Every website needs a domain name. So, whether you provide hosting services, a website builder or e-commerce platform, IT services, or any combination of the above, offering domain names alongside your core product is a smart move. Making it easy for your clients to register domain names can simplify the user experience, increase customer stickiness, and give you a competitive edge.
And the easiest way to register domain names for your customers — in both the short and long term — is to become a domain name reseller. In fact, many of today’s big-name website builders and hosting companies choose the reseller path. In this article we cover:
When we hear the term reseller, we think of someone who buys something, be it a product or service, and sells it at a profit to someone else. The reseller adds value by making the experience easier for the end customer.
Similarly, domain resellers register domain names on behalf of their clients by partnering with an accredited registrar (like us). Some resellers sell domains as a stand-alone product, charging their customers slightly more than what they themselves paid. Other resellers bake the cost of the domain name into their bundles or service — this is often done by website builders and e-commerce solutions. In either case, the end customer benefits by having their needs met with a simple user experience.
Absolutely. Some providers, like Hover, for example, have built their business around selling domain names; it’s their bread and butter. For most of our resellers, however, the real value that domain names bring is that they often complete a service offering or website building experience. Beyond earning a potential margin on each domain name sale, you realize the long-term benefits of increased customer stickiness and a great UX. Plus, you’ll be able to attract customers who are in the “dreamer” phase: not yet ready to build their website, but definitely ready to secure the URL for their big idea.
Anyone, really! When people think of domain resellers, they often think of large website builders and hosting providers. But OpenSRS and other reseller platforms are also used by solopreneurs and small companies that provide web development, security, IT, and other business services to a small group of clients. Becoming a domain reseller offers value to anyone who wants a single account through which they can register and manage multiple domains on behalf of various customers.
If you want to offer domain names, becoming a reseller presents a number of benefits.
Let’s take a look at why people choose the reseller program option, and then put forward the alternatives: becoming an accredited registrar or partnering with a domain provider.
The Benefits of Becoming a Reseller
Save yourself time and money
In the short term, becoming a reseller lets you start selling domains right away without having to spend time, money, and resources on becoming an accredited registrar yourself. In the long term, it will help you stay focused on your core business instead of having to maintain complex backend systems and integrations with numerous top-level-domain registries. It’s hard to overstate just how much work this involves — more on this below.
Create a seamless UX without a ton of work
As a reseller, you can use API integration to build the domain registration process right into your existing checkout flow or website building process, minimizing the number of steps involved for your customers. This is so critical; users today expect a frictionless experience, and to grow and attract new customers in an increasingly competitive market, you need to meet this demand.
From your developer’s perspective, having a single API to navigate means they can build integrations for multiple TLDs by relying on a single guide and a single point of contact for support.
Offer domains your customers will love
Becoming a reseller gets you (and your customers!) access to a wide selection of TLDs through a single platform. This makes it really easy to present your customers with domain names that reflect their location, industry, or customer niche. You can also save the day with a great alternative if the .COM they are after is taken. Picking out a domain name is, to many people, one of the fun parts of getting online, and there’s value in associating your brand with a positive experience.
At the very least, your customers need a domain name. From their point of view, you’ve eliminated an extra step in getting their business or website up and running. Plus, if you make brainstorming and searching for a domain fun and easy, this will attract new traffic to your website — we’ve got a name suggestion tool that makes this easy.
Simplify your domain lifecycle management
Domain registrars are responsible for sending out renewal notices, transfer notices, and various other ICANN-required communications to end-users (more on ICANN below). Plus, they have to build the technical systems that facilitate renewals, inter-registrar transfers, and changes of ownership for domains.
If you’re a reseller, you don’t have to worry about any of this. And if you partner with a registrar that is truly reseller-focused (like us), you’ll be able to customize the communications your customers receive, ensuring they reflect your brand and appear to be coming from you.
The benefit of becoming an accredited registrar is pretty obvious. You cut out the middleman and purchase domains right from the registries themselves. If you’re planning on managing high volumes of domain names— by high we mean around 50,000+ — registrar accreditation can be the right move. However, it’s worth considering why some of the world’s largest website builders and hosting companies opt to be resellers rather than get accredited themselves.
Firstly, to become a registrar for “generic” top-level domains (gTLDs), for example .COM or .BIZ, you need to apply for accreditation with ICANN, the non-profit organization that oversees the technical elements of the Internet’s naming system and passes and enforces policy that governs it. The application itself is time-consuming and costly, but the real expense comes in the form of ongoing fees and the work of ensuring compliance with policy changes, which can involve considerable work to your backend systems and registry integrations.
Secondly, while registering domains directly through the registries themselves may seem great, this too is a ton of work, especially if you want to offer a wide variety of domain names. Different TLDs (from .APP to .XYZ), are operated by different registries. So for each TLD you want to offer, you’re often talking about a new API integration and a new legal agreement.
And with country-code TLDs (like .CA and .DE), things get even more complicated. Many ccTLD registries have specific requirements and registration processes that produce extra admin work.
How much work does all this actually involve? Well, we’ve got a dedicated Registry Operations team that navigates registries’ technical changes and oversees their implementation within our systems. And even more tellingly, maintaining the backend systems for multiple registry accreditations is often not worth it for accredited registrars themselves. Some of them outsource this work to backend providers. OpenSRS actually offers a Hosted Registrar platform that lets other registrars use our infrastructure to register domains under their accreditation.
However, in the vast majority of cases, we recommend simply becoming a reseller. If you have more questions about the registrar path, our sales team can help you decide what makes the most sense for your business.
You also have the option of directing your customers to purchase their domains from another provider, be it a registrar or reseller, rather than offering domains yourself. We recommend our sister company Hover, if you’re opting for this approach. The benefit here is that you’re still playing a part in connecting your customers with something they need, and of course, it requires no (well, very little) work on your part. And by sending them to a specific provider that doesn’t compete with your core offering, rather than to a Google search, you reduce the chances of losing your customer to a competitor.
The downside, of course, is that while you may not be ushering them into the arms of a competitor, you’re still directing them away from your website. It’s a missed opportunity to streamline the user experience, establish yourself as a one-stop shop, and build customer loyalty and stickiness.
There are a ton of different reseller programs out there, and which one you choose will depend on what features are most important to you. Here’s a comprehensive list of what might weigh into your decision.
Is their service white-label?
For a lot of our resellers, remaining in control of their brand and customer experience is super important. And it makes sense. Offering a stellar customer experience sets providers apart in a competitive market. As mentioned above, domain owners receive a number of mandatory notices from their registrar. When your customers receive these, will they think they are receiving a message from you, or some other company they’ve never interacted with? If it’s important to you that your registrar provider stays behind the scenes, make sure this is, in fact, the case.
Do they offer free 24/7 support?
If you’re running a business, technical issues can cost you time, money, and consumer trust. There’s huge value and peace of mind in knowing you’ll have access to help whenever you need it. Some registrars offer free 24/7 support to resellers, while others offer limited hours, or charge extra for the service.
It’s also worth investigating the quality of support they provide. Do they outsource this part of their business or have they invested in an in-house team? The best way to gauge is to call them and see!
Do they offer a wide range of relevant TLDs?
We’ve seen providers realize a great ROI from offering just .COM domains. It’s definitely a great way to get started. But if you’re looking to expand your customer base and help brands establish a memorable online presence, you may want to offer a variety of TLDs, or at least plan to do so in the future. If a customer’s first choice .COM is taken, being able to offer a suitable alternative, let’s say, theirbrand.shop, is a big win. And failing to do so could send the customer straight to a competitor.
Which TLDs you offer can depend on the nature of your business. Let’s say you provide a website-builder platform for restaurants, and you’re hoping to serve customers across the globe. It won’t make much sense to offer .LAWYER, but it might make a ton of sense to offer .MENU, or city extensions like .NYC that help restaurants speak to the local presence.
If you’re looking to offer services globally, or to specific geographic areas, offering country-code TLDs (ccTLDs), is a smart choice. In many countries, .COM is still king, but in others, their local extension is just as or even more popular.
Even if you’re not looking to offer a huge selection of domains right now, make sure you’ll have room to grow, whichever reseller program you choose.
Do they offer premium domain names in a way that makes sense?
Premium domains are catchy, sought-after domains that sell at a higher price. Why might you want to offer them? Premium domains are typically purchased by high-value customers that are willing to spend more to get the right domain for their business. These are good customers to have.
There are two types of premium domains: aftermarket premium domains and registry premium domains. Aftermarket premiums have already been registered by someone, who is now looking to sell the domain at a profit. They’re usually purchased and sold through a third-party marketplace like Afternic or Sedo. They’re purchased at a premium price, but they renew at the standard price for the TLD.
Registry premium domains, on the other hand, have not yet been registered, and their price is set by the TLD registry themselves. Registry premium domains may have a premium transfer or renewal price, in addition to a premium purchase price. The key with registry premiums is to make sure your customer is aware of what they’re paying, now and for future renewals. If you’re hoping to offer your customers premium domains, either registry or aftermarket, it’s worth considering what this process will involve with a potential registrar partner.
At OpenSRS, we help you get set up with Afternic and Sedo to offer aftermarket premiums, and you make a 10% commission on all aftermarket sales. We’ve also made it super easy to offer registry premium domains in a way that makes sense for your business. You can choose which types of registry premiums you want to offer, based on their pricing structure, and you set your final price and margin.
Do they have a proper control panel?
Even if you’re opting for complete API integration, it’s important that your registrar provides a proper, built-for-resellers control panel. It’s a single place where you can view and manage all the domains (and perhaps other products) you have under management.
Here are some basic features to look out for:
- Multi-level user permissions to ensure the various members of your team have the access they need
- Bulk tools, which make it easy to update and renew many domains at once
- A means to brand and customize your end-user communications
- Intuitive workflows that let you search by domain status, expiration date, and other relevant variables
API integration allows you to build domain registration into your checkout or website-building flow, creating a great experience for your customers. But beyond the initial registration, you can use an API to automate all aspects of the domain lifecycle and empower your customers to manage their own domains. This includes providing your customers an easy way to do things like opt into auto-renew, update the contact details associated with their domain, obtain or provide their auth code if they want to transfer in or out, and update their name servers.
Plus, you might rely on an API integration to monitor your domain portfolio, send out alerts to customers, and pull in relevant data to your systems.
Having worked with thousands of ecommerce solution providers, website builders, and web hosting companies, we’ve got a solid understanding of what our resellers need from an API and how to make the integration process as smooth as possible. We pride ourselves on offering the best API in the business, with a smart set of commands and clear API documentation.
Here are some things to consider when evaluating a domains API:
Does the API include a name suggestion feature?
A great domain name search can be a draw to your website. You can introduce potential customers to different domain extensions (TLDs) and new variations of their name that they hadn’t thought of. At the very least, you want to be able to suggest relevant alternatives if their first choice is taken.
OpenSRS’s name suggestion tool lets you query alternative domains based on different variables and suggest them to your customers. For example, you can:
- Suggest TLD variants based off the geolocation of the end-user’s IP (like suggesting .CA to users in Canada)
- Prioritize and filter results to show TLDs that are on sale
Our resellers have used our names suggestions tool, sometimes in combination with their own custom-code integration, to create awesome search experiences. For example, Hover lets users filter based on their industry.
Will the API support self-serve domain management for your end-users?
A great user experience is the key to keeping your customer base happy. Letting your customers manage their domain from within their account saves them time and reduces the load on your support team. If you want to give your customers the ability to manage all aspects of their domain name through your client portal, here are some functionalities that you’ll want:
- A means for your customers to perform the basics: register, renew, update the registrant contact information, update their domain registrar lock status, and modify their nameservers.
- When a customer transfers ownership to another person or company or updates the contact information associated with their domain, both the “old” and “new” domain owner receives an email request to confirm the change. You can let your customers view the status of their request using our icann_trade_status_change command.
- All generic TLDs (like .COM) require the registrant to verify their contact info by responding to an email, in order to complete their domain registration. Sometimes customers misplace this email, so it’s a good idea to provide them a means within your portal to have it resent. Our send_registrant_verification_email does just that. Plus, you’ll want to ensure your systems have an easy way of identifying which domains are currently pending verification, and a means to remind customers before the domain falls into suspended status. We provide this functionality with our get_registrant_verification_status API command.
- A means to provide in-app confirmation notices to your customers when a registration, renewal, or other event has completed. We offer this functionality with our Event Notification commands
- If you work with an affiliate provider, you may want a means to easily segment users registered via that provider, versus those registered directly through you. Our set_domain_affiliate_id command lets you do just that.
Does the API allow for Scalability?
Some resellers choose to get started by offering a small number of TLDs — or even just one — and adding others to their portfolio over time. As your customer base evolves, you can build out integration to offer TLDs that speak to their industry, niche, or location.
- Our TLD Data API Guide clearly lays out any additional attributes (beyond the standard set) that might be required for a particular TLD. It makes it easy to evaluate which TLDs are worth adding to your lineup and which might necessitate too much work.
- You’ll also want to ensure you’re provided with a fully functional testing environment, so you can thoroughly QA before going live with a new TLD.
Does the API support premium domain registrations?
You may not start offering premium domains right away, but once again, you may want this option down the road. If you think you might, it’s worth partnering with a registrar that enables you to register both aftermarket and registry premium domains via an API.
Many registrars offer related services, not just domains. For example, at OpenSRS, we also provide SSL certificates and white-label Hosted Email. It can be easier to purchase multiple products or services from a single provider — it simplifies your billing and administration and gives you a single point of contact. So, if you have other services you’re looking to resell, or that you’re likely to need as you grow, this may factor into your decision.
This is a little more nuanced than you might think. Some reseller programs offer low pricing or frequent and substantial promotions as their main value prop. And maybe pricing is what’s most important to you.
Sometimes, however, rock-bottom pricing comes at cost. Most obviously, razor-thin margins can make it difficult to invest in a strong support team and platform. Above, we’ve outlined what, besides pricing, might matter most to your business in the long run. Transferring a huge portfolio of domains and re-integrating with another registrar is a big undertaking, so if you’re looking to significantly grow your businesses, it’s worth it to choose a registrar that you’ll be with for the long haul, even if it costs a little more.
Here are some not-so-obvious points to consider when you’re looking at reseller pricing:
Does the registrar have a track record of consistent, transparent pricing?
To run a business, you need consistency. From time to time, registries increase their prices, and registrars often adjust their own to make up the margin — that’s normal. But you want to make sure that, historically, the resellers of whatever registrar you’re considering have been kept in the loop about pricing changes, and that these changes have been reasonable.
It’s also important to be aware that for many domain names, the registry charges a redemption fee to re-activate the domain if it expires. Registrars will pass this cost onto the reseller, and registrars are required to provide the redemption and renewal fees in addition to the registration fee. Ensure the registrar you choose is transparent about all this.
Finally, it’s super important to look at the list prices rather than the promo prices. This is particularly important if you’re selling domains as part of a package. You’ll want to know what your margin will be not just now but when your customer renews. Oftentimes, domain promotions apply only to the first year of new registrations, meaning you (and perhaps, your customer) will pay a higher price for each additional year. This brings us to our next point…
Crazy promotions can have drawbacks
We’re a fan of sales, but historically we’ve stayed away from aggressive discounts. $15 off your first year on a $30 domain name can be a nice incentive, but a customer that buys a domain for $1 might not renew for a second year if it’s going to cost them $50.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of domains reselling, you’re probably curious to know what getting started looks like. While this next section is more specific to our business, many of the steps are applicable regardless of which registrar you choose.
Often, when a potential customer approaches our sales team, they know they want to offer domain names, but they don’t fully understand what needs to be done to execute a successful launch. Though each integration is as unique your business, over 20+ years, we’ve narrowed down the successful launch to three key steps phases:
1. Planning and setup
Account creation and customization:
Open up a reseller account and get started on branding and customization. You will want to log into the control panel and upload your logo, and update our messaging templates to reflect your business’ voice. You can also set up multiple accounts and different permission levels, so each of your internal teams has access to what they need. Finally, you’ll want to choose your payment method for pre-funding your account and set up account balance thresholds to trigger alert notices and/or auto-payments.
Decide which TLDs to offer
There are hundreds of domain extensions out there, and you probably don’t need to offer them all. We do recommend providing your customers a variety of choices that they’ll find relevant. You can consider new TLD extensions, some of which have broad appeal — like .ONLINE— and some of which target specific verticals, like .WEDDING. If you’re looking to establish a global presence or want to target customers in a specific region, you’ll also want to consider ccTLDs like .UK, and perhaps even city extensions like .NYC. This can feel daunting (given there are 600 +options) but our sales team can help you focus in on a smart lineup that speaks to your customers.
Decide on a business model
Do you want to offer domain names as part of a package, as a stand-alone add-on, or both? Does it make sense to offer your customers hosted email? Should you include SSL? This all comes down to knowing your customers’ unique needs. Will they value greater selection and flexibility, or will they want a simple bundle that eliminates all the guesswork and reduces overwhelm. Speak to the sales team for best practices on pricing and to learn which domains will help your customers get the most from your offering.
2. Getting Integrated
Get familiar with our API guides
Once your account is set up and your goals are clearly established, you’re ready to review our API user guide, and decide how you will incorporate the domain registration process into your user interface, check-out flow or website-building process. Whether you’re starting from scratch, or adding to an existing interface, this is an exciting time. Our best advice is to not rush this phase, use the test environment, and remember that we’re here to help you test and troubleshoot.
Build a stellar domain name search
Our name suggestion tool, “DomainsBot” enables you to present alternative domains to customers based on their initial search. As mentioned, our resellers, like Hover have used it to create some really awesome user experiences.
Ready your staff
We try to make it super easy to sell domains, but like anything new, it requires a bit of training. We try to make that part easy too. Our blog and knowledge base are full of resources to get your staff familiar with how domains work, from high-level overviews like Understanding the Registry > Registrar Reseller Hierarchy to complete guides on domain transfers and other practical basics.
We always recommend baking in a beta-testing phase where you roll out the product to a small subset of users. This allows time for customer feedback before full launch, gives your support team time to get comfortable with the day-to-day questions, and gives you time to make any minor tweaks to your user experience. This is the best way to ensure a successful launch.
3. The Launch
All that’s left to do is monitor! At this point you have already done all the heavy lifting. Once you push your code live, your domain orders will process as they’re placed by your customers.
If you want to offer domains and like the idea of a provider that’s interested in supporting your long-term growth, we should talk. There’s a reason many of the world’s largest site-builders and hosting companies chose OpenSRS. We offer a powerful white-label platform and API, award-winning support, an industry-leading sales team, and a huge selection of TLDs.
Our global network of reseller partners includes companies of all sizes that are making great things happen online, like Toronto-based Bookmark. Bookmark is an AI-powered website builder that empowers people without any technical skills to create an exceptional website in very little time; customers can create the first version of their website in under two minutes.
They joined OpenSRS back in 2015 because they wanted to add domain registrations to their automated processes, and our partnership has helped them expand their business:
“When looking to increase revenue through domains, OpenSRS is the ultimate partner. The API infrastructure is easy to understand and even easier to implement. We started off with offering general TLDs and later, with the help of OpenSRS and their tech team, we were able to start offering more complicated and higher-margin ccTLDs, and further expand with relative ease. Each step of the way OpenSRS was there to guide and assist, ensuring that each step we made was the best one for our business.”
— Cam Gray, Product Analyst, Bookmark.com
Our reseller partners often want to know how long it will take from the time they decide to become a domain reseller to the sale of their first domain. If you’re looking for complete API integration, the answer is: it depends on you and your business. But we suggest you give yourself a minimum of one quarter to do it once and do it right. And we are here to help! Between our 24×7 support team and the expert integration specialists on the sales team, we got your covered. Reach out to us!
Unsure whether it’s worth adding domain names to your roadmap? Check out this post about the benefits of offering domain names.