Article in Game-Changers category.

Do You Need a .Com Domain?

There are so many options for top level domains (TLDs) but not all of them rank well in SEO: why .com remains the convention.

You want to stake out a piece of turf on the internet, but you're not sure whether to register yourapp.com or yourapp.net. What's the difference between the hundreds of different top-level domains? This article delves into the hows and whys of the .com convention, and gives you some tasty alternatives to the regular ol' URLs.

What's a TLD?

A top level domain is a formal term for the suffix that appears at the end of the domain name. Until recently I thought .gov, .edu, .org, .net, and .com were going to be the standard TLDs forever. Now companies are throwing amazing domains our way and we are eating it up. I am so much more inclined to remember-slash-actually go to a company's website if they have managed to make even the domain name intriguing.

i-you-need-domain-.com-com
The makeup of a domain name.

A Brief History of Domains and Dot Com

When computers first started connecting with each other in the ‘60s, they connected via Wide Area Networks (WANs). During this time, people were looking for a way to identify different systems and easily access them. In 1972, the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency created what would eventually become the Internet Protocol or IP addressing system. The internet grew with the rise of email. In 1985, a computer manufacturer in Massachusetts registered the domain name symbolics.com. Symbolics was the first appropriately named domain in the world. By 1995, domain registration was no longer free.

In 2003, the government passed the Truth in Domain Names Act. This set a punishment for porn sites that were luring people to their site under deceptive domain names. For example, one of the offenders that brought this issue to light was issuing websites named bobthebuilder.com and doratheexplorer.com then redirecting to hankypankycollege.com. NOT COOL, GUYS!

In 2007, the most expensive domain, vacationrentals.com, was sold for $35 million. Fast forward to today and there are over 19 million domains that have been registered, with approximately 40 thousand more added each day. There are infinite domain names to be registered, but those belonging to the .com domain are becoming a little crowded.

Fueled SEO specialist Mike Kordvani explains, "During the dot com boom in 1995, companies flocked to the web and purchased as many .com TLDs as they could get their hands on. It was so popular that it caught on as an industry standard, and users acclimated to that convention. Now, you risk confusing them if you don't use a .com top-level domain." However, he says, there are exceptions. And lucky for you, you're not limited to .com.

URL structure written with custom domain extension of dot af
.af is the internet protocol that doesn't have any

Which TLD Should You Choose?

It is never a bad idea to use .com as your domain name. Dot com is common and will probably help your website rank. If you are a non profit or organization, go with .org. If you are a business, you can go with a .com domain or perhaps .biz. But these domains are super common (and boring), and you have the unique opportunity in 2017 to get creative with it.

You’ve probably noticed the artisanal feel of websites that don’t use the standard dot com or dot org. Sites such as bit.ly and ow.ly, which seem to telegraph a shorthand approach to the internet.

When you see a dot net, you know it’s either an old, legacy site, or a new site looking to be a little ironic (h/t the deceased high-brow ladies’ website the-toast.net). A .co.uk website tells you that it’s in the UK, while a .com.au or .com.nz tells you you’re in the southern hemisphere (down unda!).

The government has warned of fake .gov sites that use different TLDs, such as irs.com or irs.net. The availability of .info sites makes that extension popular with small-potatoes tourist bureaus and mimic sites alike.

There are hundreds of domains for sale. The straight-laced internet has a jovial underbelly, as proven by these cool domains.

Domains That Are Exactly As Advertized

  • .beer
  • .luxury (cost of domain is $649.99!!!!)
  • .bingo
  • .cool
  • .dog
  • .domains (so meta)

Domains That Have a Sense of Humor

  • .men (oo-la-la)
  • .mom
  • .party
  • .pizza
  • .rip (amazing for funeral homes)
  • .sexy
  • .af
  • .wtf
  • .vodka
  • .sucks

Domains That Don't Have a Sense of Humor

  • .agency
  • .apartments
  • .auto
  • .attorney
  • .best
  • .bio
  • .chat
  • .clinic
  • .earth
  • .vote

And that's just a fraction of the hundreds of TLDs at your disposal.

custom URL using the dot pizza extension
an alternate to dot com we can all agree on

SEO Best Practices for URLs

Search engine optimization (SEO) can feel super arbitrary, but there are some strategies to help your website rank. The most important thing you can do is familiarize yourself with the different factors that help your website show up at the top of users’ searches. A majority of SEO strategy is pretty straightforward and can be mastered using common sense. When you make your website, blog, or online store, think about it from a robot’s point of view. Keep your domain name simple. Use keywords that are relevant to your site or product. Try to use as few words as possible and minimize hyphens in domain names, but use them to indicate spaces in the extensions and folder names after the TLD. The most important thing to remember, however, is that your domain should be relevant and representative of your site as a whole.

do-i-you-need-.com-domain-name
Dot com is far away in the lead.

Bad News About TLDs

Although unique TLDs are more fun, the best way to rank is using a .com domain. Kordvani explains that "few TLDs come close to ranking as well as .com. The exceptions are .org, .gov, .net, and .edu." No matter how boring it may be, it might be the difference between having a cool website name and actually being found.

You are quite free, however, to register multiple URLs and use a 301 redirect to your fancy, artisanal domain. Many people choose to buy dot com, dot net, and dot info as a package, to ensure customers can find them.

And if you already have a following or your website name is part of the branding, you've got a green light to mix it up with your TLD!

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