.Com vs .Net vs .Org – Do Domain Name Extensions Matter?

.Com vs .Net vs .Org – Do Domain Name Extensions Matter?

The question of whether or not domain name extensions matter is one I field a lot, and since I’ll be starting the process of building a new minisite soon as part of the 2011 Community Marketing Challenge, I thought I’d take a second to share my thoughts on the matter.

But first – a primer… When I say “domain name extensions”, I’m referring to the “.com”, “.net”, “.org” or whatever other combination of letters comes after the domain name you purchase. Whether one extension is better than another in terms of search engine optimization (SEO) had long been the subject of debate amongst internet marketers, and while I can’t give you a definitive answer (damn you, secretive search engine algorithms!), I can share what my experiences on the subject have been.

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In my experience, there’s only one hard and fast rule of domain extension selection – whenever possible, go with the .com extension of your exact target keyword, as these domains do seem to receive the biggest natural SEO bump in rankings. Basically, new sites on .com domains usually get ranked faster than domains with other extensions and they tend to rank better over time.

In addition, .com domains are best from a visitor relations standpoint. Web visitors don’t always remember other extensions besides .com – let’s face it, as advanced as we internet marketers may think we are, there are still plenty of web users who aren’t aware that other domain extensions even exist. So if you want to build a website where visitors remember the domain name and come back again and again, it’s best to go with a .com extension.

Now, the obvious problem with .com extensions is that there just aren’t that many of them left to choose from – especially if you plan to register an exact keyword as your domain name (which you should, for SEO purposes). If you run into this problem, what’s the next best alternative?

Personally, if the .com domain I’m looking for isn’t available, my next preference is to find an exact keyword match .net domain. I tend to stay away from .org domains, as the public perception still exists that these domains represent non-profit organizations (which can be counter-productive to any sales process I try to initiate). However, if you don’t have similar reservations, the prevailing opinion amongst marketers seems to be that .org domains receive the same SEO benefits of .net extensions.

If I can’t get the exact match .net domain, my next move is to try to find a slightly modified version of the exact match keyword .com or .net domain. In most cases, this means adding a word like “best” or “reviews” to the beginning or end of my keyword. Ideally, this modified version of my target keyword should be a good keyword in its own right, meaning that it should have low competition and adequate searches on its own.

Currently, I prefer to modify my domain keyword slightly, instead of resorting to .com domains that use dashes between words or registering .biz, .us or .info domains. The dashes situation isn’t one that I’ve tested extensively, but in my limited experience, the domains I’ve registered that use dashes tend to take longer to rank and are slower to move up the SERPs than modified .com or .net domains.

I avoid .biz and .us domains for the same reason. Although these lower level domain extensions are becoming more popular (mainly due to the scarcity of .com and .net domains), I haven’t seen them recognized as widely by the search engines yet. That, and the fact that I can’t use identity protection services that protect my name and address from anyone looking up my site’s Whois information with .us domains…

.Info domains are a little bit of a different case. Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more .info domains popping up on Google results pages, so I suspect there might be a shift occurring there. However, the .info domains I’ve tested still seem to take longer to rank than .com and .net extensions, so while I still recommend .com and .net domains over .info extensions, it’s something that’s worth keeping an eye on, especially as .info domains are significantly cheaper than other extensions.

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As you can imagine, looking up all of these different domain names to see whether or not they’re available can be seriously time consuming. If you’re interested in speeding up the process, I highly recommend using the “Domain Availability Lookup” tool in Market Samurai (click the link to try for free) to automate the process. Here’s how I do it…

First, I use Market Samurai to come up with a list of approximately 10 keyword variations around a central theme to target for each new site I build. This gives me some flexibility from an LSI standpoint and allows my content to sound more natural to visitors.

Looking up domain name availability for all of these variations – as well as modified keywords as described above, if necessary – by hand would suck up a lot of time I don’t have. With the domain availability tool in Market Samurai, I can quickly see which domain names are available and which ones aren’t. I also love that I can use the tool to add modifier words to the beginning or end of my target keywords automatically, so that looking up domain availability for these modified keywords is as simple as another click of my mouse.

(Market Samurai does a lot of other cool things too – it’s great for digging deeper into sub-niches you may not have thought about – but honestly, for me, the domain name lookup tool alone makes it worth the purchase price!)

Once you’ve found a good domain name, I highly recommend using NameCheap as your registrar. In my experience, their service has always been excellent and I love the free inclusion of WhoisGuard with every new domain purchased. I also love their monthly coupon codes that let me save 10% off every domain I purchase (sign up at their link above to have these coupon codes mailed to you each month!).

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Have you had a different experience with .biz, .us or .info domain names? Do you swear by domain names with dashes? I’m always looking for other opinions, so share yours in the comments below!

Photo: xanxhor

30 Responses to .Com vs .Net vs .Org – Do Domain Name Extensions Matter?

  1. Jon says:

    I’m a fan of Namecheap for domains even after using HostGator for a while. As you said, the Whois Privacy being included is a great perk.

    My experience has been strictly with registering .com. Mainly for the reasons you stated; SEO power and widespread familiarity.

    Your CSM domain here parked on a .net seems to be doing quite well. You’ve been steadily climbing in Alexa! I know that’s not by accident or extension; you know how to promote :)

    • Sarah says:

      Yeah, I probably should have talked about this in the post, but part of the reason I was comfortable going with a .net for this site is that it’s not targeting specific keywords like most of my minisites do.

      My promotion methods for this site revolve more around interacting with people, so the .net isn’t a big issue, as I’m not counting on search engine traffic or people memorizing my domain name to get them here.

      One other thing to add – it’s a good idea to register your domains separately from your hosting provider. Sort of a “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket” kind of thing, but if your host goes down for any reason, it’s way easier to pull your site and relaunch on a different host if the domain is held separately.

  2. NomadicNeill says:

    I think as Google refines their algorithms more and more the type of domain will become less relevant.

    I’m happy using .info domains and I don’t notice any difference in rankings.

    The general consumer is getting used to them as well. So go out and grab those .info domains.

    • Sarah says:

      Neill – Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experiences.

      I think that you’re right that people will eventually get used to these newer domain extensions, although I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

      Might be a good time to start grabbing them up though if they’re eventually going to become as scarce as .com/.net/etc. :)

    • James says:

      I believe you there, i’ve seen a bit more advertisements with the .INFO domain extension by it including the local police near the area in pleasant prairie using the PPPD.info on all their squad cars.

      not to mention, i think thats partly because the internet is meant for INFO and using a http://www.domain.info makes sense, plus most registrars have had these on sale for some time now most selling for under $2, while some selling it under $1 per year (for the first year) but with GOdaddy.

      also your favorite registrar may have a coupon code that can be found or shared at http://www.retailmenot.com such as godaddy, namecheap

  3. mike says:

    i usually prefer .com’s (ive never bought a .net or .org) – but one particular month I was feeling extra cheap, so I bought a few .info domains.. although i did have more trouble getting some of them indexed as quickly, I am having pretty good success with one of them.

    it currently sits at #5 on google for my keywords. it seems to me that if you use wordpress, you should have no trouble getting indexed, regardless of the extension.

    but i also agree that most people are still more familiar with .com, so they may be less inclined to click on a .info.

    • Sarah says:

      Mike – Thanks for sharing your experiences. After all the positive feedback here, I think I might have to revisit .info domains!

  4. […] you’re first getting started, there are only two things you need to buy: a domain name and a hosting account. Everything else – from keyword research to graphics creation to education […]

  5. Scott says:

    While .com’s have traditionally been at the core of web site marketing programs, consumer uptake on mobile web devices (phones/tablets) is occurring 12X faster than previously on desktops and laptops. Mobile apps are being downloaded from app stores at the rate of more than a billion per month so the actual domain extension is becoming less and less relevant as time passes. Apps in and of themselves are becoming destinations, not websites.

    Just a thought.

    • Sarah says:

      Scott – That’s a really interesting point that I hadn’t considered…

      I don’t think apps will ever truly replace websites entirely, so if you’re building a traditional website, I think the advice above still applies.

      But, depending on how you plan to package and promote your product, domain extensions might not matter as much if you plan to deploy content as an app.

      Thanks for sharing!

      • Scott says:

        Sarah – true enough, but the trend is for more and more web sites to function primarily as banners for redirecting visitors to one or more app stores to download and install their product or service, using either as a paid or free app biz model. .

        A growing army of mobile centric companies now relies almost entirely on the network effect for user uptake. These firms focus on increasing Twitter, Facebook, and SMS traffic and care little about driving traffic back to their main web site.

        There will be close to 20 billion app downloads this year alone, not including all the preload apps on devices. In-app purchases and content services bind the user even closer.

        The mobile web is having a huge impact, the effects of which are only now becoming clearer. We are in for a wild ride.

        Cheers

        • Sarah says:

          Absolutely! I think you’re right that this will be an interesting trend to watch.

          I haven’t done anything with apps, but it’s definitely on my radar for the future.

          • Scott says:

            Hi Sarah – we’re launching what we hope will prove to be very popular app this summer. Downloads will be via app stores so our bandwidth costs are nothing. Our .net web site really functions as an interactive brochure with a link out to leading app stores and our hosted (white label) customer support service. Its a low cost but effective and scalable model that allows us focus our resources and energies on developing innovative marketing programs designed to generate a network effect that pushes prospective users to name brand app stores to download our free app rather than to our corporate web site.

            Scott

  6. Sarah says:

    Scott – I’d love to hear more about how that goes for you. Keep me posted!

  7. Scott says:

    Sarah – that would be great. Thanks.

    I’ll drop you a line when we’re just about to turn off the cloaking device before labor day. Have a great summer!

    Cheers,

    Scott

  8. Rian says:

    Thanks Sarah for bringing this topic. But we have some different opinion about choosing domain.

    My first target is to get EMD for .com .org and the latest is .net.

    I learn it from very cool guy who own school-grants dot org that makes him $4000 per month just from adsense.

    Cheers

    Rian

    • Sarah says:

      Rian – We’re pretty much on the same page, as .com and .net are my priorities. I don’t like the .org domains, but that’s a personal preferences thing based on people’s perception of them as being associated with non-profits. But I can’t dispute that they’re as effective for rankings as .net domains.

  9. Nice article here. Its only bit different with an information i got. :)

    I was read about Domain for SEO topic from noble team (market samurai). They tested about 4 same domain names with same articles, same register date, and same post date & time.

    And then, they checked each of those fresh domains with the result on index page, the the highest rank is:

    1. domainname.com
    2. domainname.org
    3. domainname.net
    4. domain-name.com

    cheers,

    Traffic shoes

    • Sarah says:

      Ooh – interesting :) Do you have a link to that article? I’d love to read more…

      Not that the results are totally unexpected – obviously, the .com is going to be top, with .org and .net behind it. Nice to see confirmation about dashes ranking lower, though, as I’ve always suspected that they weren’t valued as highly.

      Thanks so much for sharing!

  10. Maggie says:

    Interesting and useful thread. I am UK based and thinking of going for a .co.uk domain name for a website dedicated to showing the work of a group of artists. There will be no selling. Where would you position that against .com or .org when all variations of the domain name are available?

    • Sarah says:

      Are you trying to attract local UK traffic for things like exhibitions, workshops, etc? If so, I’d definitely recommend a .co.uk domain to increase your chances of capturing local traffic.

      On the other hand, if you’re trying to target a global audience, .com might be a better option. Alternatively, consider buying both and utilizing a script that directs visitors to the appropriate domain based on the location of their IP addresses.

  11. Mag says:

    Hello,

    Its very interesting topic…

    I recently purchased .net domain for online retailing as there wasnt availability of .com for the same keyword.

    What is your opinion is it the right choice for retail?

  12. Enamul says:

    Hey guys i want to buy a domain . As usual the problem with .com and .net .

    Childslife.com is taken and ready for sell with $6400 But
    Childslife.net is Available .

    Should i change my keyword or stay with .net ..
    What should i do ?

  13. Asaad Dennis says:

    Hello Sarah, I gave you a facebook like and google plus 1.

    I have a question: I’m looking to sell bridal rings over the internet and (Bridalrings.com) is already taken (Bridalrings.net) and (Bridalrings.org) is still available.

    I’m aware that the perception is that .org is for non profit and .net is an alternative to .com but .net will cost me $7,000 and .org will Cost $700.00

    My business is for profit however will .org work better for SEO Purposes.

  14. Steve Burman says:

    Just a thought – could it be simply that because .com’s are more popular and more widely bought and used we tend to see them more often where as .net and other’s being less popular, you are less likely to see them?
    Google’s number one rule is that content is king and good quality content is what will get you to the top…

    But of course, there is no doubt that a .com address is easier to remember if you want to return there by entering the address in directly.

  15. Dennis says:

    What about .tv. I hear no mention of it. Yes it was a little more expensive,but let me assure you there was no difficulty getting the name I wanted and basically what I wanted was a more personalized email address

  16. I Think .com is best .It gets natural SEO and can be used globally

  17. Joe S. says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I have read all of your information regarding different domain names and I always thought that .com (like you said in the beginning) is going to be the best way to attract readers, customers, etc…

    I have a couple “potential-to-be-great” ideas for websites and all I can find are .org’s and .net’s. A business partner of mine two years ago started a website with a .net and it’s doing okay. (His company is much more about the advertising) than anything else.

    Any advice for me or someone looking to start up a revenue generated website? I want to sell through my website as well. In summary, is a .com always going to be the best way to go? The bad part is that, as you said and as I have read elsewhere, most of the good .com’s are gone.

    Looking forward to your comment. Thank you for this great tutorial. This is exactly what I was looking for and you marketed it perfectly….so maybe I should go after a .net?

    Thanks,

    Joe S.

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