coins in a fountainA lot of web hosting providers offer free domain names as a lure to draw in customers. This can be an enticing proposition to the novice website owner. There are some circumstances where this kind of arrangement may be worthwhile. However, before you leap at such a deal, consider the pros and cons of a “free” domain name. As with anything, you get what you pay for. 

Why would a host offer a free domain name?

Let’s cut to the chase. The reason web hosting companies offer free domain names is to make it very difficult for their customers to switch to a new hosting company later.  For about $10 a year in savings, the customer gives up control of their domain name and the flexibility to switch hosts if problems arise. By locking in the customer, the hosting company is guaranteeing a recurring monthly payment that nets them much more than that $10 a year they are giving away.

Are there any benefits to a free domain name?

For some people, loss of control and flexibility is worth a savings of 83 cents a month. If you are running a personal site or a site with a temporary lifespan, that kind of savings may be appealing.

Another benefit often touted with free domain names is the “ease of setup”. With the host controlling the domain, they are the ones responsible for making sure it is pointed to the right place. Of course they don’t tell you how simple this configuration really is. Don’t let fear drive you to give up the control you need.

What are the cons of a free domain name?

The biggest problem with getting a free domain name with your hosting contract is that generally the name is registered under the name of the hosting company. When you consider how much time and money you may invest in this name, you really want to make sure there is no doubt it is actually owned by you. Most hosting companies are sincere and honorable, they will live up to their vendor client relationships. But what if something goes wrong? What if there is a disagreement? What if they succumb to the current economy? If something should happen, or you simply find a better hosting deal, do you want there to be any questions about ownership of the domain name?

The next major problem with the hosting company controlling the domain name is that it is harder to make changes when necessary. Most hosts provide simple tools to do basic things, but will require a support request for anything else. This takes away the flexibility you get when you register your own domain name.

Many hosts will transfer your “free” domain to you on demand, but then you must pay for the transfer and renewal. Now it is no longer free. Given the time and trouble required to make the change, it seems better to start out the right way. Every hosting company is different so it is important to check out the fine print of their offers and freebies.

Should we avoid hosts that offer free domain names?

No. It is not necessary to avoid them. Many offer great deals. Just understand what you are getting into. Use the “free” domain as a secret or throwaway domain, and register your “real” domain name that represents your identity, brand, marketplace, idea, product, or organization under your own name. Only develop the domains that belong to you.

Better yet, use NetFlint Website Services. We offer a hybrid approach. We give you fantastic prices if you use us to register your domain names. This gives you control over all of your domain names, but we don’t require that you use us for hosting. Use anyone you like for hosting, we’ll even recommend some of our competitors.

However, if you do use us for hosting, you can get your domain name for as little as $1.99 for the first year. The domain is registered under your name, giving you complete control and flexibility, but you still get ease of configuration because it is automatically pointed to your hosting plan and website. If you choose to change hosting plans later, you have the flexibility you need to do that and there is no question about ownership.

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