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 is that with a few simple tips, you can know what to look out for before buying a domain.
As with any purchase 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 many 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. Make sure that you check what the renewal rates will be, and make sure that you are buying only what you need and want.
Making you pay to edit your WHOIS or RDAP listing
The details of any domain registration must be published to the public WHOIS and RDAP directories, 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 or RDAP records.
Add-ons and extras
Registrars will often try to "upsell" or "cross-sell" you things that you don't need. For example, they might suggest that you purchase additional domain endings that are extraneous rather than helpful (such as .info or .co). Or, they might offer to bundle your domain with a bunch of other services that you may never use.
Charging transfer fees
Transferring your domain to another registrar might be something that you decided 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, by making the transfer process cumbersome and difficult to navigate. It's a good idea to look into how easy the transfer process is before choosing a registrar.
Because domain details are public record in the WHOIS and RDAP directories, 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 privacy protection for free. Beware of registrars who charge a premium for "privacy services", especially any who offer to put their details on these registries instead of yours, which secretly gives them ownership of the domain.
Beyond failing to protect your personal data from public records, some registrars actually sell your data to third parties such as marketing organisations. Some registrars even mine the WHOIS database and send out false renewal invoices, getting people to unknowingly transfer their domains. Make sure that you find a registrar that promises never to sell or misuse your customer data for marketing purposes.
Look for registrars that offer transparency in their pricing and practices. For example, you should be able to easily find 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 the following year. They also might 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.
Some registrars don't have support staff, but instead have salespeople who are trained to get you to buy add-on services that you might 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 a cash register that 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 that your domain — and your business — are in good hands for years to come.
At Google, transparency, privacy and security are part of our mission. Customers who use Google Domains get a full suite of free services, including privacy 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 that you can trust? Start your domain search now at domains.google.