Domain registrars are individuals or companies that facilitate the purchase and registration of domain names. If you’re hoping to create your own website, you’ll need to deal with an official domain registrar to get a domain name that internet users can easily remember and type into their web browser.
Getting the right domain name is an essential part of creating a successful website. Domain names create brand recognition and authority, so it’s important to spend time on choosing a domain name that’s unique to your website, relevant to what you offer and easy to remember for your target audience. With this in mind, let’s look into the process of registering your chosen domain name by discussing domain registrars and domain registries.
What is a domain name?
Your domain name is your online presence – it’s the address that people use to find and access your website. The real address of your website is actually a string of numbers called an IP address, but since this isn’t very memorable, domain names are used to map onto IP addresses so that internet users can type in a short, memorable phrase (like google.com or fasthosts.co.uk) instead of memorising a bunch of numbers.
If you want to learn more about domain names, including how to register a domain name and manage your domain portfolio, read our helpful domain management guide. We also have informative articles on how to transfer domain names and how to sell domain names.
What is a domain name registrar?
A domain registrar is an individual or organisation that helps you register and manage your chosen domain name. People often say that you ‘purchase’ a domain from a domain registrar, but this technically isn’t correct. You can’t own a domain name – you can only lease it for a specified period of time, such as a few months or up to 10 years. However, you can choose to keep renewing your domain at the end of these periods to keep your domain name indefinitely.
Official domain registrars are accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is a non-profit organisation that coordinates the maintenance of certain functions that are key to the internet’s core infrastructure, such as the Domain Name System (DNS). On the ICANN website, you can find a list of thousands of accredited domain name registrars.
In addition to official domain registrars, you can also lease domain names from domain resellers. These resellers earn a finder’s fee for selling domains on behalf of a domain registrar.
In general, it’s best to purchase your domain from domain registrar because they offer more customer support. Plus, many registrars offer complementary services such as web hosting and domain transfers, which means you won’t have to worry about changing your DNS nameservers to point to a different hosting provider or paying additional fees to transfer your domain to them.
However, it can sometimes be difficult to find out whether you’re buying from a registrar or reseller because not all resellers state that they’re reselling domains. If you’re unsure, use ICANN’s list of accredited domain registrars (see above) to discover if you’re dealing with a registrar or a reseller.
What’s the difference between a domain registrar and a domain registry?
You may have heard of domain registries in addition to domain registrars. Despite the similarity between the names, registries and registrars aren’t the same thing.
Domain registration is a multi-level system. At the top we have ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), which is the non-profit organisation in charge of IP address space allocation, domain name system (DNS) management and root server system management.
ICANN is responsible for maintaining a list of and regulating the use of all active top-level domains (TLDs) like .com, .org and .net. ICANN also regulates country code TLDs (ccTLDs) for specific locations (such as .uk) and plays a key role in the creation of new TLDs like .biz and .xyz. Domain names are only valid once they’re entered into ICANN’s centralised domain registry.
At the next level we have domain registries. ICANN assigns domain registries the right to use and manage TLDs. Domain registries are databases of all registered domain names and their associated registrant information – this information is then stored in the WHOIS database.
Domain registries allocate the task of selling domain names to domain registrars. This makes registrars the middleman between the customer and the domain registry, which manages domains and domain registrant information. When someone leases a domain name from an official domain registrar, the registrar informs the associated domain registry about the transaction so that the domain information can be updated. For example, if someone leases a .com domain from a domain registrar, the registrar will have to inform VeriSign, which is the registry that manages .com domains. The registrar will also have to pay the registry a fee, which is then passed on to the customer in the form of domain registration costs.
How do I choose a trustworthy domain registrar?
If you look at ICANN’s list of accredited domain registrars, you’ll see that there are thousands of registrars to choose from. Plus, there are also countless resellers on the internet that don’t always disclose their reseller status.
So how do you know whether a domain registrar is trustworthy or fair? Here’s what you should look out for when choosing a domain name registrar:
1. Selection of TLDs
Not all domain registrars offer the full range of available TLDs. The most common and sought-after TLDs include .com and .org, but you may be looking for something more niche like .biz. The right TLD is essential for letting people know what your organisation or website really is, so make sure you choose a domain registrar with a wide range of TLDs to help you find the perfect domain name.
2. Domain registration costs
You’ll need to pay monthly or yearly registration fees to reserve your chosen domain name. Fees are typically higher for more sought-after TLDs like .com, but you should still only be paying around £10–£20 per year for one of these domains. Compare TLD prices between different registrars to find the best deals – some registrars will also have multi-year registration offers or seasonal offers you can take advantage of.
3. User privacy
Usually, your information will be registered in the WHOIS database when you reserve a domain, including your name, email address, phone number and physical address. However, if you have privacy and security concerns, some domain registrars will offer private registration.
In this scenario, the registrant will act as a proxy for the customer and will use their information in the WHOIS listing instead of the customer’s. If you don’t want your information to appear in the WHOIS listing for your domain name, make sure you choose a domain registrant that offers private registration.
4. Automated renewals
Most people and businesses want to reserve their domain names for a very long time, but unfortunately it’s impossible to actually buy a domain name. Plus, if you forget to renew your domain, it could end up back on the market, which means you could lose all of the brand authority you’ve carefully built over the years. Cybercriminals could be waiting to register your domain and steal your brand authority as soon as it approaches expiration – this is a form of domain squatting or cybersquatting. These criminals may then attempt to sell your domain name back to you at a grossly inflated price.
A good domain registrant will work hard to ensure you don’t lose your domain or become a victim of cybersquatting. In addition to sending you reminders as the renewal date approaches, a good registrant will offer the option to automatically renew your domain at the end of the term. If you’ve chosen to auto-renew, the registrant should also remind you of the renewal date in plenty of time so you can cancel if you wish.
5. Flexible registration period
Another sign of a trustworthy domain registrant is a flexible registration period. While some people may want a domain name indefinitely, others may only be looking for a period of a few months or a year. Always choose a domain registrant that’s flexible and offers the perfect deal for you, whether that’s a multi-year plan or a one-year registration.
6. Additional services
As mentioned earlier, it’s more convenient and cost-effective to find an all-in-one solution for your domain and web hosting needs. Many official domain registrants also offer web hosting services, website building tools and extras like domain transfers. This means you can get everything you need for your new website in one place and avoid paying additional fees to other companies. You should be able to make some savings by opting for a domain registration and web hosting bundle, but make sure there are no hidden add-ons or fees before you dive in.
7. Customer service
Finally, you should look for excellent customer service. Setting up your own website or online business can be stressful, so knowing that you have access to round-the-clock technical support can give you peace of mind.
Frequently asked questions about domain registrars and domain registration
What does a domain registrar do?
A domain registrar is an entity that’s authorised to lease domain names to customers for a certain period of time. When a domain name is reserved and the necessary fee is paid, the registrar must notify the appropriate domain registry to ensure that all DNS records are up to date.
Do you need a domain registrar?
All domain registrations must take place through an official domain registrar. This is because the registrar will pass on the fees and reservation details to the domain registry, helping ICANN keep track of all domains.
How do you become a domain registrar?
If an individual or organisation wants to become an official domain registrar, they must apply for ICANN accreditation. This will involve completing ICANN’s accreditation form, submitting the Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA) and submitting the Registrar Data Escrow (RDE) Agreement. The applicant will also have to pay an application fee of $3,500 and an annual accreditation fee of $4,000.
What’s the difference between a domain registrar and a web host?
Web hosting is where a hosting provider stores your website’s files and applications on one of their servers, making your website accessible to internet users. Web hosting is an essential part of creating your own website.
A hosting provider and a domain registrar aren’t the same thing, but companies commonly offer both services to their customers. If your hosting provider is also a domain registrar, you can go to them to reserve a domain name, host your website and manage your DNS records. Some hosting companies will even offer website building services too.
Does it matter who your domain registrar is?
No! Legally, you can choose any official domain registrar you want – just check ICANN’s list of accredited registrars to ensure your chosen domain registrar is legitimate. In terms of choosing the best domain registrar for your website, you should choose one that offers the TLD you want, the term length you want, and the right price.
How much does it cost to register a domain name?
Overall, you can usually expect to pay £10–£20 per year for a standard .com domain name. However, the cost of registering your domain name depends on several factors, including:
- The TLD – popular TLDs like .com can be more expensive, whereas new TLDs like .xyz are sometimes cheaper. More niche and industry-specific TLDs like .store and .shop can often be more expensive than standard .com domains.
- Your domain registrar – different companies will charge different fees.
- How short, easy to remember and keyword-rich your chosen domain name is – these domains are very valuable because of how they strengthen brand authority and SEO.
- Whether you’re registering or renewing your domain – many registrars offer low introductory fees for the first year or so, but then the renewal price often increases.
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