The .com top level domain (TLD) domain extension has become synonymous with the internet, and it’s the default choice for most websites. This popularity can lead to a tough situation: you go to register a shiny new domain, only to find it’s not available under a .com. Should you choose another TLD? Are .com vs .net any different?
There are a couple of solutions. You can alter your domain name, or go with a different extension, like .net. Both are viable options, but the one you choose can have a lasting impact on your business.
In this article, we’ll explain the pros and cons of .com vs .net extensions and help you choose the right one. We’ll also cover some of the alternatives and offer tips for what to do if your first choice is taken. Let’s dive in!
Domain extensions, top-level domains – whatever you call them – are simply the last part of a web address (like .com). They’re a part of the domain name system (DNS) and were originally introduced in 1984. The purpose of TLDs was to categorize websites so that users would know what type of site to expect when they visited. As such, each of the original seven TLDs stood for something:
While some of these original TLDs have retained their intended use, .com has essentially been adopted by the internet as the standard extension – it’s by far the most popular, even for non-commercial sites. In fact, over 50% of all websites use the .com extension.
These days, there are hundreds of domain extensions available, from country-specific codes to industry-specific extensions like
.cars. While some of these have gained in popularity in recent years, .com remains the default choice for most websites by an enormous margin. Not counting country-specific domains,
.org and .net are the next most popular, with 4.6% and 3.4% of websites using them.
The popularity of .com creates a bit of a problem: many desirable domain names ending with it are already taken. To help, new extensions have been introduced over the years. While most of these remain pretty niche, some have expanded into wider use:
.co was introduced in 2010 to help businesses that couldn’t get a .com with their preferred domain name.
.io is actually a country-specific code for the British Indian Ocean Territory. However, it’s gained popularity with tech companies because it’s also the abbreviation for the computer term ‘Input/Output’.
.biz is a domain that hasn’t really taken off. It was originally meant to be used by businesses, although take up has nosedived over the years.
As such, before making a decision on whether .com vs .net is right for you, you’ll want to consider whether one of these less-generic TLDs could work for your business. While the industry domains haven’t seen a ton of popularity,
.io have both become fairly well-respected choices.
.co is often seen as a more modern or ‘hip’ alternative to .com, while
.io is a favorite among tech startups and related sites. Another example, the popular WordPress education and news site Torque uses
torquemag.io as its domain, while we’ve opted for
revive.social for our own domain.
Are these ‘alternative’ TLDs right for you? It mainly comes down to branding. There’s a lot of potential for creativity here, especially with the industry TLDs.
As mentioned, the popularity of .com means that many domains using it are already taken. In the same way that many consumers assume a .com domain, many would-be website owners assume .net, which makes it the standard alternative when their first choice is unavailable. However, this isn’t the whole story. Let’s dive a little more into this.
As we’ve outlined, the .com extension is the go-to for the vast majority of websites. As a result of this popularity, it enjoys several advantages. First, .com is easily recognizable. There’s no need to guess which TLD a website uses if you’re unsure, and it’s going to be a standard for many.
Additionally, it has a professional and trustworthy feel, helped by some of the biggest names on the internet using it, such as Facebook, Apple, and Amazon. The only real disadvantage to .com, aside from maybe a lack of creativity, is that the popularity means getting a .com address with your preferred domain name might be tough.
In contrast, the story with .net is essentially the opposite. The chance that a given domain is available as a .net is naturally higher. However, it lacks the recognition and professionalism of .com.
The biggest drawback with .net (and for other TLDs to a lesser extent) is that many people simply assume a .com domain – studies indicate users may have a hard time remembering other TLDs. This means users may be landing on competitor sites accidentally, especially if you choose .net because someone else has the same domain with .com. Even if this is a rare occurrence, it’s a risk you’ll have to keep in mind.
Studies also indicate that users placed a higher level of trust in .com websites. This means any business using a non-.com TLD needs to be sure to call it out prominently in branding and marketing materials to help alleviate these effects and build brand awareness. It’s certainly doable, but it may be an uphill battle starting out. Finally, it’s worth noting that this stigma could die out long term, as more alternative TLDs become acceptable. As such, the drawbacks we mentioned may be less of a concern.
As for search engine optimization, the domain extension you choose normally has no bearing. However, there is one possible exception: if there are two websites with the same domain name and the exact same SEO practices, but one is a .com and the other is .net, the .com could potentially rank higher.
The logical assumption here is based on Google considering site traffic when ranking pages. All other things being equal, the .com address is likely to have more traffic for the reasons we’ve mentioned throughout this piece, so it will get a higher spot on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
On the whole, if you’re only choosing between .com vs .net, we’d recommend sticking with .com just for the simplicity of use. However, if your preferred address is taken, consider altering your domain name first, and only go with .net if it’s not feasible.
Some ways you could tweak your domain to land a .com include:
awesomeflowers.com. This domain is much more likely to be available because it’s more specific. It’s also better for SEO since Google checks for keywords in domain names.
awesomehouston.com or, even better,
awesomeflowershouston.com is taken, try just
awesomeflowers.com. In this case, even though it’s shorter, the second domain may actually have the advantage because it’ll be easier to remember and type.
Also, it’s worth noting that if you’re considering changing your domain name to match a specific TLD, it could point to a lack of attention towards your branding. As such, you may want to consider whether every public-facing element (such as your domain name, logo, business name, etc.) is pulling in the same direction.
There are many domain name registrars out there – companies that will register a domain name on your behalf. At the end of the day, they all offer the same product, so it doesn’t matter which registrar you end up using. The only factors are the price and easy registration process.
From our experience, some of the best places to register your domain name are:
The ubiquity of .com websites means many site owners are faced with a choice: change the domain name or use an alternative extension. This isn’t always an easy decision to make, and may often point to a deeper issue with your branding.
Still, if you have to make the choice, you’ll generally want to go with .com if at all possible. However, .net can be a viable alternative, as long as you emphasize it in your branding. There are also some alternative extensions that might work, including
Do you have any questions about domain extensions? Let us know in the comments section below!
* This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and then purchase the product, we’ll receive a commission. No worries though, you’ll still pay the standard amount so there’s no cost on your part.
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