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Building a website for the first time can appear to be a daunting task. If you’re not used to the process, even choosing a domain name can put you in a bit of a pickle. How much should you pay, where do you get one from – these and many questions may come across your minds.
There have been over 348 million domain names registered so far (as of end 2018) and the number is growing quickly. In today’s age of digital, everyone is buying their own domain names, from large businesses to individuals who simply want their own online identity.
To get a better top-down picture of the details involved in web hosting and domain names, I recommend you read this article on Web Hosting and Domain 101 first. What I’m going to discuss in the scope of this article is how you can get a FREE domain name.
Yes, that’s right. I am sure you may have heard of domain names going on sale and so on, but did you know there are sites where you can claim a free domain name? Yes, some come with caveats, but there are different circumstances and I’ll share a couple of them with you today.
There are several ways you can get free domain names and some of them don’t involve you spending a cent. However, each has their own catch and what you choose will depend on what you’re willing to sacrifice in return. Don’t worry, it isn’t anything sinister but make sure you pay attention to the details of each method.
Free domain name providers are those who seriously give out domain name for nothing. Each usually has their own restrictions on what domain extension you can register, but generally, don’t charge you a cent.
The Catch – These free domains often come with lots of fine print you need to read. For example, with a .tk extension if your site fails to respond to redirect targets your domain will be taken back by the registrar. Traffic to that domain is then sold off to ad networks.
Freenom is the registrar for domain names of the tiny island of Tokelau, a remote and very sparsely populated country of around 1,500 people. It gives domain names away for free and because of that exploded in popularity.
.tk domains are the fifth most registered domain extension in the world and you can get yours through Freenom. Aside from that, when searching for your domain name here, the system will often suggest other domain extensions you could sign up for.
Belonging to another remote and location, .nf domain extensions represent the Norfolk Islands. Do take note however that although the TLD of .nf is free, second and third level extensions such as .com.nf or .net.nf have to be paid for.
.Biz.nf is where you can get these domain from, and if you’re interested they also offer other freebies such as web hosting and SSL certificate issuance.
Dot TK is a subsidiary of Freenom in face, aside from a slightly different colour scheme has the same layout and features. There’s not much to extend about Dot TK here except to mentions that you can use either this site of Freenom with the same results.
Doing the same search, I came back with the exact same results I got with Freenom – a combo of unavailable names and alternate suggestions. The list changes when you do the search again, so sometimes it may help to run it a few times if you don’t like what you are seeing.
Last on our list of places you can get free domain names is subdomain.com. Here you can register for a free domain name with the .nu (Niue) extension. The advantage of this site over that of ones offering .nu is that you can also get second and third level domains free.
There are some .nu domains which are chargeable, and these are usually in the premium category, such as one-character domain names which can go for as much as 500 Euros.
Despite my love for freebies, I personally feel that there is much more of a risk involved in those domain names as compared to buying one. If you feel the same way as well, you might like to consider a web hosting service provider which packages a free domain name with web hosting together. After all, you still need hosting for your website, right?
The Catch – This one should be a little obvious. The catch is that free isn’t free; you have to pay for a package deal. However, it is a good choice since you need both hosting and domain name to run your website.
Hostinger is a great example of this as they have very decently priced packages, some of which include a free domain name. Their Premium and Business shared web hosting plans (which cost only $2.15 and $3.45 respectively per month) both come with a free domain name registration.
It also helps that they are an extremely reputable host and the domain names you get for free are premium TLDs such as .com or .net.
GreenGeeks has been in the web hosting business for over 11 years and offer users the unique change to go digital while being environmentally friendly. They buy energy credits for however much power your web hosting needs cost and so contribute positively in terms of energy footprint.
Every one of their plans come with a free domain name, starting from their most basic Ecosite Starter plan at only $2.95 per month. This means that whatever plan you choose with them, you’re covered as far as a domain name goes!
TMDHosting is another industry veteran that has a lot going for it. They sell highly on speed, reliability and most of all – security. Their hosting packages also come with free domain names starting from the most basic of plans.
They have a wide array of web hosting capabilities, so whether you decide to opt for their shared hosting plans or even Cloud or VPS hosting, you’re good to go. Shared hosting with TMDHosting start from as little as $2.95 per month.
Website builders allow you to quickly and easily build sites with little or no technical knowledge. They provide lots of useful tools to help with this and for little more than the price of what standard web hosting might cost you. In addition to that, some have free plans you can start off with that include free subdomains for your site.
The Catch – Subdomains tend to have a certain ‘cheapness’ to websites and it will appear to users as though you aren’t serious enough to even get your own domain name. On the other hand, the subdomain plus website builder and hosting give you an excellent launching point for your website-owning career.
Wix is the king of website builders at the moment and is valued for many reasons. One of the key highlights of Wix is that it has a free entry level plan that comes along with a free subdomain for accessibility to your site.
While it might be true that the plan is more restrictive than anything a shared host might offer – it’s free! If you find you like it, you may even end up upgrading to one of their paid plans. I highly recommend Wix as one of the top in the website builder business.
For those on the free plan your domain name will look something like:
Weebly is another strong contender in the website building business that also offers you a free subdomain with the account. Of course, since that subdomain isn’t tied to your username like Wix does, it can be a little challenging finding the right name to fit.
If you join Weebly your domain name will look something like;
The bastion of all Content Management Systems (CMS), WordPress.com is where it all started and remains a popular choice for first times even for today. Built on its own CMS platform, an account with WordPress.com will get you hosting plus a free subdomain.
Many people use WordPress as a starting point in their budding web careers, both because it is free and gives good experience with the popular WordPress platform.
Strikingly is sort of a mix between the packaged website hosting with a domain name, except that its main role is as a website builder. So long as choose a package with an annual payment option, you’ll get a free domain name of your choice (so long as it’s available).
Fees start from as low as $8 per month, which is good considering that you get a domain name, site builder, web hosting and eCommerce capability all in one go!
There isn’t any real free meal in this world and as with everything labelled ‘free’, many of these options come with a ‘catch’ at the end of the day. For example, free domains such as .tk and .nu have become a little disreputable over the years. There is also a lot to pay attention to in the fine print, such as the registrar being able to shut down your site and divert traffic to advertises or other sources if you break any of their terms and conditions.
Personally, I feel that either getting a free domain name with a hosting package like what Hostinger does, or even getting a free subdomain is a much better option. What Hostinger gives you is a real domain which is well accepted around the world, such as .com.
Getting a subdomain with a website builder may be free, but it erodes the branding of your site and at the end of the day, that is part of your website value, right? Choose wisely between these options or you may end up hurting your own digital reputation more than you think.