In an information economy, it is paramount to ensure that the company with which you trust to register your online identity is technologically competent and operates in an ethical and trustworthy manner. Although all domain registrars operate under the authorization of ICANN, not all registrar—including certain market leaders—operate with integrity and customer service in mind.
Domain name holders should take great care in selecting a trustworthy registrar. A proper domain registrar requires more than a flashy advertising campaign and the deep pockets requisite to airing a commercial during the Super Bowl. Here's what to look for during your search, along with some additional tips and recommendations.
Four things you should do
1: Ensure your registrar is actually a registrar
Many companies offering domain registration services aren't ICANN accredited registrars; these companies are licensees reselling services from properly accredited registrars. Reseller organizations are unlikely to provide adequate customer support, and frequently use domain registration as a hook to upsell potential consumers on added services.
You can ensure that your prospective registrar isn't a reseller by checking the ICANN list of accredited domain registrars.
2: Avoid faux-renewal forms sent via standard mail
Ink and paper should not be involved when you renew a domain name. Some unscrupulous registrars send out "renewal" forms to the contact listed in public WHOIS records. These organizations are typically not the originating registrar—they are attempting to initiate a transfer to register your domain at vastly inflated rates (around $100 per year). Some of these registrars have been reportedly convicted of mail fraud, though others have continued using this strategy of "domain slamming" unabated.
3: Evade compulsory "value-added" services
In an effort to combat fraud such as domain slamming or registration hijacking, some registrars have taken it upon themselves to unilaterally enroll customers in "value-added security services" to prevent the customer's domains from being transferred from the registrar, at a cost of over $1,000 per domain per year.
Following a recent news story about such practices, the registrar in question dialed back its efforts, claiming that the service would be offered to "about one percent" of account holders. In other cases, certain registrars attempted to sign up users for "value-added" services by silently adding the items to the cart before checkout, in the hope that users would not notice before completing payment.
4: Research its corporate responsibility record
The looming threat of bills being passed into U.S. law by legislators that quite likely do not understand the Internet is one that many take seriously. Many registrars (primarily those in the U.S.) have been responsible stewards of the Internet in opposing such heavy-handed legislation, and have a long track record of doing so.
It may also be of interest to ensure that the founder of your domain registrar is not using the profits gained from that company to shoot endangered species.
Additional domain registration tips
Take advantage of bulk registration discounts
For individuals or large organizations that hold hundreds of domain names, the potential savings from a bulk registration discount can be a great savings in aggregate. If you are tasked with the responsibility of managing a large portfolio of domain names, check to see if your registrar offers bulk registration discounts.
Note: This information may not be easily accessible to people who do not qualify for bulk discounts; therefore, some Google searching to see if a bulk registration discount exists may be required.
Avoid bundling at one-stop-shop registrars and hosts
Despite the convenience of registrars that also offer basic-tier shared hosting or VPS services in addition to domain registrar services, the damage to your online presence in the event you are locked out of your account by accident—or malicious intent—could be severe. In the interest of minimizing potential risk, do not register your domain with the same firm at which your website is hosted.
My personal recommendations
If you've had a great experience with a registrar, or an absolutely dreadful experience that others can learn from vicariously, let us know in the comments section.
James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.