As you’re preparing for your business’s grand opening, you also need to get your business website up and running. However, you might be unsure about how to obtain a domain name. Can you get a free domain, or is it worth it to pay for a website name? Here’s how to get and register a free domain name for your small business.
What’s a Domain Name?
A domain 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. Your domain name can also serve 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.
Having a paid or free domain name is key to establishing your business’s professional standing. It makes your business look more polished, which improves credibility. A searchable free website domain also generates greater brand awareness and boosts your position in search engine results.
The Best Free Domain Name Providers
Bluehost offers a free domain and a website builder, but only if you agree to sign up for a web hosting plan. Your free website domain is free only for the first year with Bluehost. Their web hosting plans are pretty affordable on the plus side, starting at $3.95 a month for 36 months ($5.95 per month for 12 months). However, all plans auto-renew at the regular price, for which the least expensive plan is $8.99 per month for 36 months ($9.99 per month for 12 months). 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.”
As with Bluehost, DreamHost provides you with a free domain name for a year when you sign up for Shared Starter or Shared Unlimited hosting plans or the Dreampress hosting plan. Available extensions for the free domain name and paid hosting include “.com,” “.org,” “.net,” “.shop,” “.info” and “.blog.”
If you select the Shared Starter hosting package, you’ll pay $2.59 a month for 3 years during your first year. After that, you’ll pay the regular price of $5.99 per month. DreamHost has garnered praise for its economical price for the array of functions it provides users.
After your first year with a free website domain, you’ll have to pay to register and then renew the name with DreamHost. Prices range from 89 cents to $40.99 for initial registration, depending on the extension. Renewal and transfer costs run from $9.95 to $129.95.
Squarespace acts as a hosting provider, but its draw for businesses is its drag-and-drop style website builder. It lets you build a website without any programming skills; you can quickly create a site using a simple template.
You also get a free domain name with your plan during your first year. A personal website package starts at $12 a month if you pay annually ($16 per month if you pay monthly for a year). After your free year, domain names cost $20-$70 per year.
Biz.nf can provide you with a free domain name and website as well as with free web hosting. There’s one catch: All free domain names Biz.nf offers must include “.c1.biz” rather than a “.com,” “.net” or “.io” suffix. This can make your site relatively challenging to find on the Internet. If you want a “.com,” “.net,” “.org,” “.biz,” “.info,” “.us,” “.co.uk” or “.eu” extension, you can get it with a free domain for a year when you purchase the unlimited business hosting plan for $83.40 a year.
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.
Hostinger is a European web-hosting company that offers hosting packages that, cost-wise, are on par with other platforms. You can also obtain a free domain name during your first year with a Shared, WordPress or Cloud hosting plan. A “.com” extension will cost $8.99 per year after that. Other extensions including “net,” “.site” and “.tech” can be purchased at varying price points.
Weebly provides a year with a credit for a free domain along with a hosting plan purchase (Professional and Performance levels only; the two highest-priced options). Once your first year is over, Weebly charges about $19.95 per year for your domain name.
Another all-in-one website service, Wix, provides you with a free domain for a year when you sign up for a premium plan, which gives you access to web hosting and a website builder. Wix has the highest per-month hosting pricing compared to other platforms (the least expensive is $18 per month). The premium cost aside, Wix features several options for small business owners, including visitor analytics and multiple payment options for eCommerce stores.
Wix states that domain pricing varies according to the number of years of use you purchase, the type of extension, your local taxes, etc. Sitebuilder reports registering a domain name with Wix costs $14.95 per year, plus $9.90 if you want private registration.
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 that provide you with a domain name also are accredited registrars. Note that even if you get free domain name registration, there may be other fees involved. For example, 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.
When you’re ready for your free domain name registration, follow these steps:
1. Choose a Domain Name
A good practice is to come up with 3 to 5 potential domain names before making your final choice. Keep the following tips in mind when you select your free domain name:
- Keep it short — 15 or fewer characters are recommended.
- Stick to “.com” for your domain extension. It’s the most common and trusted, which is especially helpful as you’re building your business’s reputation and brand awareness.
- Make it easy to spell. Avoid homonyms or creative spellings in your free domain name that could confuse people searching for your business’s website.
- Tie it to your business’s branding
- Make sure it’s SEO-friendly. Include keywords people use when searching for your type of business; including geography could be helpful, too.
Take your time with this step because changing your domain comes at a cost or sometimes isn’t allowed. For example, anyone who purchases a domain name through Google Workspace can’t change it after registration.
2. Check the Availability of Your Domain Name
Any registrar will be able to tell you if your preferred domain name is available. However, free tools such as DomainTyper can be used to check your idea’s availability.
A unique domain name is more likely to be available than a simpler name. While “theshoeshop.com” might already be taken, “uptownshoes.com” might be available.
3. Choose a Registrar
Although we’ve named several great registrar options, including Wix, Bluehost, Dreamhost, Squarespace, etc., there are thousands of other options you can choose from.
Select a registrar that is reputable and well-respected. Look up industry and customer reviews. You can also post questions in web forums or reach out to company representatives if you have questions.
No matter which registrar you choose, carefully read any contracts before signing up with the service. Many registrars can claim ownership of your paid or free website domain, meaning the registrar could revoke your name if they think you’ve violated their terms of service or for other reasons outlined in the contract.
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 Bluehost, Squarespace or Wix, you might need to pay to acquire a hosting package before your free domain name registration.
If you acquired your domain name for free from a registrar such as Biz.nf, you could register your domain for free as well.