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Posted by
Jonah Aragon on
July 11, 2016
General

Registrars: Setting the Record Straight

Choosing the right registrar for your domain is an important decision to make if you are establishing yourself or your business on the internet, but with so many registrars available to choose from, it can be a complicated decision as well. In this blog post we'll look at factors to consider when buying a domain name.


Security

Registrar security features, both in their administrative panel and on the domain itself, are very important to prevent spoofing and piracy of your domain. One increasingly important feature to look for is Two Factor Authentication (2FA) on the admin control panel. 2FA works by adding a second authentication method to logging in, commonly via SMS or an app such as Google Authenticator. For example, after logging into your registrar's admin interface, you would receive an SMS message with a security code. This way, should anyone compromise your email or get a hold of your password they would still not be able to access your domain settings. With an increasing number of websites being compromised, this is a simple feature to help protect your online brand.

Another thing to keep an eye out for is registrars that also sell or bundle TLS Certificates with their domains. TLS or Transport Layer Security, also commonly referred to by its predecessor's name, ‘SSL,’ are extremely important for your website as they encrypt data between your server and a client when they communicate. Having TLS/SSL enabled commonly shows up as “HTTPS” in your client’s browser. Any website with HTTPS, usually accompanied with a green lock, is using TLS to communicate with the webserver. These certificates prevent your user’s data from being stolen by anybody on the same network as your users through man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. Additionally, having your website on HTTPS provides SEO boosts on many major search engines, including Google. Setting up certificates requires extra configuration on your webserver, but it is almost always worth the hassle in terms of security, search rankings, and trust your users will have when visiting a website using SSL.

Last but not least, it is important to remember your domain security is only as important as your registrar itself. Anybody able to access your credentials to login has complete control over your domain. This is why companies such as MarkMonitor exist, to provide extra protection over changing various aspects of your domain. This usually can be a hassle when changing details such as nameservers and other records, but it is almost always justified by the protection these companies can provide for larger businesses.

Privacy

When you register a domain, you are required to post your name, email, phone number, and address to be viewed publicly through any Whois search you can do online. Fortunately, most registrars provide a service called WhoisGuard, which puts their own information instead of yours in the Whois registry for a small fee. Some registrars will include this free with the cost of their domain, and others generally charge between $2 and $15 for it. This service may also be known as Private Registration from some registrars, but all these services function the same way. Here’s a non exhaustive list of yearly pricing details for WhoisGuard services from a few popular registrars, excluding any promotional deals they may offer:

One downside to WhoisGuard is that it makes it difficult to prove you are the owner of your domain, which could mean hassles for large companies. Additionally, some email spam filters check for WhoisGuard if your domain is sending mass newsletters, and it may lower your credibility. In general, businesses operating from an office should register their domains under their own business information, but WhoisGuard is usually a good choice to make when registering under your own personal or home address and email to prevent your personal information from being seen by anybody who wishes to find it, including spam companies.

WhoisGuard is by law not compatible in part or entirely with some TLDs, including .us, .eu, .ca, and .uk, among others. This is important to consider when choosing a TLD if you require privacy with your registration.

Credibility

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, approves all domain registrars before giving them the ability to register domains for others. To get this accreditation, companies have to submit to lengthy approval processes, pay fees, and sign an agreement to ensure your domain will be officially accessible by everybody worldwide. This certification process provides both increased protections for you, the registrant, and increased accountability for the registrar. Making sure your registrar has gone through this process ensures they are trustworthy and reliable, and they have the ability to act as a registrar for the domain you are purchasing. Most registrars will state this accreditation on their homepage, but a full list can be found on ICANN’s website.

Technical Support

Finding a company with adequate customer support is very important in the event any issues arise with your domain. Many registrars will provide live chat and email support, but some will go the extra mile with phone representatives and support via social networks such as Twitter to provide quick and accessible support to solve any problems you may be facing. If you’re looking for a registrar for a business, registrars such as MarkMonitor provide advanced protection for corporations from fraud and theft of their domain and brand. Extra fees for registering a domain from such companies may be justified for better security and customer service compared to more consumer-centric companies, and support may be one of the most important factors when making your decision.

Bundled Offers

Some registrars offer a variety of additional packages you can purchase with your domain, such as email and web hosting. These services are generally cheap and easy to use among most registrars offering built in control panels and one click installations for popular content management systems. Bundled offers however generally get more expensive as your needs grow, for instance requiring more storage for files and emails, and much like promotional pricing on domain names, they can get expensive as you need them longer. Additionally, many consumer oriented services from registrars like GoDaddy are less reliable under heavier load and aren’t as well suited for high traffic websites.

For all but the least heavy users, these hosting services are better provided with third party companies, such as HostGator, Google Apps, DigitalOcean, or Amazon AWS.

Pricing

Last but not least, domain pricing may play a factor in choosing your registrar. At first glance, domain pricing can seem fairly straightforward. With offers as low as $0.99 per year for domains from some registrars, it appears that some companies far outshine others. But as always, it is very important to read the fine print, many of these $1 offers come with expensive renewal rates if you’d like to keep your domain.

This graph details the pricing for a typical .com domain under some of the most popular registrars, including 1st year promotional pricing. It’s by no means a substantive list, but it indicates that while short term domain purchases you’ll only need for a year or two can be found much cheaper at registrars such as GoDaddy and 1&1, domains you’ll need for longer than that -- for instance for business homepages or personal portfolios -- can become much more expensive over time. Registrars offering competitive static rates such as Namecheap and Google Domains become less expensive overall the longer you hold your domain.

Another thing to consider is the price of various services you may be interested in purchasing, such as Whois Guard and bundled email and web hosting. Some registrars will throw in these services for free, which can make the domain cost more expensive than the competition, but cheaper overall.

Summary

There are a lot of important aspects to consider when choosing the registrar you will be entrusting with your domain for potentially years to come. Whether you’re starting a small blog or you work for a large corporation, keeping this information in mind will help you determine who can provide the best service for your specific needs. Many registrars will be able to provide many features for smaller sites and personal homepages and blogs, and large businesses will be able to afford higher fees associated with registrars providing additional security features to prevent larger attacks on your site and brand.

We hope you enjoyed this blog post. In a future entry we'll be comparing the cost, feature set, and performance of several registrars.

This was a guest blog post by Jonah Aragon.

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