| Editor’s note: This blog was previously published August 31, 2012, and it has been updated on May 4, 2020 with more current information and republished to meet the ongoing interest in this topic. |
The simplest, most direct answer to the question in the title is to say that you generally always want to go with a .com domain name.
Of course, every company and every website has individual needs and is facing unique challenges, so it may not always be as cut and dried as that. So, let’s take a closer look at each of these options and then dive into the world of top-level domains (TLDs) even further.
For the most succinct description, be sure to check out this video. (It’s a bit old but the information is still solid.)
Why We Recommend a .com Extension
A .com domain name is by far the most common extension, and the one that still carries the most significant value for most companies.
Why? Because most of your customers are going to simply assume that your company’s website is going to be “[your business name].com” (unless, of course, your extension is part of your trademarked business name – but more on that a little later).
Still, the question has to be asked: does a .com extension have any direct impact on your search rankings?
While it does seem that .coms are still Google’s preferred extension, it may not be for the reasons you think.
When you really think about it, the only reason for Google to prioritize one extension over the other is because we as internet users simply default in our minds to the .com domains. We expect it to be that way – and we associate real businesses with .coms – and so Google likes to play to our assumptions.
So, yes, we can say that a .com will help your rankings, because more users will click on abcd.com than they will abcd.anythingelse.
When to Use a .org Extension
Of course, that doesn’t mean other TLDs don’t have their place. A .org, domain, in particular, is well-known and well-trusted.
This extension is the normal choice for charity or non-profit sites. That being said there are successful for-profit sites that use the .org extension, and if you use it correctly the .org can give you a bump in social credence or validation (many users tend to look at a .org as a more benevolent site).
However, you will need to brand your company with the .org tied directly to your name since, as mentioned earlier, most users will otherwise just assume that your company’s domain includes the .com extension.
As far as rankings go, .orgs still do fine, though for most profit-targeted categories they won’t have as much sway as a matching .com.
When to Use a .net Extension
A .net extension is the second most popular extension, but it doesn’t really provide either of the same benefits of the other two. Still, it is generally accepted as a trusted or authoritative extension by customers, and it’s around enough that if a customer hears it, they’ll probably remember it when they look up your website later.
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 may not get the same benefits of using a .com name.
However, if your ideal .com name is not available, a .net can be a solid second choice.
Are Specialty Names Worth It When You Can’t Even Get a .org or .net?
There are a number of specialty domain extensions that can be very tempting for companies when they can’t acquire one of the top 3 extension types.
There are hundreds of different extensions available, from .aaa to .zw.
Sometimes, companies might go this route to be a little extra creative with their naming conventions. Sometimes, companies may believe that a .crazyname will actually be more memorable.
If you have the time and ability to promote that name, associate it with your brand, and work harder on the associated SEO tactics, it is certainly an option.
What If the Specialty Domain is Highly Relevant?
There are some highly relevant extensions that may seem like a great idea for your business, even though they’re not a traditional top-level domain.
For example, a few years ago it was announced that law firms could apply for a .law domain name.
The simple fact that you have to apply for the name is important here. That means there are restrictions on it, and it will require information like the bar registration numbers and the state or jurisdiction where the lawyer is licensed to practice.
These types of regulated domains (like .edu and .gov) can be very valuable, and could have an impact on your SEO, but you are still looking at a lot more work to rank the name in the search engines and make sure it sticks in your clients’ minds.
Is .co Close Enough?
A .co domain name could be both better and worse than a .net domain name. It is really close to a .com domain, which is something of a double-edged sword.
On the one side, it looks very close to .com, so customers will naturally associate it with the same types of COMmercial activities. However, they’re far more likely to remember it as a .com and type .com into their web browser.
So, simply put, if the .com is available, go with that. You can use the .co as a fallback plan.
Choose Reliable Over Trendy
Remember when companies would get really creative with country code top level domains. (A few that come to mind include Bit.ly, About.me, and del.icio.us. They looked cool, they were fun, and they started a trend of companies using .ly and others to create some unique names.
And, of course, 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 may not be so trendy in a year.
Domain Names are More than Their Extension
The .com/.org/.net question is just the first one you need to consider when you begin building your brand online. Your domain name is about to become a critical asset in your business and marketing efforts, so it’s important to make an informed decision.
So, beyond the extension, what else do you need to know about domain names?
For starters, it 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.