances. From the ground up you build your cloud presence and no one ever touches your servers except you. They are ultra cheap and even free for most small businesses.
It's true that deploying a cloud server is the cheapest way to get one. It's also true that all these companies allow you to move a domain to their nameservers for free. It's also true none of them offer support for setting up your site properly.
Due to the vast scale of these operations, you are expected to bring your own technical expertise to the venture. If you don't know how to set up an SSL certificate yourself, don't bother trying.
Why this is the best place to buy a domain name: accepts Bitcoin.
As bitcoin becomes the de facto currency on the internet, it was inevitable that even large domain registrars would start taking the currency. Namecheap is the largest company involved at this point.
You need to pay attention to the legal ramifications of registering domains with bitcoin, especially if you're doing in on a commercial scale. New York has recently passed laws concerning the use of bitcoin on the internet. It especially applies to commercial entities operating in this space.
Purchasing Pre-Existing Domains
Why this is the best place to buy a domain name: turnkey and marketplace.
These sites specialize in selling pre-existing domains. They have thousands of domains, some with backlinks and some with current traffic. You can bid in auctions or even sell your own domains here.
You can purchase a domain that is already in use, even a fully functioning e-business. They also sell domains with proven revenue streams for the digital nomad who wants to gamble with a few thousand dollars. It's the wild west, so buyer beware!
Best Domain Registrar
There is no best domain registrar! The worst one is the one that isn't appropriate for you. If you want to be on the internet, you have to BE somewhere. Think about your business needs, and then select the registrar that fits your needs the best.
Registering your domain is just the beginning. Learn more about SEO techniques, hosting, and everything else you need to know about starting a blog. Check out the blog for more hot tips.