So you want to slap a .com after your name?
Carve out a little corner of the Internet for yourself? The happy news is that you can register a domain at one of hundreds of different places. The bad news is that there's precious little guidance about how to pick one.
Some people swear by the low-price leader, GoDaddy
. Others gravitate toward the simple-sounding Register.com
. Yahoo Domains
attracts a lot of customers simply because it's Yahoo. And if you get your Internet advice from a book that's more than six or seven years old, I'll forgive you for thinking that the only place to register domains is Network Solutions
So where's a poor domain hunter supposed to turn? And what's a fair price for domain registration? Ten years ago, you could get one for nothing. It was only in 1995 that the then-monopoly Network Solutions started charging $100 a pop per year. In 1998, when Register.com and a new wave of domain registrars appeared, the annual rate dropped to a competitive $35. With the hundreds of registrars available now (find many of them through CNET's own domain name search tool
), price competition is fierce, with a median price of about $15 a year.
When Register.com and a new wave of domain registrars appeared, the annual rate dropped to a competitive $35.
Here's a hint: just like with jeans, brand-name registrars will cost you more. I do understand why cautious buyers gravitate toward established vendors--in this case, Network Solutions. After all, Network Solutions actually manages the registry of .com
domains on its back-end servers, and conventional wisdom dictates that if you cut out the middle man, you can do business more cheaply. But Network Solutions charges you the full $35 a year. Shop elsewhere, and you pay anywhere from $8 and up (and often a lot more) for exactly the same domain services.
Quality domains at discount prices
Is there any benefit to shopping with an established registrar? Does Network Solutions provide organic, nonallergenic, cold-filtered domains for its discerning customers? Is the gas mileage at a $35 Register.com domain any better than from a cheap $10 import? Does a $15 domain from Yahoo have more color-fast dyes and better stitching than an $8 domain from GoDaddy?
The answer is no. A domain's a domain's a domain. They're the same no matter where you get 'em. Different registrars may offer different bells and whistles, but the process of registering domains has very few variables.
I've registered dozens of domains, many of them from different registrars on the same day. The biggest difference among them? Price. You type in the name you want at any registration site, and if it's available, it's yours for a fee. In a few days, it will have propagated across the Internet, and if you've set up a Web site or an e-mail address at it, it's there for the world to see. A domain registered at Network Solutions is absolutely indistinguishable from the same domain registered elsewhere, and it doesn't appear online any faster than one registered at a two-bit reseller's outfit. The only advantage you get at Network Solutions is the chance to register a domain for a hundred years, which nobody else has thought to tout as a big benefit. Maybe Network Solutions will be laughing all the way to the bank in the year 2104, but until then, you're better off spending your dollars somewhere else.
So how does domain registration work? Theoretically, a domain is nothing more than an entry in a database containing the domain name, IP addresses for the domain and mail servers, and other details too geeky to go into. The database is called the domain registry,
and it's administered by Network Solutions. Any registrar recognized by Network Solutions can submit a record to the registry, and for a fee, Network Solutions will add it. The database then gets copied or propagated to domain servers across the world. It's that propagation that causes the delay in domains going live once you've registered them.
With the hundreds of registrars available now, price competition is fierce, with a median price of about $15 a year.
So whom does Network Solutions recognize as registrars? To break the government-granted monopoly Network Solutions once had on the registering .com
domains (at $100 a pop) at the dawn of the Internet, a regulatory body called ICANN
was created to license new registrars. As a result, Network Solutions is obliged to accept registrations from pretty much anyone who can format the entries correctly. This arrangement has led to a second tier of registrars who pay a fee to ICANN and conform to various standards of operation. In exchange, they get the right to work directly with Network Solutions and display the ICANN logo, a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that really doesn't mean much except to jittery domain buyers.
But many of the second-tier ICANN-accredited registrars don't want to deal with the public, so they resell their registration services to other companies that don't mind hustling for customers and offering them customer service. ICANN registrars such as GoDaddy and Tucows
provide off-the-shelf registration kits to affiliates who can brand-name their own registration services. The registrar handles the back-end work and money collection, and the reseller gets a cut of the take and the opportunity to deal with customer service. Even at two degrees of separation from the registry, there's no appreciable difference in the speed at which things get done.
Who's your registrar?
Don't let a registrar's status put you off. ICANN accredited? No big deal. Small-time reseller? Doesn't matter. As long as the place you register your domain puts down your name as the domain's owner and administrator, you can't go far wrong.
Worried that a domain registrar may go out of business and take all of your domains with it? Not likely. If an ICANN-accredited registrar goes belly-up, another ICANN-accredited registrar will swallow it up to gain market share. You'll still have your domain. The same goes for resellers.
The sheer number of registrars is overwhelming, but don't get sidetracked in your quest for a domain. A registrar's a registrar's a registrar. What really sets them apart is how much they charge for registration and what extras they are prepared to offer. You should look for the help they provide in Web site hosting, e-mail, and customer support. In future columns, I'll bring you a few examples of how people arrive at their domain registrar selection.
You can reach Matt Lake at hundreds of permutations at dozens of domains, but if you want to send him feedback on this column, send it here