No-cost domain names come with a few caveats, but they’re useful options if you’re on a tight budget.
Creating a website takes significant work and consideration. It’s not enough to simply build a website, or find a hosting provider to keep it running on the world wide web. You need a domain name to attract visitors and customers, as well. If you think of your website as a brick-and-mortar shop, the domain name is the business’ address. Without an address, potential customers won’t find your real-world store, and the same is true for domain names and websites.
Fortunately, purchasing a domain name isn’t complicated, and there are several methods for buying one. In fact, we have a step-by-step domain registration guide that you should check out for pointers. That said, you can pick up a domain name without spending a dime if you’re willing to deal with a few caveats. We’ll show you how to do that.
There are a few things to consider when securing a domain name. Typically, domain names are not yours to keep indefinitely. They’re usually free for a year or two, after which the registrar will bill you for the renewal. You may lose the domain if you use it for what the provider deems an illegal activity (spamming, for instance). In addition, nearly all registrars reserve the right to make changes to the registration agreement whenever they wish, and without notifying you. Be sure to check any prospective registrar carefully before committing.
Domain names rarely come with privacy protection. This means that your information as the domain owner is publicly available to anyone snooping around the Whois database. If you’re a brick-and-mortar business and your info is already publicly available, privacy likely won’t be a major concern. However, if you’re a blogger who doesn’t want your personal address available for all the internet to see, privacy protection is an important security step. Depending on the registrar you use, this can be as low as $2 per year or as high as $20 per year.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s explore the three methods for obtaining a free domain name.
Dot TK and Freenom are domain registrars that let you obtain a domain for free. They let you search for a domain, and choose from one of five, non-cost extensions: tk, .ml, .ga, .cf, and .gq. These aren’t the suffixes you commonly see as you browse the web, so they can make your site—particularly a business-focused site—appear sketchy, or even illegitimate. If you’re whipping up a blog or personal site, this may not be a major issue, though.
Please note that you do not own these domains; they are registered and owned by either Dot TK or Freenom. You’re simply given the right to use them, so you cannot sell or transfer the domain names to anyone else.
Website builders, the services and tools that let you quickly create a website, also offer free domain names. However, the no-cost domain registration is only available for a limited time. More specifically, the domain name is included as part of a larger package, and expires when said package is up for renewal. This is usually a one-year window, after which you must pay to retain the domain at whatever renewal fee the service provider dictates. This could be ideal if you need temporary hosting for a year or less, but be warned: there are usually penalties associated with prematurely ending these plans. You may be charged a prorated fee for the time remaining on your annual domain, or charged the annual renewal fee outright.
Wix is a popular and versatile website builder that offers a free domain for one year with its annual plans. After this first year, however, you must renew the domain for $14.95 per year if you wish to keep it. Wix’s free domain offer does not include private registration; you must pay an additional $9.90 per year.
Weebly is another strong option. The website builder lets you get a free domain with its Pro plan (or other high- tier subscriptions). After the one-year grace period, your domain name must be renewed for $19.99 per year with privacy protection billed separately at $10 per year.
Squarespace is yet another website building option with a free one year domain name. Domains registered through Squarespace also include Whois privacy protection as part of the package, which is a pretty sweet deal if you go this route. Renewing domains with Squarespace cost $20 per month.
The third free domain registration method utilizes website hosting services. Much like website builders, web hosting services often bundle free domain name registration with their packages to coax you into committing to an annual plan. Also like web builders, web hosting services generally have penalty fees associated with early package termination, so you could be on the hook for the full domain renewal fee if you decide to flake on the subscription. With that in mind, this method is good if you need a free domain name for a year or less.
Priced at $35.40 for an annual shared hosting package ($2.95 monthly for the first 12 months), Bluehost is one of the cheapest web hosting services that offer a free domain name. This package does not include domain privacy, which is billed separately at $15 per domain per year. Domain renewal pricing depends on the extension type, but a .com renewal costs $17.99.
Hostgator includes free domain hosting with it’s annual-or-longer Hatchling plan ($3.95 per month for an annual plan). After the free period ends domain renewal averages about $18.99 per year for a .com extension, with privacy protection billed at $14.95 annually.
Hostinger is another option to consider, with reasonable domain renewal rates. Its premium shared hosting plan costs $2.59 per month with an annual commitment, which includes a free domain during that period. Domain renewal with Hostinger costs $11 annually, and Whois protection costs an additional $5 per year.
Domain registration doesn’t need to be pricey. Registration services, such as Dot TK and Freenom, offer free domain names, and they’ll get the job done provided that you don’t mind a funky-looking URL extension. Web hosts, such as Hostgator and Squarespace, let you grab a free domain name, too, but with time-centric limitations. Still, if you’re on a tight budget, these no-cost domain options come in handy.
For more web hosting tips, check out The 6 Best Free Web Hosting Services for Tight Budgets and Linux vs. Windows: How to Pick the Best Server OS for Your Website.
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Gabriel Zamora has dabbled in a little bit of everything over the years, including contracting, construction, professional cooking, and podcasting. Yet, he keeps things geeky with more than a decade’s worth of gaming and electronics-related writing contributions. Gabriel now lends his eclectic insight to PCMag as an Analyst who covers the web hosting, streaming music, mobile apps, and gaming beats.
When Gabriel’s not juggling monitors, he’s hard at work in the kitchen perfecting new recipes, savoring new foods and brews across NYC, and improving his amateur art projects.
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