These days, picking a domain name is like picking a storefront address. Your website is the central place for information about your business, and your domain name will be on all your marketing materials.
As you rack your brain for that perfect web address, you can’t forget the domain name extension. The extension includes those final few letters that come after the dot, like .com or .net.
Many business owners don’t realise how much of a choice they have in their domain extension. In reality, there are over 1500 top-level domains! Here’s your guide to choosing the right one.
How a Domain Name Extension Works
The domain extension is an essential part of your web site’s address, allowing the browser to locate and load your site. These extensions, also called top-level domains, aren’t a free-for-all. They’re regulated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).
Types of Top-Level Domains
There are several different categories of top-level domains or TLDs:
Generic Top-Level Domains
Generic TLDs are extensions anyone can use. These include the most common one: .com. In fact, nearly half of all web addresses use the .com extension. Many of the other most popular extensions are generic TLDs as well, like .net and .info.
Generic Restricted Top-Level Domains
As its name suggests, a generic restricted TLD has some level of restriction on who can use it. However, these tend to be rather broad restrictions. For instance, to use .biz, you need to have a business.
Sponsored Top-Level Domains
Sponsored TLDs are also restricted, but the requirements are more narrow. These extensions are sponsored by specific groups and only sites in those groups or niches can use them.
One of the most well-known sponsored TLDs is .edu, which can only be used by educational organisations. Another common one is .gov, which is restricted to United States government sites.
Country Code Top-Level Domains
Other TLDs can be used to indicate a specific country. For example, it’s common to use .uk or .co.uk for sites in the United Kingdom. You may also see .eu for sites in the European Union or .ca for sites in Canada. These extensions exist for a great many countries around the globe.
Find Out If You Qualify for Certain Restricted Domain Names
One of the first steps for finding the right domain extension is learning what your options are. Investigate whether there are extensions specific to your industry or the type of site you’re building. If so, research what the restrictions are.
Some of the restrictions (or lack thereof) may surprise you. For instance, not all country code TLDs need to originate in that country. It’s important to do your research before tossing aside options that you assume aren’t available.
Price is a factor in any business purchase, and buying a domain name extension is no exception.
In general, the more popular an extension is, the more it will cost. For instance, .com will often be your most expensive option. Even still, the price tends to be negligible compared to your other operating expenses. A few extra dollars each year is worth having a web address that seems more trusted, professional, and on-brand.
Consider the Variations of Your Website
In some cases, it’s a good idea to buy several domain name extensions. For example, let’s say you’re running a company with locations in the UK, the US, and Germany. Each location has slight variations in the products or services they offer. In this case, you could have a .co.uk, .us, and .de version of the site.
Think About What Expectations You Set
When it comes to the impression your business makes on a customer, every detail counts. That includes your domain name extension.
Certain extensions set a user’s expectations for what they’ll see on the site. For example, .org often signals that the site is run by a non-profit organisation. If a site ends with .info, a user will expect it to be an informational site with helpful content.
While .org used to be restricted to non-profits, that restriction is no longer in place. However, the public still sees it as a signal that a site is trustworthy.
Some business-owners will take advantage of this. They’ll grab a user’s trust with that .org extension when their site is really a sales pitch for their company. While that tactic may bring more traffic, it will also irritate those users and earn you a poor, untrustworthy reputation. Make sure you live up to any expectations your extension sets.
Consider Buying Similar Extensions
We mentioned above that you can buy multiple domain name extensions for multiple target audiences. While that’s one reason to buy several extensions, it’s not the only one.
Many businesses buy their domain name with several different extensions. For instance, you may buy ABCcompany.com, ABCcompany.net, and ABCcompany.co.uk. Your actual site may be on ABCcompany.com, but you can redirect the other domain names to take users to that site.
This used to be a way to improve search engine optimisation, but that’s no longer the case. However, it still has several important purposes.
First, this strategy prevents anyone else from using those domain names. A scammer won’t be able to use ABCcompany.net to lure your customers into a fake site and sell knock-offs or nonexistent products.
The other purpose is to catch mistaken users. Perhaps someone has forgotten your web address and typed in ABCcompany.co.uk instead of ABCcompany.com. If you’ve purchased ABCcompany.co.uk and redirected it to your actual site, the user still gets to the page they want.
Making the Most of Your Website
There’s no doubt about it: a business website is an investment. You could put thousands into a well-designed site, but sometimes it’s tiny details that affect its success. Finding the perfect domain name extension (or the right set of them) is one of those crucial details.
If you’re ready to find your site’s domain extension, reach out to our web hosting and domain experts for hands-on help.