Back in 1995, Network Solutions monopolized the domain registration process and charged $100 a year for its services. Today, hundreds of domain registrars exist, some charging annual fees as low as $4. But along with the burgeoning free market comes a dizzying array of choices that can be as confusing as it is satisfying.
The best way to determine which company suits your needs is to use a tool such as RegSelect, which compares the price, perks, and other options of various registrars.
A word of warning: Whoever possesses the registrar username and password is effectively in control of the domain, according to Scott Hendison, an Internet consultant based in Portland, Oregon.
"The registrant is the legal owner, but many companies find out too late that they're not the registrants of their own domain names. Often, it is an ex-employee, or the Web hosting or design company hired to create the website. This leaves the site owner out in the cold if they ever want to make hosting or design changes," Hendison says.
Aside from that caveat, the process of registering a domain name is the same no matter which registrar you choose. The only difference is in price and perks.
All registrars require the following information:
Don't use false names or addresses in the fields. Not only is this against most registrar rules, but you'll also risk not receiving important notices, such as domain expiration alerts or legal notices. If you're worried about privacy, consider paying a little more for a "private registration," which conceals your identity and will reduce the amount of junk e-mail from advertisers.
Tip: Choose a complex password. If someone hacks into your domain, they could change the ownership or servers associated with your account. For added protection, find a registrar that allows you to "lock" your accounts, which means that changes must be made manually by logging into the administrator's account -- and not through an e-mail hack.
Although some registrars only offer domain name sales, these additional features -- which may cost more -- are strongly worth considering when choosing a service:
Tip: Avoid registering your domain name with your Web hosting service. Although your Web host may offer free or very cheap domain registration, doing so may complicate a domain transfer should you decide to change hosting companies. Some hosting companies are reluctant to hand over a site to another company, because doing so means losing a customer, and therefore, revenue. Unscrupulous hosts may delay the transfer, or refuse to provide sufficient information to the new host.
All registrars are in fact not equal, so check their full offerings and the cost of each before you buy. Two leading registrars are below.
* GoDaddy.com: For $8.95 a year, GoDaddy offers a host of free services, including free e-mail, a starter homepage, Web and e-mail forwarding, domain-locking and other perks. On the downside, GoDaddy charges $4.99 a year for private registration, a considerable sum considering the low registration price.
* Register.com: One of the original domain name registrars, Register.com charges $35 a year and $20 for a basic e-mail account, customer service is available 24/7 by phone, e-mail or chat, which is a huge boon should problems arise. Additionally, Register.com charges $9 for private registration. What you're paying for with this company is its long-standing reputation; this is not a fly-by-night business.