When building a website for your business, you have hundreds of decisions to make. Some are small and seemingly insignificant – like what shade of blue to use for an opt-in form on an obscure blog post. Others are more important – like naming your website.
But when it comes to naming a website, all of the focus is traditionally placed on the domain name – i.e. the characters that go in between www. and .com. But in reality, there’s more to it than that. Yes, the domain name matters, but so does the domain extension.
By the end of reading this post, you’ll be equipped with enough knowledge on domain extensions to build your website with direction and confidence. So roll up your sleeves and let’s get to work.
To understand what domain extensions are and why they matter, it’s helpful to rewind back to the infancy period of the internet.
If you wanted to access a website back in the 1980s, you had to type in a long string of complicated numbers (otherwise known as the website’s IP address). That was the only way early computers had of communicating across networks. It was frustrating and inefficient. The entire process was filled with friction. In order for the web to truly become worldwide for a consumer facing audience, things had to be much simpler.
It was out of this fiction that the Domain Name System (DNS) was created. Instead of typing in 216.3. 128.12 to access a website, you just type Google.com. Simple. Easy. Clean.
And along with domain names came domain extensions. These extensions, also known as top-level domains (TLDs), serve as a way of categorizing websites into specific groups. The original six domain extensions were .com, .org, .net, .edu, .gov, and .mil. Today, there are more than 1,000 different TLds.
Originally, there were lots of rules and restrictions on which domain extensions you could use. If, for example, you wanted a .org domain extension, you had to prove that your organization met certain standards. These rules have become far more relaxed over the years.
Today, the most common domain extensions include:
There are literally hundreds of other TLDs, but you’ll probably want to start your search with one of these four. The more obscure you get, the more challenges you face (from a visibility and credibility perspective).
Now that you know what a domain extension or TLD is, let’s discuss a few of the reasons why it matters:
In other words, a domain extension isn’t something you randomly select. It’s a decision that should be preceded by a certain amount of purpose and intentionality.
Being familiar with what domain extensions are and why they matter is only the start. In order to reap the full benefits, you must select the right domain extension for your company’s website. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Always, always, always go for the .com domain extension first. It won’t always be available, but it should be the first one you try.
While other TLDs have become more popular over the years, this is still the gold standard. Research shows that roughly 51 percent of all websites use .com. This means people are more familiar with it and much more likely to trust the site. (And if someone tries to search your website manually without knowing the domain extension, they’ll automatically assume it’s .com. Using another TLD means you’ll miss out on this traffic.)
Notice we didn’t say “always use a .com” domain extension. We said always “look” for one first. If you have a generic or desirable domain name, you’ll find that it’s probably taken. This means you’ll either have to change up your domain name, or you’ll need to explore other TLD options.
If .com is taken, move down the list of other commonly used options. This includes .net, .org, and .co. But in addition to these domain extensions, you can play around with non-traditional TLDs that fit your brand and/or website goals.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re launching an ecommerce website that sells interior design products and home goods (like wall art, curtains, hardware, lighting, etc.). If myinterordesignwebsite.com is taken, you could always try options like:
That example is a bit wordy, but you get the idea. The goal is to make the name sound natural and memorable. If you can do that without using a traditional TLD, more power to you!
If you’re lucky enough to secure a .com domain extension for your website, it’s a good idea to gobble up as many of the other main TLDs as possibly.
For example, let’s say your secure MyWebsite.com. If available, you’d also want to secure MyWebsite.org, MyWebsite.net, MyWebsite.co, etc.
Why would you do this? Well, there are two primary reasons why:
If you’re really committed to your website and you have a name that you think people might frequently misspell, you could also buy up the most common misspellings and then redirect them back to your main site.
Don’t go too crazy with this strategy. It’s unnecessary to buy 100 different versions of the same domain. But if there are a few top level options out there, you might as well.
There’s always been some debate over how much a domain extension influences search rankings (if any). And while you’ll find people on both ends of this argument, it’s generally considered to have some effect.
As we’ve stated extensively in this post, always choose the .com name if it’s available. But if it’s taken, .net, .co, and other well-known TLDs are considered reasonable options. Low-quality TLDs, like .info, .biz, or .name will not have a positive impact on traffic (though they won’t technically have an adverse impact).
How your site eventually ranks is based on many more factors than simply your domain name. Things like meta data and semantic signals play a bigger role than they used to. No longer is it about exact match domains and exact match anchor text.
Another SEO implication is age of the domain and existing links. If the domain has been live and has had some basic content for a couple of years it may already be out of the Google sandbox (so called), than a domain you simply pick up on Godaddy for $10.
This has more to do with the actual domain name than it does with the domain extension, but it’s worth mentioning.
It’s easy to get so caught up in the need to secure a .com website that you end up taking things too far. While it’s good if you can find a way to get a TLD, you should avoid the following:
Again, creativity is good. But too much creativity with a domain name can have adverse effects on your branding, website traffic, and search rankings.
Okay, let’s pose a scenario:
You have a brand new business and you’re starting a website. But you’re soon discouraged when you find that the .com domain name you want is already taken. And, if you’re being honest with yourself, there really aren’t any good alternatives. Everything that’s available is obscure and forgettable. What do you do?
Assuming you don’t have the option of renaming your business, there is a path you can take. Like any other IP or commodity, domain names can be sold and transferred. Thus it’s in your best interest to do some research on the website and see if you can buy it from the current owner. Here’s what this process looks like:
Depending on how desirable the domain name is and how much leverage the current owner has, buying a TLD can get expensive. (The digital marketing company Sumo famously spent $1.5 million to secure Sumo.com from someone who already owned it.) That’s why it’s so important to set your budget and stick to it.
At SEO.co, we believe in building websites with a strong foundation. This includes selecting the proper name, establishing the right structure, and filling the pages of that site with high quality content. We also understand the need for traffic – and that’s where our true passion lies.
When you work with SEO.co, we help you scale your organic traffic with the highest quality content and links. We do so by leveraging our rich network to secure authentic, white hat link placement that benefits both the publisher and your brand.