Google Domains Review: Pros & Cons of Google As Domain Registrar

Google Domains is a domain name registrar owned and operated by
Google. Google rolled out the product in 2014, and is still in “beta” as
of 2019.
Google Domains is not my primary domain registrar (which is NameCheap). As a Googlephile and SEO consultant, I pretty much had to register a domain with Google Domains the day they started.
Here’s my experience so far and my full Google Domains review with pros & cons…

Disclosure
– I receive referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All
data and opinion is based on my experience as a paying customer or
consultant to a paying customer.
Before we look at the pros & cons, there are a couple items to mention.
First, Google Domains is strictly a domain registrar.
They allow you to claim, register & manage domain names. They do
not offer complementary services such as hosting**. Google separately
offers email and business services through Google Apps. Google Apps does require a custom domain name to get started.
**except for Google Sites, which is a website builder that provides storage (but not hosting) via Google Drive.
We’ll explore this point more in the pros & cons, but it’s important to understand Google’s goal with Google Domains.
They want “getting online” simpler & less daunting for very small
and/or less tech-savvy businesses – that means getting these businesses a
domain name.
And even further, it means making the process of getting a domain as simple & transparent as possible.
Second,
it’s important to remember that a domain is not a website. It’s not
email – or any other service. It’s analogous to your address in the
offline world – it helps people locate where your property is. A domain
simply tells browsers/email/etc where to go to get whatever it wants
(website files, emails, images, data, etc).
If you want to setup a website, you’ll still need to get hosting or a website builder / eCommerce provider that provides hosting.
All that said – let’s look at the pros & cons of using Google Domains as your domain registrar.

Pros of Google Domains

Interface / Backend

Google Domains promises to be simple and transparent. And you’ll notice it right off with their homepage and backend design.
It’s so minimalist that it’s nearly blank.
Google Domains Interface
It
has Google’s trademark design ethos (aka – the nearly blank Google
Search page). Google Domains focuses on doing one thing and one thing
only – domains.
The design has no upsells, no cross-sells and no visual clutter. It’s
honestly refreshing contrasted to the typical direct response offers
from most domain & hosting companies.
Once you leave the site, you won’t even see striking retargeting ads.
On Facebook, you’ll see just classy reminder ads. No offers – just a
promise of simplicity and transparency.
When you need to point your domain to a host or website builder, it’s
all there in a single place. There’s literally just 3 options on the
backend sidebar.
Google Domains’ interface is a refreshing pro in an industry where
most small business owners have to put up with pop-ups, upsells and
confusing backends.

Integrations

Although Google Domains does not offer built-in complementary
products, it does integrate very well with the most common web apps.
It syncs simply with Google Apps (for email, storage, records, etc). And Google runs one of the best DNS servers (the system that tells a browser to go to a specific server to get files) on the Internet.
Google Domains Integration
In
fact, many webmasters will use Google’s DNS in place of their domain
registrar’s or hosting companies, which is a plus because it’s
integrated well with Google Domains.
A menu of (sponsored) common website builders is integrated directly in the “add website” drop down. It includes Shopify, Weebly, Wix, Blogger & Squarespace.
Google Domains Website Integrations
All this leads to the next pro of overall simplicity.

Simplicity

If you are setting up your own website with a hosting provider, pointing your nameservers is directly in the domain menu. It’s one click.
But it’s more than just one click on a clean interface – even advanced functions are simple to find and operate.
If you want to leave Google Domains – unlocking your domain is simple (something that other domain name registrars make quite difficult). Updating addresses are simple.
Google Domains Billing
Discovering
your billing history is simple. Since Google Domains uses your Google
Account, it’s easy to pay and maintain (it pulls from your email and
Google Wallet information).
Simplicity is the one thing Google Domains promises and they live up to it.

Transparent Value Pricing

Google Domains maintains a single price for each top level domain (TLD). .Coms are $12/year.
Google Domains Pricing
Their
pricing across the board is not the cheapest long or short term. They
are a couple dollars more expensive per year than NameCheap. And they
don’t do short-term discounting like GoDaddy.
However, Google Domains does bundle Privacy Protection with all their domains. NameCheap and GoDaddy both have this option as an upsell.
So although Google Domains isn’t the cheapest, they do offer a solid
total value pricing – and they are very transparent for what you’re
getting.
Google Domains Features

Selection of New TLDs

In 2014, ICANN, the internet’s governing body, allowed for a lot more top level domains
(TLDs). This introduced wide new selection into the domain name market,
which use to be limited to .com, .net, a few other generics plus
country-designated TLDs.
Now more businesses are looking for unique TLDs like .kitchen or
.academy among hundreds of others. The issue now is making sure your
domain registrar has all the ones you want to register.
Google Domains TLDs
There
is one catch – Google Domains does not have country designated TLDs.
It’s a US-only service and has only “generic” TLDs (plus the .us country TLD). If you want a .co.uk or .ie domain – you’ll be out of luck.
TLD Availability
But
as long as you’re US-only looking for a generic TLD, you’ll find solid
selection with Google Domains. Google Domains has almost all of them
that I’ve seen.

Cons of Google Domains

Pricing

Like I mentioned in the pros section, Google Domain’s pricing focuses
on simplicity and transparency. They include privacy in their pricing –
and are cheaper than most hosting companies that offer domain
registration.
However, when Google Domain’s pricing goes up against NameCheap or GoDaddy, they lose out. NameCheap’s pricing is transparent and consistently cheaper.
NameCheap also includes the first year of WHOIS Guard (privacy) for the first year free with this link.
GoDaddy is more expensive year to year than Google Domains. However, they also deeply discount domains in the first year.
If you are just trying to secure domains quickly & cheaply, then GoDaddy will be a better bet on price. NameCheap will still be the better long-term option.

Support

Google Domain’s interface & product is focused on eliminating any
possible need for customer support. That said – stuff happens. And when
stuff happens, you need support.
I’ve never had to use Google Domain’s support, however, their support
options are not best in the industry. Their contact forms are buried
and their phone support options are limited to US business hours. They
do offer off-hours chat/email.
Google Domains Support
Support isn’t necessarily a con – but it’s not really a reason to choose Google Domains.

Complementary Products

Google Domain’s focus on only domains is a pro – but it’s also a con.
And that’s because there are several products that almost always go with a domain. If you want to make your site secure with SSL, you’ll need an SSL certificate associated with the domain.
You can buy it separately from a third party, but from my experience, managing it with your domain is simpler.
I like to separate my domains and hosting, but many owners prefer
that their hosting and domains get bundled into one (even if it’s not
ideal from a performance perspective).
NameCheap has competitive hosting; GoDaddy offers alright basic hosting with domains. And most hosting companies offer domain registration (or even free domains) with hosting purchase (such as InMotion or Bluehost).
Those kind of products simply aren’t available with Google Domains.
So if you want that kind of convenience, then you’re out of luck.

Selection of Country TLDs

Although Google Domains has a wide selection of generic domains, they do not support country-level domains.
Google Domains Country TLDs
At first, I didn’t think this would be too much of an issue since it’s only available to US customer anyway.
However, if you are a US company with a country specific website, it
might be convenient to manage those domains together. You can do that
with companies like NameCheap, but not Google Domains.

Google Promise / Beta Status

The last con of using Google Domains as your domain provider is
Google itself. Right now at the end of 2018, the product is in “beta” –
or testing. And it’s been in Beta for almost 5+ years now.
And
while Google says that it’s a long-term project and a natural fit with
their other business products like Google Apps and Google App Engine –
Google also has a long history of shutting down well-known projects.
They killed Google Reader, iGoogle, Google Apps for Teams and Google
Glass. Google has gone through countless changes with their local
business product (aka Google Places, Google+ Local, Google MyBusiness,
etc) and even Google+ – their highest profile side project ever.
In other words, even though Google Domains has a lot of benefits with Google, domain names is not and never will be Google’s priority.
Google Domains will always be under threat of shutting down – even if
it’s doing well. If they did shut down – you wouldn’t lose your domain
name, but would have to transition companies on Google’s timeline.
NameCheap, GoDaddy, Hover
or other domain name registration companies only do domain name
registration. They might go out of business, but as long as they are
making money, they will never be unceremoniously shuttered.

The Google SEO Advantage / Disadvantage

Before looking at next steps, I have to touch on one bit of SEO
(search engine optimization) mythology. In the SEO world, there are 3
camps on Google products.
The first camp says that Google is inherently untrustworthy. They say
you should never use their products because they just spy on you and
are out to punish you. It’s all about tricking and outsmarting Google.
The second camp says that Google is SEO. They say you should use all
their products and do everything they say. Google will always prefer
their own products and will reward everyone that uses them. It’s all
about cooperating and sucking up to Google.
The third camp says that neither of the first two camps rely on
evidence or testing. The answer to all things SEO is “it depends.” Use
Google products that suit your business; don’t use Google products that
don’t work for you. Either way, focus on testing and doing the right
things for your customers.
I’m in the third camp. I have never seen any evidence that Google
Domains will “cleanse” or “un-blacklist” a domain. I’ve never seen any
evidence that domains registered with Google get an advantage in the
search results. I also have no idea why Google would even make that a
factor.
Don’t buy into SEO snake oil when you are looking for a domain name registrar.
The only tested SEO truth is that the internet is made up of domain
names. And you do need a custom domain (not a .weebly.com or
.wordpress.com or .blogspot.com subdomain) to build a long-term project
around.
The registrar you choose should be based on pricing, convenience, usability and support.

Next Steps

If you –
  • are just looking to register a few generic domains for your business
  • value simplicity and transparency
  • don’t need a wide product selection
  • don’t need a super-competitive price point
  • trust Google as a company

Google Domains FAQs from Readers

What Is Google Domains?

Google
Domains is a domain registration product from Google. You can register a
domain and “point” it to wherever your website lives.
How Does Google Domains Work?

Google
Domains works similarly to many other domain registrars, but with a
stripped down Dashboard and limited management features. You search for a
domain of your choice. If it is available, you
can register it for a period of time. During that time, you can point it
to a website of your choice with Google Domains’ dashboard.
Is Google Domains Free?

No,
Google Domains is a registrar that charges an annual domain
registration fee like other competing registrars. Your actual account is
integrated with your Google account for free, though.
Is Google Domains a Host?

No,
Google Domains is not a host. Registering a domain with them will not
give you a website. It will only reserve that domain name that you can
then point to wherever your website lives. You can browse this site to
find a website builder or host that works for you & works with
Google Domains.
Is Google Domains Good?

That
depends on what you want from a domain registrar. They have a
minimalist interface, but limited complementary products (ie, SSLs).
Their pricing is fair but a bit on the expensive side. It has Google’s
brand and is super-convenient, but also comes with Google’s “shut down
under-performing products notoriety”. Read the main review above for all
the tradeoffs – and explore other domain registrars that I’ve looked at
elsewhere on the site.