Dubbed the ‘big three’, .com, .net and .org are the oldest and most widely used domain suffixes. Also known as domain extensions, they have grown in importance with the development of search engines and search engine optimisation (SEO), resulting in increased scrutiny of the benefits of each suffix. Today, there are hundreds of domain suffixes available to businesses. We discuss why domain suffixes are key to SEO success and why .com is the best extension to choose.
CHOOSING A DOMAIN SUFFIX IS AS IMPORTANT AS SELECTING YOUR NAME
Domain names are made up of three parts: a domain suffix also called a top-level domain or domain extension, a domain name, and an optional subdomain. The most common domain suffix is .com. In fact, roughly 52% of all websites use .com domain suffixes. Your domain name should be easy to remember so that your customers or clients can easily find your website. SEO requires the same. In order for users to find your site through search, it needs to make sense.
According to Moz, one of the largest and most highly regarded SEO agencies in the US, domain names need to follow strict SEO guidelines in order to rank well, most notably avoiding the use of non .com domains. Other key aspects they highlight are:
- readability - the domain name should be easy to read
- using broad keywords - when sensible and avoiding keyword rich domain name
- finding a brandable domain name - which is not just including keywords
- And avoiding hyphens
GOOGLE LOVES A .COM DOMAIN BECAUSE IT’S THE OLDEST AND LARGEST
The .com domain extension is by far the most used and valuable domain suffix. Put bluntly, Google is biased towards websites with a .com TLD. Although businesses may wonder why .com is still afforded so much authority by Google. The answer is within human interaction with the search engine.
Cognitive fluency favours a top level domain (TLD) that’s easy and familiar. A website with the domain name yourbusiness.com is likely to be afforded more authority by Google than yourbusiness.co.uk or yourbusiness.business because users are more likely to type in yourbusiness.com than yourbusiness.co.uk or any other TDL for that matter.
Despite sharing its birthday with suffixes like .net and .org, .com has become the default domain extension, and therefore the most memorable. This, in essence, is why .com is the best domain extension for SEO. As .com domains are the most powerful, they have become more popular. As with custom licence plates or the new fad food, this has led to an increase in competition for the best .com domains.
Many .com domains are now only available at a premium price, or will already be taken, meaning finding your ideal .com domain can be difficult. Which is what leads many businesses to seek their domain name with a less popular suffix. This might seem reasonable for branding purposes could be detrimental to your site’s online visibility.
NEW DOMAIN EXTENSIONS COULD HINDER YOUR SEO CAMPAIGN
Regardless of the value of .com, there are so many different domain extension options to choose from. For example, a brewery might want to use the .beer TLD. Doing this might be a good description of what your business does, but can it be valuable to the visibility of your site online? In 2012, Matt Cutts, then Google’s Head of Webspam, played down the impact of domain extensions on SEO. He stated at the time “Google has a lot of experience in returning relevant web pages, regardless of the top-level domain (TLD). Google will attempt to rank new TLDs appropriately, but I don’t expect a new TLD to get any kind of initial preference over .com.”
So, we know you won’t get any kind of advantage from using a new domain extension, but could the opposite be true? Well, this is where opinion is divided. There are cases of websites with new TLDs ranking well, but it is not 100% certain whether this was because or in spite of their domain suffix. In part this is down to search engines, like Google, not being open about how their algorithm works. Because each search engine algorithm is made up of numerous smaller ranking factors, that are being updated and changed regularly. Knowing which ranking factor, be it domain extension or links to the site, is getting the new TLD site to rank well is almost impossible to figure out.
Sticking to a .com domain is therefore the safest option if you want to rank well. If you want a better idea of how TLDs are divided up, from most powerful to least, this blog divided domain suffixes into three tiers. This division serves as a good rule of thumb for businesses looking at TLDs. At the top are domains like .com, .gov, and .edu. The middle tier consists of perfectly functionable domain suffixes that neither hinder or benefit SEO, these tend to be country codes and generic TLDs. And finally, the bottom tier consists of new fangled and ultra-niche domain suffixes, which they call ‘actively detrimental’.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU CAN’T GET YOUR FIRST CHOICE .COM DOMAIN
We’re sure by now that you’re utterly convinced of that .com is the best domain extension, but what if the worst has happened and your targeted .com domain name is unavailable? Choosing .net or .org, the other two options in the original ‘Big Three’, might be a logical move. Alternatively, if you are a smaller business working in a specific location, a country domain suffix may suffice. However, the biggest problem with using alternative extensions is that people could forget your domain, and by default go to the .com domain instead.
Founder of Moz Rand Fishkin discussed the subject during one of his Whiteboard Fridays. He said if (and only if) a .com domain suffix is unavailable, the next option for businesses should be .net, .co or a known ccTLD (location-specific domain suffix). Alternatively, you could make small changes to the domain name you want, like adding or dropping an article, but this might lead to negatively impact readability and make the domain name less brandable, two other important aspects of domain SEO.
Of course, you can try and buy your favoured .com domain, but this is dependent on the owner wanting to sell. If a competitor already has your business name and is unwilling to sell a .com domain, it could be a genuine option to buy a new business name - such is the importance of a .com domain in the digital world.
We help clients find creative and brandable business names and also to provide web development services to assist them in today’s ever-changing digital market. Contact us for a free digital marketing discussion or to schedule a strategy session to learn how we can help your brand cut through the noise.