Free Domains: Are They Worth It in 2021?

It’s no question that in life, things cost money, domain names included. Now, as far as things go, domains are pretty cheap, averaging around $15 a year. Some hosts, like Warpgate, even give you a free domain name to sweeten the deal. But, what if you wanted to avoid paying for a domain? Maybe you want a testing ground, and localhost just isn’t cutting it. For whatever reason, maybe you’re sick of paying $15 dollars each time you want to create a new website.

There’s a curious company called Freenom. Freenom claims to be the first, and only, free domain registar in the world. They are an ICANN Accredited Registar, although you’ll find them under the name “Open TLD”. Shockingly enough, it turns out that they do, in fact, distribute free TLDs.

Why Do Domain Names Even Cost Money?

A good question. After all, aren’t domains just strings of letters? There are a few reasons why these domains do cost money. For one, think of the databases that keep track of each domain name and what IP address it points to. Those things cost money, gobble up electricity and require constant maintenance. Each domain registar also worked pretty hard creating there system, and still works hard providing customer support and security. Plus, if domain names were free, do you seriously think there’d be any left? No. Someone would create something to buy each and every one, than sell them at a profit.

What Domains Can I Expect?

You probably don’t expect .com’s or .net’s, and you’d be right not to. Instead you’ll get a strange assortement of random-looking country-specific TLDs.

Freenom's free domain selection.

Needless to say, these domains don’t exactly inspire trust with your visitors. For average visitors, they’re unrecognizable since people are unfamiliar with them, so you might see a loss of trust. For those who know a thing or two about domains, these are quite untrustworthy, and I myself would never give my email address, password or any data whatsoever to someone using one of these domains. And ot search engines, you might as well forget ranking high. Free domains are already firmly associated with scams and illegitimate projects like link farms, and you good luck getting approved by Adsense or Media.net.

TLDCountry
.tkTokleau, a remote island in the South Pacific Ocean, population: around 1 500. Over 50 million domains registered.
.mlMali, a landlocked country in West Africa with a population of around 20 million and around 13% internet usage.
.gaGabon, a small country in Central Africa with a population of approximately 3 million people.
.cfThe Central African Republic, another landlocked country in Central Africa with a population over 5 million and a 4.3% internet usage.
.gqAnd yet another small Central African country, Equatorial Guinea has a population of 1.5 million and a 25% internet usage.

Have you noticed a pattern? Yes, each one of them is a rather poor country with quite a low perecentage of citizens with internet access. Freenom, our aforementioned domain registar, will sign contracts with these poorer countries, and give them some of the money earned through these domains.

How Does Freenom Make Money

Money is a driving factor in most businesses, and being a domain registar certainly isn’t cheap. You have to pay the ICANN, manage databases and pay employees, and without charging money for each registration, how does Freenom make money?

Payed Domains

Using there status as an ICANN accredited registar, Freenom also sells premium domains, and at pretty good rates. They offer free Whois privacy, an essential when registering domains. You also get good prices, that $6.71 fee for a .net is almost half the industry average.

Freenom's payed domain selection.

But as to how trustworthy they are, let’s just say that I have my doubts. There copyright section in the footer hasn’t been updated since 2015, and there support team hasn’t returned any of the queries I sent them, and there technology has proven to be clunky. In the end, you’d be better off choosing a reputable registar like Namecheap, with high-quality servers and effecient support teams.

Freenom also sells premium free domains. These include certain short keywords or abbriviations, some Fortune 500 compagnies and other short terms.

Expired Domains

Freenom also claims that expired domains, which are not renewed, are parked. While you can earn money parking domains, it isn’t much, and I’d be pretty impressed if you could find someone willing to pay even a small amount of money for a random free expired domain.

I actually decided to register a domain and let it expire, and instead of being sent to a parking page, I was sent off to some sort of error page, some I’m quite confused in this regard, especially considering that it expired 6 months ago, and should have been parked by now, if what they say is true.

User Experience

User experience is very important to me. I expect a fluid layout and navigation, and try and use services that are as simple as possible. As far as Freenom’s user experience goes, it’s not that bad, compared to some other registars out there. The main problem is that there system, to say the least, isn’t great. It’s clunky, slow and ocasionally goes down for sometimes hours on end.

The signup process is an absolute pain, and took my over an hour to figure out. First, you choose what domain name you seek to register. Once that’s done, you select the domain you want and proceed to the checkout. There, you continue as if you had an account, and once in the checkout area, you’ll have the option to sign up. Finally, after filling in a bunch of personal information, you’ll be given your domain.

Strangely enough, you can only register your free domain for 12 months at a time. If you want it for one year, it’ll cost you $9.95. If you want it for two years, it’ll take $19.90. In my opinion, that money would be better off going towards a payed domain, like .com.

In the management area, you’ll be greeted with a table containing each and every domain you have registered. Inside the settings, you can choose whether to redirect your domain to another one or set it to your webhosts nameservers, although some other registars will offer some more features.

A Major Problem

Freenom has a major problem with it, and even if you don’t mind being associated with spam, this might scare you away. You don’t actually own your domain name. While yes, it’s true that when you get a domain with a trustworthy registar you’re technically renting it, but the domain is registered in your name. It’s yours. If you get a free domain however, you don’t own it. Freenom still owns it, but allows you to choose which nameserver it points to. In other words, you’re not renting, you’re using something that they still own, and can legally take it away from you at any time.

And they do. Freenom has repeteadly been accused of stealing free domains that receive a lot of traffic, and while there’s no actual way to verify this, and I’ve never seen it happen, it’s possible, and it may discourage a lot of people from getting a domain name from Freenom.

Some Alternatives

Maybe after hearing all these horror stories, you feel like finding an alternative to Freenom, and no one blames you. Freenom doesn’t have an outstanding reputation, and the technology isn’t great. Maybe you don’t want to get a free domain.

XAMPP for Testing

A lot of people will get a free domain for testing purposes, and I would recommend against it. Not only do you risk losing the domain, but you have to get web hosting, and depending on what you’re testing, the load speeds could be impacted.

If you need a testing environement, I’d recommend XAMMP. You’ll be storing the files locally, instead of on a web server, which keeps the loading time reasonable. If you want to use WordPress, you can install and setup Bitnami, which installs WordPress on your localhost.

Free Domains With Web Hosts

Many web hosts will throw in a free domain with your hosting plan, although granted most will make you renew it, at rates much higher than the industry average. If you really don’t ever, ever want to pay for a domain name, but still want a premium one, we recommend going for Warpgate, which offers WordPress hosting plus a free domain for life all for the price of $30 a year. Read our full Warpgate Review.

The Verdict

It’s often said you get what you pay for, and the same must be said for domains. If you opt to get a free domain, you can expect no support, clunky software and not even actual ownership. In the end, I’ll say just don’t go for a free domain, ever. Instead, opt for a more professional and trustworthy TLD and save yourself form some future headaches.

1 thought on “Free Domains: Are They Worth It in 2021?”

Leave a Comment