Dot Com vs. Dot Whatever | What Top Level Domain (TLD) Should You Choose?

Is Dot Com Still The King of Domain Names?

Are dot com (.com) domain names still the only good choice? There was a time, not so long ago, that the answer to this question was an unequivocal “yes”. The answer today is still probably yes – except that today – “yes” is no longer carved in stone.

Three Reasons That Dot Com is King

There are many reasons that owning yourname.com, as your primary URL, makes the most sense.

  1. It’s expected
    This is more important than it may seem. Expectations met = authority. Online authority = online reputation = your real life reputation. If you don’t own yourname.com, the entity that does own it has an authoritative edge over you.
  2. It’s easy to remember
    Chances are very high that if you tell people that they can find you at yourname.org, they are going to type in yourname.com when they get to the office. You’d better hope that isn’t the  URL of your competitor. The same thing applies to email. You’ll never know how many messages you never saw because they went to bob@yourname.com instead of bob@yourname.info.
  3. Browsers sometimes default to .com
    When a TLD (domain extension like .com) is not specified, some web browsers will simply direct traffic to the .com address when more than option is available. This has become less of a problem now that Google (Chrome) and Microsoft (IE) also own search engines supported by advertising revenue. Now their browsers would rather direct you to a search page when the address isn’t 100% certain.

The Exceptions:

There are only two exceptions to the dot com rule. But they are big, important, exceptions.

  1. Local Matters
    Dot com (.com) is big and important and recognized around the world. It carries a lot of authority. Sometimes worldwide authority is not what you want though. If your restaurant has only one location, or your law firm only operates in one country, it might make more sense to have your country code as your URL. So instead of presenting as OurFirm.com, you might be better off as OurFirm.ca – that way everybody knows you’re a Canada based organization. Whenever possible, securing the matching dot com, should also be a priority, though in this case it is less critical.
  2. Narrow Field Specialization
    There are now over a hundred specialized new top level domains. If your business is highly specialized, one of these might be perfect. The advantage is that you can find a very memorable domain name. For example, my business name is PoMo Media, so in addition to owning pomomedia.com I also own pomo.media – pretty neat, eh.

 

What’s Available For Domain Names?

In addition to the “Big 3” .com, .org, and .net, there are dozens of county codes, like .us (United States) and .ca (Canada). There are a couple of others like .edu and .gov that have been available since the early days of the Internet. And then there all of these (way too many to list in this post so you’ll need to click through to Wikipedia).

The Wrong Reason to Choose an Alternative TLD

The reason that most people choose something other than .com for the domain name in their URL is that the .com is no longer available. This is a bad reason. It is nearly always a mistake.

Why is it a mistake to use MyName.whatever if MyName.com is already taken?

Good question. Here’s why.

  1. Everybody knows that you settled for second best. Nobody really wants to settle for second best. Not you. Not your clients. Not your potential customers.
  2. Brand confusion. Are you the “real” My Name, or is the owner of MyName.com the “real” one? Why would I visit MyName.org when I could be visiting the real website at MyName.com?
  3. Not Memorable. We talked about this already, but let’s review. People remember .com automatically. That might change as the new domain extensions gain in popularity, but for now, you should assume that if you tell someone your domain name is MyName.org, they’re likely to remember it as MyName.com. This is important even if you are an organization. For example, a small organization that I support uses TheirName.org as their primary URL, but they also own TheirName.com. That means that the right web site will open whichever domain extension is used.

What to do if YourName.com is taken

Let’s start with the bad news. Every single word in the standard English language dictionary is already taken by a dot com. Every common surname is also taken. Every common FirstNameLastName combination is already taken.

So what is the good news? The good news is that language is flexible and diverse. With some creativity and trial and error it is still possible to come up with good, descriptive domain names in the dot com TLD. Not very long ago I was able to purchase PoMoMedia.com for myself. I was also able to purchase essentiallysocial.com (it’s for sale BTW).  The other acceptable options are a country code name, or a highly specialized name from one of the new TLDs.

I also suggest purchasing the .net and .org extensions of whatever domain extension you get. This protects you from either ill-intentioned, or accidental, copycat websites that dilute your brand and confuse your audience.

Netfirms is the Domain Name Registrar that I prefer most of the time. They also have the best Domain Name search tool, because it automatically shows all the possible extensions and suggests alternative names.

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