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Comprehensive guide to cheap domains
Setting up a website is not always cheap. Many people don't realize the associated costs that come with getting a site up and running. First off, you must register your domain name. Without a domain name, no one can find your website, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a website in the first place.
Domain prices vary widely — some can go for as low as a few dollars, while others can set you back a couple of millions.
If you're just starting out with your website, you'll want to go for a cheap domain name, or better yet, a free domain. Well, you're in luck because this post covers everything you need to know about cheap domains — where to register them, how much to ideally pay for them, and even how to get free domains.
Let's get to it.
Domain name overview
To put it simply, a domain name is what identifies your website on the internet. Without a domain name, your website would only be identified by its IP address — something like this: 188.8.131.52. Type these random numbers (with the dots) into your web browser. It is the website IP address of wordpress.org. In this instance, the domain name for this website is 'wordpress.'
So basically, a domain name is the unique name you give your website so that your potential site visitors don't have to memorize random numbers to access your site. When we talk of domain registration, it's simply the act of registering your chosen name to that website's IP address.
A good domain name can lay the groundwork for all aspects of your website marketing. SEO, content marketing, email marketing, and even social media can hinge on your website's brand name recognition across the web.
What about a domain extension?
As the name implies, the domain extension is the last bit of your domain. For example, the domain extension for wordpress.org is '.org.' They're also referred to as top-level domains (TLDs).
Most common TLDs include .com, .org, .net, .gov, .edu, .biz, and so on. TLDs are as varied as they come. This is because they're intended to serve specific purposes usually related to the site's primary mission or geographical location. For instance, .com is the mainstay of commercial entities, whereas .org is mainly used by nonprofits and charity organizations.
Some TLDs are restricted — .gov is reserved for government use only; .edu for educational institutions; .NYC for New York City use, and so on.
How are domains registered?
All domain registrations are run through the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). This nonprofit organization is responsible for "coordinating and numerical spaces of the Internet, ensuring the network's stable and secure operation," as stated in its charter.
ICANN requires that anyone looking to register a new domain name must go through a domain registrar. These are companies accredited by ICANN to register new domain names. Examples include GoDaddy, NameCheap, Domain.com, Bluehost, and NameSilo, among others.
The registration process itself is pretty straightforward — find a unique name, choose your preferred TLD and look it up on the domain register. If it's available and it does not infringe on any copyrights, you can register it.
You'll need to provide your contact information and other relevant details to the domain registrar, who will then file it with WHOIS. No, WHOIS is not some fancy acronym but a query system designed to ensure accountability for your new domain name.
All registered domains have corresponding relevant info about their owners, which is stored in the WHOIS database. This info is important because it helps in adding authenticity and credibility to your website.
If someone wants to make sure that your website is actually what it says it is, they can do a "Who is" search on your domain name. If the information checks out with your own business details, then they know the website is legit.
Factors behind domain name pricing
Now that you're all caught up on domains and why they're so important, let's talk about why they cost money, and more importantly, why some are dirt-cheap while others cost a fortune.
First of all, you probably know by now that something so important wouldn't go for free. But what are the main factors behind domain name pricing:
- TLD — The more popular the domain extension, the more expensive. For example, .com domains will typically cost more for an eCommerce site than .xyz domains.
- Length — A domain that is shorter and easier to remember will usually command a higher price.
- Keywords — Domain names that contain a keyword(s) are important for SEO. As a result, they tend to cost more.
- Language — Domains and TLDs in English are generally more expensive since English is the most used international language.
- Domain-Renewal — You'll need to renew your domain name registration after a given period. In most cases, this domain renewal price is much higher than the cost of the original registration.
- Domain privacy — For a few extra bucks, you can mask sensitive info about your company, so whenever users perform a WHOIS search, they only see the basic necessary information.
- Domain transfer — If you already registered your domain name with one registrar but now want to transfer it under another domain registrar, you'll have to pay for the transfer.
What do we mean by 'cheap domains'?
For this article, a cheap domain is one that costs anywhere between $0.99 to $14.99. It's all relative at the end of the day. Someone can secure a good domain name for $90 and think that they got it at a low price, whereas another person is balking at the idea of spending $19.99 on domain registration and is actively looking for something with a lower price.
How to get a cheap domain
As you can imagine, getting a cheap domain will require some creative thinking on your part. Most of the good ones are already taken. Here are some tips that can help:
- Use something unique — These are also known as brandable domain names. There's a much higher chance that the domain will be available for registration with a unique name. For example, if you have a really unique business name, use that as your domain.
- Choose a less popular domain extension — Here's the thing, a .xyz or .biz extension still works the same way as a .com or .net extension. If your preferred domain name's cost is above your budget, then consider choosing a different domain extension. Note, however, that popular TLDs tend to have higher trust ratings among online users.
- Go for a longer domain — one and two-word domain names are easier to recall. By using something longer, there's a chance that it will not yet be taken. You can also use a domain name generator to help you find variations of your preferred domain name.
- Misspell — Though not really recommended, a common tactic is to misspell the domain by adding or removing a few extra letters in a bid to make a popular domain unique. For example, the domain name 'contentmarketing.net' is listed on GoDaddy at a selling price of $75,000. Notice this is even a .net TLD. Let's say you tried to register 'contentmakerting.com' instead. You'd only need to pay $1.09/month for the first year. This tactic is not recommended because it can cause confusion among online users, and they could end up landing on a different website altogether.
- Buy for the maximum number of years — Domain name registrars typically lower the prices of domain names based on how long you want to register them for. The shortest period is usually one year, and the longest usually five or more years.
If you registered for 5 years from the first registration, you'd be paying a much higher fee now, but in the long run, you've got yourself a relatively cheaper domain than if you paid for only one year.
Should I go for a cheap domain?
There are three main scenarios where ignoring some of the basic tenets of choosing a domain name makes sense:
1. It's for personal blogging
Personal blogs and websites are great for expressing yourself and honing your website management skills. Profit is not the main motive here, so going for a cheap domain name wouldn't hurt.
2. You want to register several domains
If you're going to register multiple domains, going for really cheap ones will help keep you within budget. The thought of buying several domains at once may seem absurd, but there are numerous situations where it is actually warranted.
For instance, if you want to register multiple variations of your domain using different TLDs. It's not uncommon for people to buy the .com, .net, and .org versions of their chosen domain name. In most cases, the domain registrars even offer discounted prices for those wanting to buy the bundle.
3. It can provide the same features as a premium domain
If they're both capable of doing the same thing, why shell out the additional cash? Besides, if you've got a solid marketing team, it's only a matter of time until they transform your low-cost domain name into a unique name brand. Or, at the very least, something popular enough that it doesn't cause mass confusion among your online visitors.
Most important features to look for in a cheap domain
- Affordable renewal price — Domain name registrars often offer massive initial discounts. For instance, they could offer the first year at 90% off the original price. You can't believe your luck at getting your domain at such a dirt-cheap price. The second-year comes, and boom, you're paying the full price hereon for domain renewals.
- Custom nameservers and DNS management — These are both important features. A custom name server basically points DNS requests to your own name server instead of your domain registrar's public name server.
- Domain security — Optional ID protection, Domain theft protection, and other critical security measures are a must-have regardless of the domain price.
- Available customer support — If you ever need to troubleshoot issues with your domain name, you'll need a fast, responsive support team on the other end of the line.
In any case, it's important to remember that the cheapest domain isn't necessarily the right domain. Sometimes it's worth it to spend that money to land the right domain name.
Generally speaking, the best domain name for your small business is the one that establishes your online presence the fastest.
Where to get cheap domains
Here are our top picks for where you can find the cheapest domains (Note - this list is in no particular order).
GoDaddy is a great place to look for low-cost domain names. With prices starting at $0.99, you can be sure of finding something that doesn't require you to break the bank.
GoDaddy is pretty much a household name in domain registrations, and the company has a lot of offerings to help you launch your online presence seamlessly. These include web hosting services, website builders, and custom email accounts. You can even snag a free domain when you purchase one of their hosting packages.
Bluehost is one of the most popular web hosting companies, and they focus more on hosting services than domain name registrations. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. The company offers some of the most competitive web hosting plans in terms of pricing.
For this reason, they're a great choice if you're looking for an all-in-one solution (domain, hosting, and website setup) from a single hosting provider. Bluehost typically offers free domain name registrations as part of its hosting plans, as well as other important features, such as SSL certificates, one-click website builders, and dedicated WordPress hosting.
Namecheap is a fully ICANN-accredited domain registrar and is well known in the industry for its pricing approach. Judging by the name alone, you can expect to find cheap domain names here. On average, .com domains generally go for between $6 to $12.98.
In most cases, NameCheap also throws in a couple of freebies, such as WhoisGuard privacy protection and domain email forwarding. They also offer affordable web hosting packages and easy website builders so you can get started without having to deal with multiple service vendors.
This is another popular domain name registrar and hosting provider. Domain.com offers domain names at a low price, especially if you purchase the domain name and web hosting bundle. .com domains typically range between $6 to $9.99 for the first year. You might even get the domain name for free as part of its hosting plans.
The company also offers affordable pricing on custom email accounts, domain transfer facility, and SSL certificates. Plus, they have a custom website builder to help you get your online business set up quickly.
NameSilo also doubles as a domain registrar and a web host. More importantly, it offers one of the cheapest domain name registrations. You can register a .com domain for only $8.99, while other TLDs such as .biz and .club go for less than $2.
Another good thing about NameSilo is that they don't really have outrageous domain renewal prices, as you would find with other registrars like GoDaddy. Even their hosting packages are quite affordable, though they tend to reserve the outstanding features as upsells like most web hosting companies.
What next after domain registration?
Whether you got yourself a cheap domain or a premium one, the next step is usually to sort out your web hosting. If you got your domain name from a hosting provider, you can simply get your hosting from them.
There's a lot of technical stuff involved, so it's best to hire a web developer to handle all the backend operations. Afterward, you move on to the actual website setup and publishing.
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