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Domain Name Suffixes: A Quick Guide for Small Businesses

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You're ready to choose a domain name or URL for your small business. But should you choose a name that ends with .com, .net, .org, or something else altogether? What do domain name suffixes mean?

When you're ready to register your domain name, the first thing a registrar will do is run a domain name search to make sure no one else has purchased the same URL. Then you'll be offered a variety of domain names with different suffixes. Suffixes are categories of Internet domain names that serve to describe the type of company, organization, or other category that is represented.

There are many categories from which to choose, and some suffixes (also called extensions) are more popular than others. Here's the rundown on the three most popular suffixes:

  • .com stands for "commercial" and is the most widely used extension. Most businesses prefer a .com domain name because it is a highly recognized symbol for having a business presence on the Internet.
  • .net stands for "network," and at one time this suffix was used mostly by Internet service providers, Web hosting companies, and other businesses that are directly involved in the infrastructure of the Internet. Today, there are no restrictions on who can use a .net suffix, and many companies pick them as a second choice to -- or in addition to -- a .com suffix.
  • .org stands for "organization" and is primarily used by nonprofit groups or trade associations. Here, too, the suffix is actually open for anyone to use, and many companies pick .org as a widely recognized alternative to .com and .net.

In addition to the "big three," a variety of other domain name suffixes are now available for both business and personal use. While none of them are as popular or widely recognized, they may be the only way to get your preferred domain name. These choices include the following suffixes.

  • .biz is used primarily for small-business websites.
  • .info designates a "resource" website, although there is no requirement that the site be informative in nature.
  • .us is for United States websites. Registrants of .us domains must be United States citizens, residents, or organizations, or foreign entities with a presence in the United States.
  • .cc was originally the country code for Coco's Keeling Islands in Australia. However, now it is unrestricted and may be registered by anyone, from any country.
  • .bz was originally designated as the country code for Belize, but it is now commonly used by small businesses that can't get the name they want using the .biz extension. It is unrestricted and may be registered by anyone, from any country.
  • .tv is for rich content/multimedia websites, commonly used within the entertainment or media industry.
  • .mobi is for mobile-compatible websites.
  • .pro is currently for licensed or certified lawyers, accountants, physicians, and engineers in France, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
  • .travel is for travel-related websites.
  • .ws was originally designated as the country code for Western Samoa, but it is now commonly used as an acronym for "websites." It is unrestricted and may be registered by anyone, from any country.
  • .name is the only domain extension specifically designed for personal use. It is commonly used for easy-to-remember email addresses and personal websites that display photos or personal information about an individual.

In 2011, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which is the naming board for the Internet, made a major change to the world of domain names by announcing that corporations can now create domain names with any type of suffix. For example, Coca-Cola could launch a site with the suffix ".coke." However, ICANN is allowing only established businesses and organizations to create these names. Organizations must pass a strict application process, pay a $185,000 fee for the suffix, and pay a $25,000 annual fee to maintain it.

These rules will put creative suffixes beyond reach for most small companies, although that may be just as well. Creative suffixes will require an immense amount of marketing and advertising power to support, simply because companies will have to make the public aware of their existence.

For most companies, the best option is to try registering a preferred name (or an acceptable alternative) with one or more of the "big three" domain name suffixes. If that isn't possible, or if your business could benefit from a more creative suffix that people still recognize, then dig a bit deeper and try one of the most popular alternative suffixes. It might even pay to experiment with various suffixes -- in many cases, the cost of purchasing multiple names and suffixes can be remarkably reasonable.

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