Be aware: 5 things to watch out for when buying a domain

Purchasing a domain name is an exciting step for a new business, but there’s more to it than just finding the perfect name. Before you begin, there are a few things you should know.

Not all companies who sell domain names (known as domain registrars) are the same. Some use tactics such as hiding fees or selling your information to make more money, which can have a lasting impact on your business. The good news: With a few simple tips, you can know what to look out for before buying a domain.

1. Watch out for hidden fees

As with any buying decision, price can be a big factor. It’s easy to be lured into buying a domain at a very low price. But don’t be fooled: some domain registrars offer promotional pricing at an extremely low cost, but then hide lots of fees in the contract, lock you in, and charge high renewal rates. Generally, be aware that registrars offering rock-bottom domain prices may have other, less-than-ethical ways to make money. These tactics include:

Adding in hidden costs: Many registrars rely on the fact that most people don’t read the fine print. Before you make a domain purchase, review the registrar’s “Terms of Service” for any questionable terms, obligations, or fees. Be sure to check what the renewal rates will be, and make sure you are buying only what you need and want.

Making you pay to edit your WHOIS listing: The details of any domain registration must be published to the public WHOIS directory, and registrars should allow you to change these details as needed, without additional costs. Watch out for registrars who charge an “administration fee” when you need to edit your WHOIS records.

Pushing you to buy add-ons and extras: Registrars will often try to “upsell” or “cross-sell” you things you don’t need. For example, they may suggest you purchase additional domain endings that are extraneous rather than helpful (such as .info or .co). Or, they may offer to bundle your domain with a bunch of other services you may never use.

Charging transfer fees: Transferring your domain to another registrar may be something your business chooses to do down the line. Make sure that the “Terms of Service” doesn’t have“transfer-out” fees for moving your domain to another registrar. These fees can be exorbitant and they violate ICANN policy (ICANN is the non-profit corporation that oversees the use of Internet domains). Beyond the cost, some registrars make it nearly impossible to perform a transfer, with features that are poorly built and difficult to use. It’s a good idea to look into how easy the transfer process is before choosing a registrar.

2. Protect your privacy

Because domain details are public record in the WHOIS directory, many businesses choose to keep their personal information private. Unprotected data is susceptible to being mined by spammers and scammers. Look for domain registrars who offer WHOIS privacy for free. Beware of registrars who charge a premium for “privacy services,” especially any who offer to put their details on the WHOIS registry instead of yours, which secretly gives them ownership of the domain.

3. Protect your data

Beyond failing to protect your personal data from the public records, some registrars actually sell your data to third parties such as marketing organizations. Some registrars even mine the WHOIS database and send out false renewal invoices, getting people to unknowingly transfer their domains. Make sure to find a registrar that promises never to sell or misuse customer data for marketing purposes.

4. Focus on transparency

Look for registrars that offer transparency in their pricing and practices. For example, you should be able to see your renewal rates, and the processes for transferring or cancelling your domain registration. Some registrars offer cheap registration for your initial purchase, but then charge you sky-high prices to renew your domain. They also may make it very difficult to cancel your order. Look for a registrar with up-front pricing information and terms of service to avoid surprises later on.

5. Differentiate support from sales

Some registrars don’t have support staff, but instead have salespeople who are trained to get you to buy add-on services you may not need, while pretending to offer customer support. Read reviews about your registrar’s support team, or try calling their support line before purchasing. You want a registrar that offers courteous and professional service and assistance, not one that views you as simply a cash register they keep trying to ring.

Buying a domain name should be fun and exciting

As a rite of passage for any new business or online venture, buying a domain name should be fun and exciting. With careful research before you choose a domain registrar, you can side-step some unfortunate traps and make sure your domain — and your business — are in good hands for years to come.

Buying a domain

At Google, transparency, privacy, and security are part of our mission. Customers who use Google Domains get a full suite of free services, including data protection, and no hidden fees, ever. If you’re looking to compare your options, we invite you to take a look at the Google Domains Terms of Service.

Ready to get started with a registrar you can trust? Start your domain search now with Google Domains.