Every great website needs a snappy, memorable domain name. Coming up with something new is a serious challenge, but once inspiration strikes, you'll need to register that name with a domain name registrar before you can use it online.
Registration isn't difficult, but first you must choose from the hundreds of companies competing for your business, and there are several issues to consider.
Pricing structures can be complicated. A low headline figure could become expensive on renewal, for instance. Prices vary between domain extensions, too, so a registrar that offers great value for a .com domain might give you a poor deal on when it comes to .org.
There may be extra costs for tasks like transferring your domain to another registrar, too. Read the small print before you sign up.
Look for any bundled or optional extras. A Whois privacy service prevents your address, phone number and email address appearing as public contact details for the domain, something which could otherwise get you a significant amount of spam email and phone calls. We've seen this cost as much as £7.99 ($11.20) a year, but several registrars provide it for free.
Many domain registrars offer hosting as an extra, but keep in mind that web hosting companies can also register domains. If you have an idea of which web host you'd like to use, check the details of its plans: you may be able to register a domain for free when you buy hosting, and that's often the cheapest option.
Finally, take a look at the support a registrar offers. You may never need any help at all, but if anything critical crops up – maybe an issue which might cause a problem with renewal – it's important that your provider is on hand to ably assist.
Balancing all these priorities can be tricky, so that's why we've created this list of top domain registrars to help point you in the right direction.
- We’ve also rounded up the best overall web hosting services
Web giant GoDaddy is the world's biggest domain registrar, currently managing more than 75 million domains for 17 million customers around the globe.
The company is well-known for its low headline prices, and it's the same story here, with .uk and .co.uk domains available for $0.99 in year one, although .com starts at $11.99 (£9). On the other hand .org and .mobi are a less impressive (though still apparently cheap) $7.99 (£6) for .org and $6.99 (£5.3) for .mobi. Beware, though: these aren't the bargains they initially seem.
The first catch is that GoDaddy's starting prices only apply if you pay for two years upfront, and the second year is significantly more expensive (.com rises to 15$ and .co.uk domain rises to $11, .org and .mobi are a ridiculously high, $20 for .org and $18 for .mobi).
The second problem is that there are no bundled extras, so adding something like Whois privacy – a valuable service often included for free with other providers – costs $8 (£6) a month for year one, and $10 (£7.6) on renewal.
There's clearly much better value to be had elsewhere, but GoDaddy may still appeal to web beginners looking for a bundled hosting and domain registration deal. The company has an array of products covering every possible requirement, with telephone support if you need it, and buying your domain and hosting from the same provider will make life a little easier.
Just keep in mind that other providers can also combine hosting and domain registration, and GoDaddy may not provide the best package for you. Check out our various hosting guides for possible alternatives.
Hover is a popular domain name registrar owned by Tucows, which also operates eNom and the domain reselling platform OpenSRS.
Hover's website is clear and straightforward. A domain pricing page allows for checking registration costs before you start, or you can use the search box to immediately locate your preferred TLD (top-level domain).
By default the results page displays every domain you can register and their prices, giving you a lot to scroll through and read. But a handy sidebar allows filtering domains by categories including Personal, Businesses, Audio and Video, Food and Drink, and more. It's a neat touch which could help you spot an appealing domain that you otherwise might have missed.
Prices are very reasonable, with .com domains costing $12.99 (£9.30) for year one, .co.uk priced at $9.99 (£7.15), .org costing $13.99 (£9.99) and .mobi reaching $15.99 (£11.40). Shop around and you'll find slightly lower prices elsewhere, but Hover generally provides good value.
There's a welcome bonus in Whois Privacy, which comes free for as long as the domain is managed by Hover.
The company keeps upselling to a minimum, even in the final shopping cart stage. You're simply offered three email-related extras: email forwarding at $5 (£3.60) a year, a 10GB email account for $20 (£14.30), or you can opt for a 1TB inbox, file sharing, a calendar and more, for an annual $29 (£21).
If you have any questions, support is available via email and chat, although it's not 24/7. Working hours are 8am to 11pm (Eastern Time) Monday to Friday, and 8am to 8pm at the weekend.
Most domain name registrars offer a simple identikit service with little to separate them from the competition, but Dynadot is an interesting exception which has some unusual advantages.
This starts right at the beginning, with your initial search. You can use the website much like any other – type your preferred domain, press Enter, read the results – but you also get Bulk and IDN (Internationalized Domain Name) search tools, and advanced options allow defining which domain extensions to include in your searches, as well as setting those as defaults for all future searches.
These searches can optionally return results from domain auctions, Dynadot's Marketplace (where other customers sell domains they no longer need) and other sources. There's also a Backorder option to try and grab a domain that isn't currently available, if it's not renewed.
Prices are on the low side, with Dynadot offering both special deals on some extensions and good value at renewal: .com sites are $6.99 (£5.3) for the first year, for instance, and $8.99 (£6.8) on renewal. If you’re after a .co.uk domain, that’ll set you back $6.95 (£5.2), with .org costing $10.99 (£8.35), and .mobi domains are $4.25 (£3.2) initially, $13.99 (£10.6) on renewal.
That's just the start: Dynadot also piles on the free extras. A Website Builder allows you to build and host a simple one-page responsive website. There's free domain forwarding if you'd like to redirect visitors somewhere else. DNS support allows creating 50 subdomain records, 10 email addresses, and 5 each of MX and TXT records. There's even a Grace Deletion list which allows returning a domain if you change your mind.
This requires a small fee and won't always be allowed (the details on how it works are here), but it's still a welcome extra you'll rarely find with other registrars.
Dynadot's support wasn't always as impressive, with live chat being offline when we checked. But the website does have a publicly available forum, allowing anyone to browse common questions and see how happy (or otherwise) Dynadot's customers might be.
Shopping around for a domain registrar can involve a lot of hassle as you research companies you've never heard of, try to separate genuine bargains from marketing tricks, and browse the small print looking for hidden catches. With potential savings only amounting to a few pounds or dollars a year, at best, you might prefer to simply sign up with a big-name provider that you know will give you a reasonable service, even if it does cost a fraction more.
Enter Google Domains, Google's lightweight domain registration arm, a straightforward provider that puts speed and simplicity at the top of its priority list.
Google Domains doesn't confuse you with endless sales, or 'special' deals that turn out to be not so special after all. Upselling is kept to a minimum. Instead, it's all about making the purchase process as easy as any other online shopping site: search, click, and check out.
The difference is obvious from the moment you reach the site. There are no animated ads at the top of the page, no 'Sale!' banners, no low headline prices: just a search box where you enter a single domain.
The results page is equally straightforward, with prices listed for nine common top-level domains, and an All Endings tab listing every option in alphabetical order (domain.academy, domain.bargains, domain.camera).
One potential problem is that Google Domains doesn't support all the domain extensions you'll get elsewhere, and this includes some quite common examples (.mobi, .tv). If you think you might ever want to buy something beyond the most popular extensions, it’s a good idea to check that your likely choices are available before you buy.
Prices are standardized to whole numbers, so for example .com, .co.uk and .org domains are all priced at $12 (£9). That's a little above average overall, but better than some, especially as Google Domains throws in free Whois privacy for as long as you're registered. That's a valuable extra which could cost $2.80 (£2) to $11.20 (£8) a year elsewhere.
If you do have any questions, a Help link displays articles on common problems. If that's not enough, the Contact Us page enables talking to a support agent by email, live chat or telephone (Google calls you), the highest level of domain registrar support we've seen anywhere.
Founded in 2000, Namecheap is a popular domain name registrar and web host which now manages more than five million domains.
Namecheap's excellent website allows searching for individual domains, or in batches of up to 50.
If the domain is taken, you can view the Whois record or offer to buy the domain (via DomainAgents) from the current user.
If the domain is available, results are displayed across four tabs: Popular, New, Discounted and International. This is a neat approach which makes it easier to browse the list and find what you need.
Prices are generally very good at $10.99 (£8.35) for .com domains, $7.58 (£5.75) for .co.uk, $12.98 (£9.8) for .org and a discounted $2.90 (£2.2) for .mobi, $9.88 (£7.5) on renewal. There are some special deals available, and Namecheap has an Agent 88 set of domains which are almost always available at $0.48 (£0.35) for the first year (these usually include the following: .site .website .space .pw .press .host .tech .online and .fun – but there may be others as well).
That would be good value all on its own, but Namecheap doesn’t stop there: you get WhoisGuard domain privacy thrown in for free.
Namecheap's billing is straightforward and honest, with current and renewal prices clearly described in your Namecheap shopping cart, and Auto-Renew turned off. But if there's something you don't understand, helpful FAQ pages and live chat are just a click or two away.