Should your domain name be a .com, .net, or a .org? Is there a difference? Hold that thought. We have the answers for you below:
So, you have the perfect domain name in mind for a new website, but then you go to buy it and it’s not available under the .com top-level domain (TLD) extension. What next? Do you stick with the domain name but switch to an alternative domain extension like a .net or a .org? Or, is it more important to get that .com extension, which requires you to pick a new domain name?
These are all excellent questions since there’s much confusion about the differences between domain extensions, and if they have any unique purposes at all. So, in this article, we’ll compare the three most popular domain extensions – .com, .net, and .org – and explain their functions, SEO impact, and which ones are best for certain types of websites.
An introduction to domain extensions
Often called domain extensions or top-level domains, these elements of a website URL serve to categorize websites within the domain name system (DNS) implemented in 1984.
Back then, they assumed that website visitors cared about the domain name extension, thinking that it showed the type of site to expect when visiting. Therefore, each domain name extension meant something:
- .net: for networking sites and telecommunications providers.
- .com: for commercial websites (for-profit businesses).
- .org: for charities, non-profits, and other philanthropic “organizations.”
Seven domain name extensions came out for the early internet, all of which had their purposes. The other four include:
- .mil: for anything to do with the US military.
- .edu: for educational institutions, like colleges, high schools, and research centers.
- .gov: for governmental departments and agencies in the United States.
- .int: for international organizations.
That categorization strategy once devised for the DNS has in some ways remained true to form, but as we all know, certain domain extensions don’t actually mean what they stand for.
For example, .com has developed into more of a universal domain for all the internet, not just commercial enterprises. You could also argue the same for .net and .org domain names.
Since the original seven, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has introduced thousands of domain extensions for industry and professional-specific uses like .realtor, .cars, or .actor, along with domain extensions for geographical locations and languages (.us and .de), companies (.homedepot and .xerox), and activities and events (.tennis and .wedding).
Some of the domain extensions have no exclusivity, meaning anyone can buy them. Yet, some of them require some sort of proof that you’re involved with a country, industry, activity, profession, or company. For instance, some country extensions have requirements, and niche extensions like .apple are managed by the companies themselves. Even .realtor extensions ask for real estate licenses.
As for the most popular extensions , here are the most common today:
How to decide between these TLDs
The search for a domain name begins by making a list of potential candidates, targeting the .com extension first, then looking for alternatives if that doesn’t work.
Here’s the best course of decision:
- Start by devising a brand-worthy domain name without considering the domain name extension. Read this guide to choosing a domain name. Tips include making it memorable, reflective of the site’s purpose, and easy to type in. Use our domain name generator for help. The link for it is in the additional domain name posts menu, at the top of this page.
- Check if the .com extension is available for that domain name first.
- If yes (and it’s reasonably priced—you shouldn’t pay more than $10 to $20 per year for a domain) purchase that domain. You’re done!
- If not (or it’s too expensive), look at other extensions with the same domain name.
The goal is to get the .com domain name—not because it makes your site any better, but because it’s the most recognizable, memorable domain extension you can find.
If the .com domain extension isn’t available, follow these steps to decide if you should pick an alternative extension or change the domain name entirely:
- Figure out why the domain extension isn’t available.
- Is the .com extension taken by another brand? Then you’re asking for trouble by picking the same domain name with a .net or .org extension. It’s time to devise a completely new domain name.
- Does someone own the extension for that domain name but there’s no website on it? Then maybe you could just choose a .net or .org extension without risking copyright problems or SEO competition.
- If you think it’s best to revise the entire domain name, do that, then check for the .com extension availability for the new domain name.
- If you’d rather look into an alternative domain extension, read our comparisons below to understand which might stand out.
Pros and cons of each domain extension
As the internet standard, it’s wise to consider the .com top-level domain prior to anything else.
The main reasons you’d skip a .com TLD is if it’s already taken, your organization requires something else, or if you gain advantages from an alternative, like an easier understanding of one’s profession.
👉 When to choose .com
Opt for a .com domain extension if the website is for a corporation, blog, online store, portfolio, real estate agency, or just about any type of business.
You should always have .com as your first choice, then work away from .com for these special situations:
- The domain you want isn’t available as a .com.
- It’s too expensive.
- You’d rather have a more creative or specific extension.
- You’re required to use something else.
Pros and cons of .net
Short for networking, the .net top-level domain is also somewhat of an “all-encompassing” extension, and it’s often seen as the runner-up when you can’t get a .com address.
It was originally for tech companies and networking organizations, but that’s not really the case anymore. Having said that, you could confuse the occasional visitor with a .net extension on a non-tech website.
👉 When to choose .net
Opt for a .net domain extension if your website presents information about technology, particularly networking. I like it most for site developers, mobile apps, networking companies, telecommunications brands, software developers, and just about anything in tech.
However, don’t choose .net if the .com is available. Also, avoid .net if you’re simply duplicating an already successful website with a .com extension. That causes confusion for visitors and potential competition/legal issues.
Overall, if you want a .net extension, consider buying both the .com and .net versions to maintain brand ownership of them all.
Pros and cons of .org
The .org domain extension is unique when compared to .com and .net since it has maintained its original characterization as a top-level domain for non-profits and charities.
However, .org is an unrestricted, open TLD anyone can get; there’s no need to provide a 501(c) or other non-profit documentation.
👉 When to choose .org
A .org domain extension works well for websites with free, public content, or those offering educational, charitable, religious, or scientific resources.
Think of a .org if you’re running a non-profit or an organization that offers something for free. It’s more prestigious than a .com, so this is one of the few times skipping a .com extension makes the most sense.
Do your best to avoid a .org domain if you run a for-profit.
Is there an impact of your domain extension on SEO?
No, there isn’t. Search engines don’t give certain domain extensions priority.
There is one potential exception: if you have a .net and another company holds the same domain name but with a .com extension. Assuming both organizations use the same SEO practices, search engines may rank the .com website higher since logically a .com will get more traffic.
Where to buy these domain extensions
You purchase a domain name and extension from a domain name registrar. A registrar is a company that sells you a domain and registers it with the DNS for you.
Some companies are only registrars and nothing else. Others offer a domain registrar service as an add-on to their primary products. Website builders, eCommerce platforms, and hosting companies often provide a way to buy a domain.
Overall, all reputable registrars have the same domains. One registrar won’t bring you better access or offer hidden domains.
However, we recommend going with a reputable registrar that:
- Keeps domain prices low. Domains should cost from $0 (when getting a deal) to $20 per year. You might spend a little extra if it’s already owned by someone, but avoid domain sales that get into the hundreds or thousands.
- Offers an easy setup process.
- Potentially has the option to add a domain right to a hosting account and website, eliminating the need to mess with DNS settings.
Notable places to buy domains include:
- SiteGround, InMotion, Bluehost, or any web hosting company: You may end up spending a little more for the service, but web hosts have all-in-one packages where you grab a domain name, install WordPress, and launch your site on a hosting server in one or two clicks. There’s no need for much technical knowledge when buying domains from hosts. Keep in mind that hosts have regular promotions that say you get a free domain for a year, but you can bet it’s wrapped into the monthly or yearly price.
- WordPress.com, Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, or any hosted website builder: These companies sell SaaS (software-as-a-service) packages with site building, hosting, domain names, and everything you need for a website in one subscription. It’s the easiest way to get a domain and launch a site, but there’s a premium for the convenience. As with hosts, they typically wrap promos into the monthly fee, so something like Namecheap is still cheaper.
👉 When you’re done here, read our guide on how to choose the best domain name registrar. The link is at the top of the page.
Other factors to consider when shopping for domain registrars:
- Spaminess: Some hosts and registrars send far too many emails, have way too many pop-ups on their sites, and try to upsell you around every corner.
- User-interface: This ties into spam, but you’ll notice that some registrars and hosts offer beautiful, modern dashboards, while others are cluttered, outdated, and slow.
- What are you already using? If you plan on running SiteGround for hosting, or Shopify for an online store, or WordPress.com for a website, it’s best to stick with that for buying a domain. We can say the same for a platform you already operate on.
Why you might explore outside of the usual domain extensions
The .com domain extension seems appealing when you look at its popularity and professionalism, while .net and .org have their own advantages like .net’s focus on tech and .org’s credibility. But are there reasons to explore outside of these standard domain extensions?
- Someone may have already taken your desired domain name.
- The desired name may be too expensive.
- Your site content might require you to go with a different domain name extension.
So where does that leave you? There are thousands of domain name extensions to choose from. What if you opt for one that’s not as professional as initially assumed? What if the domain name extension means something you didn’t know?
Here are some thoughts on safe, reputable extension alternatives and their purposes:
- .co: Many of these substitute domain extensions are “hip” ways to still get a similar extension without battling others for a .com. As such, .co makes sense if you’re struggling to find the right .com domain name. It’s common enough, similar to .com, and even shortens the URL.
- .io: Interestingly, the .io extension has its roots as the geographical code for the British Indian Ocean Territory. Yet, technology companies have adopted it as their own since it’s similar to iOS and the abbreviation for Input/Output, a common technological term.
- Industry domains like .cars, .finance, or .radio have grown in popularity and acceptance; you may also get industry discounts offered through associations, clubs, or unions.
- Profession-oriented TLDs like .accountant, .artist, and .doctor have little downside since they’re focused on individuals; you most likely use your name, so there’s less potential for competition. And it’s a fun immediate approach to show people what your website is about.
- .company, .expert, and .guru: These are some of the more popular domain extensions for commercial operations. The .company TLD is simply an extended version of .com, and the .expert and .guru TLDs elicit feelings of reputation and knowledge.
- .global has found acceptance for any business with an international presence.
- .us holds a high level of trust for commercial operations in the US.
- .blog works as a memorable option for a personal blog, but consider something else if you need to increase trustworthiness (.blog sounds like a personal blog or journal).
- City extensions like .nyc are wonderful to build trust as a local expert, particularly for travel websites.
A note on the .biz extension: Many argue there’s a stigma behind .biz that conjures qualities of cheapness or shadiness, like something you might see from a scam late-night TV commercial. Originally meant for commercial businesses as an alternative to .com, it never gained popularity like other alternative domains. For this reason, you should avoid this domain extension if possible.
The comparison of these TLDs clarifies that most of the time you can rest easy knowing that a .com is best!
However, there are some exceptions, especially if you’re a non-profit, tech business, or in an industry or area where specific domain extensions are preferred/required.
We encourage you to spend a significant amount of time researching domain names, as it’s not the easiest task to change them in the future.
And, let us know in the comments if you have further questions about our comparison between these three top TLDs.
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