Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in 2012 and again in 2018. As of December 2020, it’s been updated and republished to reflect current information. The article was cleaned up, recommendations were reassessed, and references refreshed.
The simplest, most direct answer to the proposed question is that you generally want to go with a .com domain name.
However, every company or website has unique needs and challenges, so it’s not always as cut and dried. This article takes a closer look at each domain option and dives further into the world of top-level domains (TLDs).
For a more succinct description of each domain, check out the following video (It’s a bit old, but the information is still solid).
Why We Recommend a .com Extension
A .com domain name is the most common extension and still generally carries more significant value for companies.
That’s because most of your customers are going to assume your website is “[your business name].com.” That is unless the extension is part of your trademarked business name (more on this later).
The big question is: does a .com extension have any direct impact on your search rankings?
While it seems that .coms are Google’s preferred extension, it’s probably not the case.
Google’s only reason to prioritize one extension over the other is that Internet users default to .com domains. People expect sites to use the extension – many associate real businesses with .coms, and Google tends to play on user assumptions.
In fact, more than 50 percent of all websites on the web use the .com extension.
So one could say that a .com extension helps your rankings because users are more likely to click on abcd.com than abcd.anythingelse. Additionally, .coms are easier to remember, and a person is more likely to type in the wrong URL with other extensions.
When to Use a .org Extension
Using other TLDs can be beneficial in some situations. In particular, the .org extension is well-known and trusted.
.org stands for ‘organization’ and is the primary choice for charity or non-profit websites. The extension is also one of the originals established in 1985, so it’s been around for decades. It was created for anything that wasn’t commercial (aka non-profit entities).
However, restrictions were removed in 2019 after the registry changed ownership, allowing for-profit companies to use the extension. If you use .org correctly, it can give you a bump in social credence or validation. Many users perceive .org sites as more authoritative and credible than alternatives.
If you choose to use a .org, you’ll need to brand your company with the .org tied directly to your name. That’s because, as previously noted, most users assume companies use the .com extension. Tying the .org to your brand decreases the likelihood that people will visit other sites by accident.
As far as search rankings go, the extension performs well but has less sway than a matching .com.
When to Use a .net Extension
A .net extension is a popular option that’s often recommended to buyers whenever the desired .com domain is taken. The .net stands for ‘network’ and was originally designed for umbrella websites that serve smaller sites, such as web hosting companies.
If the .com name you want isn’t available, find out if the current owner is in the same industry before settling for a .net. That’s because you don’t want your customers becoming there’s.
In general, the .net extension is trusted and perceived as authoritative by consumers. It’s also been around enough that people can easily remember it.
From the SEO end of things, .net is better than other specialty extensions. But since it isn’t quite up there with .com and .org extensions, you might not get the same benefits as using those alternatives.
If your ideal .com name isn’t available, .net is typically a strong second choice.
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Are Specialty Names Worth It When You Can’t Even Get a .org or .net?
There are hundreds of domain extensions (from .aaa to .zw) that can be very tempting to get whenever the top 3 extension types aren’t acquirable.
Indeed, some companies do choose one of these extensions to be extra creative with naming conventions. Sometimes, companies may believe that a .crazyname will actually be more memorable.
If you have the time and ability to promote that kind of name, associate it with your brand, and work harder on the associated SEO tactics. That’s certainly an option. Otherwise, stay away from such domain names.
What If the Specialty Domain is Highly Relevant?
Some highly relevant extensions might work for your business, though restrictions may apply.
For instance, legal firms have to apply for the .law domain extension – it’s exclusive to legal organizations and qualified lawyers worldwide. Information such as bar registration numbers and the state or jurisdiction where the lawyer or legal entity is licensed may be required.
These types of regulated extensions (e.g., .edu and .gov) can be valuable and could impact your SEO. However, it’ll still take a lot of work to rank your site on search engines and make sure the name sticks in consumer minds.
Is .co Close Enough?
A .co domain extension could be both better and worse than .net. It’s too close to a .com extension, which is something of a double-edged sword.
For one, the closeness can cause customers to associate it with the same type of COMmercial activities. Second, people are far more likely to remember .co domains as a .com, typing that into the web browser.
So it’s best to always go with the .com version if it’s available. You can use .co as a fallback plan.
Choose Reliable Over Trendy
You may remember when companies used to get creative with country code top-level domains. A few that come to mind include Bit.ly, About.me, and del.icio.us. These domains looked cool, fun and sparked a trend of organizations using similar extensions for uniqueness.
But the trend didn’t last, and if you tried it today, it would probably seem pretty old fashioned.
Stick to what you know works before committing to a trend that isn’t trendy anymore.
Domain Names are More than the Extension
Your domain name is about to become a critical asset to your business and marketing efforts, so it’s important to make an informed decision.
The .com or .org or .net question is only the first thing that needs consideration when you start building your brand online. Beyond the extension, here’s what you need to know about domain names.
Domains should be:
How is your domain helping your online marketing efforts? Is it time to make a change? Are you rebranding to get more business?
We can help.