Our guide to buying domains and setting them up

Posted on Jan 18, 2017

One of the first things that you must when you build a new website is buy a domain. But if you have never bought a domain before there are a lot of questions and a lot of jargon. Should you buy it yourself, ask a friend or ask your developer to do it for you? When faced with the jargon it can even be tempting to ask a friend to do it for you. And if you do buy it yourself how should it be setup.

I am going to try here to explain how a domain works, the pros and cons of different setups and what my personal preferred setup is.

First what is a domain

A domain is a record held by a domain registry body. Each domain ending has it’s own registry body. For example all .co.uk domain are controlled by Nominet. You may have bought it through 123-reg or GoDaddy but Nominet are the guys who keep the record. What they do is keep the equivalent of a phonebook of domains and their Registrar data. There is a lot of important information in the registrar data but right now we will focus on the Name Server. There are usually multiple name servers. If one goes down the request goes to the second one but they will all be identical copies of each other.

These Name Servers have one function. They tell anyone connecting to that domain where the Domain Name System (DNS) records are. The DNS records are the digital equivalent to the sign post in the middle of a crossroads. This tells traffic where it should go. It can tell traffic all sorts of things but the two most important types of traffic are emails and website views. Emails look for Mail Exchanger (MX) Records and web browsers views look for Address (A) Records.

Browsers are then sent to the server with the website and emails are then sent to the server hosting the emails.

Here is a diagram of what happens:domain diagram

So who should buy my domain:

I would advise anyone against asking a friend to buy their domain for them. You should either buy it yourself or ask your agency to do it for you.

There are two types of ownership to consider here:

The first is legal ownership. When a domain is bought, you need to announce to Nominet who the Registrant is and what their details are. This information includes their name, organisation type and their postal and email address. The registrant is the legal owner of the site. If you ask someone else to buy the domain they may get this info wrong or buy it in their own name. In which case, they are the legal owner of the domain.

The second is who has practical control of the domain. The domain will be controlled by the interface provided by the Registrar. The Registrar is the company who manages the domain. This might be 123-reg, Fasthosts, GoDaddy or any of thousands of other registrars. The person who has access to this is in control of the domain and has to pay for its renewal.

Now you may call me a cynic but I have had to fix all sorts of messed up situations in the past. There have been developers who have gone AWOL, business partners who fall out and the one leaving is trying to ransom the domain as negotiating leverage, business whose domains were bought by the geeky teenage nephew of an employee who left the years ago and now no one can contact the ex-employee let alone the nephew.

Domains that have been lost can be gotten back but the process is both expensive and time consuming. In these cases, if you can’t get the owner of the domain to hand it over you can go to the domain registry body and request that they transfer the legal and practical ownership of the domain to you. However, this is expensive and time consuming and you have to have compelling evidence to prove that you are the rightful owner. All the while both your website and emails might be down. 

Imagine how much damage a month without being able to receive your client’s emails will do to your business.

The advantage to buying the domain in your own domain provider account is that you are in ultimate control of the domain. You can walk at any time. If your web developer goes AWOL you can just change the Name Server and take back control. The downside is that you are then responsible for renewing the domain. Domains are generally renewed every two years via credit card. Plenty of time for your card to expire or be replaced and for you to simply forget about it and lose the login. There have been a number of times when client’s renewal payments fail and for one reason or another they ignore or don’t see the reminders and the first they know about it is when the domain is suspended and their emails stop working.

The advantages to asking your agency to buy your domain is that it’s easy and they will be able to setup the domain without involving you in any of the process. They will also have a client domain account which they will have reason to go into on a weekly basis and so they are unlikely to let their payment details expire. The downside is that they can go out of business or be hit by a bus and then you have lost access to the domain.

Both above options are reasonable ways of doing it. However, if you do ask an agency to buy it for you make sure that they have named you as the registrant. You can check this by going to who.is and running a WHOIS search.

The ideal setup is this:

Registrant

This should be the actual owner of the website. If a sole trader then it should be the individual or if it is a limited company then it should be the company itself.

Domain provider

We prefer 123-reg. In our experience they are poor hosting providers but they have a friendly and easy to use domain management interface. Often though our clients have already bought their domain so we do have experience with several providers. We have had bad experiences with 1&1, Fasthosts, Godaddy and EUKHost and based upon those experiences I would dissuade anyone from buying domains with them.

We prefer for the client to have the domain in their own 123-reg control panel.

Name Server

Our preferred system is for the client to have their own CloudFlare account and for them to point their nameservers there. Cloudflare adds an extra layer of stability and security to the site.

But if your budget doesn’t cover CloudFlare then we would recommend keeping the Nameserver on the default one provided by the domain provider, which ideally will be 123-reg.

A-Records

These point website visitors to the server holding the website. Ideally this will be our server. We like it to be our server because we are so familiar with its configuration that if there are any problems we have both the familiarity and admin rights to fix them.

However, some clients prefer their own hosting account. In which case, we will point it to your server.

MX-Records

The MX records tell emails which server they should go to. This should be a different server to your website. If it is the same server then you must change it immediately. If you are using an IT company for your emails then they will specify to which server these emails should go to.

If aren’t using an IT company we would suggest that you use either G Suite or Office 365. We prefer G Suite as Google beats Microsoft at pretty much everything. I may be bias but I have been using G Suite for 5 years and their tech support is excellent. Both options are serious business platforms, cost effective and scalable. Today G suite costs £3.30 / month / user and Office 365 costs £7.90 / month / user.

If you have any questions drop us a line.