What Domain Extension Should I Get?
Updated August 12, 2020
Choosing a domain extension can be almost as difficult as choosing the domain name for your website, thanks to a myriad of choices and an ever-increasing number of available top-level domains (TLDs).
It used to be the case that the company name was the biggest branding feature of a business, but now it’s also the domain name (the name used by people online to find your site) as well as the domain extension (like .com, .net or .org). It’s the unique combination of these two that makes up the core of your website address and URLs.
Knowing which domain extension you should get comes down to your location, whether you target users in just one country, availability of the name you’d like, how memorable are the domain + extension combination and length.
Understanding Domain Terms
Maybe you’ve seen gTLD, ccTLD or SLD tossed about in domain conversations or posts online. A quick look at common terms can help alleviate any confusion along the way.
Domain – the thing you can register which identifies your place on the web
Website – the text, images, files, databases that visitors see when viewing your domain and pages
URL – in the browser address bar, it’s what visitors type to visit your domain / website
Domain Extension – the end of a site address, the domain extension is also referred to as the top-level domain (TLD) and often will be .com, .net or .org
SLD – second-level domain is the technical way of saying domain name (if your site was example.com then the SLD is ‘example’ and the TLD is ‘.com’ or just ‘com’.
gTLD – generic top-level domain, or one which doesn’t specifically identify a country or specialty purpose (examples are .com, .net, .org)
sTLD – sponsored top-level domain, a type of gTLD like .jobs which is sponsored by the Society of Human Resource Management
uTLD – unsponsored top-level domain, the other type of gTLD (.com, .net, .org, .name, .info)
ccTLD – country-code top-level domain is one specific to a country like .ca for Canada
IDN ccTLD – internationalized country-code top-level domain where the domain is displayed in the language-native script, alphabet or writing system other than Latin (think Arabic or Chinese)
Brand TLD – companies can register their own distinct TLD after applying and submitting the $185,000 fee
There are so many options for choosing a domain extension, one can experience analysis paralysis in trying to decide on the ‘right’ one.
If you’ve ever wondered how many TLDs are there, you may have searched online and got a different answer from every site visited. That’s because the number is changing regularly. As of August 2020, there are over 1500 different domain extensions. The full list of domain extensions in alphabetical order is available on the iana.org website.
On those various TLDs, there are over 360 million domains with just under half of them being on any of the 316 ccTLDs (160 million).
The most popular choices for domain extensions include:
1. .com – 144 million
2. .tk – 25.1 million
3. .cn – 23 million
4. .de – 16.3 million
5. .net – 13.4 million
There are specific purposes associated with particular extensions, like:
.com – for commercial websites originally, but now used by all
.net – if you’ve got a network, IT or internet company
.org – generally non-profit organizations
.edu – educational in nature
.me – technically for Montenegro but use for personal sites
.biz – for businesses online
.us – United States personal or business websites
Not all domain extensions are available to everyone, everywhere. Country-code TLDs are often limited to individuals and companies who are located in the specific country, just as some generic TLDs are limited to people or businesses who are qualified within a given field (like .archi is for architects only).
The restrictions are designed to instill trust, so that when domains are registered with these extensions, and people visit websites, they can expect .vet sites to run by actual veterinary companies and .bank sites to really be banks.
This means that out of those 1500+ possible extensions, hundreds of them will be off-limits, including most of the 316+ country-code domains.
Reasons to Select a TLD
Figuring out the right answer to the question, “What domain extension should I get?” boils down to the answer to a few other questions first.
Keep in mind that, in general, Google doesn’t show preferences based on whether you pick a .com, .net, .name or other domain extension. The only exception is that country-code domains are favored for searches relating to products and services in a particular country.
1. Are you targeting people in just one country?
If the answer to this is yes, then usually a country-code TLD will be a good way to go. People in the United Kingdom look for sites on .co.uk, just as those in Canada look for domains on the .ca ccTLD.
From a search engine optimization perspective, Google recommends those businesses targeting a single country to use country specific domains, since they may not realize you’re aiming for just one country. In fact, Google uses ccTLD to boost the relevance of a site, for queries relating to certain locations.
What’s that mean exactly? You’ll get better search rankings for your site whenever someone searches about things relating to your country or location by using a country-code domain extension.
2. Do you have a particular purpose for your site?
If your site is going to be for a club, then .club makes sense, or .academy if your site is about learning. Accountants, designers, attorneys, builders, cabs, churches…. the list goes on and on.
When your business fits neatly into one of these niche TLDs, then it’s worth at least thinking about something other than a .com domain extension.
3. Is your preferred domain name + extension available?
When you’re wanting .com, it’s usually the case that someone has already thought of, and registered, your desired domain name on the .com TLD. Even if they haven’t got a website up and running, squatters often speculate on domain names, hoping someone will want it and buy it from them, at a profit.
The Case for Choosing .com
First impressions are often made before someone even visits a site by glancing at the domain name and extension. Eyebrows will raise at the site of domain names with multiple hyphens, misspellings or oddly similar yet not quite right matches what’s expected, just as the Spidey senses start tingling when someone sees an unusual TLD, making them doubly cautious about providing personal details, especially credit cards for purchases.
EXAMPLE: When asked about trusting insurance quotes from a .com versus a .insurance domain, most people thought the .insurance was less trustworthy.
Using a search engine, like Google, the page of results returned from a given query gives users choices about what to click. If there’s any reason to ignore a result and choose another, they will. So, rather than offering a potentially risky option (an unfamiliar TLD), site owners will often opt for a .com, even if they have to pick a slightly different name as compared to their preference. You’ll get higher clickthrough rates with .com than most other choices, aside from ccTLDs such as .ca for sites in Canada.
We all know that .com is 3 letters (not counting the ‘.’). Most ccTLDs are 2, like .ca or .us (though a few exceptions exist like .co.uk). The new gTLDs are varied in length and can be anywhere from 3 to more than a dozen characters like .engineering.
As the web shifts to more and more mobile use, short URLs are increasingly in demand. Short domains, short extensions and short paths to content on site are all contributing factors in content being found and shared.
Memorable / Guessing
If you remember a brand name but don’t remember the domain extension, odds are you’ll guess it’s a .com, particularly if it’s a global business. For those serving a local audience, often the first guess will be the most common TLD, like .co.uk in Britain.
For a domain + extension to be memorable, it needs to be short and catchy. Maybe you’ll remember someorganization.foundation, but it’s much more likely that you’ll remember someorganization.org, just as abchicago.management is less likely to stick with you versus abchicago.com.
One of the most important objectives of online marketing is to make a memorable impression on visitors. Companies spend incredible amounts of money in trying to achieve this goal, so rather than making it harder to remember you – make it easier with a catchy name that’s short and unique.
Short domain names and extensions are much easier to fit on printed material than longer ones. Trying to fit 25 characters onto a card or brochure is much harder than 10 characters. There’s no point in using a font too small to read just because your domain + extension goes on for miles.
Domain Extension Hacks
There are several noteworthy examples of companies who have used clever naming to build their brand (domain extension hacks).
Visual.ly and del.icio.us are two obvious cases of companies using the extension to build their name. However, there are many more who have tried it and then moved away from this, with Instagram being one of the more notable – switching from instagr.am to instagram.com.
Being clever is cute, but cute isn’t something that is enough for companies who want to be trusted, memorable and highly profitable.
Most marketers who’ve gone through this will tell you that their traffic improved once they got off the cute extension and onto the.com.
Registering a Domain on Multiple Extensions
Deciding on your primary domain and extension is a big achievement. Getting it registered through a reputable company is essential, which is why many are choosing to get their hosting and domain registration done with KnownHost. However, one has to wonder about all the TLDs that weren’t selected.
If you’re registering a domain on one TLD, what if someone else registers the same domain name on some of the other 1500+ domain extensions? Unless it’s something you’ve trademarked, there’s nothing to stop someone from registering your exact domain name on another TLD.
In a worst case scenario, an unscrupulous individual or organization decides to make a site that looks very much like yours and puts it on the same domain with a different extension, then either promotes it via SEO, social media, paid search, email or a combination of the above. They could direct traffic to the site, put up a too good to be true offer, collect cash and disappear, leaving you to field the refund requests.
While this is a bit far fetched, it definitely can happen. Protecting your brand from potential fraudsters is one of the reasons why companies opt to register multiple variations of their domain + extension.
Rather than stealing cash under your name, some unsavory characters have been known to create a reputation damaging site on an alternative name, creating an online reputation management disaster for you to mitigate. It’s often done in the hopes that you’ll offer them cash to buy out the domain and end the nightmare.
Lost Traffic & Sales
Given the fact that many people will guess at domain extensions, it’s entirely possible that your domain name on a different extension could siphon off traffic from your real site, resulting in a loss of revenue – possibly even with that traffic and those sales going to a competitor.
Choosing the right extension comes down to location and availability. In most cases, a .com is the way to go, even if you have to tweak your domain name choice a bit, like choosing getourbrand.com instead of ourbrand.com, or weareourbrand.com instead of ourbrand.com.
If your target audience is in just one country, then look at ccTLDs – you’ll enjoy the SEO benefits and the trust that goes with an extension people in that area expect (and search engines recognize).
Remember that the goals are to be memorable, easily typed in the address bar of the browser, trustworthy and to protect the brand from damage.
There are many reasons for choosing a .com or ccTLD as the primary domain extension and few cases where it’s the wrong call. Registering the opposite (ccTLD if your main site is on .com and .com if your main site is on a ccTLD) is a good defensive strategy to protect the brand against damage.
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