ICANN renewed Verisign’s .com contract, this time with an interesting new clause — the $6 cap previously placed on Verisign’s fee was removed, granting permission for Verisign to raise their fee by 7% each year from 2007 to 2010, bringing it to $7.85. The justification given by ICANN was “to allow market forces to determine prices”, which I don’t quite follow, but I’m no Keynes. They also point out, in subtler language, that it’s the US government’s job to worry about Verisign’s monopoly, which is, I guess, fair.
Keep in mind, however, that free domain names are usually free only for one or two years, after which the registrar will bill you for the annual or biennial fee. In other words, the provider of the free domain name pays only for the first billing from the registrar. Also take note of whether or not the provider charges a fee for setting up a domain name. Most services offer to transfer an existing domain name to their servers at no cost, but sometimes you'll find a setup fee over and above the registrar's fee.
There is also what is called a ccTLD, or country code top-level domain. These are designed to signify sites located in or associated with certain countries or territories. Most of the ccTLDs actually don't have restrictions regarding who can register domain names. In fact, many ccTLDs are commonly misinterpreted as TLDs. For example, while .tv is commonly registered by television and media related websites, .tv is actually the ccTLD designated for the country Tuvalu. Domain hacks are also a popular use of both TLDs and ccTLDs. This involves creating a full word or phrase when combining the domain name with the TLD to create something your audience will easily remember. A popular example is using the .me ccTLD for Montenegro and combining it with "aweso" to create the domain aweso.me.
Many online shops have the number 24 in them, to signify 24 hours a day – you may also be able to integrate numbers into your domain in a meaningful way to make them unique. Be careful though, because many cultures attach a lot of significance to certain numbers. Make sure that your number doesn't represent bad luck or other negative things in the country you're operating in.
Premium domains (also known as aftermarket or pre-registered domains) are short domains, often just one word or even just 3-5 letters. Most of them have a .com extension but many premium domains end with .org, .net, and .biz. These domains include common words and are generally the most memorable. Because companies value short domains that match their company name or products, these domains are typically the most desirable. Additionally, certain domains sold by different registries are considered premium and therefore have a higher price point. In some cases, the renewal costs of these higher-priced domains are also quite expensive. Some high-priced premium domains, though, renew at a regular (lower cost) rate, giving you a better value in the long term. Make sure to research the overall cost of the domain plus renewal to find the right domain for your budget. You can browse Namecheap's premium domains in our Marketplace.