Web Presence for Free

In this day and age, no matter your profession, a web presence is (or should be) essential.

I have assembled this guide to get you online with little to no cost!

This article is aimed mostly at UK users – hence the mention of .co.uk domain names but you can easily switch out .co.uk for your country’s domain name! (If your business is international, though, stick to a domain hack or a .com!)

Different parts of this article are aimed at people with different levels knowledge. If you don’t understand some of it, ask someone for help or contact me and I will see if I can be of any further help!

The Obvious

To get yourself noticed online you already ought to have Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles.

Your Facebook may well be a friends-only zone but you can configure what information is public. If you link your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to Facebook you could make these public to redirect people to an appropriate location.

It might be an idea to have two Twitter accounts as well. That way you could have a personal and professional account. The Twitter apps have support for multiple accounts and Hootsuite has a free option – you can update both accounts with one status! Name-wise your professional Twitter should probably (for most professions) be your name (e.g. @JoeGlombek) and your personal, a fun nickname (@glomtwit). This is where I break my own rule and have only 1 active Twitter – I don’t have enough to say for 2! But I do try to keep my personal account work-appropriate!

The Slightly Less Obvious

Slightly less obvious than the above, it may be worth joining websites relevant to your profession.

For example, I try to keep active on StackOverflow.com – a Q&A site for software developers. There are similar sites for lots of professions: take a look at StackExchange.com.

Also, photographers should have a Flickr, artists should be on DevientArt, etc. Aspiring journalists should have a blog too – see the Blog section below.

A Basic Profile

If you want to be able to point everybody to one central place where they can then access your profile pages on the previously mentioned websites, a webpage may be a good idea. Websites are great to be able to put on business cards or, if the web address is memorable enough, give out verbally!

One of the easiest ways to get a personal webpage is to sign up for a free service which lets you set up a simple page within a pre-defined template. A lot of websites allow you to do this, but about.me is my favourite.

about.me offers free single-page profiles. The web address takes the format about.me/joe.glombek (but with your name, not mine). You can also upgrade to have a custom domain name (see Domain Name section, below). I’d like to take a moment now to say that my about.me page isn’t the best!

Blogging

When it comes to blogging you have 3 (4?) main options.

1a) WordPress.com

WordPress.com offers free blogs to all! You get 3GB of space, a load of themes to pick from and a yournamehere.wordpress.com web address. Bear in mind though, that if you exceed these limits things start to cost quite a bit more! Upgrades start from $13pa for a custom domain name (see below), $30pa for a custom theme and more storage from $20pa. So it’s not the cheapest of options! Also noteworthy is that it costs £13pa to redirect your .wordpress.com web address to a a new web address should you choose to move away from wordpress.com later. (A custom domain name (see below) removes the need to redirect!)

My friend Minty runs her fashion blog “A Beautiful Mess” on WordPress.com.

1b) WordPress on Custom Hosting

You can also have a WordPress site not hosted on WordPress.com. This means you get custom themes and domain mapping thrown in and as much storage as your server can give you.

However, since it’s not hosted on WordPress.com, you have to find an alternative server.
OpenShift provides just that for free! They provide 1GB (less than WordPress.com) of hosting and an easy WordPress setup (like WordPress.com) but also free domain mapping! If you exceed your 1GB though – it will cost you $20 per month. If you choose this you should definitely host images elsewhere (Flickr)!

This website is a self-hosted (on a Windows Azure Website – if you cared) WordPress install.

2) Blogger/Blogspot

Blogger is Google’s blog offering. It features free domain mapping (or you can use mynamehere.blogspot.com) and free custom themes.
If you’re not much of a theme-maker, however, the default themes are often considered a bit “uglier”. Along with the platform in general. Blogger is also considered less flexible and you can’t decide to move the blog off of Google’s servers without converting it to a WordPress (or other) site.

My friend Jen has a free Blogger blog “Costumes for Theatre”.

3) Tumblr

Tumblr is the odd one out on this list.

Tumblr has come into the press recently for containing a lot of porn. Which may be true (I haven’t done the stats myself!) but there are also a lot of more ‘normal’ content on there.

Tumblr certainly lends itself more to art-based blogs – it has dedicated post styles for photos, videos and music.
Domain mapping is free or you can use mynamehere.tumblr.com, theming is easy to do yourself and there are plenty of nice looking free themes out there too. You can also add custom pages as well as the blog page. I think it is also possible to hide the blog altogether and just use it as a basic website.

My Tumblr is IchBinEinNerd.com – see, proof you can use custom domain names! I don’t use Tumblr as a professional blog, though. The way I use it is more of a social network.

Custom Website

A custom website is great if you can’t quite get what you want from a basic profile. My personal website, joe.gl, is a custom site that I built myself. Custom websites are more important if you’re a web designer/developer and want to show off what you can do. My website is, in fact, an experiment.

For the non-techies, a WordPress site is probably better – even if you don’t use the blog part of it, WordPress is a powerful platform.

Custom sites can be hosted on GitHub Pages (static files only) or OpenShift (PHP, Perl, .NET (soon), etc.) for nothing and – of course – with domain mapping. Both these options are very much for techies only!

A Domain Name

Domain names are awesome. Here is why:

  1. They make a website look more professional and stand out more than websites using subdomains (WordPress) or subdirectories (about.me).
  2. They can follow your website whichever service you choose to use. If you want to move from a Blogger to a self hosted WordPress,for example, you could import Blogger into your WordPress and simply change where your domain name points – simple!
  3. They are often shorter and more memorable.
  4. You can also set up an email address which relates to your website – myname@mydomain.com will always look more professional than myname.mydomain@hotmail.com! Plus if you decide to change email providers, you can take your email with you instead of having to redirect myname.mydomain@hotmail.com to myname.mydomain@gmail.com.
  5. Finally, if you own mywebsitename.com, it means nobody else can grab mywebsitename.com! If you start with mywebsitename.wordpress.com and get popular, somebody might buy up mywebsitename.com before you and steal your traffic or charge you lots to buy it off them.

You can register free domain names at freenom.com. They offer .cf, .ga, .ml and .tk domain names.

South Africa also gives away its personal domain names, .nom.za, for free.

codotvu.com offer free .co.vu domain names too. These are more restricted (and obviously longer) than the Freenom names. I have pointed glomb.co.vu to my homepage.

For both the above, I recommend you use the DNS record option. Services supporting domain mapping will tell you which records you need! Freenom also allows email setup but co.vu doesn’t without paying.

It’s worth noting, though that free domain names (specifically .tk) have some bad press and if sending the link on sites such as Facebook, they will require a human verification test. Hardly ideal. Which is why I recommend:

Paying (so little it’s almost free!)

A domain name is something I would actually recommend buying. A .com address will cost you less than £6.50pa (at current rates) – something most people can certainly afford!

My sister (a non-techie) pointed out to me recently that she didn’t know until recently that websites could be anything but a .com. In fact, she said if I had presented her with “joe.gl” she would have probably typed in “joe.gl.com” (not my website!). It also doesn’t look much like a web address when written down. This is why I have glombek.com pointing to my website as well: Glombek.com is the website I give out to people (it also reserves glombek.com so nobody else can own it).

With the aforementioned in mind, I recommend a site not for techies should be a .com or .co.uk for simplicity’s sake. .me or .me.uk are also rising in usage for personal websites. People who are used to seeing business cards may have gotten used to this by now! The above also renders some of the free domain names less useful. Especially, in my mind, .co.vu which looks a bit like a misspelt .co.uk!

.com means company. So does the co in .co.uk (company in the UK). This makes .me (although it technically means ‘Montenegro’ but has been sold as meaning ‘me’) or .me.uk more appropriate for personal use. This is, however, not known by everyone.

Another option, is a domain hack. Mostly used by techies or in tweets (as URL shorteners), domain hacks take a word and split it up including a domain name suffix. My website joe.gl/ombek could be classed as a domain hack of my full name – the domain name is joe.gl but I have set up the /ombek part to make it look more like my name, hence ‘hack’. .gl is actually the web address for Greenland but Google also uses goo.gl as a url shortening service.

To find a domain hack of your own, I recommend the use of domai.nr. Buying through their recommended websites often isn’t the cheapest option, so have a look around before buying.

You can set up email for free with your domain name with Microsoft’s Outlook.com (or Hotmail if you really like living in the past) at domains.live.com. You might well get an email account already set up when you buy your domain name but it probably won’t be as nice to use as Outlook.com.
Microsoft no longer allow you to use custom domains with Outlook.com but you might be given a free email account when you buy your domain or you can sign up for 20 free users at Zoho Mail. Paid alternatives include Google Apps (Gmail) from $5 (about £3) per user per month and Microsoft’s Office 365 Small Business from £3.30 per user per month.

My current (as of September 2013) recommended registrar for .com web addresses is Blacknight. They’re based in Ireland which is nice and close to home compared to others! They’re more expensive than some others for the first year but their renewal prices are less so over a time (at current prices) they work out the cheapest I’ve found. I have joe.gl registered with them (although my DNS is on CloudFlare) and have had no issues.

I cannot stress how much I dislike 1&1. Their domain management tools are not only poor, confusing and slow but have been the cause of outages. Please, for your own sanity, find someone else!

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