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How to Get a Domain Name for Free

Updated on June 25, 2017
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Jorge has a long history of building tiny websites on shoestring budgets. He's always on the lookout for cheap ways to make fun projects.

Free Domain Name Registration: Is it Possible?

Are you starting your own small business? Do you need to throw together a website for your underwater basket-weaving club? Do you just want a personal web page with your name on it?

The ultimate personalization when it comes to your website is having your own domain name. It also looks more professional to have a URL that says [your-name].com, instead of some long subdomain from a cheapo free web hosting provider.

The thing is, though, that domain names cost money. If your pockets are turned inside out and full of butterflies instead of cash, then this can be a problem. Lucky for you, there is such a thing as a free domain name. What's the catch? We'll get to that in a second. First, let's look at how to get a free domain name in the first place:

Free Domain Name Method #1: The Obscure and Shady Top-Level Domains

In case you didn't know, "TLD" means "Top-Level Domain." The top-level domain of a URL is what you find after the "dot" part of it. So, for instance, in the case of example.com, the top-level domain is the ".com" part.

Of course, there are more than just .com TLDs. Along with the classic .net and .org domains, you can find a wide variety of colorful options, such as .club, .info, .store, and so on. There are also top-level domains that are associated with specific regions, such as .us or .au--and here lies the key to getting a domain name for free.

Some regional domain names have been designated by their countries as free for registration. Many of these allow you to register the domain even if you don't live there. All you have to do is provide contact information as with any other registrar, and you can have a domain for free.

Will this be a free .com domain?

Nope, the TLD of the domain will be that of the territory that issues it. For example, a really common free domain name is the .tk extension. There are others as well, such as:

  • .GQ
  • .CF
  • .GA
  • .ML

Each one of these has an official website that you can go to for a free domain name registration. Just Google the one you want and it should pop up as one of the first few results. You can also sometimes use one of the popular domain name registrars to register these free domains.

This is the only truly "free" domain name registration that you will encounter, where you can literally have $0 to your name and still get a domain.

Free domain registrars often unwittingly cater to...well, you know.
Free domain registrars often unwittingly cater to...well, you know.

Wait! What's the Catch With These Free Domain Providers, Seriously?

When it comes to these free country code domain names, there is more than one catch, actually:

  • These domain names are often associated with spam and are used to make scam websites. Some search engines don't list websites with these TLDs as a result. This would be terrible for your business.
  • People who know about these free domain providers will trust you less when they see your URL. Again, they are associated with shady enterprises.
  • There are usually restrictions on what you can do with the site. For example, you may not be able to use certain free domains if you're in an industry that the provider objects to (like gambling or adult material).
  • You often won't have access to domain privacy (unless you pay for it), which means that your personal information, such as your street address, will be listed publicly in a WHOIS database. Spammers love this.
  • Worst of all, often the provider can cancel your domain at any time without warning. It was free, so you can't really expect any recourse. Naturally, they may shut down your domain if you have content that they think is objectionable, but it goes further than that. I've heard of people who built up nice websites, got a good amount of traffic going, and then the free domain provider seized their site and parked it with ads. In other words, they might take your site away as soon as they think they can make money with it.

When To Use a Free Domain Provider Like the Ones Above

If you're still convinced that you simply must use one of these free domain providers, then there are a few conceivable instances where it might make sense:

  • If you don't care that your site could suddenly disappear. You're just making it for fun and will likely forget about it.
  • If this is a personal site and it's not going to get much traffic or take much work.
  • If you just want a "churn and burn" site that you're using to quickly test something and you want a free domain name registration so you don't waste money.

Otherwise, I would say that you should steer clear of free domain providers. After all, is it really a "free" domain when you put a bunch of time and work into your site, only to have the rug pulled out from under you once you see a bit of success?

Let's look at some other options that might still fall within your budget of...nothing:

So many domains, none of them free.
So many domains, none of them free.

Method #2: How to Get a Free .COM Domain Through a Host

Is it possible to get a free .COM domain, or will you always have to pay?

Yes...and no.

Ultimately, there is no such thing as free lunch, but you can get a free domain with a normal (not spammy) TLD with the purchase of something else. If you were already planning on buying some web hosting, then this may be your best option.

Lots of budget web hosts offer free domain name registration if you sign up with them, and it doesn't have to cost much. Just a few dollars per month, and you can get hosting that's usually more reliable than a free host, along with the domain name that you want thrown in for free. Sometimes they even come with free domain privacy, which is definitely something you should keep an eye out for.

Again, what's the catch, though?

Well, besides the fact that you do have to pay for a service, your free domain name is tied to your web host. For a lot of people, this isn't a problem, but think about it: If you ever have a dispute with your host, they could hold your domain name hostage.

Another concern could be that your domain probably will only be free for a year. Domains aren't something that you just buy once--they have to be constantly renewed every year. Even if you get a free domain for the first year with your host, they may not keep paying for the renewal. They definitely won't pay if you decide to leave the host.

Finally, some hosts require a commitment as part of the deal, which can be restrictive for sure.

Just a few bucks and you can get a cheap domain, no problem.
Just a few bucks and you can get a cheap domain, no problem.

An Alternative: Cheap Domain Names

Right now you might be thinking: "I said I wanted domain names for free! Why are you bringing up cheap options? Cheap is not free!"

Well, hear me out. If you read everything above, then you probably now realize that even the free domains aren't really free. Sure, they may not cost you anything out of pocket, but they will cost you in other ways, such as the risk of losing your work or the inconvenience of being tied to one provider.

Instead, if you expand your budget by less than $2, you can have the freedom of registering a domain name that is completely yours. While .COM domains themselves are not that expensive for most people, at only about $8 on the low end, I understand if you may not be willing to spend this. Cheaper or free .COM domains are hard to come by.

Instead, take a look at some of the interesting alternate TLDs that you can have for 2 or 3 dollars. How much you pay depends on the registrar that you go with, but many super cheap domain names that you can find include:

  • .bid
  • .win
  • .agency
  • .xyz
  • .men
  • .life

There are many others that you can use, if none of these cheap domains appeal to you. For example, you'll often find .info domains on special with many registrars. Shop around and take advantage of any deals you see (though keep in mind that the deals may only be good for the first year). There are also bulk discounts available with many domain providers.

The Purpose of Your Free Domain Journey

Why do you want to register a free domain?

See results

Here's a Final Comparison of These Options

Free Domain Providers
Free .COM Domains With a Hosting Plan
Cheap Domains With Alternate TLDs
You pay nothing.
You pay for another service, then get the domain for free.
You pay a low yearly fee for a colorful domain name.
Spammy domain, might not rank well in search engines.
Classic, professional domain name.
Interesting, professional domain name.
Website could spontaneously disappear.
You control your domain, unless your host / registrar has an issue with you.
You control your domain as long as you pay.
You will look cheap to users.
Users will remember your URL easily.
Users might still find your URL to be a little weird, but often this can work in your favor if you get creative.

Conclusions

Is free domain name registration possible? Yes!

But, like anything else, it comes with its own non-monetary costs. You really do get what you pay for. For just a few bucks, it's hardly worth the pain and suffering of dealing with a free domain provider.

If you're just building a budget website for a hobby, then it might make sense. Otherwise, steer clear of free domain providers, especially if you're trying to run a business.

© 2017 Jorge Vamos

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