There are no free, 100% free domain names any more.
Freenom is still around, but its free domain name services are shut down. That was the last truly free source of top level domain names that I know about.
But what about the “free domain names” offered by web hosting companies?
It’s a good sales gimmick: if you sign up for a long contract, the web host gives you the domain name free for the first year.
Getting a free domain name with web hosting is the only way to get a free domain name. It’s not zero cost, but you don’t have to pay for a domain name the first year.
Now there are two alternatives that aren’t exactly getting a free domain name, but they are close enough for some people:
- Get a ridiculously cheap domain name. You aren’t going to get a .com or .net, but with the right service, you can find domains as low as $0.99/year.
- Use a free website builder or blog site. There are a handful of sites like Wix, WordPress.com, Substack, and others where you can build your site on their domain. You don’t pay for hosting or a domain name.
Let’s go through each method, when to use it, and how to get the best possible deal.
How To Get a Free Domain Name With Web Hosting
If you are willing to sign up for a year or more of web hosting, companies will often throw in a free domain name for the first year.
Here’s what I would do to find a good web hosting + domain name bundle:
- Find an available domain. If web hosts offer a bundle, they will have a simple search tool you can use to find a domain name you like that isn’t taken. I use Hostinger for my personal blog, which has been good so far. You can check for Hostinger’s available domains.
- Select a shared hosting plan. Shared hosting is fine for new and small sites. It’s the least cost and near-zero technical upkeep on the user side. I look for a web hosting company that isn’t nickel-and-diming me.
- Go through the full signup process to identify all the extra charges–This is the only way to find weird activation fees and suss out the completely bs charges for WHOIS privacy, SSL certificates, and so on.
- Sign a year long contract, or longer. Renewal pricing is more expensive. If I can lock in a low price for a few years instead of just one, why not? I am always going to need a website.
Straight-forward enough, but how much is it going to cost?
Decent web hosting is less than $5/month. Not bad.
Signing up for a year will be like $50-$60, which is due upfront.
And this is a free domain name?
Yes. This is the deal. The web hosting company wants you to sign up for a full year, so they sweeten the pot by waiving your first domain name registration fee.
That’s it. No magic tricks. It’s a discount.
The downsides with free domain name bundles:
- You have to spend money to get the free domain name discount
- You have to sign up for at least a year to get a free domain name
- Domain names are free for the first year only–after that, a normal .com domain costs $10-20/year to renew.
The upsides with free domain name bundles:
- You get a quality domain name, like your-brand.com, that looks professional to clients and polished on a business card.
- Your won’t have advertisements from another company on your site (truly free options always do)
- You pay one vendor, the web hosting company, for everything you need to launch and manage a website.
- Your site will have a better chance of ranking higher in Google compared to hosting your site on another business’ domain, like WordPress.com.
- You will have a real customer service channel to contact if things go sideways, and loads of professionally written documentation for getting setup and improving your site over time.
Getting everything in one bundle is the easiest way to launch a website and much more convenient to manage moving forward.
The alternative is getting hosting from one place, domain names from another, installing an SSL certificate from a third-party, and so on.
Tips For Getting a Free Domain Name With Hosting
This really comes down to picking a good web host, which I have blogged about at length. The truth is most web hosting companies are basically the same, and there are a handful to avoid at all costs.
I have had a good experience hosting my personal blog on Hostinger, but it’s not significantly different from using Bluehost, DreamHost, or HostGator. All of those web hosts offer a free domain name for the first year.
Once you have a good web hosting bundle lined up, here are a few thoughts:
- Get a .com domain extension. Yes, the selection of names for weird domain extensions is much better than .com extensions. It’s better to be flexible on the domain name itself rather than the extension.
- Test the customer service quality during the trial period. If the host isn’t helpful when your money is on the line, what are the odds they’ll help you after you’ve paid? And you really shouldn’t need customer service with web hosting. It should just work. Needing to use it at all is a red flag.
- Don’t over-focus on the free domain. It’s $10-$20/year, not a huge deal. If you want a really high-powered site, for example, I’d recommend WP Engine as a web hosting service, and they don’t offer free domains.
Getting a free domain with web hosting isn’t truly free, but it’s the best option for people who are serious about building a website.
The alternatives I cover from here are less expensive or 100% free, but they all come with serious drawbacks that are not worth saving $11.34 for one year.
How To Get the Lowest Price on a Domain Name
Can you live with a $0.99 domain name? I know, it’s not free, either, but it’s darn close.
I don’t recommend this method for most people.
But, if my goal was to get the cheapest possible domain name, here’s how I would do it:
- Select a domain registrar that has a good selection of domain name extensions. Namecheap is the best for most people. NameSilo and Porkbun are pretty good, too.
- Use the search tool to locate the cheapest possible domain name.
- Price-check against other domain registrars to verify that the price is as low as possible.
- Register the domain name for at least one year.
That’s it. Domain registrars make it wildly easy to search through a whole bunch of domain name extensions and domain name variations.
So how cheap can it get?
Here’s a quick search for deals on Namecheap:
And these aren’t totally random domain extensions either. A URL like your-site.online or your-site.shop is not too strange, as far as cheap domain names go.
But if the market isn’t willing to pay a high price for nonstandard domain extensions, what does that tell you?
Some people are willing to stomach the significant drawbacks that come with a cheap domain name. Not me. I will always pay a few dollars more for a .com.
The downsides with cheap domain names:
- You get a nonstandard domain name with lower credibility
- You still need to buy web hosting somewhere if you want to host a website at this domain
- You can only get super low domain pricing for 1 yr (the price goes up for longer contracts)
- Renewal costs for deeply discounted domains can be obscene
- It’s harder to drive traffic to a nonstandard domain extension
The upsides with cheap domain names:
- You get a real domain name
- You have full control over the domain name
Ultimately, this method is about compromising on the quality of a domain name extension–you aren’t going to get the recognizable .com extension.
All things being equal, human users will click website.com over a website.co. Google’s algorithm tends to make the same choice for ranking one website over another in search results.
By getting a cheap domain, you are giving your site a worse chance to do well in the millions of interactions that determine what gets seen online.
Tips for Getting the Cheapest Domain Name Possible
You’ve made peace with the tradeoffs and decided that getting a cheap domain name is the best way to go. Great. Here are some final thoughts:
- Purchase your domain through a registrar not a web host. It’s going to be cheaper because you are going straight to the source–when web hosts sell you a domain, they have to add a little margin. It makes sense to buy a full website bundle from a web host, but if you just need the cheapest domain name possible, use a domain registrar.
- Shop more than one domain registrar. Registrars run promotions on different domain name extensions, and you may be able to find an especially good deal.
- WHOIS Privacy should be free. The registrar should not charge extra to keep your information off the WHOIS internet database. Some registrars will make you pay, or give it to you free only for the first year. Don’t tolerate that.
- Mind the renewal pricing. Because of the deep discounts, those once-cheap domain names can jump 5-7x in price upon renewal.
In terms of picking a good domain registrar, I use Namecheap, which has a deep selection of domain names and a fabulous domain name search tool. I also like not paying extra for WHOIS privacy, which Namecheap gives you free for life on most domains you buy through them.
One last thing about domain registrars: I would avoid any of the add-on services. Don’t get web hosting or email from them, for example. And if they have an unavoidable “30 days of email free”, be sure that it’s not set to auto-renew to avoid getting charged later.
How To Build a Free Site On a Domain You Don’t Own
An alternative to getting your own domain is using someone else’s. Free website builders and blog sites give you the tools you need to build a website and space on their domain.
It’s very straightforward:
- Create an account on a free website builder (Wix and Mozello are good) or a blogging site (Substack and Medium are good). All you need is an email address.
- Fill out basic site information. It’s usually pretty minimal and you can always update it.
- Choose a template if you are using a website builder. For blogging sites you may be stuck with a single layout option.
- Publish your first page or post. Hello world, you now have a website people can visit.
In all of these cases, you publish your website on another company’s domain.
Specifically, your website will be in a subfolder or subdomain. Using Wix free website builder for example, “your website” would have the URL your-website.wixsite.com.
The end result is that you now have a website, a little piece of online real estate, and you paid $0 for it.
Here’s how this option breaks down.
The downsides of building on another company’s domain:
- The URL isn’t exactly peak professional
- It’s harder to get your site ranked in search results
- There are going to be ads from the provider on your site
- There’s limited or no direct customer support
- It’s not always easy to take your content and move to a new site (impossible with Wix)
The upsides of building on another company’s domain:
- Zero cost (at least for now)
- Zero site upkeep or maintenance responsibilities
- Lots of free tools and support documentation
The website builders tend to be full of upsells and you will have some ads on your site. On a free Wix site, for example, there’s a thin banner advertising Wix at the top, as well as a note advertising Wix in the footer.
It’s fairly mild advertising, but still, it’s hard to argue it adds anything positive.
Getting traffic to your site from Google will be tricky as well. It’s hard enough to rank on your own domain, but trying to rank with a free WordPress.com site is exponentially more difficult.
Free sites also tend to be pretty rigid in terms of design. They want you to work within the template and upgrade to get cooler features.
If you choose to upgrade, it will cost more with Wix than it would have if you had just bought your domain and got cheap web hosting like originally recommended. Sigh.
Blog sites like Medium and Substack are ideal for writers and other content creators to share long form posts with high quality images. You will have even less design freedom with the blogging sites, but they are mostly ad-free.
The free site method is okay for side-projects, but if you plan on putting serious time and effort into your website, I would build it on a domain you own.
Tips for Building a Site on a Domain You Don’t Own
Some things to consider if you are going with the free site option:
- Find a template you can live with. The free templates that website builders offer tend to be fairly limited. You will only be able to adjust it so much without upgrading to a paid plan.
- Test-drive a few options. There is a huge benefit in using a website builder you enjoy vs one that is a chore to make any edit.
- Consider the upgrade options. You may not want to pay now, but what does it look like if you wanted to upgrade? Some free builders have a massive jump to their paid plans whereas others upgrade for a few bucks. It can be very difficult (or impossible) to move your site from a free website builder to another platform.
Why I Will Never Use A Truly Free Domain Name
From time to time, websites with free domain names pop up. And when I say free, I mean 100% free, no catches, no subdomains, no subfolders–truly free domain names.
Invariably, these sites become hot spots for fraud, spam, and all sorts of crazy shit. Then the site gets shut down. It’s a predictable fate.
My take: You do not want to hitch your wagon to one of these sites.
Freenom was the most recent site to offer free domains that I know about. Their free domain name service went down in January of 2023 and it has not come back.
Currently, I cannot find another service that offers free top level domains.
But even were Freenom still up and running, I would not recommend getting a free domain this way or using any similar service.
Did people use free domain names from Freenom, sometimes for years?
But Freenom users will be the first to tell you not to use a free domain name for a website you really care about. Here’s why:
- You Could Lose Your Domain for No Reason. People hosting their sites on Freenom domains complained about losing their domain once their site got some traffic to it. It’s the “wild west” where you wake up one day and your site is gone. Your former domain is now directing traffic to an NSFW site in a language you don’t recognize.
- Domain selection is problematic: You are not going to get a .com domain extension. Like similar sites in the past, Freenom offered free country code TLDs like .tk (Tokelau) or .gq (Equatorial Guinea). At best, these domain extensions do not help your site, and at worst, you wind up being associated with the hackers and scam artists who are also using these free domain names.
- Unreliable service: When no one is paying, the quality of service takes a hit. You tend to get what you pay for with these types of services. Freenom users complained of sites becoming unreachable for no reason, unintelligible error messages, and phantom customer support.
I appreciate the spirit behind these services, democratizing the internet and all that–but free stuff gets abused. I am not surprised that Freenom shuttered its free domain name program.
When you really want to grow a website, there are all kinds of ways you can be efficient and save money.
Free and cheap domain names are not the place to skimp, especially when you are talking about $10-20/year.
Getting a good domain name is too important to the success of a website. If you can get it free with web hosting–great–take the small win.