As an active owner of a considerable number of domain names, I was excited to learn that both Google and Amazon were entering the domain-name registrar business. I’ve long wanted a domain name registration service that was simple, nicely-priced, and not subject to spammy upsells. So I naturally gave Google Domains a try when they removed the invitation-only requirement this week and opened it up to all U.S. customers. As it turns out, the service is simple and fairly-priced, as promised, but it is subject to some of the same registry limitations that I’ve written about before.
Buying a domain
The process of buying a domain with Google Domains was simple. I was able to buy geeky.domains in a few easy steps.
Once the domain is added to your cart, you need to enter contact info for the WHOIS database. Upon registration, you cannot enter separate registrant, admin and tech contacts, though you can go back and edit these once the domain name is in your account. You can also choose free private registration, which is refreshing, since most registrars try to get you on an upsell to make your contact information anonymous in WHOIS.
Payment was painless using Google Wallet. Domain pricing was good, but not the absolute lowest on the market. For geeky.domains, it was $30 through Google, $39.99 at GoDaddy plus an additional $7.99 if you want WHOIS privacy, $24.88 with 1-year of free privacy at Namecheap and $34.99 at Name.com plus $3.99 for WHOIS privacy.
Once you’ve paid, you can quickly build a website with one of their partners like Squarespace, Wix, Blogger, Weebly or Shopify. Obviously there are costs to all of these except Blogger.
Google Domains also offers free email forwarding for up to 100 email aliases. However, if you are going to host your email, you’ll need to setup the email DNS records for your email provider. In an obvious omission, you can’t setup a Google Apps account when buying a domain name. You’ll have to setup the account in Google Apps and then return to the domain name system to add the required DNS records.
The DNS records editor seemed robust, allowing you to easily register A records, CNAME, TXT records, etc. You also get to host your DNS on Google’s DNS infrastructure, which in theory should be solid. My favorite part of the service was that when you buy a new domain, it leaves your DNS settings blank, rather than pre-populating host records with spammy parking pages.
Transferring domains is hit or miss
To try out the service, I attempted to transfer a number of domains that I own that are up for renewal and ran into all sorts of limitations imposed by the registries, particularly on many of the new gTLD domain extensions.
Google Domains does sell .tips domains, so I tried to transfer a domain that I own called house.tips. I got a lovely error message that said “We don’t support transfer of this domain because it is a registry premium domain.” What the heck does that mean?
After going back to Name.com and looking at my account, the renewal price on that domain is $41.25, which is twice as expensive as other .tips domains. Of course neither of these sites describe this anywhere, but the wonderful error message I got essentially means that house.tips is a more costly “premium” name because it is short and uses a common word, so apparently I must renew this at premium prices at my existing registrar.
Strangely, I’m able to transfer another .tips domain that I own to Google Domains. So essentially these domain registries are playing games with super-secret lists of premium domain names that lock you in to certain registrars at inflated prices. For all the benefits that more gTLD domains could bring, these sort of anti-competitive domain restrictions do no one any good.
Like other registrars, Google Domains doesn’t support every extension. If you fancy a .sexy or .cool domain, for example, you’re out of luck. And like other registrars, you get the stupid message that says “extension not supported” with zero guidance on where you might actually be able to purchase that domain. I protect our company’s brand on a variety of domain extensions. While I could transfer over .org, .net and .us, I could not trasnfer over .tv, .in or .mobi.
In transferring one of my domains, I ran into a snag where the authorization code given to me by GoDaddy was in a format that Google Domains didn’t like. I wasn’t able to continue the registration, so I clicked on the support link. A couple minutes later I received a call from a very helpful Google support engineer who quickly solved the issue. Given how many other Google services hide behind un-monitored community support forums, it was nice to get real, live customer support from them on the phone.
No bulk features
If you own a bunch of domain names and are hoping for a cheap place to house them all, Google Domains isn’t the place for you. The UI is simple for dealing with a single domain name, but lacks any sort of bulk capabilities. It is clear that Google had small business owners in mind for this service, not domainers or companies with lots of domains to manage.
Comparison to Amazon Route 53 Domain Registration
When Google announced their domain registration service last summer, Amazon made a similar announcement where they are offering domain registrations through their Route 53 DNS service in Amazon Web Services. The two services are quite similar in price, but are clearly are meant for two wildly different customers.
To buy a domain through Amazon, you have to setup an Amazon AWS account. The process is tuned for IT pros and developers who are already using Amazon AWS and want to host their DNS in Route 53. There is nothing consumer-friendly about Amazon’s process if you’re not familiar with AWS. In contrast, Google’s domain registration is very simple and clearly targeted at the small business owner who “just wants to get on the web.”
Even more interestingly, neither Google nor Amazon is actually in the business of domain registration. Despite the fact that you may register a domain name with Google or Amazon AWS, they are not actually the provider of domain name services. They are simply resellers of other domain registrars. In the case of Google, they use the German registrar Key Systems and provide WHOIS privacy service via Whoisproxy in New Zealand. In Amazon’s case, when you register a domain through AWS, the registrar is actually Gandi.
If you are a small business and Google Domains supports the domain name extension you are looking for, the service seems very simple. It is nicely-priced and doesn’t nag you with spammy upsells. Free WHOIS privacy protection is a nice bonus.
If you have even moderately more complex domain requirements or are trying to consolidate your domain accounts, this isn’t a service for you. It is too simple and suffers from a number of limitations.
Taking a look at this service also reminded me of how much of a mess the domain registries have created with their hundreds of new gTLD extensions. I don’t know who at ICANN thought all of this was a good idea, but we’re now in a world where if you own multiple domain extensions, you’re likely forced to use multiple registrars to manage and renew them. You are also beholden to anti-competitive pricing and registrar lock-ins if you want to own any domains that are mysteriously deemed “premium.”