These days every business needs an online presence.
If you’re starting your first website, you might be unsure about how to obtain a domain name and what costs are associated with doing so. We’ll explain how to get a free domain name for your small business so you can get your site up and running at a minimal cost.
What’s a Domain Name?
Simply put, this is the name of your website. It’s the uniform resource locator (URL) that people will type into the address bar of their web browser to reach your site. Most often, your domain name also serves as your homepage, which links to all your other web pages.
If your site includes a simple suffix such as “.com” or “.net,” this is what’s known as a top-level domain (TLD). For example, ours is https://www.fastcapital360.com.
Your domain name is a stand-in for your address on the internet, which would typically take the form of a string of numbers known as an Internet Protocol (IP) address. Every computer has an IP address as does the server that hosts your website.
The Difference Between a Domain Name and Hosting
Just because you can get a free domain name, that doesn’t mean you can get free website hosting.
Website hosting is the space you reserve on a server to house all the data that makes your website operate. Some platforms offer free hosting, but there typically are some strings attached.
For example, you can get a free domain name from WordPress, which will host the site for free, but you’ll have a “.wordpress” signifier in your URL. This means you don’t own the domain. Instead, your website is hosted as a subdomain under WordPress’s top-level domain.
These types of services may require you to migrate a domain you already own or pay to register your domain through their own service. Some services will give you a free top-level domain name, but only if you agree to host banner ads on your site or use a specific suffix in your web address.
In most cases, if you decide to get a free domain name, your best option is to pay for hosting from a well-known hosting provider.
The Best Free Domain Name Providers
Here’s a list of some of the best free domain name providers:
Biz.nf can provide you with a free domain name and website as well as with free web hosting. There’s one catch: All the free domain names Biz.nf offers are what are known as country code top-level domains (ccTLDs).
That means your domain name must include a country code suffix. In this case, it must include “.co.nf” rather than “.com,” “.net” or “.io.” This makes your site relatively challenging to find on the internet, which makes it more difficult for you to rank in search engine results.
If you’re trying to build a highly marketable internet brand, this may not be the best option. But if you need a functioning website at little to no cost, Biz.nf is one of the best choices.
Bluehost offers a free domain and website builder, but only if you agree to sign up for a web hosting plan. Thankfully, their web hosting plans are pretty affordable, starting at $2.95 a month. As one of the top-recommended hosting providers by WordPress, this is the perfect option if you want to build on the WordPress platform.
Obtaining a domain name from Bluehost also allows you to secure domains with recognizable suffixes like “.com” and “.net.”
Dot.tk (Dot TK)
Dot TK, powered by freenom, is similar to Biz.nf in that it provides you with a free domain name. However, it comes with a similar catch: The free options must end in a suffix such as “.tk” or “.ml.” Some of these suffixes can make it difficult to register your domain for some products, such as Google AdSense, and can make it more challenging to rank in search results.
It should be noted Dot TK sites that don’t receive enough traffic may be taken offline at Dot TK’s discretion. For this reason alone, Dot TK may not be the best option for starting a business website. However, if you need a space to experiment with programming and website building, this is a great option.
As with Bluehost, DreamHost provides you with a free “.com” domain when you sign up for a hosting plan. Their starter hosting package starts at $2.59 a month.
Hostinger is a European web-hosting company that offers an even cheaper starter hosting package at 99 cents a month, complete with a free domain name. Again, you must pay for hosting to get your domain for free, but this is one of the most affordable places to do it.
Squarespace acts as a hosting provider, but its key draw for businesses is its drag-and-drop style website builder. Essentially, it lets you build a website without any programming skills, allowing you to make one quickly using a simple template.
You also get a free domain name with your plan. A personal website package starts at $12 a month.
Weebly can provide you with a free basic plan that includes free SSL security, 500MB of storage, and a free domain with Weebly branding attached. If you want your own custom domain, their plans start at $5.
Once again, technically the domain name is free, but you must pay for hosting to get a voucher for it.
Another all-in-one website service, Wix provides you with a free domain when you sign up for a premium plan, which gives you access to web hosting and a website builder. The cheapest option is $13 a month, but Wix recommends this plan for personal use only.
How to Register a Free Domain Name
Domain names are registered by registrars accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a nonprofit organization known as ICANN. There are thousands of these accredited registrars.
If you use a comprehensive website builder such as Squarespace or Wix, it will register a domain name for free during the checkout process when you obtain your service package. Most websites which can provide you with a domain name also are accredited registrars. They can offer you free domain name registration, but there may be other fees involved.
If you want to register a new domain name, follow these steps:
1. Choose a Domain Name
Take your time with this step. Once you choose a domain name, you’ll likely be stuck with it for some time. Your domain name will be attached to your brand, so it needs to be recognizable and easy to remember.
A good practice is to come up with three to five potential domain names.
2. Check the Availability of Your Domain Name
Any registrar will be able to tell you if your preferred domain name is available. If your preferred domain name is unique, you may not have much to worry about. Simpler domain names may already be taken, in which case you may need to select another option or change the suffix to acquire it.
Free tools such as DomainTyper are available to check the availability of your ideas.
3. Choose a Registrar
You can select one from the list above or search for more options. There are thousands of registrars out there.
Choose one that is reputable and well-respected. Don’t hesitate to look up online reviews, post questions in web forums or reach out to their representatives if you have questions.
4. Acquire and Register Your Domain
The domain registrar will walk you through this process, but it’s usually as simple as inputting some information and clicking a button. If you go through platforms such as Squarespace or Wix, you may need to pay to acquire a hosting package before your domain is registered.
If you acquired your domain name for free from a registrar such as Biz.nf or Dot TK, you can register your domain for free as well.
Building Your Website
Naturally, obtaining a free domain name is just one step in the process of getting your business online. If you aren’t migrating a site you’ve already built to a new domain, you’ll need to build your website once your domain is registered.
If you went with one of the website-builder platforms, it will provide you with templates, tutorials and tools for building your site. Otherwise, you’ll need the help of a web developer and a web designer to build all the functionality you want on your business site.