When you build a website, one of your first considerations is the domain name, and with it, the domain extension. In the past, businesses had only two options, .com or .net. Although this has changed and more than a thousand extensions are now available, .com still dominates the web. Does it matter? Here's what you need to consider.
What Is the Purpose of Your Website?
The top-level domain (TLD), also known as the domain extension or domain ending, is the part of the URL that comes after the dot. There are a lot of extensions to choose from, and each one identifies a category.
- .com—the most common extension on the web
- .co—Originally designated as the country code for Colombia, .co is marketed as an extension for company, corporation, or commerce. (Example: go.co)
- .biz—common slang for business
- .io—a location code (British Indian Ocean Territory) especially popular with gaming apps. (Example: YoHoHo.io)
- .net—designates a networking site, intended for use by online businesses whose primary function is sharing or community. Strangely enough, most major social media sites, like Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter, use a .com extension.
- .org—commonly used by non-profit organizations
- .us—reserved for United States-based organizations and citizens. The .us domain was once reserved only for government use, but .gov proved more popular. Some businesses are adopting it to tap into patriotic company branding.
- .uk—for United Kingdom sites
- .ly—Originally the country code for Libya, some startups use it to complete a word for a clever domain name. (Example: bit.ly).
Introduced in 2012, specialty domains are still rare. They include:
Other TLDs include .edu for educational sites, .gov for government use, and company-specific domains (example: blog.google).
Will Different TLDs Affect Your SEO?
Here's how Google answers this very common question:
“Using a new domain ending won’t hurt your search presence or SEO. It’s worth noting that in the eyes of Google and other search engines, all TLDs are equal,” Google Domains explains.
A new TLD won’t affect your search engine ranking, or put it lower in the list of websites that are appear based on a search, according to Google.
So, as far as search engines are concerned, you can choose any domain extension and your search position won’t be affected. That said, the way search engines determine your ranking is affected by dozens of ranking factors used by Google in its algorithms.
The Pros and Cons of .com Domains
Verisign, a global provider of domain name registry services and internet infrastructure, reports that .com domains dominate the web, with approximately 144 million .com domain-name registrations worldwide as of Sept. 30, 2019. The .net domain name base totaled 13.4 million registrations at the same point, according to Verisign’s latest quarterly report on domain names.
Using a .com domain confers familiarity and an established web presence for commercial businesses. But the price of a .com domain name may greatly exceed other domain-extension choices.
For example, in a 2019 study of domain-name perceptions by content marketing firm GrowthBadger, hypothetical business URLs chosen for the company’s survey ranged in price from $12 to $30 per year for .net, .org, .biz, .us, .co, .blog, and .io, while the .com variation of the same name cost $4,250 more than that base price.
Trust and Memorability
When GrowthBadger asked 1,500 study participants how they feel about TLDs, .com came out on top for a variety of reasons:
- Trust—.com earned the highest trust level of all domains. TLD extension .co came in second in the trust ratings, and .net landed fifth, after .org and .us.
- Memorability—.com also scored highest in memorability, with 44% of respondents reporting that .com is easiest to remember. Once again, .co came in second and .net came in fifth.
When people remember URLs incorrectly, more than half of the time they guess the domain extension is .com., the study found.
While these are compelling reasons to choose a .com domain, there are significant cons.
With so many domains online, it is really hard to find a .com domain name to register based on a common name or keyword. It's much easier to find a .net or an alternate extension. Because there are so many existing .com domains, finding an acceptable .com that's available also can be time-consuming.
Although the base cost of a new .com name is usually comparable to other TLDs, purchasing an existing domain can be costly. For example, the domain marketplace Sedo recently listed “gamevibe.com” at $10 million, although few alternate TLDs fetch such high prices.The Pros and Cons of .net and Alternate Domain Extensions
Originally, .net was intended for network organizations, but many businesses use it when they can't get the domain they prefer. It's easier to find an available .net extension because they are less commonly used. The same goes for alternate domain names such as .biz and .co.
While the trust scores and memorability for alternate domains in Growth Badger’s study ranked a bit lower, which may make them seem less credible, they are gaining traction with startups.
If you choose a domain ending that isn't .com, you have your work cut out for you. You'll have to work harder to make sure your name is memorable, among other hurdles.
Choosing a name that is similar to or the same as an existing business is likely to attract a copyright infringement lawsuit. For example, the name “Disney.biz” appears to be owned by a Canadian domain-name reseller, but you don't want it. Disney will come after you. You also may lose business to the company you're infringing upon.
The upside of grabbing a great alternate domain name is that some company may come along and want to buy it later … for a lot of money. At NamesCon’s live auction for domain names in 2018, the name “Super.com” sold for a record-breaking $1.2 million.
The Bottom Line
For now, there are a number of excellent reasons to choose .com over any other TLD, and it is a clear winner over .net. There are also some significant drawbacks. Outstanding generic domain names are long gone. If your business name is a common name or word, like Apple, you won't be able to acquire it for that reason. One popular way to get around this is to use a descriptive phrase or word mashup. Examples include TechCrunch, DoorDash, BarkBox, and, of course, TheBalanceSMB.
Eventually, alternate domains will be common, and resellers will buy all the practical names. With that in mind, it's a good time to plan for the future, and buy up all the domain extensions with your business name to avoid future business infringements. As .com domains become harder to acquire, more businesses will turn to alternate TLDs.