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.
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.
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!).
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!