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The Curious Case of Absolutely Free Domain Name
Updated: 2021-04-15 / Article by: Timothy Shim
With more than 370 million domain names registered as of end 2020 Q3, domain names are hot selling commodities. In fact, there has been such great demand that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been allowing the registration of new Top-Level Domains.
With such huge number of domain names being registered, you would think that domain names now probably cost a fortune.
After all, commodity prices usually follow demand, right?
Yet that isn’t really the case with domain names. In general, domain names go for about $10 to $12 depending on where you buy them. I’ve even seen some sales periods where you can get a domain name for as low as $0.99.
Domain names that are cheap to register often come with a catch though – the renewal fees are often much higher than what you bought them for. Take for example the case of 1&1 Ionos which lets you register a .biz domain for $1 but charges $20 for subsequent renewals.
Where Do Domain Registrations Fees Go?
Domain names are priced differently depending on exactly what TLD is involved. Essentially, the amount you pay is split up between three main bodies –
Domain name registry,
Domain Registrar, and
Domain Name Registry
The domain name registry is the body which is authorized by ICANN to oversee the TLD in question.
For example, Verisign is responsible for overseeing .com domains, while Neustar overseeing .biz, .us and a few other TLDs. Of fees you pay for your domain name, around $8 goes to the registry.
Domain name registries do not directly sell domain names but allow other companies called registrars to handle these matters. For example, in the case of a .com TLD, although Verisign is the registry, you would buy the actual domain name from a registrar like NameCheap or GoDaddy. Registrars will get any remaining money above the base fee paid to the domain name registry.
Registrars sometimes also allow transactions via third parties which help them sell domain names. These third parties are resellers and will often take their own cut of the transaction as well.
100% Free Domain Name – For Real?
Given the relatively solid fee structuring and organization of domain names you might be wondering if its still possible to get a domain name for free.
The answer to that is a resounding…
Remember where I mentioned that ICANN gets a fee for sale of domains under its governance? Well, ICANN is not the only body which oversees domain names.
ICANN was founded in 1998, but there are TLDs which predate its existence or are otherwise outside of its jurisdiction. Of these, the most important to note are country-code TLDs (ccTLD) simply because of the issue of sovereignty.
How each of these TLDs are administered depends on then country. For example, in the UK the .uk ccTLD is overseen by Nominet UK, while the tiny island of Tokelau (population barely 1,500 strong) has Freenom as the administrator for .tk domains.
How to Get a Free Domain?
There are two main ways you can get a free domain name and that is through either Freenom or a web hosting provider which offers a free domain name with the purchase of specific web hosting packages which they sell.
1. Web Hosting Companies
Get free .com / .org / .net / .store / .xyz domain with hosting companies
Aside from the free (and shady) .tk domains you also might be able to get a free domain name from one of the web hosting providers. This is a much better option, since in many cases the domains they are giving away are more reputable extensions.
One good example of a web host which is doing this is Hostinger. This company is a full-service web hosting company which offers almost anything you’ll need to host up a website. Their hosting plans range from the humble shared hosting option all the way to powerful VPS Hosting and Cloud Hosting options.
Best of all, they are offering free domain registrations for the first year if you sign up with some of their plans. This is available even on their shared hosting plans like the Premium and Business plans. For a fee of only $2.15 and $3.45 respectively per month, both come with a free domain name registration.
Hostinger is also a domain name registrar (accredited by ICANN) and you can get quite several domain name extensions through them if you’re looking for an alternate to the traditional .com extension. The free domain name packaged with their hosting deals isn’t restricted to .com but can also be .xyz, .net, .info, .online, .store, .tech, .site, .webspace, or .space.
What's the catch?
In this case I would say that the catch really isn’t a catch since you need web hosting anyway to make use of your free domain name. Hostinger is a reputable company with an excellent track record and their web hosting deals are reasonably priced.
Get free .tk / .ga / .gq / .cf / .ml domain names with Freenom
Freenom is the registry operator in charge of .tk ccTLDs. These ccTLDs are given away free except in some premium cases. Premium cases normally involve trademark names, for example coca-cola.tk which costs around $1,800.
Because of the country’s liberal giveaway of .tk extension ccTLDs, they have become widely registered and it is currently the fifth most-registered TLD in the world after .com, .net, .de and .cn respectively.
The Freenom site is extremely easy to use and is built primarily around its domain name search engine. Its only other apparent service is a public DNS system (similar to the ones Google or Cloudflare operate). You can search for the domain name you want and the Freenom system will display a list of what’s available (or not) and for what price.
Running a cursory search, I found that my name was not available on the .tk domain but there were other ccTLDs where it was available on (see pic above). If you’re looking for an alternate site for dome reason, there is also Dot TK, which is a subsidiary of Freenom.
What's the catch?
The domain name is meant to be free. There is a ‘but’ there though and that is any domain registered with that extension is never deleted. If your site fails to respond to redirect targets, then the domain will be taken offline. Even worse, any traffic you’ve built up for the domain name is sold to advertising networks.
3. Website Builders
Get free subdomains with site builder companies
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.
Wix – the king of website builders at the moment, 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:
What's 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.
* Note: Wix may not be right for everyone. But considering the cost you'd need to pay for a professional designed website themes, ie. a good WordPress theme like Divi cost $89 – $249 (read Divi Theme review here) – I would say Wix is reasonably priced.
FAQs on Free Domain Names
How do I get a free domain name?
There are some domain names which are free to register for such as .tk and .cf. However, these domain names come with some unusual terms and conditions, so make sure you read the fine print closely when applying for one. You can get a free domain name from either Freenom or Hostinger.
The right to a domain name is leased out on a periodical basis. When signing up for one, you can choose to pay in advance for a number of years. To keep a domain name forever, choose to auto-renew your domain name and the charge for it will be deducted at each payment interval automatically. Here's the step-by-step guide to buy a domain name.
The cost of a domain name can vary greatly depending on the extension (.e.g. com, net, info) and even when and where you register them. 1&1 Ionos for example often has domain name promotions where you can get a .com for as little as $1 per year.
Which free domain is the best?
Each type of free domains mentioned in this article has their own catch. What you choose will depend on what you’re willing to sacrifice in return. 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 is a domain name?
A domain name is the address of your website. All domains are unique – you cannot register a domain name once it is registered by others. The organization governing global domain registration is known as ICANN.
Conclusion: Shady Freebie or Good Package Deal?
Because of the easy availability and free nature of .tk domains, they have become synonymous with sites of low reputation. As far back as in 2007, Internet Security giant McAfee found that a stunning 10% of all .tk domains contained malware. However, since then there have been other ccTLDs emerging which have even worse reputations, for example .cm, .cn and .ws. Unfortunately, the reputation of .tk ccTLDs has never really recovered.
With a .tk domain registered on Freenom, you’re looking at zero fees, but must consider the reputation hit your site might face. You also need to consider that your domain name might be taken back by the registrar at any time if you fail to meet their terms of service.
On the other hand, buying a good web hosting package from Hostinger may involve some cost for the hosting deal – but you need web hosting anyway, right? Plus you also have a much better spread of free domain name extensions to choose from.
One which won’t hand around your neck like a dead albatross!
About Timothy Shim
Timothy Shim is a writer, editor, and tech geek. Starting his career in the field of Information Technology, he rapidly found his way into print and has since worked with International, regional and domestic media titles including ComputerWorld, PC.com, Business Today, and The Asian Banker. His expertise lies in the field of technology from both consumer as well as enterprise points of view.