Signing up for web hosting without a domain name is a bit like building a new house and never putting up the mailbox at the end of the driveway. Sure, your home will look just as amazing, but how will people find you?
Even though a custom website domain doesn’t cost much, some site owners opt for free alternatives in the form of subdomains provided by the hosting company. The difference between domains and subdomains is slight, but it can make all the difference to someone just getting started online.
Whether you’re creating a temporary website, experimenting with some new ideas, simply looking to limit your expenses, or avoiding any possible headache-inducing complications, here are the best places to start your site without a domain — along with some recommendations on where to find free domain names when you’re ready for something a bit more permanent.
Best Web Hosting Plans for Sites Without a Domain Name
While registering a domain name without web hosting is a more common transaction, those looking to get started right away can still build their website without one. A handful of providers, mainly those offering free web hosting services, will set new customers up with a subdomain on one of the domains the company owns.
For example, your host may use hostname.com for its domain name. New customers that don’t want a domain name can register a subdomain, something to the effect of yourname.hostname.com. Because your hosting provider controls the domain (and all the websites and files associated with it), they can offer subdomains for free to its customers.
Given the risks associated with free hosting, we’re hesitant to recommend this route for professional or small business websites. Although the companies that made the cut here are the cream of the crop, most hosts we recommend instead offer a free domain registration with web hosting plans (we’ll get to them later). For now, though, here are the best hosting plans that let you get started without a domain name.
The go-to resource for first-time site owners (and even experienced developers, thanks to Wix Code), the extremely trustworthy site builder Wix enables users to create a free website on the wixsite.com domain.
Wix offers business-class hosting with a 99.9% uptime guarantee and advanced security monitoring, to go along with hundreds of stunning and professionally designed themes. Wix’s drag-and-drop design interface is the industry standard for a user-friendly website building experience.
The free plan and subdomain limit you to 500MB of storage and bandwidth, and users will see Wix ads on every page of your site. To use social media plugins, the ecommerce store builder, marketing tools, contact forms, and other integrations will need to update to a premium plan. In the meantime, get started by clicking on our review:
Garnering more web traffic than Twitter and eBay, WordPress.com is the rare host that lives up to the hype. Looking to leverage the world’s most popular content management system, WordPress.com is the hosted counterpart to the self-hosted software found at WordPress.org. (Confused? Check out this article explaining the differences between the two flavors of WordPress.)
Leveraging the open-source platform responsible for more than a third of all websites, WordPress.com gives users the ability to create subdomains on the iconic site and publish for free. You’ll get ample storage and access to well-built themes, but you’ll sacrifice a good deal of the flexibility and customization capabilities WordPress is known for. That being said, who better to host your WordPress site (for free) than the folks who created and maintain the platform?
- FREE subdomain or upgrade for custom domain registration
- Hassle-free updates and global community of support
- Pre-installed SSL certificate
- 3GB of storage and dozens of FREE themes
- Performance optimization, SEO tools, and more via Jetpack
- Get started on WordPress.com now.
Rounding out our trifecta of top-tier candidates for free web hosting without a domain name, Weebly’s well-rounded plans include a wide variety of tools and services for free that most competitors hide in premium plans. Most notably, the Square-owned platform allows site owners to create an online store, install a shopping cart, and process transactions — as part of the free plan. Yes, there is a transaction fee of 2.9% for each purchase, plus $0.30 per purchase, but that’s peanuts compared to the $20 and upward you can expect to spend on other ecommerce website builders.
In addition, Weebly provides site owners with detailed analytics about their visitors and page views, along with being able to embed custom code or a search field. You’ll see some Weebly branding across your site, but the weebly.com subdomain is fairly unobtrusive for all the perks of the highly user-friendly design interface. Learn more about all Weebly has to offer by reading our review below:
- All-in-one hosting and drag-and-drop builder
- Start designing for FREE, upgrade whenever
- Easily build a blog, personal site, or online store
- 100s of FREE templates for websites
- $100 credit toward Google advertising
- Get started on Weebly now.
Best Value: Cheap Web Hosting With a Free Domain Name
It’s certainly tough to argue with free hosting and subdomain, but here we go: registering a custom domain costs less than $5 per month and instantly gives your website tons more credibility. Clients, coworkers, vendors, and employers will take your resumé, portfolio, or messages more seriously, and potential customers will view you as significantly more trustworthy.
Plus, by investing just a few dollars per month, you’ll find much more reliable and speedy hosting infrastructure, hundreds of one-click software installations, and 24/7 customer support available through phone, chat, and email. By generating modest amounts of revenue, these hosting providers can offer a custom domain registration totally free of charge. There will likely be a renewal fee of roughly $10 to $15 per year after your first year of service, but hosts typically offer domain names for significantly cheaper than do free hosts and website builders.
That reliability and legitimacy go a long way in the stability of your website. Because of razor-thin margins and depleted revenues, free web hosting services regularly shut down with very little notice — disappearing into the ether and taking users’ sites with them. When GeoCities ended its hosting service in 2009, for instance, roughly 38 million websites were lost for good. You wouldn’t want that to happen to you, right? Then read through these reviews of our favorite hosts that combine ultimate affordability with a free domain name.
- FREE domain registration and transfer
- Unlimited disk space, domains, and databases
- $200 toward Google AdWords and Bing advertising
- Unlimited bandwidth and email addresses
- FREE online store and website builder
- Get started on iPage now.
- FREE domain registration and site-building tools
- Unlimited domains, emails, and bandwidth
- Up to $200 in offers with Google, Bing, and Yahoo!
- Top-ranked WordPress host with tons of perks
- 24/7 customer support and online tutorials
- Get started on Bluehost now.
- World’s largest domain registrar with 17+ million domains under management
- FREE domain included with annual plans
- Manage your domains via cPanel or Plesk
- FREE email hosting at your domain
- 99.9% website uptime guaranteed
- Get started on GoDaddy now.
- Easy domain registration and transfer services
- FREE DNS management and custom nameservers
- Up to unlimited email addresses, domains, and databases
- Advanced security features and FREE HackScan
- 24/7/365 help from the A2 Guru Crew
- Get started on A2 Hosting now.
- FREE domain name and seamless site transfer
- Includes 1-click installer with over 310 apps
- FREE SSDs for shared business hosting plans
- Easy installs for WordPress, Joomla, and others
- FREE backups and SSL certificate
- Get started on InMotion Hosting now.
What is the Difference Between a Website and a Domain?
To go back to our analogy from the beginning of this article, a website is like that new house you’ve built: all the pages, graphics, rooms, and decor. Your domain is what officially ties it all together: your home’s street address. A domain name helps visitors find your site.
From there, domain owners can create subdomains. In the case of the free hosting providers listed above, they can operate as completely separate websites; for site owners who eventually opt for their own domain name, you’ll frequently see subdomains used to house a blog or storefront.
From a broader perspective, a website represents the storage space, processing resources, and files located on your hosting provider’s servers. Easy-to-read domain names, like hostingadvice.com, rely on the Domain Name System, or DNS, to convert those text-based names to a numeric IP address, like 220.127.116.11, that computers can use to find and identify the machine where your site lives.
Can I Host a Website Without a Domain Name?
We’ve answered the question affirmatively throughout this article: By creating a subdomain on your hosting company’s provided domain, you can launch a modest website. The more relevant question, however, might be should you host a website without a domain name? Unless you’re testing out a new website builder or just sharing your site among friends and family, the answer is probably not.
Even though buying your own domain name might seem like an unnecessary expense, it can have a major impact on the success of your site. In addition to the SEO benefits of using a domain that capitalizes on your name and relevant keywords, here are just a few of the reasons you should use a custom domain name:
- Branding: Sharing your URL with another company like Wix or WordPress dilutes your own brand. Don’t split visitors’ focus.
- Credibility: If you’re creating a professional or business website on another company’s subdomain, your visitors will probably think you are either unable or unwilling to invest in yourself. Is that the impression you want them to have?
- Email: Create a professional email address that leverages your website domain instead of the one-size-fits-all solutions like Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, or even (shudder) Hotmail.
- Ownership: By owning your own domain, you have control over what happens to your website. You can create your own subdomains, or decide to move to another host.
Given how many affordable web hosting plans include a free domain registration and massive discounts for your first year, getting a custom domain name seems like a very reasonable purchase — especially given all the upside. Sure, you can save a few pennies in the short run by going with a domain name, but what about your long-term legacy?
How Much Does Hosting Cost?
Given how much cutting-edge technology it takes, the cost to build a website is surprisingly low. As you can see earlier in the article, several no-cost options exist that can get you online relatively easily. As your site gains prominence, however, you should expect to pay at least a little bit to keep up with your growth.
Like any other form of shopping, what you spend on web hosting depends on what exactly you buy. Shared hosting typically costs $5 or less per month, making it the most common and affordable service.
Cloud or VPS plans represent the logical next step for growing businesses, and costs start at roughly $5 to $20 monthly. Dedicated servers are typically reserved for established, large-scale businesses and applications, and as such are the most expensive — often costing upward of $75 per month.
Beyond the storage space, bandwidth, and memory included with your hosting plan, be aware there may be a few other expenditures. Domain names are typically free for the first year but can cost $10 to $15 annually in the future. You may also choose to upgrade your hosting and collaboration tools to premium versions of G Suite or Office 365, just like purchasing add-ons for extra security, domain privacy, or marketing tools.
Can I Host My Own Website?
Similar to hosting a website without a domain name, the answer to hosting your own website is yes — but you probably don’t want to. It’s technically doable, but it will take a long time, cause many headaches, and most likely be slower, less secure, and generally inferior to the hosting services you can acquire cheaply from another provider.
Sure, setting up your own server is a highly educational experience that can feel like a major accomplishment to those tech-minded adventurers out there. If you’re looking to save even more money, keep in mind the expenses associated with hosting your own site: equipment, electricity, and your time.
Ultimately, though, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Why go through this lengthy and painful process when there are tons of hosts with instant setup and activation?
Our Recommendation: Register a Custom Domain Name for Free
At the risk of sounding redundant, you technically can host a website without owning a domain — but you’ll likely pay more in the long run. Sure, you’ll save a few bucks a year, but what about the quality, speed, and reliability of the hosting service powering your pride and joy?
Free hosts offering free subdomains rarely offer customer support. If you get stuck somewhere along the publishing process, your only hope is the community forums and Google. Someone has probably experienced your issue before, but was it resolved? Do the instructions make sense? Alternatively, you could sign up with a cheap hosting provider that offers top-notch support from highly qualified experts, available at a moment’s notice at all times of the day or night, through a variety of communication channels.
Trust us, we’re all about a good deal, saving money, and simplifying things as much as possible. But for a website that you want to last and admirably represent you or your brand, a custom domain is definitively the way to go.