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If you’re looking to start a new website, chances are you’re already hunting down available domain names or trying to come up with a creative domain name for your site.
However, one other thing you’ll want to consider is whether to target a .com or .co.uk domain extension.
When faced with this question, lots of people automatically opt for .com or don’t understand the difference between the two extensions. In truth, a .co.uk extension could be a better choice depending on your website’s target audience or primary customer base.
Today, let’s break down exactly what .com and .co.uk mean and explain what their differences are. This way, you’ll be able to make a more informed choice as you purchase a new domain extension for your site and maximize your chances of success.
Table of Contents:
What Are Domain Name Extensions, Anyway?
To fully understand how .com and .co.uk work, we’ll need to go over the history of domain name extensions.
In the beginning, just prior to the 1980s (it may as well have been eons ago in digital development), Internet users had to type in the exact IP address for a website host on a given network
In other words, the IP address was needed if you wanted to communicate at all with another computer. Here are some helpful definitions:
- Domain – a host or site, and a domain name is the name for that domain
- IP address- the numerical code string that consists of several digits and periods. It’s like a personal identification number unique to a computer on a particular network. Your IP address can change
In the earliest days of the Internet, it wasn’t too much trouble to work with this system since there weren’t very many computers connected anyway. However, this was not very efficient, even from the beginning and it became even more clear that a new solution would be needed as more and more people connected to the World Wide Web.
Specifically, technology developers in the 1980s and 90s needed to develop a way to allow computers to “surf” the wider Internet. But to do this, computers had to be built with ways to locate other networks, even if the user didn’t know the exact IP address of the site or computer they wanted to communicate with.
The Domain Name System, or DNS, is the solution. It’s essentially a domain registration system that allows IP addresses to pair themselves with or associate themselves with particular domain names.
You use the DNS system every day, like when you typed in the address of this website.
As a more generalized example, instead of typing in the IP address for Google, you just type in Google.com because Google.com is the domain name associated with the relevant IP address for your computer.
But the naming system by itself also had limitations since users would still be required to memorize exact domain names. Furthermore, people making new websites would have to constantly come up with new and unique domain names that would rapidly spiral into numerical codes again.
Consider whether someone wanted to come up with a “Dailynews.com” site. Anyone who wanted to do so for their town would eventually have to put “Dailynew12345.com” and so on.
To solve this aspect of the problem, programmers also came up with top-level domains, or TLDs. In a nutshell, these act as categorizers to help domains be sorted into groups for easier locating and information retrieval. Today, these manifest as the last bit of a web address that you type into your search bar. Examples of TLDs include:
- and so on
Each of these TLDs serve specific purposes.
They essentially tell computers and users what kind of website they're attached to, and more importantly can help direct traffic relevant to the end-users to or away from certain sites. Let's break things down even more.
“.com” is actually short for “commercial” – in other words, it indicates a commercial site, which is pretty broad and can encompass any number of website purposes and ideas. Therefore, it’s no surprise that it’s the most commonly used domain name extension.
While in the 1980s the .com’s purpose remained somewhat intact, it wasn't long until the 1990s rolled around and saw significant definitional expansion on this point. Eventually, ".com" became acceptable for just about anyone creating their own sites.
“.net” domain name extensions are short for “network”. While you can find these domain extensions almost as commonly as .com extensions, they were originally intended for networking organizations and companies. Internet service providers and cybersecurity companies are good examples.
These days, .net extensions are more commonly assumed to be general-purpose like .com, if with a little less commercial clout.
“.gov” domain extensions are obviously short for “government”. These are pretty much only used by American governmental institutions. Other countries who want to use a .gov domain extension must also use a regional domain name extension like .uk.gov (more on this below).
“.org” is short for “organization” and today is used almost exclusively by nonprofit organizations like Wikipedia.
However, you can find .org websites that are not nonprofit but which use the domain name extension to appear more legitimate or authoritative. Still, most .org websites are assumed to be more unbiased, neutral, or noncommercial. .org extensions can also for community-focused websites.
“.edu” is a domain extension that was, as the letters suggest, originally used for educational institutions. However, as the Internet was first birthed in America, this domain name extension is mostly used for American educational institutions. Non-US educational institutions, like English colleges and the like, use country-level domains more often.
What Are Country Code Domains?
To further categorize different websites from one another, computers these days also have the ability to recognize country or regional level domain names. These are small letter codes that stand in for regional areas and inform computer networks of where they should look for a given web host or page.
For example, a “.co.uk” page directs a computer to look for UK-specific domain names and servers. This narrows the search from everywhere throughout the World Wide Web, improving page response time and making it easier for target customers or visitors to locate their ideal page.
Other examples of country codes include .ca for Canada or .fr for France.
Now that we’ve got a basic understanding of domain name extensions and how and why they work, let’s break down which you should use and why.
When it comes down to it, .com and .co.uk can both be useful for a UK-based business.
But they indicate, to both consumers and to computers looking to navigate the Internet, different advertising and business focuses.
.com is a domain name extension that is widely recognized to be general and international.
It doesn’t imply by its name or its search parameters that it’s primarily intended for use by UK citizens.
Because it’s so generalized, people associate the .com domain name extension with a legitimate company and may trust such a site more than one that has a .co.uk extension because of lack of information. This is an unfortunate bias, but it is true.
.com domain name extensions will attract traffic from all over the world much more readily than a .co.uk domain extension. This applies to both how Google directs new traffic to your website and how people search for the site – for instance, are people more likely to type .com or .co.uk after learning about your general website address?
However, .com is not the ideal solution for everyone. Because these domain name extensions are the most commonplace, this also means that nearly every worthwhile domain name has already been purchased and claimed by somebody.
In fact, this is a full-on Internet business; people make money buying and selling domain names by watching market trends and predicting what people will want a domain name for in the near future. Domain names can, if they are popular (or predicted to eventually be popular) enough, be worth thousands of dollars!
This means that many great .com domain names are already taken and may be much more expensive than a counterpart .co.uk name, with the same general domain name but a different extension.
Reasons You Should Pick .Com
- You want to attract an international customer or visitor base
- You want your company to seem more legitimate
- You want your company to rank higher on general Google searches
- International or worldwide companies
- UK-based companies that sell items overseas
- Websites that benefit from international fan bases
- UK companies that serve European customers, not just UK
As described above, the .co.uk extension informs a searching website to look for a web address specifically associated with a UK registered computer IP address.
This, in turn, attracts more regional traffic (i.e. from UK-related consumers and businesses) and will direct more UK Google traffic to your website at the expense of more international traffic.
There are several advantages to this if you’re building a local business website. When people see a .co.uk extension, they assume that they’re dealing with a local UK business that specifically caters to local needs.
This, in turn, implies things like lower cost of shipping and lower shipping time, more responsive customer service, and so on. The reverse is also true.
People might think that a .co.uk extension implies a lack of international power and presence – in other words, it may subconsciously or consciously indicate a smaller or younger company that doesn’t yet have the cash for an international domain name.
It may also turn away international customers or visitors who stumble across your site and who don’t want to deal with a domestic company.
Furthermore, this can be an issue if your company is not domestic but your domain name’s .com version was simply already purchased and too expensive for you to grab.
However, it’s very true that .co.uk domain names are much more affordable than their .com counterparts more often than not. As such, you might be able to get a great domain name for your website or online company with a .co.uk extension instead of the .com version.
Reasons You Should Pick .co.uk
- You want to attract primarily UK-based customers and visitors
- You want to imply domestic services, fees, and shipping times
- You want to put UK customers more at ease
- You want a good domain name, but the .com version is already taken
- Local tradespeople, like plumbers, carpenters, etc.
- Real estate companies that only deal with UK real estate
- International companies that primarily sell their services to UK customers
- Online news websites that deal with local UK news
What About .uk?
You might have already seen another domain name extension called “.uk”. Why not use this instead of .co.uk?
In brief, the .uk extension was created by ICANN – the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers.
This organization is the chief authority in terms of domain name extensions and is responsible for determining what types of extensions are allowed, purchasable, and how those domain names can evolve.
ICANN has introduced domain name extensions like .pro, .name, .museum, .info, and so on as more and more domain names have been required to accommodate the exponentially growing number of webpages and websites. They also made .uk as recently as 2014, in direct response to the shrinking number of acceptable .co.uk domain extensions available.
But there are some limitations to this extension. Only companies or persons who had an existing brand were allowed to pick up a .uk extension for the exact same name for the first five years.
Beginning in 2019, ICANN has progressively released more and more domain names for use with the .uk domain extension. This process has continued throughout 2020.
The more time goes on, the more .uk domain extensions will become available. This means that .uk might be a good solution if you do run a local business and are primarily interested in attracting UK customers and visitors.
You’ll have to check to see whether your domain name is available for the .uk extension, but you might even be able to find a slightly better domain name with .uk instead of .co.uk since the former is a much more recent development.
Domain Extension Isn’t Everything
While choosing your domain extension is pretty important, remember that it's not the end-all-be-all that will determine whether your website is successful. In many cases, the domain name is just as important, if not more so, and the domain extension.
You have to choose a domain name that is memorable and informative about your company or the services you might provide.
Remember that people will primarily recognize or remember your website based on the domain name, not the extension. While we did discuss that there’s a little subconscious bias toward .com extensions, this is ultimately a minor factor for most consumers or visitors.
If someone’s looking for your website, they aren’t going to spend more than a second or two thinking about or determining whether it’s a .com or .co.uk site. They’re more likely going to spend time trying to remember the domain name.
To this end, you should always try to make your domain name easy to remember and as short as possible – this is because longer domain names can be misspelled and may be confusing.
Of course, this might mean that you opt for a .co.uk domain extension just so you can get a fantastic domain name even if it’s not the more internationally appropriate .com version.
Furthermore, if you’re dead set on a .com extension, try to get creative with the way you write your domain name. You can add a hyphen, an apostrophe, or try to be specific about your company. “tomscarpentryservices.com”, “tomscarpentrycompany.com”, and “toms-carpentry-company.com” are all variations of the same general domain name idea and maybe available as .com domain name extensions.
While most of the good ones are taken, you can occasionally find great domain names that were missed by the aforementioned domain name price speculators.
Even beyond this point, other things about your business – say, a custom email address – can also help you drive traffic and get customers. Everything matters, so don’t feel too disappointed if your ideal name is already taken.
In the end, which should you pick: .com or .co.uk? Ultimately, there isn’t a purely right or wrong answer and it largely depends on your preferences and budget.
.com domain extensions are ideal if you are interested in attracting a more international market and visitor base, but it’s not necessarily a death knell if you choose a .co.uk extension for the same reasons. .com extensions are typically more expensive and you may have to get more creative with your domain name to grab a good one.
.co.uk domain extensions are a perfect choice if you have a local UK-based company or are mostly interested in attracting UK visitors and customers. They’re often a little cheaper and they may imply personal or local service that bigger .com chains often don’t.
Our recommendation is to consider your possibilities carefully. Do a little research and see what is open in the .com sphere before committing to a .co.uk extension so you have all your options on the table. Then consider prices, how easy your domain names will be to recognize and remember, and choose from there. Good luck!