July 12, 2011

Registering a Website Domain Name - Dot NET Dilemma

These days, would-be webmasters are faced with lots of choices when registering a website domain name. The one I'm most frequently asked about is whether or not it is okay to use ".NET" instead of ".COM". In this article, I'll reveal the truth about registering domain names and shed some light on the great ".NET" dilemma.

When it comes to top-level domains (or TLDs), few people would dispute that ".COM" is king. It is by far the most popular TLD of them all. In fact, they are so popular that it seems almost impossible to find a short, memorable domain name ending in ".COM"--particularly one that consists of two or three short keywords. ".NET"s--on the other hand--seem to be available in abundance, and you may be tempted to register a website domain ending in NET if your preferred domain name isn't available as a ".COM". Depending on your intended use of the website, this may or may not be a good idea.

Technically, It's All Good

From a technical standpoint, it makes absolutely no difference whether your website ends in ".COM" or ".NET". Your website will function just as well under either TLD. As long as users type in (or click on links pointing to) the correct URL for your website, they'll have no problem accessing it. And contrary to popular belief, search engines don't care which TLD you use; you will not be penalized for registering a website as a ".NET".

Benefit of Registering a Website as a ".NET"

The only real benefit of registering a website as a ".NET" is that it allows you to use a great domain name that is otherwise unavailable. This might be the name of your company, a keyword phrase that is extremely relevant to your niche or something with a really great "ring" to it. For example, if WebHostingReviews.net was available I would register it in a heartbeat. However, no one in his or her right mind would register the ".NET" version of a domain name if the ".COM" version was available.

The Downside of ".NET"s

The only real drawback of ".NET" domain names is that people are so used to domain names ending in ".COM", that anything else is counter-intuitive. As a result, it's extremely likely that people will routinely refer to your website URL as YourSite.com instead of YourSite.net. Over time, this can cost you a significant amount of web traffic. Typical scenarios in which people are likely to make mistakes include:

  • Entering your website URL in the address bar directly
  • Sharing your website URL with others
  • Trying to link directly to your website from theirs

In each of these cases the result is the same--someone who wants to get to your site ends up somewhere else. In the case of mistakes made by people trying to link to your site, this WILL adversely affect your search engine ranking, since the number of inbound links is a major consideration in determining the ranking of sites on search engine results pages.

The rule of thumb for ".NET"s is never use ".NET" when there is a suitable alternative available as a ".COM".

Exceptions to the Rule

As you might have expected, there are some exceptional cases where registering a website as a ".NET" makes perfect sense. Here are some cases in which I would actually RECOMMEND registering a ".NET" domain name:

  • If my company name was not available as a ".COM" domain name.
  • If I already registered the ".COM" domain and want to stop someone else from registering the same domain as a ".NET".
  • If my marketing strategy was based primarily on affiliate referrals and/or banner advertising.

In each of these cases, the benefits of registering a particular domain name as a ".NET" outweigh any concerns about how easy it will be to remember.

Conclusion

In the end, the decision to use (or not use) a ".NET" top-level domain comes down to how important it is to you that people get your URL correct. If you can live with the inevitable mistakes, then registering a ".NET" is really a non-issue. However, it you're like most webmasters, you'll want to give yourself every possible advantage when it comes to web traffic--in which case ".COM" cannot be beat.

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