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How to choose a domain name provider

What you need to make your website easy to find and professional-looking

So what’s a domain name?

A domain name is a web address like www.pixelshrink.com. You have to buy it from a domain name provider, but it’s actually more like renting. You pay per year, and if you stop paying for it, you won’t be able to use it for your website any more, and someone else will eventually be able to buy it.

Can I shop around or do I have to use my web hosting company for domain names too?

You don’t have to use the same company to buy your domain name as your web hosting. It can make life easier to have everything with the same company but it’s by no means compulsory. Not all domain name providers are equal!

How do I know if a company is reputable?

Do a bit of research, the same way you might do to research any company. For example, if I’d have looked up a domain name provider I used on Companies House before using them, realising they were about to cease trading, I would have saved myself a lot of trouble! Nominet, the people who run the UK domain names, have a list of registrars, but being on the list doesn’t guarantee quality.

Ask people for recommendations, and have a think about what you need.

What features come with a domain name?

Of course, you’re going to be able to use your new web address on your website. But what else should you be thinking about?

These features should come as standard:

  • Website forwarding – so you can send your visitors to another web address
  • Email forwarding – so you can forward emails to your domain name to another address, e.g. you can send all mail for [email protected] to [email protected]
  • Access to change your DNS settings and nameservers – These are the settings that point your visitors and emails to the right location
  • Subdomains – so you can set up a web address like billing.mydomain.com or test.mydomain.com

And here’s some extras you might want to keep an eye out for:

Free transfers out

You need a transfer out when you want to keep your domain name, but use a different provider. It’s always good to have the freedom to jump ship if you find a better deal. It’s very rare that a company will charge for this, and it should be under £20, but it’s worth asking, just in case. (This is on top of fees you pay to transfer in certain domain names to another provider. Often you’ll get an extra year added to your registration).
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Free domain privacy

You may be surprised to know that the name and contact information of the person who registers a domain name can be available on the internet. Publicly-available databases called ‘whois’ mean you can look up any domain name. Domain privacy is a feature that hides your details by showing that of a proxy. These days, domain privacy is becoming obsolete as details are often hidden anyway. But if you decide you need this, be aware that a lot of providers give it you for free (for life, not just for the first year).

Full email addresses with mailboxes

As mentioned previously, you should get email forwarding. But if you want a proper email account that’s linked to one of your domain name’s email addresses (like [email protected]), a few providers will give you that for free. This will make you look more professional, as you’ll easily be able to send messages from your domain name’s email address. (If you send an email to an organisation and the reply comes back from a Gmail address, it doesn’t look quite as slick!) You’re looking for phrases like ‘Free mailboxes’ or ‘Free professional email address’ with so many gb (gigabytes) of storage. Email storage can soon run out, so try and get as many gb of storage as you can. Some providers give you more than one mailbox too.

Any other handy extras available?

You’ll also see offers to get a free security certificate for your website. Again, this might be just for the first year, so be careful what you’re signing up for in subsequent years. You can even get basic web hosting for free with some providers when you buy a domain name with them, which can suit small websites.

Sounds like there’s more to gain with a domain than I thought!

Yes indeed. That’s a quick rundown of what you need to look for. Next time, we’ll be giving you a list of our favourites. In the meantime, see how we can help with your domain name needs.

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