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Where to get low-cost and free domain names

Written by Kieran Cairns
Published on

A website and therefore a domain name is an unavoidable nesscesity for any business in the 21st centuary. However, despite what you may have heard you do not have to pay hundreds of dollars for a domain name, you can actually even get certain domains for free. However, like with most free things in life, there are caveats.

In this post we will discuss the differences between free and paid domains, along with a list of providers to get your domain name from and tips on how to avoid the all to common "bait and switch" marketing.

No Domain / IP Address

Few people know you can actually allow other people to access your website without a domain name. All web servers will have an IP address associated with, and if there is a single website hosted on the server you can often access your website by typing the server IP into your web browser. However accessing your site through an IP addresses come with a number of issues.

Poor Formatting

The biggest issue you will come across is the formatting of an IP address - they are a series of numbers with periods in between them for example ‘72.5.70.5’. Many people will struggle to remember this sequence of numbers in the correct order including periods if spoken verbally and quite frankly to many people it looks very suspicious as it doesn’t follow the normal conventions of a website address for example Domaincord.com or Google.co.uk which is made up of a word or multiple words followed by the domain tld .com and .co.uk respectively in these examples. There are no numbers as they are difficult to remember and don’t portray a professional look.

Not always an option

The second issue you will find with the IP Address method of accessing a website is that it is not industry practice for web hosting providers to provide dedicated IP addresses to individual customers. It may come as a surprise to many people, but there is actually a shortage of IPV4 IP Addresses (those which contain just numbers and periods), this means web hosting providers are reluctant to provide IP addresses to their customers for their website as they have to justify each request for a new IP and the governing body does not accept needing the IP address as a website url as valid justifcation.

Dedicated IP addresses often cost extra

Unless you are hosting your website on your Home PC (which is not recommended), you are likely to find yourself needing to pay your hosting provider as much as $10/month for a single IP address, unless you have a hosting plan that includes one free of charge. In the instance you have to pay for an IP Address you will always be paying more than the cost of the other domain options disccussed in the post, even more than the paid ones.

Free Domains

Free domains are universally the cheapest way to get your website online with a human-readable address. They are more practical than an IP Address from a usability point, however they fall behind other options in areas like longevity, reliablity and professionalism.

Easy to read, but can still look unprofessional

Free domains are easy to read as you can decide what comes before the period In the address, just like you can with paid domains. However, unlike paid domains you are extremely limited in what options you can have after the period. Common free domains end in extensions such as .eu.org, .ml, or .tk amongst others.

This means by solving the issue of readability you have created a new issue - trustworthiness and professionalism. Many people still don’t trust domains that end in usual and unique extensions.

This issue is compounded by the significant number of fraudulent websites run on free domains, which is much higher than is found on a domain extensions like .com.

As of May 2022, 4 of the 5 free domain names provided by Freeenom are ranked in the top 10 most abused domain extensions by Spamhaus, with an average of 1 in 3 domains being used for fraudulent purposes.

For comparison, .com domains have an abuse rate of less than 5 of every 100 domains and .net domains are even lower at just under 4 in every 100 domains been misused. This means the abuse rate for the most common free domains is over 6 times as high as that found on paid domains.[1]

Unfortunately, this means many people will have seen free domain name extensions used for malicious purposes like phishing and therfore are likely to be aphrenrsive in visiting your own website. This is particulary an issue when you are trying to get people online to visit your businesses site.

You can lose your domain without notice

Unfortunately, renewing your free domain does NOT guarantee you can continue using it. On many free domain providers, including the biggest which is Freenom, you are not actually the domain owner (like you are usually). Instead you are a licensee which means the company can revoke your free domain name at any time, without notice or reason and you have no recourse to regain control of it as its in the terms you agreed to.

Not only does this mean you can loose your domain name at the drop of a hat, the domain provider could repurpose the domain for their own use (as they are the owner of it). In the case of Freenom they are known to revoke any domain name that gains significant traffic and replace it with advertising, of which you are not entitled to any compensation for.

No business wants to loose their domain through no fault of their own, and they certainly don’t want it replaced with adverts that coud be directing potential customers to compe

Who are free domain name suitable for?

As we have already established free domains are certainly not suitable for businesses. However, despite all the drawbacks they can be an acceptable option to host a project you want to share with someone, for example a website you coded.

Free Domain Providers

If you choose to use a free domain name for your provider there are couple of options available to you which are detailed below.

Provider Extensions Notes
Freenom .tk / .ml / .cf / .gq / .ga Freenom are known to revoke domain names for no reason.
eu.org .eu.org Registrations are manually approved which can take up to a week. You do not need to live in the EU.

Free Subdomains

Easy to read, but look unprofessional

Like with free domain names, subdomains are easy to read as you can pick the words at the beginning - however this time instead of been stuck with a strange extension like .tk your hosting providers domain is included as well.

Not only does this make the name even longer, you are basically advertising the fact you got the domain name for free, as no business uses someone elses domain name for their website.

Stuck with your web host

Most free subdomain names are provided by web hosting providers, which means you can only keep the domain as long as you are hosting with them. This means if you decide to move to another web hosting provider in the future, you will need to aquire a new domain name.

Also like with free domains the provider could decide to stop providing free subdomains are even close down completely, leaving you with the headache of choosing a new domain name and updating everywhere you have listed your domain name.

You will also loose any rankings your domain has gained on google if this happens.

Who are subdomain names suitable for?

Like with free domains, subdomains are a great option for non business use, for example showcasing a project and unlike free domains, you have a much larger array of options to choose from and they can last longer If you choose a reputable provider.

Free Subdomain Providers

If you choose to use a free subdomain you can find information on the main providers listed below.

For Hosting Customers Only
Provider Sub-domain
Netlify example.netlify.app
Vercel example.vercel.app
GitHub Pages example.github.io
Surge example.surge.sh
Weebly example.weebly.com
Wix example.wix.com
WordPress example.wordpress.com
Blogger example.blogger.com

Paid Domains

Paid domain names are by far the best choice for a business or other professional website. They most often come in extensions everyone knows and loves for example .com, .net and .org.

Professional & Affordable

The key advantage of paid domains is the profesionalism they portray. Everyone knows and trust’s domains that end in common extensions such as .com, which means you negate the risk of people thinking your website is a scam.

Paid Domains are also much more affordable than you might think with dozens of companies offering the best selling tld’s such as .com or .org for less than $15/yr. You may have been recommended to register your domain with your web hosting provider, whilst this is an option its not always ideal as they often charge considerably above the market rate.

It’s not always a case of your web host scamming your either, it’s because most web hosting providers go through resellers (bigger registars) to provide domain services, which means they have to add profit margins on top of the prices set by the registrar, whilst offering no actual benefits to the customer.

Hundreds of options

As of April 2021 there is over 1,500 recognised domain extensions, with the average registar offering a selection of over 500 to choose from. Options range from your traditional options and country codes like .com, .net, .org, .info, .io, .co, .co.uk through to newer extensions such as .top, .xyz and .bio and even industry specific tld’s such as .flowers, .hair and .pizza.

Not only does this mean you are always guaranteed to find a suitable domain name for your business, you can even tailor the domain to your industry for example JamesB.Hair or Typesof.flowers.

However, be aware each tld will be sold at a different price, ranging from as little as $3/yr for .ovh all the way through to $75,000/yr for domains ending in .hoteles - no that isn‘t a typo. Fortunately the average price across all tld’s is less than $50/yr.

Highly Reliable

Unlike with free domains and subdomains you will find a paid domain is incredibly reliable, this is because when you buy a domain you sign a contract which means as long as you pay your annual renewal fee, you will not loose your domain.*

*You may still loose your domain if you violate your providers terms of services, although generally the terms only prohibit using the domain for criminal / immoral purposes.

Who are paid domains suitable for?

Unlike the other options discussed paid domains are suitable for just about everyone, from students through to busineses. The only thing you need is money to pay the annual renewal fee.

Choosing A Provider

There a number of things to compare when selecting a domain name registar, for example pricing and support.

The key things to look out for are the following:

  • Renewal Pricing - This should be clearly indicated when signing up and there should not be a significant difference between registration and renewal price, as it often means you are being overcharged for renewal.
  • Customer Service - You want to make sure the provider you choose has good customer services, particulary if you haven’t owned a domain name before.
  • Minininum Registration Periods - You should not use a provider that forces you to pay for your renewal upfront to get a promotional price.
  • Whois Privacy - Following the GDPR Rules introduced in 2018 most registars have started offering free whois privacy to all customers. You should ideally select a provider offering free Whois privacy if you do not want your name and address to be publiclly linked with your domain. This is an issue mainly for indviduals, but can also apply to home based businesses.
  • Freebies - Many providers offer freebies such as email forwarding or DNS management, however you should never pay more for a provider that offers these as you can easily get the features for free from other companies such as your hosting provider.

Recommended Providers

There are a handful of providers that are known by the industry to be reliable, cost effective and to offer good customer services.

Provider Extensions Available Price Range Notes
NameCheap 500+ Moderate $0.18 ICANN Fee not included in listed prices.
NameSilo 400+ Inexpensive
Cloudflare 200+ Inexpensive At cost domains, however you must use CloudFlare DNS.
Porkbun 500+ Inexpensive
Sav 300+ Inexpensive

Avoiding Bait & Switch

Like with all other industries there are bad players in the industry that pray on peoples lack of knowledge. You have likely see adverts for GoDaddy when searching for a domain registar or watching the TV - because of this advertising they have become on of the biggest domain registars in the world.

However, they also by far the worst for value. They will offer extremely competitive deals such as $1/yr for a .com domain registration with renewal approaching $20 on the second year, and if you are in the EU VAT will be added to this price - other registars do not charge VAT. Not only is the renewal price well above the industry average of $10-15/yr, you get nothing extra for that price.

In effect GoDaddy is paying for the 1st year discount by doubliding the price on the second year, and keeping at the same price or increasing it going forward. You will never approach the $10-15/yr territory with GoDaddy.

Fortunately many people have recongised this predatory practice and called them out on it and more their domain names to another company before renewal. However, instead of GoDaddy changing their pricing strategy to be more consumer friendly they have begun forcing customers to pre-pay for 2 years to get the first year sale.

Getting A Paid Domain for free

Few people know it is possible to get a paid domain such as .com or .org for free, well not quite free, but pretty close. A number of the larger paid web hosting period will offer a free domain if you signup to a long term contract or pre-pay for 1-3 years.

Whilst this can save you money as you will need web hosting anyways, consider wether you want to be in a contract with your hosting provider for the sake of a $10-15 saving. If you later decide your web hosting provider is not right for your needs you could find yourself forced to pay a steep fee to keep your domain, which is likely to be a lot more than you saved.

Most web hosting providers also expect you to pay for renewal after the 1st year, which like GoDaddy promotions can cost considerably more than the market rate.

So whilst it is most certainly an option if your budget is constrained, consider the potential costs in the future if it doesn’t work out will likely outweigh any savings you made.


[1] www.spamhaus.org. (n.d.). The Spamhaus Project - The Top 10 Most Abused TLDs. [online] Available at: https://www.spamhaus.org/statistics/tlds/ [Accessed 17 May 2022].

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