A website address is made up of two components. The first is the domain name, a unique element that connects your online address to your brand’s name and goals. The other one is the domain name extension, which reflects the type of website and its purpose. While many believe that understanding what is a domain name comes down to what's between the two dots of a URL, the few letters after the second dot play a much bigger role in determining the credibility of your site and how it aligns with your brand.
Also known as top-level domains (TLDs), domain extensions are used to categorize websites by type, location or business model. Out of the thousands of domain extensions available on the web, the most common ones are .org, .com and .net. In order to choose which one is right for you, you’ll first need to learn what they stand for and understand their strengths, weaknesses, and differences.
What does .com mean?
The .com top-level domain is, by far, the most popular extension, and thus the one with the highest value for professional websites. While it was originally conceived to host commercial websites, nowadays its use has extended to any type of site, despite the long list of alternatives devised for other purposes.
Ever since the phrase “dot-com” was used to describe the rise and subsequent fall of online start-ups in the ‘90s, this domain extension has become synonymous with the internet. As of today, 48% of global websites use a .com TLD and consumers perceive it as the de facto default extension for web addresses. This means that not only is .com much easier for your audience to remember, but also that they might actually type in the wrong URL if you’re using a different extension.
The sheer reputation of the .com TLD means that its availability is quite limited and can significantly complicate the process of choosing a domain name. With this in mind, it’s important to check your domain’s feasibility in the first stages of starting a business and, ideally, take it into account when coming up with your business name.
That being said, not using .com is far from the end of the world and in some cases, you might even want to actively choose a different domain extension.
What does .org mean?
The .org top-level domain stands for “organization” and is primarily used for nonprofit websites such as charities, NGOs, open source projects, and educational platforms. This extension was one of the original domains established in 1985, and is therefore perceived as stronger and more credible than newer alternatives.
This domain extension was originally created for organizations that didn’t match the intent of any other domains available at the time: not commercial, not in networking, not a university, not government and not military. Over time, .org became exclusively for nonprofits, however, this restriction was removed in August 2019 after the domain name registry was sold to an investment firm.
But while for-profit businesses are now legally allowed to purchase and use .org domains, the public opinion is still very much set on its old ways. Any business using a .org domain is inherently perceived as a nonprofit organization, and the failure to clearly disclose the for-profit nature of your company could result in serious backlash.
.org vs .com differences
As you compare .org vs .com, you’ll notice that the distinction between the two appears to be fairly simple: one is for nonprofit uses while the other is used by commercial organizations. If you want to create a nonprofit website, use a .org domain. If your goal is to build an online business, go for .com instead.
But, of course, nothing is ever black and white. As the availability of .com domains drops, businesses are opting for alternative TLDs in order to be able to use their intended domain names. With only around 10 million .org domains registered, accounting for less than 5% of the global total, the .org has risen as one of the preferred alternatives to the .com extension.
Technically, any type of business or organization can use a .org domain as long as they back it with the right marketing strategy that will avoid potential misunderstandings among those who still connect this domain extension with nonprofits. However, the notion that .org domains belong to charities, NGOs and educational platforms is so ingrained in the collective mindset that you might want to keep this TLD as a last resource only.
If you’re in need of a strong .com domain alternative for your business or online portfolio, you should take a look at .net instead.
What does .net mean?
The .net domain is the second most popular extension. It’s often presented as the recommended alternative to .com when you try to buy a domain name that is already in use. It’s estimated that around 4% of all global registered domains use this extension. The .net domain name extension stands for “network” and was originally meant to be used by umbrella websites acting as a portal for smaller sites.
You should use a .net extension for businesses that provides services like internet, website hosting, databases or collaboration tools. Another reason to use .net is when .com is not available. In this case, you’ll need to make sure that the business with your same domain name with a .com extension is not in the same industry, otherwise your audience might end up becoming their clients.
Whatever the reason is for you to use a .net domain extension, you’ll need to ensure that potential visitors remember it and don’t end up on the wrong site. An effective way to achieve this is by integrating your site’s TLD within your branding efforts, as your audience will end up naturally connecting your business name with .net. For example, a marketing consultant firm called Upstream may refer to themselves as Upstream.net to get their audience familiar with their correct domain extension.
.net vs .com differences
The most obvious difference between a .net and a .com domain is their purpose, as they were created for “network” and “commercial” sites. If your goal is to provide internet-based services or networking platforms, such as creating a forum, you should buy a .net domain. On the other hand, if your goal is to make money online, whether it is with a personal blog or an eCommerce website, you’ll want to purchase a .com domain name.
However, with nearly half of all domain names registered with a .com extension, .net has risen as the go-to alternative for unavailable web addresses. With time, the semantic differences have significantly diluted and the original purposes of these TLDs are no longer the main difference between the two. When it comes to comparing .net vs .com in 2022, the most significant distinction is the effect each of them has on mobile websites.
Domain choice and SEO
While choosing a .net or .com extension does not impact your site's SEO capabilities, mobile browsers’ UI design can negatively affect sites with a .net domain. Most smartphone keyboards have a button dedicated to domain extensions, but as you’ve probably noticed its default option is always .com. As a result, searching for .net domains is more time-consuming and less user-friendly. With mobile accounting for more than half of all online traffic, this small detail can have a significant impact on the success of your site.
In order to maximize your online presence, it’s recommended to purchase both .net and .com extensions. With a domain name cost ranging between $8-$20 per year, the purchase of a second TLD will most likely result in a high return on investment as it will allow you to ensure visitors don’t accidentally reach a competitor’s site. All you need to do is redirect the additional extension to your main domain name.
Ultimately, the decision of which domain to choose shouldn’t be heavily influenced by what is perceived to be best for SEO. Google’s John Mueller has confirmed over and over again that domain choice has no real impact on a site’s SEO. In January 2022, Mueller said, “The newer top-level domains (TLDs) are equivalent to other generic top-level domains like .com when it comes to SEO. Pick something you like, there are lots of options out there now.”
So while there are many different reasons as to why you might opt for a specific type of domain, its impact on your SEO shouldn’t be a deciding factor.
Choosing your domain
The three letters at the end of your web address are as important as everything that comes before them. Not only will they affect your chances of being found online, but also have a significant impact on your audience’s perception of your brand.
With this in mind, the process of choosing between .com, .org or .net domain extensions should take place as soon as you start building your brand. Doing so will allow you to put together a cohesive online presence from the beginning.
Now that you know what each of these main top-level domains mean and what they’re commonly used for, you’ll be able to weigh the pros and cons of each option and make an educated decision that allows you to make the most of your online address.
Check out this guide for more information on subdomains, as well as this list of best domain registrars.
The future of domain extensions
.org, .com and .net are still among the most popular types of top level domain extensions used today. The top 5 domain extensions at the end of 2021 were:
These are not likely to change soon, however as the competition for domain names grows, some businesses are looking to use less popular domain extensions. Country domain extensions are increasing in popularity and in 2021 the extensions .ru, .ir, .uk, .au, .in, .ua, .de ranked among the top ten global domain extensions. So while .org, .com, and .net are currently the most popular top-level domains, there’s every possibility this may change.
As competition for domain names increases, there has also been a rise in new ones. In 2021 the most popular new top-level domain extension was .xyz, with more than 2 million domains registered that year. It’s growth is followed closely behind by an increase in the use of the .site extension, as well as .top. Domain variety is expected to grow in line with increasing numbers of websites being created.