If you want to start and run a professionally looking blog or site for free, you’ll soon find out that it’s not as easy to match and mix the free website services as you might hope. Here you can see what you’re going to need to make a professional site, what’s available for free, and what you should be on the lookout for.
What Do You Need to Create a Professional Blog or Site
If you’re not sure how your blogging efforts will turn out or how serious you’d like to be about it, you can start a free WordPress blog in 5 minutes by using the basic solution offered by WordPress.com and give it a try. What you’ll get will, however, be far from professional results. You won’t be able to get a domain name, only a subdomain, and you won’t have the creative freedom and flexibility needed to do something of quality.
In order to run a professional blog or site you’ll need:
- Domain name
- Domain privacy (only for personally owned websites)
While you can find all of them separately for free, you have to be aware that free solutions always come at a cost. See below what your best options are and what you should be on the lookout for.
A well chosen domain name is one of the musts when creating a website. The reason is that domain names help both internet users and search engines find and evaluate your site. Having a badly chosen domain or using a subdomain can affect quite negatively your efforts to reach out to your target group from the very beginning. If you’re not sure what a domain name is or what’s the difference between domain and subdomain is, you can read about choosing a domain name here.
Here are some free options:
- Dot TK offering free .tk domain names and site building options. You can point the domain to an existing site. According to the conditions described on the page you’re allowed to renew your domain registration any time for free. Hosting is, however, not included in the offer.
- Freenom.com offers free domain registrations with the following extensions: .tk, .ml, .ga, .cf, .gq and paid registrations with standard extensions as .com, .org, etc. Content policy applies and owning an existing website or having the ability to build one is a condition to use the service. Free hosting is not offered.
- Freedomain.co.nr. offers free subdomain registrations with the extension co.nr. No hosting is provided.
- Some hosting providers offer a free lifetime domain with the purchase of certain hosting packages. A very reasonably priced hosting provider offering free domains is for example MochaHost.
When registering a domain name for free, you should read the applying conditions very carefully. Some specialists warn that with free registrations you may risk losing your domain at some point without warning. Depending on how much you invest in your brand, that might be crucial.
Furthermore, using just any extension because it’s free isn’t a good strategy if you, for example, want to target regionally or signal the type of your business to users and search engines. Domain extensions have meaning and appropriate use.
Last but not least, please understand that a free domain registration isn’t the same as having a domain name for free. Domain names are only registered for a certain period of time and need to be renewed in order to be used after that. Some registrars and hosting providers advertising with free domain names cheat you by giving it to you for free for the first year and then making you pay – probably more than the average price – to keep it. Be sure to check whether you also get renewals for free.
Domain privacy is important for bloggers and for business owners registering a website with their personal information (eg. telephone number, name, address, etc.) as such information is made publicly available by law via services as WhoIs. If you don’t understand why keeping such information private is important, just imagine that all marketers, spammers, as well as your rivals and competitors know where and how to find you at all times. Not a pleasant though, right?
If you protect your data with domain privacy, when looking up your domain, people will see something like the data shown on the picture (click on it for zoom). Usually you buy domain privacy – and it’s renewals – from the same provider as your domain name. In most cases you pay around 5-7 USD for the service, as long as it’s not a part of a package you pay for.
Free domain privacy options can be found with some hosting providers as part of their premium packages and with some domain registrars as a part of the registration service. Two of the registrars offering free domain privacy are Above.com and Domain Monster
When looking for free domain privacy, you have to be on the lookout for two things – firstly, whether you get renewals also for free (customers have been complaining about practice by GoDaddy where they are bound to an expensive and difficult to cancel service after the free first year is over).
The second thing is a bit more serious. According to EasyDNS it’s not so unusual for providers to offer you domain privacy – also paid – simply by entering their data into the WhoIs records instead of yours. This, however, isn’t in your benefit as they virtually take over your domain by registering themselves as owners.
If you’re unsure about what’s important, here’s a detailed guide on how to choose a hosting provider. There are in fact free hosting options such as Hostt.com or Freehosting.com that provide reasonable service level for being free. They only require that you register or transfer a domain name and pay a bit higher yearly fee for it (13-17 USD for the standard domains). This is, however, still much cheaper than paying for hosting as long as the service level satisfies your needs.
What you should be aware of, if choosing free hosting is that you, in fact, don’t have a guarantee that the service will be as good or as reliable as promised. Even though you’ll likely have access to support and customer service, you don’t have the leverage to make them solve problems as quickly and as professionally as when being a paying customer.
Be also careful with offers where your first year is free or very cheap but binds you to a very expensive hosting plan afterwards.
Theme and Plugins
As long as you don’t plan to code your site yourself, you’ll need a WordPress theme and a number of plugins to make it work as needed. WordPress’ theme directory and plugin directory give you the chance to find the right free theme and plugins for your needs.
You can see what the different options are and read what others have said about them. You can also search the directories using filters.
The only downside with free themes and plugins is that you have no guarantee that they’ll be updated regularly or the developer will provide support when needed. Also, you don’t know whether the code lives up to the standards. Other than that, you’re safe using them.
You are, however, advised to follow the guidelines about avoiding plugin incompatibility.
So, as you can see, there are professional website services making it possible for you to start a professionally looking blog or site for free. They are, though, only available separately, meaning that you’ll still have to choose what to pay for and what not to pay for in order to use them.
I hope, this post will help you make the right decisions.