Has the .com Domain Lost Its Luster?

Having a good domain name in the “.com” domain was once the gold standard of online presence, and the “.com” top-level domain literally defined the “dot-com” era in which the Internet and online commerce grew exponentially. But these days, according to a survey conducted by Lexicon Branding, consumers don’t see a lot of difference between “.com” and the “.net” and “.biz” domains.

Lexicon surveyed 2,509 regular Internet users who had purchased products or services online during the last six months of 2005. Respondents were asked to rank four test Web sites by answering six questions on a ten-point scale; between respondents, the only differences between the sites were the suffixes on the sites’ domain names. Some respondents might see a domain ending in “.com,” while others might see the exact same site with a domain name ending in “.biz.”

The results? Consumers seem to perceive virtually no difference between “.com” and “.net,” and “.biz” lags only slightly behind.

When asked their general opinions about domain suffixes, 41.2 percent of respondents said they had a very positive opinion of “.com,” with 27.2 percent having a very positive opinion of “.net.” Only 10.7 percent reported having a very positive opinion of “.biz.” On the flip side, 15.9 percent reported perceiving “.biz” as very negative, while only 3.8 percent and 1.1 percent respectively viewed “.net” and “.com” very negatively.

Asked about doing business with a bank, 12.3 percent of respondents reported a positive impression of a bank with a “.com” address, 11.2 percent responded positively to a bank with a “.net” address, and 11.1 percent responded favorably to a bank with a “.biz” address. For an online consumer electronics store, the percentage of respondents with a positive impression were 28.7, 27.8, and 24.7 percent for the “.com,” “.net,” and “.biz” domains, respectively.

“At this point, .biz suffers certain liabilities that .net doesn’t,” said Lexicon CEO David Placek. “It is the least familiar of the three, and some of our survey respondents tell us that they think .biz sounds ‘cheap and slang-y.’ It will be interesting to see if .biz can overcome these perceptions as time goes by.”

“Our overall conclusion is that a business would do well to create the most effective name it can, and secure it no matter what the domain suffix,” said Placek. “In terms of actual consumer acceptance and usage, it doesn’t make much difference.”