We’ll cover cost, hidden fees, the best domain registrars, and more
Your domain name functions as your website’s “address” in Internet-land, so having one that’s simple and relevant will make it much easier for people to find you. If you’ve ever misspelled a long location name on Google Maps and ended up in the middle of nowhere, then you can probably appreciate the beauty of straightforward place names.
It’s easy to see why people are willing to break the bank to secure a snappy domain name – it increases site traffic pretty much by design. Some of the most popular domains, like hotels.com or business.com, have literally sold for millions of dollars. But resist the urge to stock up on lottery tickets – million-dollar domain names are not the norm. In fact, for most of our plebeian purposes, registration cost won’t come to more than $20 annually, max.
To buy a domain name, you’ll have to purchase through a domain name registrar. Registrars are simply companies that manage the reservation of domain names. Upfront and add-on prices vary between registrars, but we’ll break down the costs to look out for, and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of potential registrars.
The two most common types of domains are top-level domains (TLDs) and country code top-level domains (ccTLDs). TLDs are well-known domain name extensions, like .com, .net, and .edu. ccTLDs are country-specific domain name extensions, such as .uk or .fr.
TLDs are trustworthy because they’re all so well-known – when people can’t remember a URL, they’re almost four times more likely to assume it ends in .com than anything else.
Meanwhile, ccTLDs are trustworthy because they imply that a site has national legitimacy. Some ccTLDs, like .me (Montenegro) and .tv (Tuvalu) are bought and used for purposes totally unrelated to the corresponding country. In fact, the popular .co extension typically associated with business is actually a ccTLD for Colombia!
So how much does a domain name cost per year, broken down? TLDs and ccTLDs are similarly priced, but those prices will vary depending on the registrar you use. We’ve gathered the introductory prices of popular TLDs and ccTLDs below, and organized them by registrar:
While these prices provide a baseline for comparing the cost of a domain name per year, it’s important to remember that they’re all introductory prices. Regardless of provider, every price listed will increase after the first year. For example, the price of a .com domain with HostGator jumps from $12.95 to $17.99 after the first year, while GoDaddy’s .me price shoots up from $3.49 to $19.99 after the first year.
You may have noticed the shockingly low 99-cent price of GoDaddy’s .com domain. You’ll save a ton of money in the first year with this deal, but keep in mind that the 2nd year will be billed at $18.17.
Renewal prices, while standard, are built to sneak up on you. For example, many registrars require that the first and second years of a plan be paid at once. In order to purchase a .me domain with GoDaddy, you need to pay the first year ($3.49) and the second year ($19.99) in advance. As you weigh your options, keep a sharp eye out to make sure you’re getting the best deal for your time and money.
Aside from the general jump up from introductory to renewal prices, there are a few other costs to look out for when choosing a domain name registrar. The most common additional costs are for auto-renewal (when your registrar renews your domain name annually without you having to authorize it) and privacy protection.
Auto-renew can be a convenient option if you know you’re planning to commit to a domain for a long time. But a lot of registrars include auto-renew in first time sign-up packages, which may not be what you’re looking for.
For example, Domain.com and GoDaddy both auto-renew most domains by default, and many users don’t realize this when they sign up. GoDaddy has a 45-day refund policy for its auto-renewals, but despite this buffer zone, we’ve still seen many customers complain that auto-renew cancellations are difficult to enact.
On the other hand, NameCheap’s auto-renewal function is not implemented by default – you have to actively decide that you’d like to use it – but once you do sign up, there are no refunds for auto-renews. That should be no problem if you’re ready to commit to multiple years, but again, the choice is yours.
In this article, we cover domain name costs.
But that’s not the only financial decision that goes into running a website:
Privacy and Protection Costs
Whenever someone registers a domain, the registrar is required to provide that user’s contact information (name, email address, and phone number) to be added to the Whois database, which publicly lists the owners of every domain name online.
While it’s required that you provide your information, it’s not required that it be easily accessible to everyone. When you purchase a domain, each registrar provides varying degrees of privacy to ensure that your personal information isn’t visible on the Whois database – which ultimately protects you from things like spam phone calls.
Some registrars offer full privacy on the Whois database free for the first year. Others offer tiered solutions, with the bottom tier free for the first year, which will still mask most personal details in the Whois directory. It’s rare to find a reputable registrar offering free Whois protection after the first year.
The good news is that most domain registrars don’t charge an extra fee to transfer domains, which means that if you want to switch your domain name to a different registrar, you can do so free of charge.
A domain transfer just refers to the process of changing the registrar of a domain name. Your old registrar and your new registrar must go through the Whois database to make the switch. This process occurs separately from your website builder and your hosting provider. It can appear that these services are intertwined, but that’s only because some domain registrars also provide hosting services and/or website builders under the same brand name!
There are plenty of domain name registrars out there, but only a few are worth your consideration:
- Domain.com – offers a huge range of TLDs and ccTLDs
- HostGator – is both a domain registrar and a hosting company, and allows you to purchase these services together as a bundle
- GoDaddy – one of the best-known domain registrars around, plus it’s also a hosting provider (again, killing two birds with one stone!)
You can also buy a domain name through a website builder. Website builders are platforms that help beginners set up professional websites, without having to know any code. When you sign up with a website builder, the domain registration process is integrated as part of that sign up – making it a perfect option for beginners!
This is a valid concern, given that over 1.7 billion websites (and counting!) are live on the Internet right now. Chances are a lot of great domain names are taken, and when this happens, the cheapest option by far is to brainstorm a different name. But if you’re dead set on a domain that’s taken, and don’t want to compromise, you still have some options.
You can use resources like snapnames.com to see domains that have recently become available (which happens every day, so you could get lucky!). Otherwise, you’ll have to pay much more for an “aftermarket domain,” usually by dealing with online auctions in which you’d bid on an already-registered domain to be transferred to you.
Aftermarket domain prices are so expensive (remember the millions of dollars we talked about earlier?) because the value that a short, relevant domain name can bring to a brand is, well, invaluable (we couldn’t resist, sorry). For example, if you were looking for car insurance and weren’t sure where to start, you might head to CarInsurance.com – a domain which sold for $49.7 million in 2010.
Of course, not all aftermarket domains will go for millions, but as a rule, any useful one will still be pretty expensive. Since most of us won’t be dropping our life’s savings on a domain name, we’re going to have to come up with our own. So you might be wondering…
How Should I Choose My Domain Name?
At first, you might think it’s annoying that the most relevant domain names for your site are probably taken. But now that the obvious names are out of the equation, we’re forced to think outside the box – which can lead to some memorably creative results.
The most important point to keep in mind while you brainstorm is the radio test: in other words, could potential site visitors spell your domain name just by hearing it? By asking yourself this question, you’ll avoid common pitfalls like including numbers (do you mean “3” or “three?”) and words with multiple spellings (“to” or “too?”).
The simple answer to “how much is a domain name” is: it depends on your needs. Registering a new domain should never break the bank, though prices will increase after the first year. But if you need an aftermarket domain, be prepared to pay a lot more. In any case, privacy protection, domain transferring, and auto-renewal shouldn’t add much, if anything, to the cost of your domain name.
Choosing a registrar also depends on what you’re looking for – whether that’s simply a registrar, a hosting provider included, or a registration with a website builder, there are options for every commitment level.
The main reason for buying more than one domain name is brand protection. When people are trying to remember your domain name, they may end up just typing in a word they associate with your business. The more of those associated domains that redirect to your actual site, the better. Purchasing multiple domains could benefit you if you’re setting up a site for a mid-to-large-sized company with enough of a budget.
.com is the most trusted TLD, but there are also benefits to others. If you’re setting up a personal portfolio, you might prefer the .me extension. Or you might simply want to choose a TLD based on what’s cheapest!
The keywords in domain names are used as a ranking factor by search engines, but not to a degree worth stressing over – Google’s algorithm is actually made to resist keyword-stuffed domains.