I was always under the impression that the domain extension didn't matter (as long as it was .com, .net, or .org). I have always tried to market the extension in my brand if it wasn't .com, and I thought I had done a fairly good job.
After reading through this site, I see a lot of people who would never dream of buying anything but .com. I also see a lot of answers here that say always buy .com. I am wondering if I was missing unknown clients/customers because of my domain extension, and I just didn't know it.
Am I shooting myself in the foot by not getting the .com, and am I hindering my brand?
Your impression that the domain extension (as long as it is .com, .net, or .org) doesn't matter is simply incorrect.
People are not born with a knowledge of how to use the internet. They learn how to use the internet. Every search, every url they see, every experience they have on the internet is training them in the proper way to use the internet.
So in an average day, what percentage of an internet user's time is spent dealing with .com vs .org or .net domains? Don't we use .com names at least 99% of the time? If the vast majority of your customer's time is spent learning to always expect .com domain names, then you are going to have to do a lot of work to change that expectation.
The work you have to do to overcome the bias against non .com names would be better spent marketing, programming, or building your business.
I would wager that the culture has evolved from typing in the address bar to typing in the search bar/Google. Any domain extension can work as evidenced by del.iciou.us (I realize they now own delicious.com but they had success before that)
My best guess is that once upon a time (5+ years ago?) .com extensions meant something. I'm not exactly sure "what", but it is believed that they added some sort of credibility to the online brand.
My belief is that now, .net, .org, maybe even others generally may be lumped into that same credibility umbrella.
Fact is, desirable domains are just not around much anymore. Entrepreneurs are choosing the next-best .net or .org and hoping that it works. And, in general, I believe it does. The searching public is getting used to just about anything, in terms of domain extensions.
The .com domains will be more valuable for a long time. This is more to do with the history of the domain extension and the difficulty in finding a good one.
It is well known (in SEO circles) that Google gives bonus points to .com domains, or more accurately minus points to .info, .net domains etc. There's a great image from SEOMoz that illustrates:
SEOMoz - Exact match domain playbook Local Extensions If, however, you are build a website for a specific country - e.g. products to sell in the UK, then go for a co.uk site since this increases confidence and trust in the user that the product will be delivered to the UK. A common problem for non-US residents is landing on a great site only to discover they only support the United States - the local domain extensions help here.
App Domain Extensions If you're building a website for an App, then it matters a lot less what domain name you go for and I would hazard a guess that this pattern will continue to emerge for EVERYTHING ELSE. Think about it - why do we need to know domain names in the first place? Wouldn't it be better to search for something and have a list of sites voted on by your friends and peers in your country?
This is how the App stores work and when you're searching for apps to install you don't need to know the domain name at all.
Business Insider - How people find apps If you want to find out more about choosing a good domain name, I wrote a new article after being up half the night with a client of mine on Skype to describe exactly this:
You can alway boost your search relevance to make a .net just as findable as a .com. The issue is that there are many people that will hear about you and immediately just type in
thatcompanyiheardof.com. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who types in the .net extension on the first try - it's just how our culture has evolved over the years. If you have the chance to grab the .com, you should, just for this simple fact alone as it's possible a competitor will take the .com and get the traffic (or grandma may never be able to find you at all if she uses ie6 and no search engine).
It definitely affects branding, should you choose to brand with the domain name. And the choice of whether you should depends entirely on what your business does and who its users are.
Back in the late '90s, almost all of those online companies' URLs were their company names, due to the fact that nobody knew what URLs were, so they literally had to be promoted or business would be impossible to conduct.
".COM", as it was originally designated to be used, stands for "COMmercial [site]". Similarly, ".ORG" stands for "ORGanization" and ".NET", "NETwork". Theoretically most startups could fall under any one of these, but mostly they existed to make money, so "commercial" was the obvious choice. As a result, it had a LOT of advertising money poured into it, securing its place in mainstream consciousness as the "default" or "most legitimate" since that's what people became most familiar with. This is the same thing that happened to "1-800" toll free numbers before it. Although "1-888" etc. numbers exist and may even be easier to remember, none of them seem as "official" as an 800 number.
You'll notice however that offline businesses, having already been established, didn't rush to add the "dot-com" to their names. Those that did go online would for the most part market themselves the way they always did, but somewhere in the ad they'd point out that they were now reachable via www.whatever.com (or AOL Keyword: ThisActuallyUsedToBeAThing).
As others have stated, these days, knowing how to reach a website is presumed knowledge, and typing the address in directly is no longer the only, or even preferred way to do that. So, there's no longer a need to beat people over the head with it (and with dot-coms becoming something of a dried up well, not too many options either).
Nevertheless, if you can secure a worthy dot-com, you probably should anyway, but that doesn't mean it has to be a part of your branding effort. If you're a tech startup and you're going to operate primarily online, it won't hurt, and can help clarify otherwise-confusing names. A recent example is Notthebookstore.com, a site selling discounted textbooks. If they were to call themselves merely "Not the Bookstore", people would have no idea what it was (other than what it wasn't). But, add the dot-com in there, and it becomes apparent that it's an online store; one that probably sells books.
Similarly, non-dot-com top-level-domains (TLDs) can also change the perception of the brand. Dot-tv, for instance (although it's technically for sites located on the islands of Tuvalu), because of it's association with television, is marketed as the premier TLD for sites featuring video and other rich media content. It's what I use for my production company startup, and although it's several times more expensive than a dot-com, it's inherently memorable, describes the kind of business I run, and has gotten an impressed reaction from people—basically, it stands out where a commonplace dot-com wouldn't.
How do I consolidate this, marketing-wise, with the dot-com expectation? I don't; I merely have the dot-com domain forward to the dot-tv. So if someone blindly types in my company name and adds a dot-com, they're still taken to the right place, and they will hopefully see and remember the preferred domain.
See also: domain "hacks" like bit.ly that spell out a word, which are the most memorable of all and give your site a modern, alternative, or playful vibe—you can look up available ones on the appropriately-named Domai.nr. Although be forewarned that because there are less letter combinations to work with, they're even more scarce than dot-coms, and because they're so short have become associated with bookmarking sites, Twitter URL shorteners, and other ultra-narrowly-focused web services.
There are some (search enging optimization) SEO write ups that talk regarding a .com having more credability then a .org or .name domains. I'd read through some of the top SEO sites to determine for yourself. I suspect that it doesn't matter so much as it once did. Perhaps you should A/B test it for service.