Buying a domain name can be a very confusing process. Not only do you have to pick a domain that works with your brand, you have to decide which extension to use—.com, .net, .org, .edu, .co, .gov—and that’s just scratching the surface of what’s available.
Before you commit to a domain name for your business, make sure you understand some key terms and restrictions regarding these extensions. After that you’ll be ready to choose the one that works best for your needs.
Unrestricted Domain Extensions
An unrestricted domain extension means that anyone can purchase it. They’re available to the general public. These are the extensions that you see when you type a domain idea into a domain name registrar like GoDaddy.com.
Most people are familiar extensions like .com, .net, and .org, which were among the first extensions created. The ubiquitous .com is usually used for commercial enterprises, .net is supposed to be used for networks but is often used for commercial use, and .org is usually used by nonprofits (but like .net, anyone can use it).
But these aren’t the only unrestricted domains available.
Unrestricted Domain Extension Options
When you buy a domain name you will have many possible extensions to choose from. As mentioned above, unrestricted domains are available to the general public and anybody can purchase them for any purpose.
Unrestricted domain extensions can include (but aren’t limited to):
There are lots of extensions officially in use—in fact more than 1500 are recognized by ICANN and managed by IANA. Many of these are geographic or brand- or interest-related and their managers may require users meet certain qualifications before granting them. Others are famously open to anyone, for a price. Nevertheless, unless you have a large advertising budget to get people to remember your extension, it might be best to stick with an extension people already know.
The tiny South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu has earned 10s of millions of dollars licensing the use of its geographic TLD, .tv.
The .com Extension Is Still the Best for Business
That’s why out of all of these domain extensions most businesses should still go with a .com—especially if you want people to remember the domain and type it in.
The reality is that .com is still the most widely used domain extension by far. Most people will assume your site is a .com and type that in by default.
Anyone can get a .com extension and the only real limitation is whether or not the domain name you want is available. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Getting Creative With Your .com Extension
You may have to get a little bit creative in your naming, but it is possible to get a short domain name that is memorable and still claim a .com. A tip is to combine two unlikely words together like the brand SnapKitchen.com did. This can give you more options than if you go for what is immediately obvious.
Another trick is to combine colors or objects with the key idea or concept. You will find that if you do this there are many two-word domains that are available. For example, the domain pineapplecycling.com is available in a .com. (It will probably be bought once this article gets published and people see it.)
Another idea if your brand is already established is to use qualifiers in front of or after your domain “the” “a” or “store” or “services” can all work. If you are a local business, you can also use your location. For example, if you have a local plumbing business that’s called Jones’ Plumbing and you were located in Fort Wayne, Indiana you could use JonesPlumbingFortWayne.com or TheJonesPlumbing.com or JonesPlumbingServices.com if JonesPlumbing.com is already taken.
While all of the domain extensions listed above are available on the open market, there are a few domain extensions that are restricted and only available if you meet certain requirements.
Restricted Domain Extensions
There are a handful of domain extensions that are not available to the general public and that you have to meet certain requirements to be able to purchase.
One of these is .edu. In order to qualify for a .edu extension you must be a US postsecondary institution and properly accredited. An interesting exception to this rule is that nonprofits whose membership consists of 75% or more .edu eligible institutions may also get a .edu extension.
Another of these restricted extensions is .gov. This extension is available to genuine US-based government organizations—at all levels of government. This includes federally recognized Alaskan Native groups and Indian tribes. If you meet the requirements for a .gov extension there is also a rigorous review process to make sure that the intent of the domain is clear.
The Bottom Line on Domain Extensions
While there are many different domain extensions available for most business owners a .com is still your best bet. It’s the most widely used domain extension and is still top of mind when customers type in their searches.
With a little creativity most businesses can find a suitable domain to represent their brand, but because so many names are taken it will probably take a bit of brainstorming.
If you want to go for a more “creative” extension then it’s a good idea to make sure you have an advertising budget that will help people remember your brand—including the extension.
There are also restricted domain extensions, but you have to qualify under a very specific set of rules to get these.