If you’ve already got an idea on what your personal website is going to look like - maybe even built it already, then it’s time to own your domain for that final professional look. In any website design and hosting platform, you’re typically asked to choose your domain name - a unique element of your choosing, typically your name, brand, or store; and a domain name extension that works as an indicator as to what kind and for what purpose a website is. Some of these include:
- example.blog, and many more
These extensions are also known as top-level domains - think of it as a category tag that can declare a website’s type, location, or business model. This isn’t to say that people haven’t chosen certain domain extensions simply because it rolls off the tongue better (some people have), but here’s a quick guide on the most popular two - what is the difference between .com and .net?
Did you know? Since the internet’s inception in 1991, the count as of January 2020 for the number of websites currently existing is at 1.74 billion? Only about 400 million of those are active - both paid and free domains, but it’s still a significant statistic to remember when you want to establish yourself in your field. Read more here on how you can get a free website domain to start.
What is .com?
As one of the most recognizable and popular domain extensions, .com websites typically offer a product or service. The “com” is shorthand for “Commercial”, but the extension hasn’t limited itself to strictly commercial businesses. For-profit companies, personal and non-personal blogs, and even event websites have utilized “.com” because of how synonymous it is to going online.
Did you know? The phrase “dot-com” was used to describe the online start-up phenomenon in the 90s that led to the rise and fall of many businesses that allowed consumers to permanently associate the phrase as a default to a presence on the internet.
What is .net?
The second most popular domain extension, .net derives its name from “network” and is usually used by umbrella companies or groups that can act as a portal to smaller, inter-connected websites. This domain name has also been used as an alternative to “.com” when a domain name has already been claimed with a .com extension.
Not sure where you fall into between the two? Here’s a guide for a quick market research to help ground your product and service into its core functions.
Other Domains to Consider Besides .net vs .com
If your brand isn’t a business - in which both .net vs .com doesn’t work, here’s a couple of alternatives that may work better for you:
- .org - this stands for “organization” and is typically used by nonprofits like charities, NGOs, crowd-funding initiatives, and the like. This is as credible as .net and .org as one of the original domains established in 1985, but the restrictions over this extension to be used by nonprofits has been removed in 2019. For-profit businesses are now legally allowed to use this domain extension, but the public still associates “.org” as an indicator for nonprofit websites.
- .edu - shorthand for education, these sites are used by schools, universities, and other higher education institutions that want to establish a presence of authority. These websites typically include information that market their programs and enrichment opportunities for students and faculty but also work as a kind of academic network for visiting professors and delegations.
- .gov - or “Government”, this extension is required by sites that are associated and managed by the many departments and branches of a country’s sovereignty. The U.S. government typically uses the simplified “.gov” but the rest of the world may also use the same or a tweaked version of this extension to include geographical markers (e.g. European sites may have “.gov.eu” or simply “.eu”)
- .blog - a self-explanatory extension, “.blog” may be an option for the client who simply wants a website to house personal long-form content after choosing their domain name. This is commonly chosen by individuals who want to establish themselves as an authority in a given niche or prefer a digital journal that they can make public or private as desired.
A bonus for the bold who do want to set themselves apart, may also want to choose non-traditional domains that perfectly capture their brand and values. These new TLDs are commonly used by creatives to promote themselves in a more noteworthy way, but these new domains have also been utilized for many gag websites. Some of the common ones include:
- .tech - popular with startup companies
- .design - a favorite of web and graphic designers; best paired with memorable design portfolios
- .lol - common with gag or prank websites
- .love - used mostly for wedding event websites; read more here for tips on creating beautiful wedding websites
- .shop - an option for those creating website for ecommerce businesses
- .xyz - the fourth most popular and the most out-of-the-box domain extension
These out-of-the-box domain extensions are helpful in declaring the functionality of the website it’s attached to, and while a powerful statement for those who want to stand out, these domains are still battling against the stereotype of being unprofessional. Regardless, these are excellent considerations for same-name-brands to distinguish themselves and for creatives to continue going against the norm.
Face-off: .net vs .com
But for the professionals who want to maximize their reach and ground themselves as a credible authority, you may need to choose between the tried and true .net vs .com. Here are a few important pointers to consider when choosing which domain works for you:
- Function - you know your brand better than anyone, and you may already know your choice between .net vs .com, but for those who are still on the fence, keep in mind that distinction between a “network” or a “commercial” site. If you’re looking to provide a networking platform, creating a forum, or an internet-based service, a .net is recommended. But if you’re looking to make money through a personal blog or a eCommerce website, you’ll need a .com domain to fully establish yourself.
- Popularity vs Recognition - this a long-standing pointer of the decision between choosing .net vs .com. Since “.com” is ubiquitous on the internet, it is the most commonly used extension and therefore, harder to make unique without compromise. Of the many John or Jane Does of the world, how do you make YourName.com standout? Not to mention, because of its popularity, a “.com” can be cheaper or incredibly expensive if you’re looking to capture YourBrand.com from an already existing entity. Still, .net is a perfectly usable alternative for unavailable website domains, but there’s an added burden of ensuring that your audience and potential customers don’t accidentally go to the wrong webpage - which brings us to:
- Brand and UI design impacts - users who have had to use “.net” due to an already existing YourName.com have had to go the extra mile to fully include the phrase and visualization “dot-net” into their core branding to avoid losing customers to similarly named webspaces. A core concern remains to be how “.net” extensions can impact mobile browsing’s UI (user’s interface) design. There’s a rising trend in mobile keyboard designs that include a dedicated button to a “.com” as a default. While this could be a minor inconvenience, users will have to manually type for .net domains when they search and can become time-consuming for a regular consumer - a tiny detail that can have a significant impact on the success of your site. Whichever the case, learning more about how to stay competitive in the mobile age is an edge you need no matter extension.
A bonus pointer for the marketing language-conscious user on deciding between .net vs .com, you may also have to consider:
- Semantics - there is a vast majority of the world’s population today that has grown into and with the internet and with it, the birth of new meanings informed by events and personal experience. While factually, “.net” is only second in popularity to “.com”, users might subconsciously associate “.net” as simply less than a “.com” website. This is also a marketing challenge for those who already have an existing business model, and may need to set themselves apart from an existing same-name brand that already owns a “.com”
These are only a handful of the points of consideration between .net vs .com but if your website does not fit into any of the criteria that seems to revolve around what is .net or what is .com, you may have a better fit into the more purpose-specific domains that increase brand credibility and recognition, while also maintaining a brand identity that users will remember.
In the end, the choice between .net vs .com is a matter of practicality - is your brand at its best as a network or a commercial entity? Will your website be easy to find or get lost in the world wide web? You can learn more about how to get a website domain that drives traffic here.