The importance of a domain name cannot be overstated. The domain name is the most commonly used way of identifying a website. It is also usually the first thing that users remember about your website. Moreover, domain names are also used by people that recognize your business or brand and want to visit your website.
Naturally, all domain names are unique. However, great domain names have at least one of the following two qualities:
- They contain the name of the business.
- They reflect the services or products offered on the website.
The best domain names do both.
While deciding a domain name for a website is certainly an important task, there is another big decision that businesses must take while registering their desired domain name- choosing an appropriate domain extension.
Domain extensions, also known as Top Level Domains (TLDs) refer to the text that appears after the dot in a URL. For instance, the TLD for our website is .com. Similarly, the TLD for Behance.net is .net.
The domain extension associated with your website can have a great influence over how well your marketing efforts work and how visitors perceive your website. That means, choosing the right domain extension for your business is incredibly important.
To be able to do that effectively, you must learn about different domain extensions, their history, and the meanings associated with them. This guide is dedicated to helping you gain this knowledge, so you can make an informed decision about the choice of the TLD associated with your website.
Let’s begin by learning about domain extensions in a bit more detail.
Domain Extensions: Definition and Types
In simple words, the domain extension associated with a domain name is used to specify the nature of the website. However, over time, the lines have blurred and despite specific meanings associated with different domain extensions, they are being used freely by a wide variety of websites.
Moreover, before 2012, there were only 22 unique domain extensions available. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, better known as ICANN decided in 2013 to allow businesses to choose from a variety of specialized domain names that may do a better job of specifying the nature of a business or a website. As a result of this move, website creators now have over 1000 domain extensions to choose from.
Domain extensions can thus be divided into three broad categories:
Restricted Domain Extensions
The restricted domain extensions category only contains two domain extensions- .edu and .gov. Websites that have these extensions in their domain names usually enjoy a lot of authority on the web, and for good reason. These are, after all, restricted domains. Meaning, not everyone can get their hands on a .gov or a .edu domain extension.
.edu extensions are reserved exclusively for recognized educational institutions. On the other hand, .gov extensions are reserved for websites of government entities.
Unrestricted Domain Extensions
Unrestricted domain extensions, as the name suggests, have no restrictions on who can use them. The most common ones include .com, .net, and .org. All the new domain extensions that were added after 2013 also fall in this category.
Country Code Domain Extensions
Country code domain extensions are awarded to specific countries. These domain extensions are used by websites to highlight their country of origin. Some common examples include .us, .uk, .in, and .au.
Fun fact about country domain extensions, the TLD .tv belongs to a country called Tuvalu, a nation with a population of around 11,000 inhabitants. Verisign pays the country $5 million annually to administer the .tv domain to big companies like Twich.tv. To put things into perspective, the annual domestic revenues of Tuvalu are around $60 million, so the $5 million the country earns through their own domain extension makes for a substantial share of their annual domestic revenues.
Now that we have understood domain extensions in more detail, let’s look at the purposes associated with the three most popular domain extensions- .com, .net, and .org.
The .com domain extension
.com is hands down the most popular, and most widely used domain extension. Over 50% of the websites on the web have a .com domain extension.
.com surged in popularity, and still enjoys it because it has almost become synonymous with the web, especially after the burst of the “dot com bubble”.
“Com” is actually short for commercial. Meaning, the .com extension was created with money-making websites in mind. This includes business websites, eCommerce websites, blogs, and websites belonging to individuals.
Thanks to the popularity of .com domain extensions, they offer a number of benefits to websites that choose them:
Benefits Of Using A .com Domain Extension
- – Many internet users associate the .com tag as a sign of professionalism. Since so many websites use the .com extension, many of the most preferred sites of many users also use the .com extension. As a result, many users on the web may have a subconscious bias towards websites with a .com extension, over websites with any other kind of extension.
- – Another benefit of the popularity of .com domain extension is the memorability associated with it. Most people expect a website to end with a .com instead of anything else. As a result, many users will type in the name of a website with .com at the end, even if the website uses a different domain extension.
- – Smartphone keyboards these days come with a separate .com button. However, rarely do any keyboard applications have a .net or a .org button on them. This makes users even more likely to simply assume that your website domain name is “website.com” and use that name when trying to access your website.
For these reasons, choosing a .com domain should be the first choice of any business looking to create an online presence. However, things are rarely this straightforward.
Challenges With Using A .com Domain Extension
Frankly, there’s just one real challenge associated with the .com extension, and that is availability. Since over 50% of websites are using the .com extension, and since all domain names are unique, most of the ‘good’ names with .com extension are already taken.
While there are ways to still acquire domain names owned by others, it often comes down to the willingness of the seller to give up the domain name. In many cases, the domain name desired for a business website is taken by a competitor.
If the .com domain name you desire is already taken, you can try buying the domain name off of them. However, with brandable names and domain names that contain keywords, the asking price can be quite high.
This is why it is recommended for modern business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs to make sure the domain name for their desired business is available before settling on a business name.
Doing this diligence may add to the time taken to register your business but it will also save you a lot of disappointment and wasted time, in case the business name you register is not available as a domain name.
The .net domain extension
“Net” in .net stands for “network”. The .net domain extension was originally meant for websites of internet service providers, internet infrastructure providers, email service providers, and other companies of similar nature.
As of 2021, only 3.3% of total domains are .net domains. Yet, they are a popular choice as an alternative to unavailable .com domain names.
.net domains are unrestricted and technically, just about anyone can use them for any kind of website. Let’s look at the pros and cons of doing that.
With that said, 3.3% of all domains on the web is still quite a large number. According to the latest data, there are over 367 million registered domain names. 3.3% of that comes out to more than 13 million domains registered with the .net extension.
Curious readers may be wondering who is registering all these domains. After all, just how many email service providers and internet service providers are there? The truth is, a majority of .net domains are not registered by their intended users.
Since they are a popular alternative to .com domain names, many businesses just buy the .net alternative to their .com business name. They redirect all the traffic coming to the .net domain to the .com website. This way, these businesses can ensure that there are no leakages in their traffic because someone typed in the wrong domain name.
Similarly, many businesses have to start with a .net domain name because the .com alternative is taken. Often, when these businesses take off, they purchase the .com alternative. However, they may still maintain ownership of the .net alternative for legal reasons, or to simply make sure their existing customers don’t get confused when trying to find them online.
Benefits Of Using A .net Domain Extension
The biggest benefit of using a .net is that there is a much higher chance that your desired domain name will be available with a .net domain name instead of a .com domain name.
Domain retailers like GoDaddy and NameCheap have contributed to making .net domains the most popular alternative to .com domain names. Here’s an example of how this idea is being pushed:
There is another benefit of using the .net domain, but it is specific to businesses that have something to do with online communities or actual online communities.
Relatively recently, the .net domain extensions have come to be associated with websites and businesses that have an online community. In fact, many websites that are online communities are using the .net extension. The most well-known example is perhaps Behance.net.
Behance.net was created with the objective of making it a community of designers and businesses looking for design services.
So, if you are planning to build an online community, or even planning to create an online community as a component on your website, using a .net domain extension may prove to be beneficial.
Challenges With Using A .net Domain Extension
The most obvious challenge is the predisposition that the average internet user has towards the .com domain extension. Because of the popularity and wide usage of the .com extension, many users assume that the name of your website is “yourwebsite.com”.
As a result, if someone doesn’t remember the name of your .net website correctly, which may happen painfully often during the initial days of building your online presence, they will have trouble reaching your website. Even worse, if the .com version of your name is taken by a competitor, or if a competitor acquires it, you may end up losing valuable business to them.
To minimize such situations, your marketing department will have to work extra hard to boost your brand recall enough, and in a way, that fewer potential visitors confuse your .net website address with .com.
If you have a competitor using a .com alternative to your .net website, then your marketing may need to be even more aggressive to help set your business apart.
The .org Domain Extension
The “Org” in .org stands for “organization”. Originally, .org domain names were meant for non-profit and charity organizations. However, the .org domain extension is not restricted and hence, it can be used by anyone that wants to use it.
With that said, since the .org extension was originally meant for non-profit organizations, it has a preconceived perception attached to it. When most internet users come across a .org website, they may assume that the website is non-commercial in nature.
This can prove both good and bad in different situations. For instance, the perception of being a non-commercial website may motivate more users to interact with a .org website. On the other hand, if a user realizes that they are using a website that has commercial intent, thinking that it is a non-commercial website, it may damage the reputation of that website in the user’s mind.
Benefits Of Using A .org Domain Extension
The trust and positive brand image associated with the .org domain extension is certainly a positive benefit of having one. Users may trust websites with a .org domain extension more easily, as compared to a .com website.
Another glaring benefit offered by .org domain extensions is that a lot of good domain names are still available. Unlike .com domains, .org domains have a much lower number of users. Meaning, if you could not find your desired domain name with a .com extension, there is a healthy chance that you will find the same name available with a .org extension.
Challenges Of Using A .org Domain Extension
The unique challenge with using a .org extension is to outright establish that your website has commercial intent, without losing the trust associated with the .org domain extension. In most cases, it cannot be done.
The other challenges associated with using a .org domain extension are similar to the challenges associated with using a .net domain extension.
.org domains are less memorable than their .com counterparts. Moreover, if your business has a .com competitor with the same or a similar business name, marketing yourself to stand apart from them may prove challenging.
Now that we know more about the most popular domain extensions in use today, let’s see how you can craft the perfect domain name for your website.
Choosing The Right Domain Name (And Extension)
Choosing the right domain name is not really challenging, but it can prove to be surprisingly time-consuming, especially if you don’t have a well-defined set of steps you can follow.
This section of this guide will help you with such a process. Let’s dive right in:
Step 1: Choose A Domain Name
Selecting a domain name is fairly straightforward. Most commonly, domain names are exactly the same as the name of the business. For instance, the domain name of Apple Inc. is Apple.com.
An alternate strategy is to choose a domain name that reflects what your website is about. A good example is booking.com, the hotel room booking website. Another great example is skyscanner.com, a website that allows users to compare flight ticket prices.
Whatever domain name you choose, it should ideally satisfy the following requirements:
- – It should be clear and concise.
- – It should be short and easy to remember.
- – It should not require any explanations to help strangers understand the name.
With that said, only after knowing the rules, can you start breaking them to gain an advantage? Many websites don’t follow the third rule listed above and come up with unique names, like Behance.net or Pinterest.com. Neither Behance nor Pinterest is a real English word. Both brands have come up with their own unique term and branded them.
This kind of branding may take extra effort to be successful but it makes the process of finding a brand name much easier. Not to forget, if you do brand your website with a unique name and market it with enough creativity, innovation, and of course, budget, you can turn your unique term into a household name or even an adjective, like Google!
Step 2: Choose A Domain Extension
By now, it should be clear that the domain extension you choose should be reflective of the nature of your website. If you are building an online community, a .net domain extension is ideal. If you are starting a website for non-commercial purposes, use a .org extension. If you intend to use your website to generate income, a .com domain extension should be your top choice.
However, there’s a problem with this simple strategy, unique to the websites with commercial intent. This problem is that very few good domain names are still available with a .com extension.
So what do you do when this happens?
The first solution is to think of an alternative name, in case other solutions don’t work out for you. Ideally, your alternative name choice should be a unique, brandable term, like the ones discussed in the previous step.
Next, you can consider adding a modifier to your desired domain name. For instance, if dreamgarden.com is taken, you can try modifying it to dreamgardenmaintenance.com or dreamgardenandlandscaping.com. This approach will make your domain name a little longer but it will still have all the terms you desire and it will still be true to your business.
If you don’t think adding a modifier is the right choice, check the website live on your desired .com domain name. If there is no live website, there may be a chance that a domain flipper has purchased it with the sole purpose of selling the domain.
If that’s the case, you can negotiate with them and strike a deal and purchase your desired domain name.
The other possibility is that there is already a functional website using the domain name you desire. If that’s the case, browse through the website and see how often it is being updated. If the website hasn’t been updated for a while, there may be a chance that the owner has stopped using the website and may be willing to sell the domain name.
Once again, you will have to negotiate the price of the domain name with the website owner and purchase it from them.
If, however, you cannot purchase a domain name, and also don’t want to add a modifier to your desired domain name, the only option you have is to go for a .net or .org address.
Step 3: Purchase Domain Name
There are a number of vendors that sell domain names. Namecheap and domain.com are some of the best ones out there.
There is also the option of getting a domain name for free with a hosting service subscription. Subscribing to a hosting service is a compulsory step in the process of website creation. Many hosting service providers, like BlueHost and GoDaddy offer free domain names (for one year) with their hosting service subscription plans. Keep in mind that the domain is usually only free for the first year. You will have to pay for renewing the domain name after a year has passed.
Does Domain Extension Influence SEO Performance?
In a word, no. There are over 200 ranking factors that search engines like Google evaluate to determine the rankings of different websites in their search engine result pages (SERPs). While many of them are unknown, there is no definitive evidence that suggests domain name extension is a ranking factor.
With that said, the domain name itself can influence how well a website performs in the search engines. That’s why, most of the .com domain names that contain keywords or common terms are already taken.
For instance, if you are creating a website for your gardening company, having the word “garden” or “gardening” will make your website more relevant for search terms related to gardening.
If you manage to find a .com domain name that has your desired keyword included within it may make getting results from SEO marginally easier. However, it is not recommended to base your entire SEO strategy on that one ranking factor. This also means that if your domain name doesn’t have a keyword, you can still drive a large amount of relevant organic traffic to your website with a good SEO strategy.
I hope that this guide has helped you build a better understanding of domain names and domain extensions. If you have any questions or suggestions for further easing the process of selecting a domain name, do share them in the comment section.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for SEO help that will allow you to overcome the challenges associated with not getting your desired domain name or are looking for SEO help that allows you to go beyond the benefits offered by your domain name, get in touch with us from our contact page.