There are over 1,500 domain extensions available today, including specialized extensions for numerous industries, interests, and website types. They all tell users something different about your site. So why do you need the .com domain? Do you really need it at all?
This guide will explore the benefits of using a .com domain, along with why you might want to consider a different extension. But first, we need to establish what a domain extension, otherwise known as a top level domain, actually is.
What are domain extensions?
Domain extensions are used to categorize websites. In professional web development spaces, they are often referred to as top level domains.
Despite this name, there is no level system for domain extensions. All domain extensions are top level domains (TLDs). Your browser will treat them the same way. Google has also stated that no preferential treatment is given to .com or any other TLD.
There are, however, three types of top level domains:
- Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) – These are domain extensions that can be registered anywhere in the world. This includes the commonly-used .com, .org, .net, as well as less common extensions like .info and .io. The vast majority of domain extensions are gTLDs.
- Country Code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) – As the name suggests, these extensions can only be registered by residents of a specific country. Some commonly used ccTLDs are .ca, .co.uk, and .ru.
- Restricted Top Level Domains – These are domain extensions that can only be used by specific types of institutions, such as .edu for post-secondary educations. Due to the restrictions, we will not be discussing these TLDs in the bulk of this article.
New TLDs are added occasionally, and you can find a full list of domain extensions here.
Your brand and .com
So, if your browser and search engines treat .com the same as any other TLD, why do you need the .com?
The answer lies in your branding. A .com domain is recognizable and lends your brand credibility. The .com also indicates that you are open to doing business with people from anywhere in the world.
Your website is also easier to remember when you use the .com. If people remember the name of your brand but don’t have your website URL, they are probably going to type “yourbrand.com” into their address bar. If your website is at the .com address, they will find themselves in the right place.
The dangers of leaving the .com available
As we mentioned before, if people remember the name of your brand but don’t remember the URL, they will often attempt to go to “yourbrand.com”. If your brand isn’t there, they might assume you have no website at all and give up the search. And this is only one of the dangers of leaving the .com associated with your domain name available.
Another, more significant danger is that somebody else will use the .com domain. This might be a competitor, in which case they will land your clients. Or it might be an entirely different type of business, leading to confusion about what you do. If the site is involved with something risky like adult entertainment or gambling it could even damage your reputation.
Finally, if you choose to invest in the .com domain later on, you might find that someone has bought it for the specific purpose of reselling. This will require a longer, more involved purchase process, and will likely also cost you more money. For this reason, we recommend buying the .com domain even if you primarily use a different extension.
What if the .com address is already taken?
You might be researching this question because the .com for the domain you want is already taken. If the domain is in active use, you probably won’t be able to buy it. So what do you do?
The best option is often to choose a different domain. You don’t want people who go looking for your company to get distracted by something else. You can add a word, subtract a word, or modify the spelling to create a domain with a similar sound. There are endless ways to create a unique domain, including the use of domain name generators.
If the domain is not in active use, the person who owns it likely bought it with the intention to sell it later on down the line. There are several platforms that allow you to buy a domain that is taken. You will need to contact the person who owns the domain, then purchase it through the resale platform of their choice.
So what is the purpose of other TLDs?
If using the .com is the best way to make your brand easy to find, why consider other TLDs at all?
The .com extension tells people your domain is a website, but other top level domains can tell people something more specific about your brand. To show you how this works, let’s take a look at some domains with an extension other than .com.
First up is STEAMLabs, a Canadian non-profit that teaches people how to become Makers, with an emphasis on tech-based programs for youth. All of their programs are run out of the city of Toronto, so they use a .ca domain extension.
If your business only operates in one country, or if your major selling point is that your products are created in a specific country, you might want to use the appropriate ccTLD.
The next site we want to consider is the website for the World Wildlife Foundation. The World Wildlife Foundation is a non-profit organization rather than a traditional company, so they use the .org extension.
The .org extension is not a restricted TLD, but it is primarily used by non-profits. If your organization is a non-profit, you may want to take advantage of this association.
Finally, let’s consider the Revive.Social website. This website exists to sell social media plugins, and uses the extension .social. The domain, Revive Social, also serves as the name of the blog hosted on the site. By using the extension as part of the name, Revive Social makes themselves more memorable.
There are TLDs for every type of website imaginable. Here are some of the most memorable:
You can use one of these domain extensions to keep the purpose of your company at the forefront of your customers’ minds, or even make it part of your website name. However, it’s important to consider what other companies in your industry are doing. If nobody is using the industry-specific TLD, you might actually confuse potential customers with it.
What do different top level domains cost?
The final consideration when choosing a domain extension is cost. Most TLDs cost roughly the same amount as .com extensions, but some are significantly more expensive. Others are significantly more affordable. And of course, the cost also varies from one domain registrar to the next.
As you can see, the prices for various domain extensions rarely increase or decrease in cost by more than a few dollars. This means cost is not going to play a major role in your decision.
The final verdict: do you need the .com?
Google might not penalize you for using a different top level domain, but we strongly recommend sticking with the .com anyway. Most people will search for you using the .com first.
If for some reason you choose a less common TLD, we recommend buying the .com address and making it redirect people to your website. This will prevent another company from taking the .com address and confusing your customers.
Finally, if the .com address you want is taken by an active site, we suggest choosing a different domain name. It might take a while to find the perfect unused domain, but the opportunities for clear, consistent marketing will be worth the time invested.
Anything to add? Thoughts?