I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Why is it so hard to be a good domain registrar?

I recently moved all of my domains away from GoDaddy, because they’re terrible.1

After soliciting registrar recommendations on Twitter, it seemed like the most-liked registrars were Namecheap, Hover, and Gandi, in descending order.

Whenever you solicit product or service recommendations, you need to put the results in context: most people are going to recommend what they use, so choices with a lot of recommendations might just be the most popular, not necessarily the best. It’s more significant when a responder has actually used multiple choices and recommends one over the others.

But most people haven’t used more than one or two domain registrars, because of the answer this question by David Bressler:

Why do you think it’s so hard to be a good registrar?

Because there’s very little incentive to be.

The reason GoDaddy is so successful is because they’re usually the cheapest. And for geeks like us who host elsewhere and don’t need a lot of support, domain registrars don’t need to do very much — it’s a commodity business, so for most of us, we’ll go wherever’s cheapest.

After that initial sale, we’re strongly locked in:

So even if you aren’t crazy about your registrar, the lock-in effects are so strong that you’re very unlikely to ever switch away: it’s just easier to keep letting your domains auto-renew every year. This creates very little incentive for registrars to provide great service or invest much in their control panels and other after-purchase costs.

Since most buyers choose whatever’s cheapest and rarely reconsider their choice, GoDaddy wins most of the time, and they have no reason to treat their customers any better.

The biggest question I get asked when I mention that I’ve left GoDaddy is: For who?

From the recommendations for Namecheap, Hover, and Gandi, I chose Gandi because I wanted everything under one roof, and they were the only one of the three who could register my one .FM domain and also sold SSL certificates.

The transfers were fine… except I had a huge DNS outage on because its DNS was hosted by GoDaddy, and Gandi wouldn’t prepopulate its DNS servers with its info before it arrived. Their support staff took two days to answer that question. And I broke my “all under one roof” requirement the other day by buying Instapaper’s SSL certificate from RapidSSL because my Gandi SSL certificate — which was supposed to be free with the transfer, but wasn’t, and I got tired of waiting and just paid for a standalone order — still hasn’t been issued after 6 days. (I emailed them this morning and asked them to just cancel the order at this point. No response yet.) And their web control panel, despite being a lot better than GoDaddy’s, isn’t great — it’s simply adequate, with common operations still requiring too many clicks and still showing a lot of little bugs and update lag. (I don’t know yet if any registrar has a great control panel.)

Over the years, with my own domains and various consulting clients’, I’ve used Register, GoDaddy, PairNIC, and Gandi. I wouldn’t really recommend any of them, but Gandi seems the least bad among them.

But next time I buy a new domain name, I’m buying it at Hover. And if it goes well, I’ll probably move all of my domains there. Someday.

  1. The elephant wasn’t the reason I moved away, but it was the final push that inspired me to leave them after years of wanting to.

    Oh, and you can’t delete a GoDaddy account. (Really makes you want to sign up, right?) But you can cancel all of your purchased products in it, remove all of your payment information, and change all required contact fields (email, mailing address, phone, etc.) to fake values. ↩︎