Questions to ask when purchasing a domain name

Every few months, I get asked for guidance about what to consider when buying a domain name. Notes below for future reference!

Be careful when checking domain name availability

There are a lot of third-party websites that offer to search and check for domain name availability. Some of these are legitimate and helpful, but some actually use your search to snap up your domain before you do so that you have to buy it back at a premium. Unfortunately, even some domain registrars are known for doing this. Search “registrar buying searched domains” in your favourite search engine if you want to find out who to avoid.

Try to select some reputable domain name checkers first, then do your searching.

Consider the related elements of choosing a domain name

Choosing a domain name often goes hand-in-hand with choosing a name for a new organisation.

If you’re planning to use any other particular platforms such as social media, check for your org’s name there as well. It may also be worth checking for conflicting US trademarks if you’re planning to do business in the US.

You should also check for other organisations with similar names or domain names. It is worth being aware of which other sites yours might be mistaken for, particularly if that other site is a direct competitor or is engaging in something you don’t want to be associated with!

In general, the best domain names are short, memorable, and don’t take explanation. A lot of short, memorable domain names are taken of course, so take that with a grain of salt.

Is the TLD appropriate?

TLD stands for “Top-level Domain”. Common examples that have been around since the late 90s are .com and .org. There are a lot more nowadays!

Some of the new generic TLDs (gTLDs) such as .design come with a premium price tag of anything from $20 to $3,000. If you go for a premium TLD, be sure that the cost is going to be affordable for you year-on-year.

A lot of people also consider going for a country code TLD (ccTLD) such as .io or .tv. These sorts of TLDs may be worthwhile, but be aware that your domain may be subject to guidelines set by the country.

Does the domain registrar offer WHOIS privacy?

In order to register a domain name, you have to provide contact details including your email address, phone number, and postal address. This information gets listed in the WHOIS information for the domain and can be looked up by anyone.

If a registrar offers WHOIS privacy and it is enabled on your domain, this means that some or all of this information can be obscured or anonymised. This is a useful security precaution since it prevents the contact information from being used for spam, telemarketing, social engineering, and other shady / annoying behaviour.

Does the domain registrar offer two-factor authentication?

The domain name registration is arguably a website’s Achilles heel. This is because the settings related to a domain name (nameservers and DNS records) determine where everything goes from your website visitors to your incoming emails. If someone malicious gets access to your domain name registration account, the resulting headache will stop you in your tracks and make your life hell. See Chris Coyier’s blog post for a first-hand account of his experience trying to recover a stolen domain.

Because of this, it is in your interest to make it as hard as possible for other people to get in to your account by enabling two-factor authentication.

Where is the domain registrar based?

If you are subject to GDPR or any other data privacy regulations, it might be in your interest to find a domain registrar that is based in the same territory as you.

Is the domain registrar’s transfer documentation straightforward, both in and out?

The registrar should provide public documentation about how to transfer domains in and out of their platform. If this information isn’t transparent, steer clear of that registrar. On a related note, transfers out should not involve fees since this violates ICANN policy.

Are you getting a good price?

You have to pay for domain registration renewal every year, so it’s worth getting an OK deal. Choose a few reputable domain registrars and check the price for your domain on each of them. Note that you don’t just want to go for the lowest sticker price. If a domain name looks too cheap, check for much higher renewal costs and fees for editing your WHOIS listing.